Tonight is the Tribeca Film Festival's awards ceremony, and so we thought it’d be a good time to take a look at the World Narrative Competition. It’s a mixed bag of films, coming from eleven countries (more if you count co-productions) and a wide range of filmmakers. I've had quite an edifying experience watching them, though some are certainly better than others. Below I’ve singled out five of these as the best, and I offer who and what I’d vote for were I on the jury.
This film was one of my pre-festival picks and I’m struck by how much its beauty has stuck with me since I first saw it a few weeks ago. The filmmakers did not simply take advantage of the already gorgeous Bolivian landscape but rather used the incredible Andean backdrop to set up the story. Every stunning exterior fits perfectly with the plot as it follows a long-retired Butch Cassidy (Sam Shepard) through his last adventure as an outlaw. The lush green mountains of his exile are coupled with the desolate and extraordinary salt flats of Uyuni, breathtaking images that somehow manage to keep you connected to the characters instead of lifting you out of the film altogether.
4. “Black Butterflies”
I was not familiar with the work of Ingrid Jonker going into this film, but as I walked out of the theater the first thing I wanted to do was track down a collection of her poems. That alone would be a compliment to director Paula van der Oest and the intense performance of Carice van Houten, but there’s more. When I did find some of Jonker’s poems (which is as of yet not easy to do in the US), it hit me that this film is more than just a compelling version of her life. It’s a powerful homage to the spirit of her work, bringing the ache of her love poems and the passion of her political outcry into a narrative and onto the screen.
3. “She Monkeys”
This is a somewhat tricky film. In a way it’s a short exercise in metaphor and symbolism, a thematic exploration of a young girl’s confrontation with adolescence. The story is that of Emma (Mathilda Paradeiser) and her exciting but intimidating new friendship with another girl on her equestrian vaulting team. The sport allows for many powerfully framed images of the youths posing on horseback, a visual leitmotif that only adds to the quiet but blunt manner by which Emma’s new best friend yanks her toward emotional adulthood. Its stately pace and brutal tranquility only add to the tension as in a short 80 minutes Emma moves from virginal innocence to an almost cynical acceptance of competition and cruelty.
2. “Artificial Paradises”
There’s a certain glamour attached to drugs in cinema. Not just in gangster movies or celebratory stoner comedies but also in anti-drug films that border on the sensational and the absurd. “Artificial Paradises” wants nothing to do with that, instead showing us addicts in the mundane realities of chemical dependency. In place of an overdose every ten minutes this film presents an extended meditation in both plot and dialogue that really addresses the humanity involved. Rich landscapes complement the film’s understated characters and sparse plot, creating an emotional and thematic portrait of weakness without glamorizing either the drugs or the addicts.
1. “Turn Me On, Goddammit”
I just can’t seem to stop raving about this film. It’s a teen comedy that concerns itself with the genuineness of its characters, which is rare. Helene Bergsholm gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Alma, a girl caught between naïve confusion and the raging hormones of adolescence. Jannicke Systad Jacobsen has written and directed the most realistic and well-articulated young women I have seen on film in far too long, and she should be commended. The film is funny, heartfelt and warmly honest about the awkwardness of emerging sexuality and the loneliness of being a teenager. Everything about it (even the 75 minute running time) is just right.
And here's my ballot, for what it's worth:
Best Narrative Feature: "Turn Me On, Goddammit"
Best New Director: Lisa Aschan, "She Monkeys"
Best Actor: Thomas Dekker, "Angels Crest"
Best Actress: The Cast of "Turn Me On, Goddammit"
Best Screenplay: Yulene Olaizola and Fernando del Razo, "Artificial Paradises"
Best Cinematography: Juan Ruiz Anchía, "Blackthorn"