FESTIVAL: All Over The Map: Tribeca's International Offerings
by Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE: 05.10.02) -- They may not call it the Tribeca "International" Film Festival, but if you look closely at the more than 150 films showing at the festival, you'll see stories all the way from Sweden to Korea. At the Tribeca fest's announcement last winter, festival co-chair and celebrated filmmaker Martin Scorsese spoke about the importance of including foreign films. "It is important for American cinema, especially American independent cinema, to be aware of other cultures, to be influenced by other cultures, because it's a small world," the "Raging Bull" director said. "If we concentrate only on ourselves, it's ultimately a dead-end."
So to heed Marty's advice, downtown New York audiences can expand their horizons this week: Tribeca is getting a whole lot more diverse than French bistros and posh Italian eateries. Still, you do have Paolo Sorrentino's "One Man Up," a Tribeca competition film that features some rather sumptuous Italian seafood cooking. And there's also a special screening of Roberto Rossellini's 1966 classic "The Rise of Louis XIV," which will accompany a special luncheon sponsored by pasta company Barilla. But aside from these local-inspired cinematic delicacies, the program is all over the map.
From China, acclaimed filmmaker Zhang Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern") completes his recent trilogy of contemporary fables with the fast-moving tragic comedy "Happy Times." Zhao, a bumbling poor old bachelor, will do anything to please his bride-to-be, including taking care of her blind stepdaughter. Though it may sound sentimental, the film (which Sony Pictures Classics will release in July) beautifully balances sweet moments with genuine scenes of sadness. And as Zhao goes to greater lengths to hide his poverty and keep the young girl happy, he becomes the kind of misfit you can't help but adore. The same could be said for Elling and Kjell Bjarne, the two protagonists of Petter Naess' Academy Award-nominated "Elling," another crowd pleaser screening in the festival's International Showcase section (and coming to theaters later this year). Recently released from a mental hospital, the odd couple attempts to adapt to normal living in an Oslo apartment. (Elling is the small anal-retentive Felix; Kjell is the bearish, unmannered Oscar.) Answering the phone, peeing in a public restroom, and travelling to the grocery store are just some of the stressful hurdles they must accomplish. Later, it's love, poetry, and birth in this infectious human comedy.
Charming crazies are also on the loose in Vojko Anzeljc's "The Last Supper," a Tribeca competition entry from Slovenia. Crude, but humorous, the film is helped along by a clever conceit: the whole story is told through the point of view of the two protagonists, recent escapees from a mental hospital who have stolen a video camera. Made on a budget of around $300,000, "The Last Supper" is a real underdog success story, beating "Jurassic Park III" and "Meet the Parents" at the nation's local box office last year. Foreign blockbusters are in fact well-represented at this year's fest: the top Korean film of last year, Kwak Kyung-taek's "Friend," a combination coming-of-age and gangster film, will appear alongside veteran Japanese director Masahiro Shinoda's stylized 16th Century Ninja spectacular, "Owl's Castle."
Traveling to Northern Europe, Oscar-winning Swedish director Bille August ("Pelle the Conqueror") unveils his latest, "A Song For Martin," a melodrama that chronicles the frustrations and sorrows of Alzheimer's. Love and death amongst an older couple is also the subject of Dutch commercial director Tjebbo Penning's intricately structured, but hollow mystery "Morlang." The death of a loved one is also the catalyst for another multi-layered story, the affecting British entry "Lawless Heart," directed by Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter. If it all sounds dour, just remember, the cinema isn't just about "Star Wars" and "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." As Scorsese himself said, "In the climate of the world we inhabit now, it's important to know about other cultures, and cinema is a perfect tool for this."