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Film

Tribeca Film Festival Reviews
April 25 - May 6, 2007
Various Locations

 

(Opposite Photo Credit - Wendy R. Williams)

The Tribeca Film Festival with its slogan,"It's Movies, It's New York," opens next week and the New York Cool writers will be posting reviews daily on this page. See this quote from the Festival's website, "The over 200 films chosen from the nearly 4,500 submissions are from every corner of the globe and offer almost as many perspectives as New Yorkers have opinions."

 





Emanuele Crialese’s
Golden Door (Nuovomondo)
2007 Tribeca Film Festival

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

There is a miraculous one-minute sequence in Emanuele Crialese’s unrelentingly harsh and utterly absorbing Golden Door that captures more than most feature-length films do in a two hour span. It also remarkably and densely defines many of the movie’s themes.

A huge steamship is about to leave Italy for the USA. The camera is set up high in the sky (seemingly on a cloud). We can only see a small part of the ship with passengers about the deck. Onshore are a slew of others - people who will probably never leave their homeland. As the gigantic vessel slowly begins to leave shore, we start to see actual water separating the two. Those onboard are looking out to those on land and vice versa. The viewer soon becomes aware of the life altering event that is taking place for those who are outbound. One begins to speculate on exactly what must be going through the minds of the masses who were courageous enough to leave their life and loved ones--their culture--on the gamble that a better world awaits them. They embark on a potentially life-threatening adventure of sorts. One also thinks about those left behind. Those who will continue to toil and survive, but who will always wonder what their lives might have been like HAD they taken the chance so many are taking right before their eyes. The shot is broken by the loud roar of the steamship. All eyes are jarred out of the trance. For a fearless few, the voyage has begun.

And it’s that perilous trek to America in all it’s painful and fraught detail, that Golden Door focuses on--and the story of one family, in particular.

Salvatore Mancuso dreams of a new life in a new world for himself, his mother and his four children. He longs to escape his grim reality.

The film opens in the mountains of Sicily as the Mancusos prep for their departure. Most are game. But grandma is a superstitious villager who has no desire to leave what she knows. She eventually relents and we follow the family from the frenzy of getting to the ship to the harrowing scenes on onboard and, finally, the shocking and invasive third act at Ellis Island (where they cannot even see the New World because the fog is so thick).

Throughout, the pic is peppered with fascinating fantastical moments that include Mancuso’s dream of being showered in gold coins (which, ironically, turns out to be dirt) as well as his hopes that America is a country boasting swimming seas filled with milk.

Crialese presents an honest, gripping and, yes, enchanting portrait of one family’s brave odyssey to the proverbial land of opportunity. The pic is reminiscent of the Italian Neo-realism films of the 1940’s (Rossellini’s work comes to mind). It sometimes feels so real that you may think you’re watching a documentary.

As he did with the wonderful film, Respiro (which I saw in Palermo, Sicily in 2002), Crialese’s camera penetrates beyond the surface of his characters’ outer appearance and allows us to journey into their hearts, minds and, sometimes, even their souls. He, fearlessly, allows moments to linger and lets his actors faces do what dialogue rarely can do--invade and sometimes betray their feelings.

Vincenzo Amato (Respiro) personifies the cautiously hopeful immigrant. His Mancuso is simultaneously fierce and sweet. He is a man who wants the best for his loved ones. Someone who wishes to transcend his status but someone who is not ashamed of who he is or where he comes from. He is also someone who is ready to marry a woman, simply because she needs him to. If I didn’t have the press notes to remind me that Amato is a trained actor, I would have sworn he was someone Crialese found in the mountains of Sicily. That is the best compliment I can pay him.

The film is filled with terrific character portraits (and I use that word deliberately because each is like an artist’s incisive painting) including: Charlotte Gainsbourg (The Science of Sleep) who plays the enigmatic Lucy; Francesco Casisa and Filippo Pucillo (both in Respiro) as Mancuso’s obliging sons as well as Aurora Quattrocchi, who is perfectly steely and unwavering as Fortunata, the family matriarch.

Production values are stunning from the stark cinematography to the mood-enhancing and sometimes anachronistic choice of music (two Nina Simone cuts) to the pace-perfect editing.

Golden Door was Italy’s 2006 Foreign Language film entry into the Oscar race. How such an extraordinary gem was overlooked (along with Almodovar’s Volver--Spain’s entry) is a question only the misguided few who selected the nominees can answer.

I don’t recall any other film that so meticulously, courageously and imaginatively depicts the emigration experience. Certain films have touched upon it. Jan Troell’s The Emigrants and The New Land are impressive achievements but mostly focused on life in America as do others like Crossing Delancy and The Godfather Part Two. Rarely has a movie allowed us to go along for the agonizing and exhilarating voyage.

This film hit me on a deeper level than I had expected. Perhaps it’s because I happen to be the son of an immigrant from Sicily. Perhaps it’s because it is simply an astonishingly great work.

Probably, both.

 




Péter Forgács'
Miss Universe1929
2007 Tribeca Film Festival

A Queen in Wien

Reviewed by Katharine Heller

The striking Lisl Goldarbeiter was the first and only Austrian to win Miss Universe in 1929. In this documentary written and directed by Péter Forgács, the tumultuous story of her rise to fame occurs over the backdrop of a country in turmoil at the start of World War II. The majority of the footage was filmed by Lisl's cousin, Marci Tänzer. Marci was admittedly obsessed with his cousin's beauty, and in interviews interspersed throughout his old footage Marci claims that he believes no other woman has, or ever will, be as close to perfection as Lisl. Disturbing as it is, this odd love story successfully conveys both the beauty of a country soon to be overtaken by the Germans and the tumultuous life of the heroine, Lisl.

Péter Forgács does a very nice job of taking hours of grainy and almost completely deteriorated film and constructing an intense story. Some of the creative license he takes with the affected voice-overs and scene repetition seem a little over the top (if you have footage all the way from 1929, it's automatically impressive) as the story alone sells itself. But all together this was a very fine documentary.

70 Minutes.


 




Paolo Virzi’s
N (Napoleon and Me)
2007 Tribeca Film Festival

Starring: Elio Germano; Daniel Auteuil; Monica Bellucci; Sabrina Impacciatore; and Massimo Ceccherini.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

At last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, the one motion picture that emerged, in my humble opinion, as far superior to all the others never even got commercial release here in the United States. It was an Italian gem called Romanzo Criminale (Crime Novel).

The terrific work that Italian helmers have been producing these last few years rarely get attention. As a matter of fact, the New York Times, which prides itself on reviewing important films and events, did not even bother to cover last year’s Film Society of Lincoln Center sponsored Open Roads which showcases the best of Italian cinema. Romanzo was featured. Had they bothered, perhaps one of the best films of last year would have been seen by more than a few hundred lucky people.

Another Italian wonder is being shown at Tribeca this year: Paolo Virzi’s N (Napoleon and Me). Let’s hope history does not repeat itself!

Based on the novel “N” by Ernesto Ferrero (and written by Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli and Francesco Bruni), Napoleon and Me chronicles an angry and passionate young man’s vehement need to take revenge on one of the most notorious historical figures of all-time.

It’s 1814 and Napoleon Bonaparte has been exiled to the Island of Elba. The sheep-like villagers as well as the nobles begin falling over each other welcoming the former Emperor. But there is one young man who refuses to take part in the parade of sycophants: Martino Papucci, an idealist whose dream is to assassinate the despot. Papucci is, ironically, offered an important position working directly with Napoleon, which he gleefully accepts. Now all he has to do is commit murder. There’s just one problem: the new King seems to be winning him over.

For a film like this to truly soar, a strong lead actor is key and luck would have it that Elio Germano perfectly embodies the radical revolutionary spirit this character needs without becoming a caricature.(the gifted actor was, actually, briefly featured in Romanzo Criminale.) Germano is fascinating to watch and proves a dynamic and mesmerizing actor.

Which is molto good because he is playing opposite some towering thespian figures.

The celebrated French actor Daniel Auteuil tackles the part of ‘the little corporal’ with aplumb. It’s an almost sympathetic portrait and only someone as amazing as Auteuil could get away with it.

The stunning Monica Bellucci (The Passion of the Christ, Malena) manages to make a seemingly distateful character into someone we adore and feel for. She’s one of Europe’s finest film actresses.

Outrageously funny in a supporting turns are the magnificent Sabrina Impacciatore and Massimo Ceccherini.

Napoleon and Me is hilarious at times, yet contains moments of great power, especially near the end of the film. And while the movie meanders just a bit, Virzi is to be applauded for an extraordinary achievement.


Beth Scacter's
Normal Adolescent Behavior

2007 Tribeca Film Festival

Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu

Normal Adolescent Behavior is a dark film that explores teenage love and sexuality. The film is focused on a group of six teenaged friends—three girls and three boys—who are in a group relationship. The six teens all sleep together and are not allowed to sleep with other people; they switch partners fluidly within the group and have dedicated themselves to each other. Tension arises when Wendy, one of the girls, falls for Sean, the new kid in school who is of course not part of the group relationship. She is forced to choose between a traditional monogamous relationship and the safety and comfort of her five friends.

Though Normal Adolescent Behavior has all the makings of an honest, interesting film, it falls short. Most strikingly, Wendy and Sean’s relationship develops so quickly and for no apparent reason that it becomes entirely unbelievable and unmotivated. They are two very different teenagers, from to very different worlds and it is impossible to believe they would ever fall for each other. The film does nothing to prove what their bond is and thus the plot seems thin and unlikely. The characters themselves also lack credibility as true adolescents. Though the potential is there, writer/director Beth Scacter fails to provide enough information and history to justify their unusual relationships with each other and with themselves. Without the necessary proof, the mature characters read as impossibilities instead of as compelling anomalies. Luckily, the young actors, most notably the fantastic Amber Tamblyn, attack the heavy material with real a dedication and what is lacking in script is made up for in the deep pain and honest behavior exhibited on screen.

Normal Adolescent Behavior is a cross between two excellent movies exploring similar territory; Thirteen and Mean Girls. It does not manage to tap into teen reality with the same understanding as these films, however it is none the less a meaningful look into teen sexuality. What it lacks in development and motivation it makes up for in gritty pain and loveable, flawed, three-dimensional characters. It is a film that is trying to hard, but at the end of the day it must be applauded for trying at all to take adolescents’ love and sex lives seriously. The passion is apparent, and it is easy to imagine this film succeeding with some fresh editing and a few new scenes. Above all, it is refreshing to see young actors working on a challenging film that asks tough questions instead of getting lost in the sea of pop culture dredge we so often associate with young Hollywood





Fredi M. Murer's
Vitus
2007 Tribeca Film Festival

Starring: Fabrizio Borsani; Teo Gheorghiu; Julika Jenkins; Urs Jucker; and Bruno Ganz.


Reviewed by Ryan Eagle at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival

Vitus is the story of a child prodigy whose aptitude for classical piano, among other intellectual gifts, does battle with his yearning for a normal childhood. The film served as Switzerland’s 2006 Academy Award submission for Best Foreign Language Film. In Vitus, Director Fredi M. Murer used real-life piano prodigy Teo Gheorghiu for the title role. Opposite Gheorghiu acclaimed actor and Swiss native Bruno Ganz plays Vitus’s grandfather. The on screen relationship between these two actors alone warrants praise. The film works as a whole because of such individual performances as well as the playful tension strung through several subplots.

The overarching theme is a familiar one for stories about prodigies. At what point do the exploitations of talent outweigh the importance of an intact childhood? In this story, unlike the melancholic non-fiction approach in Scott Hicks’s Shine, Murer discusses conflict in a softer and more uplifting tone. Though the director has said he did not intend for the film to be a fairy tale, it does have idealized if not magical threads. The film is unapologetic about its verisimilitude – or lack thereof. It needn’t apologize because the tender packaging of this story complements the story itself.

One of the most compelling instances of rebellion in the picture is Vitus’s “accident.” Deciding that he must cast off his special gifts, Vitus leaps from the second story of his house on wings that he and his grandfather have made from wood and fabric – a sort of flugtag inspired creation. After his fall, Vitus feigns a head injury that turns him into a normally functioning child. Only his grandfather – the boy’s best friend – is brought into the fold. From this new vantage point Vitus re-examines life and decides just how he might best experience his music and his passions. For all its admitted impracticality, the tension that springs from Vitus’s solution is palpable. How poignant that a child would sacrifice otherworldly gifts in attempt to blend in and garner attention for who he is rather than what he can do.

The roles of Vitus’s parents are played beautifully by Julia Jenkins and Urs Jucker. Both actors make their impressions on the film, but are able to take a step back from Gheorghiu, allowing the audience’s energy to focus on the child’s point of view. While love and expectations are generally rationed out by Vitus’s parents in pleasing ratios, Ganz’s portrayal of the doting grandfather tips the scales once again toward the idealized and maintains the cheerful tone of the film.

Vitus could easily have drifted into saccharin indulgence. Instead of succumbing to the pitfalls to which such films are prone, Vitus triumphs. But what else would you expect from a prodigy after all?




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