April 13, 2010

Brokaw's Tribeca Film Festival, Part Two.



"Handsome Harry" and "North." Jamey Sheridan's Harry actually is a ruggedly handsome 50-something, a small-town repair shop owner and divorced father with an estranged grown son. His Norwegian counterpart in "North," Jomar (Anders Christiansen) is a stoic 30-year-old ski lift operator who's fathered a son he's never seen. Both men are self-sufficient loners and both are drinkers, and each embarks on a journey that will transform his life. The directors--Rune Denstad Langlo of "North" and Bette Gordon of "Handsome Harry"--have vastly different sensibilities, but gathering two such disparate spirits together under one tent is what the Tribeca Film Festival has always been about.


Harry's journey begins at a deathbed reunion with a long ago Navy pal (Steve Buscemi), trying to resolve who among a drunken group of sailors maimed a fellow enlisted man, who happened to be gay. Harry promises to drive America's highways and visit each man to discover the truth. That's Harry's mission. In "North," Jomar sets off by snowmobile with five liters of whiskey across Norway's frozen mountains north of the Polar Circle to find his child, encountering an increasingly bizarre set of characters and events. Harry's journey is reality-driven and slowly solves a mystery that's shadowed his life. Jomar's trek has stylistic elements that create a sense of mystery, ever edging his travels into a David Lynch kind of twilight zone. (The collateral positions the film as "an antidepressive off-road movie.") Both "North" and "Handsome Harry" are storytelling of a high order, told by European and American directors who've grown their craft into confident, widescreen maturity.


American Express and Heineken and Tribeca Film Festival. We interrupt these critiques for a commercial. (Who else but The Madison Avenue Journal would review the commercial messages that precede the premieres of over 80 feature films?) This year three have appeared regularly in early screenings. American Express, continuing as Founding Sponsor for the 8th consecutive year, uses downtown talking heads like restaurateur Drew Nieporent and confectioner Rachel Thebault to synergize the TFF goal of enjoying a meal and shopping in Tribeca while catching a film--good job, AMEX. Heineken's "In New York, Everybody's A Critic" builds a simple montage of talky New Yorkers parsing and venting on the new movies--also a nice institutional spot.


The Festival's challenge theme, "Think You've Seen It All?" through Ogilvy has a winter setting with two 30-something Manhattan career women chatting on a park bench. They're approached by a pleasant looking 30-something fellow in a gabardine trenchcoat who stands directly in front of them and throws open his coat--he's stark naked. One woman wants to instantly move away but her companion is intrigued by the guy's--what? Manhood? Trenchcoat? Innocent personality? She and the fellow start a conversation (he's still exposing himself to her.) It turns out he'd really just like a coffee date. She's responsive and ends up fishing out her business card and pinning it to the inside of his open trenchcoat. Her friend can't believe she's witnessing all this. TFF's theme is dead-on--you haven't seen it all til you've seen the Tribeca festival. Cute, huh? We now return you to our regularly scheduled reviews.


"House Of The Devil" and "The Exploding Girl." Tribeca's film fare sometimes shifts the one-shot focus from guys to gals. In "House of the Devil," Jocelin Donahue is a college sophomore who accepts $500 to babysit "mother" who's supposed to stay upstairs in her cavernous old house. In "The Exploding Girl," Zoe Kazan is a college sophomore whose home for semester break and is slowly but inexorably being dumped by her campus boyfriend. The content of these two genuine movie-movies isn't remotely alike, but each picture places its remarkable lead actress in center frame and almost never leaves her. The camera has to love Jocelin just as it has to love Zoe, and it does, it does.


Both girls spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone. Jocelin keeps dialing the girlfriend who dropped her off, but we know the girlfriend's been disposed of down the road by one of the resident lunatics. Zoe has long, quiet, halting conversations with the boy who's breaking her heart, even as the new boy who's her friend is thinking about becoming more than her friend. "House of the Devil's" director, Ti West, ratchets up the tension as Jocelin works her way methodically from the basement to the attic, clutching nothing more than a butcher knife and her wits. "The Exploding Girl's" director, Bradley West Gray, follows his endearing young star through sun-dappled streets and lawns and across rooftops as she mourns losing one romance and contemplates starting another. "House of the Devil" has the kind of resolution you fear --a shrieking, splatter-filled finale that's straight out of 1930s weird menace torture pulps "The Exploding Girl" has the kind of resolution you hope for, with one female hand tentatively closing over one male hand. Both films give us what we're always longing for and don't always find at the movies, and that's an evening's pure entertainment.

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