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by Eric Kohn
April 22, 2013 9:53 AM
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Why the Good Narratives at the Tribeca Film Festival Are Away From the Spotlight

Fleischner's story is unique in that it presents a simple premise and weaves it together with many layers of sensory experiences. A similarly ambitious approach can be found in another competition title, "Bluebird," the debut feature of writer-director Lance Edmands. Previously an editor on movies like "Tiny Furniture," Edmands' background makes sense in light of his first movie's cautious assemblage of several mini-dramas in a small town. Set in a remote, chilly region of northern Maine, "Bluebird" revolves around the tumult that results when bus driver Lesley (Amy Morton) inadvertently misses a sleeping child in her bus at the end of the day and feels responsible when he winds up in a coma after spending the night in the deep freeze.

"Bluebird." Tribeca Film Festival

While the boy's negligent mother Marla (Louisa Krause) attempts to push responsibility onto the older woman, her blue collar husband (John Slattery) struggles to keep his job and remain supportive without losing motivation or ignoring critiques from the couple's disgruntled daughter (Emily Meade). That's a lot of mini-stories to juggle at once -- especially for such downbeat material -- and "Bluebird" at times strains from the weight of its self-serious tone (particularly epitomized by the on-the-nose presence of the titular CGI critter). However, Edmands' cautiously assembled structure draws the ensemble together with a beautifully enacted series of events that unites them in a struggle to make their isolated world worth living in spite of the literal and figurative isolation surrounding them. Gorgeously shot on film by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes ("Martha Marcy May Marlene"), "Bluebird" owes much to the strength of its cast, particularly the deeply empathetic Morton and the angst-riddled Krause, delivering a notable contrast to her giddy turn in last year's "King Kelly." For everyone involved, "Bluebird" is a strong calling card.

Another actor deepening his reel at Tribeca is former "Saturday Night Live" star Will Forte, who takes on his first serious role in "Run and Jump" and buries himself in the performance. This tenderhearted drama, the feature-length debut of Steph Green (who was nominated for an Oscar for her 2009 short "New Boy"), involves an Irish family in which former man of the house Conor (Edward Macliam) comes home from the hospital after suffering a stroke that turns him into a shell of his former self. While his wife Vanetia (Maxine Peake) struggles to accept her husband's diminished state, American doctor Ted (Forte) arrives to study Conor's condition.

Some expected tensions arise: While staying in their intimate countryside home, Ted slowly grows acquainted with each member of the family, and possibly develops feelings for Vanetia that venture far beyond his professional responsibilities. While hinting at these bubbling emotions, Green maintains a gentle warmth to the story grounded in understatement and and credibility. Forte, solemn but never pouty, ventures into Steve Carrell territory with his embodiment of a forty-something loner. While not a showstopping performance, it certainly gels with the material, pointing to a new range for the actor. However, Peake truly stands out as the well-meaning Vanetia, whose ebullient personality is constantly at odds with a horrible situation that threatens her family's future.

Far from the only group of movies worth seeing at Tribeca this year, this trio only shows a glimmer of hope among the movies not exclusively programmed because they happened to be available. There are plenty of other nuggets hidden deeper in the lineup, like Vahid Vakilifar's "Taboor," Iranian curiosity set in a cryptic near future and involves a vaguely defined delivery man whose world suggests Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville" by way of Bela Tarr. In the midnight section, French director Marina de Van ("In My Skin") contributes to the "creepy kid" strain of horror cinema with "Dark Touch," in which an 11-year-old girl loses her whole family by way of supernatural circumstances that continue to haunt the neighbors willing to take her in.

The diversity helps compensate for some of the weaker entries; there's something for everyone in nearly every section. Whether scary, touching or sad, the rundown of quality from the narrative lineup this year proves that even if you have to scrounge through the program to find the movies worthwhile, the journey isn't without a point.

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