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Seven Films to Watch at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival: Israel’s ‘Big Bad Wolves,’ ‘Six Acts,’ and More

Seven Films to Watch at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival: Israel's 'Big Bad Wolves,' 'Six Acts,' and More

As always, the feature films at Tribeca (April 17-28) are a mixed bag,
which makes it difficult to identify trends. That said, think horror and Israel, and the broader Middle
East. The Israelis are back with two features (one a world premiere) that are
sure to get attention. Whether they warm anyone’s heart toward Israel is
another question. 

The world premiere is “Big Bad Wolves,” by Aharon Keshales and
Navot Papsuahdo, a black comedy which takes you
into the world of corrupt lazy Israeli police as they hunt and persecute a
suspect in the molesting and murder of a schoolgirl. It also takes you into
horror, once again a strong point — if an uneven one — at Tribeca. If you ever
wondered whether torture had a buffo side, you’ll find it here. You won’t find
much politics. This torture-ology is meant to entertain.

You may find that your jaw will drop  — a lot. With help from some brutal colleagues,
renegade cop Micki (Lior Ashkenazi from “Late Marriage,” here playing Tel Aviv’s
sheepish version of the Bad Lieutenant) tries to beat a confession out of a
nerdy teacher with eyes for young girls. The videotaped beating turns up on the
internet for all to see, to the chagrin of the Tel Aviv PD. Taken off the case,
Micki goes rogue on his own investigation. So does the dead girl’s vengeful
father. In country where almost everyone has military training, there’s plenty
of expertise in how to tear a confession out of someone in strapped into a
chair. Here it’s done with hammers, blowtorches, and pliers, and plenty of
nagging Jewish mother jokes from a nagging Jewish mother. This film adds its
own new meaning to the term “feel the guilt.” It may also redefine

“Big Bad Wolves” is the latest from the team that brought you 2011’s “Rabies,” a title that seemed designed
to trigger a mega-torrent of illegal downloads. 
The new comedy could be a harder sell (or steal). Do the American
audiences who saw former Israeli security officials deplore the excesses of
their country’s war against Palestinians in “The Gatekeepers” now want to watch a
comedy about Israelis torturing Israelis?

Prudes at the screening that I attended found it “too mean,”
but I laughed at the over-the-top gags as much as I did at the film’s inside
jab at the country’s air of moral superiority.

Israeli producers have had a savvy strategy, which involves
premiering films at Tribeca, and then selling those films at the market in
Cannes. Yossi by Eytan Fox and The Flat by Arnon Goldfinger premiered at
Tribeca last year, with The Flat winning the best editing prize.  Neither film took off at the domestic US box
office.  No matter. You wonder why other
countries aren’t using Tribeca so strategically.

“Six Acts,” the other Israeli feature at Tribeca 2013, is as
unflattering toward Israeli society as “Big Bad Wolves,” except director
Jonathan Gurfinkle sets his debut feature in one of the country’s most
desirable suburbs. Gili (Sivan Levy), a teenage girl from a working-class
family, moves into town, living in a modest apartment building at the other end
of town from villas modeled on Malibu. Insecure and eager to please, she tries
to make friends through sex. Lots of the local glitterati boys end up
exploiting her.  It’s ugly, even in
interiors right out of Architectural Digest. Shot with a tactility that makes
its locations feel overstuffed with luxurious privilege, “Six Acts” is a serial
pile-on, often painful to watch. Sivan Levy is an uneasy mix of sensuality,
vulnerability and misplaced trust as the drama devolves over six acts (sex

Unlike “Big Bad Wolves,” “Six Acts” (which made its world
premiere at San Sebastian last year) has a grim realism to its grotesquery, and
a universality, which means that US audiences may not think that they need to
watch an Israeli version of a story that they have seen on the screen so many
times before. The agony that young Sivan Levy brings to this vision of Israel
today will change their minds.  

Other Tribeca 2013 Dramatic Features To Watch:

“Dark Touch,” Marina De Van. France/Ireland, 2013, 90 minutes

Mining one of Tribeca’s proven strengths – albeit not too
deeply, Carrie — Part Deux comes from this French horror director, as the
furniture speaks the deadly truths that can’t be uttered, at speeds that can
and do kill.  Pretentious enough? Ireland
is the location of a child’s telekinetic revenge on those around her. Young
Neve is uneasy in this world. Eventually we find out why, after her parents are
killed when their haunted house implodes. Then another home where a
well-meaning family shelters Neve also comes apart.  There are more unseen impulses than you can
shake a chair at in this dreadfully humorless exercise in designer special
effects. Performances are poker-faced, although the logistics are all executed
right – you’ll be laughing at the seriousness of it all. 


“Before Snowfall,” Hisham Zaman, Germany/Norway, 105 minutes

“Before Snowfall” looks like a horror film when young Siyar
(Taher Abdullah Taher) is wrapped in plastic and submerged in a tanker truck so
he can sneak out of Iraq and into Turkey. His goal in this road saga by the
Kurdish director Hisham Zaman is to avenge the honor of his family after his
sister deserts her husband to be before their entire village assembles for a
wedding.  The journey takes him all the
way to Norway – the film premiered at the Trondheim Film Festival there – and
it’s safe to say that this is not a trip that you would want make by
hitch-hiking.  The illegal foreigner’s
journey through Europe is now a staple of the festival circuit. This new one
shows you the lengths to which people will go 
— here, however, it’s nota finding a job, but about serving a venerable
and despicable tradition of murdering women who are perceived by man to have
brought dishonor upon a family. Be prepared for a twist once young Siyar
reaches his destination.  Fine
cinematography here – from radiant landscapes in Kurdistan to the
claustrophobic inside of trucks.


“Ali Blue Eyes”  —
Claudio Giovannesi, Italy, 2012

It used to be that Italian immigration sagas witnessed the
toll of the internal immigration of poor rural illiterate southerners to the
factories of the prosperous North (Rocco and His Brothers). Now Italy is
absorbing immigrants from all over Africa and Eastern Europe, and turning many
more away. Nader (Nader Sarhan) in Ali Blue Eyes is an Egyptian of 16 in this
low-budget neo-neorealist tale inspired by a Pasolini poem, written to a boy
named Ali. The story is boilerplate alienation of a kid from what we might now
call the extended Middle East, caught between street mob culture and a
conservative family. He’s also trapped among kids in bad schools with no jobs
on the horizon, unless you call the Rumanian mafia a default employer – all in
drab Italian settings, seasoned with zenophobia, that don’t appear in any
magazine’s travel section. You wonder why Italians themselves aren’t still
emigrating. Claudia Giovannesi gets the texture right, although you won’t get
any of Pasolini’s poetry. Without that poetry, you get savagery, minus the
nobility. Look for multiple Romeo and Juliet / West Side Story echoes. 


“Wadjda,” Haifaa Al-Mansour, Germany, 2012, 97 minutes   

The first feature to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia is a
girl’s coming of age in Saudi society, which still denies basic rights to
women. The eponymous Wadjda follows its title character (Reem Abdullah) from
home, where her father’s rule is absolute, to a school run by women, where
Wahabi Islam dictates behavior, and all the girls try to get away with
something rebellious, no matter how small. The most minimal exercise of
autonomy  — riding a bike — is a triumph
for young Wadjda. Will this warm-hearted motivational story change anything
close to Mecca? Probably not, since it was filmed mostly in interiors and on
rooftops where no one could watch. For a movie shot on the run, the
cinematography is remarkably vivid.  The
religious police can’t be happy that Sony Classics is releasing Wadjda. Watch
for a nomination for Reem Abdullah.


“Broken Circle Breakdown,” Felix van Groeningen,
Netherlands/Belgium, 2013

Audience Award winner is a teary crowd-pleaser set in what looks like a ranch
where a Belgian bluegrass banjo player finds the tattooed cowgirl of his heart.
No kidding. Before you can say Orange Blossom Special, Didier and Elise have a
little girl, Maybelle. Their bliss breaks down when the adorable child gets
cancer. If you aren’t won over by the heartbreak of it all – I wasn’t – the
novelty of a Belgian bluegrass band might still be enough. Once again, every
country has a tearjerker punctuated with goofy laughs like this one, if not
dozens of them. Broken Circle Breakdown will still have a long run in US

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