In rough order of preference:
Trishna (dir. Michael Winterbottom)
In his third (and loosest) adaptation of a Thomas Hardy novel, British shapeshifter Winterbottom unexpectedly but credibly updates Tess of the d’Ubervilles from Victorian England to modern-day India. Tess is now Trishna (Freida Pinto), a young labourer in the rural provinces who catches the eye of Jay (Riz Ahmed), the handsome scion of a Mumbai hotel business. As the courtship goes from demure affection to a Kama Sutra manual of abuse, Winterbottom sets up a series of frameworks within the main narrative, from a documentary tour of ancient Hindu temples to a behind-the-scenes glimpse at Bollywood productions. Less aggressive a reimagining of a literary classic than Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, the film is flawed: the streamlining of Tess’s two contrasting lovers into Trishna’s single suitor is a reductive decision, and there’s not much that can be done with Pinto’s passivity. But there are enough strong elements to challenge the ongoing notion of Winterbottom being a director interested in ideas for projects more than in the projects themselves.
The Invader (dir. Nicolas Provost)
Bringing together two of the festival’s running motifs (illegal immigration and naked crotches), the opening scene depicts the heavily charged (and heavily symbolic) brush between a statuesque, tawny beauty and a couple of African workers who have literally washed ashore at a nude beach. The rest of the film follows Amadou (Isaaka Sawadogo), one of those undocumented workers, as he moves from being treated like human contraband in underground Brussels garages to using his charisma and intelligence to pursue the entitlements and pleasures society’s denied him, a journey that includes charming his way into the bedroom of a blonde businesswoman (Stefania Rocca). A Belgian video artist making his feature debut, Provost is clearly aiming for racial provocation and societal inquiry, but, despite Sawadogo’s magnetic presence, the film quickly falls apart as it adopts the style of a cheap stalker drama and becomes a pompous update of one of those turgid fill-in-the-blank-from-hell thrillers from the early 1990s, complete with insistent bad-guy music.
Sarah Palin, You Betcha! (dir. Nick Broomfield)
Decked out in floppy winter wear that’s more Elmer Fudd than rugged lumberjack, British documentary vet Broomfield heads out to Wasilla to try to talk to the titular Tea Party figurehead. What he instead finds are mountains of moose antlers, the well-practiced folksiness of locals, and the fact that the only one of Palin’s former colleagues willing to breathe a bad word about her now lives in Egypt. Along the way, there’s talk of her vindictive immaturity and anti-intellectualism, fans approvingly described as “lemmings,” and a tight-knit Alaskan community that threatens to resemble that “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” episode of The Twilight Zone – and the film still manages to say nothing that can’t be gleaned with more insight from a crude Wikipedia page. Broomfield is going for a snarky European take on the inexplicable Caribou Barbie, but all his on-camera cavorting doesn’t amount to a fraction of the barbed wit of John Cleese’s quips on the same subject.