Tribeca 2009: Festival Wrap-Up
Mon, 04 May 2009 13:07:26
Hiroshi Abe Videos
Despite the onslaught of rainy and gloomy weather the last few days, the Tribeca Film Festival has been thoroughly upbeat and rousing. Just looking at the entire slate, this has proven a much lighter year (Stay Cool, Don McKay) than previous ones, however, there were a few films that cut pretty deep as well, mainly Still Walking and An Englishman in New York.
In Still Walking, Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda finely examines the inner-workings of a modern family in Japan while the death of a son still looms in the background. The opening scene illuminates so much about how this family operates: As mother (Kirin Kiki) and visiting daughter (You) cut and peel vegetables for the big family dinner, they talk and laugh about the most routine anecdotes. Instantly, the audience is informed that the daughter is a sarcastic college dropout and somewhat lazy and the mother is quite capable of trading barbs in a charming fashion. Soon, the son (Hiroshi Abe) and his new, recently widowed bride (Yui Natsukawa) and bastard, adopted son (Shohei Tanaka) arrive. Fairly unassuming at first, they blend well with the rest of the Yokoyama family. As the dinner continues, regret and past grievances seep in, leading to brutally quiet moments with the cantankerous father (Yoshio Harada) that burn with sadness and strike at the familial core. Koreeda’s sprawling portrait invokes the confronting and unrelenting honesty of last year’s Rachel Getting Married, slowly allowing the tears to show in the fabric of this once vital family.
Another film that hit me like a ton of bricks was Richard Laxton’s An Englishman In New York. Set as a sequel to the British made-for-TV Naked Civil Servant, which was adapted from Quentin Crisp’s memoir of the same name, John Hurt reprises his role as the iconic gay philosopher and activist who is commissioned for a one-man show in the Big Apple’s Bowery District after a successful run in London. Quentin’s show becomes an instant hit in the gay community as his scandalous candor strikes a chord, later sparking the interest of a talent agent, played by the always-snappy Swoosie Kurtz, who lands him gigs on TV and radio. The cultish following begins to wane when Quentin makes an offhand provocative remark saying the AIDS epidemic was only “a fad.” Via Hurt’s Oscar-worthy, exemplary performance, we truly are privy to an intimate view inside a man just trying to find acceptance within his very own judgmental queer community.
Unfortunately I was unable to attend a screening of the World Narrative Feature prizewinner About Elly—an underground subway stall produced that misfortune—catching instead a patchy homage to ‘80s John Hughes movies, the Polish Brothers’ Stay Cool. Though aesthetically pleasing, this tale of a successful novelist (Mark Polish) returning back to his hometown, soon confronted with a past high school crush (Winona Ryder), proves a bit drab—offering not a single surprising take on this familiar, unrequited-love yarn.
As I prepare to jump on a plane heading back to the perennially sun-soaked Los Angeles, I can firmly say the revamped edition of Tribeca is a welcomed change. Although, I still am somewhat perplexed by the inclusion of certain jury members (Mary-Kate Olsen and Rachel Ray…huh?), firmly cementing the New York Film Festival as the more relevant showcase for international narrative and documentary cinema.
For a complete list of the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival award winners, click here.