As usual, this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, celebrating its tenth anniversary, was filled with more hits than misses; but with hundreds of titles in the program, finding the good films can be easier said than done. Here are some of my favorite titles from this year’s slate, shared with the hopes that they find audiences elsewhere:
L’Amour Fou—I really admire the way that filmmaker Pierre Thoretton made the distance that separated him from his elusive subject, iconoclastic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, the focus of his documentary. His interviews with Saint Laurent’s lover and partner, Pierre Bergé, are intimate but totally sober. There is no nostalgia here, nor wistfulness for Saint Laurent’s presence. There’s only the quest to see what immediately remains of him, in clear-headed anecdotes, in rare photo and video footage of Saint Laurent at work and at play and in new footage of Saint Laurent’s expansive art collection. An exceptionally strong portrait of the artist as an enigma.
Beyond the Black Rainbow—Writer/director Panos Cosmatos’ film is a prism that refracts ‘70s sci-fi films like THX 1138 and Dark Star through the organizing avant garde tropes of Kenneth Anger and Luis Bunuel films. His science fiction pastiche is a dazzling cinematic chimera. Murky black shapes appear out of fuzzy, over-exposed backgrounds while a girl kept prisoner in a futuristic, pseudo-Utopian commune tries to get away from her drug-addled captor. This one might be the festival’s most brazenly accomplished title.
The Guard—Writer/director John Michael McDonagh, brother of the unspeakably talented playwright Martin McDonagh, has made a very funny and very un-PC comedy that thinks it’s a modern-day Irish western. Brendan Gleeson plays a happily obnoxious Irish policeman that helps Don Cheadle’s visiting FBI agent stop a group of international drug traffickers, including Sherlock Holmes’ Mark Strong. If nothing else, The Guard is consummately precise. McDonagh’s dialogue-centric scenario is more than just a filmed play thanks to Eyes Wide Shut and Bronson cinematographer Larry Smith’s eye for visual composition. Martin (who also directed the film In Bruges) may be the better writer, but John Michael is definitely a more confident filmmaker.
Let the Bullets Fly—Actor-turned-filmmaker Jiang Wen’s film is a much broader comedy than his superb Devils on the Doorstep; while it’s not as good as Devils, it does give the viewer a nice taste of his typically dynamic style of cynical comedy. The film stars Jiang and Chow Yun-Fat as rival con men fighting over the right to respectively redistribute or hoard a small town’s taxes. Bullets’ plot is a flurry of activity from start to finish and it features an uncharacteristically cheerful ending from Jiang, whose protagonists tend to get swept up by the all-consuming forces of change that motivate all of his historical black comedies. The fact that Bullets grossed an impressive $100 million in mainland China and was very warmly received during its sold-out public screenings will hopefully convince American distributors to take a chance on Jiang’s cat-and-mouse crowd-pleaser.
Simon Abrams is a NY-based film, tv and comics critic for various outlets, including the Village Voice, the Onion’s A.V. Club and Wide Screen. He collects his writing on film at Extended Cut.