The Tribeca Film Festival, created in part by Robert De Niro while in a particularly “New York State of Mind,” has come to fill the void between Sundance and Cannes (and their respective displays of hype-worthy premieres) with a diverse line-up of nervy features and docs that defy easy categorization. In case you missed it, we already rounded up our top news from this past year’s festival, back in April. And now, finally, some of that festival fare will be making its way into theaters!
As it happens, neither Back Roads nor Maine, which both released trailers over the past week or so, we’re part of our aforementioned festival highlights. What can we say? There’s a lot of stuff to see. We’re glad that we’re going to be getting a second chance, though, because both of these teasers, for movies that explore themes of alienation, secrets, and escape against a very particular regional backdrop, are highly promising:
At the tender age of twenty-eight, Alex Pettyfer has racked up enough roles in YA sci-fis, thrillers, fairy tale adaptations, and Burberry campaigns (plus a truly cringe-worthy turn in the 2014 remake of Endless Love) to set him up quite well for the future, but it’s clear that this chisel-cheek-boned heart-throb has different, more ambitious designs for his career. Largely by accident, and owing to his belief in the project, for what that’s worth, he is directing and co-producing Back Roads, an adaptation of the Tawni O’Dell novel (and Oprah’s Book Club selection circa 2000) of the same name, as well as starring opposite Juliette Lewis, whom(st) we still love, worship, and fear as much as ever. Though this character was written almost twenty years ago, his story — particularly its coal country setting and themes of spousal abuse, shootings, and incarceration — feels like it could be ripped from today’s headlines.
In some ways, this feels like the less abject, more masculine, Appalachian (and, frankly, sexier) answer to Winter’s Bone: Both are about the eldest child trying to hold things together in the face of poverty, struggle, and crime in rural America, where both the trauma and the secrets run deep and dark. But while Winter’s Bone put the now-ubiquitous Jennifer Lawrence on the map, Back Roads marks a change in direction for Pettyfer. Perhaps tellingly, Jennifer Morrison stars as the object of Pettyfer’s obsession; Morrison recently made her own respective, reasonably lauded directorial debut with Sun Dogs in 2017.
As the lone male presence in a world that seems to consist of his mother, sisters, social worker, and lover, Pettyfer’s presence in this trailer exudes a kind of vacant malevolence. Back Roads shares a cinematographer (Jarin Blaschke) with The Witch and boasts a screenwriter (Adrian Lyne) who helmed Unfaithful, Indecent Proposal, 9 ½ Weeks, and Fatal Attraction, which means that we don’t even know how deliciously twisted and disturbingly dysfunctional this movie’s going to get. We’d tell you to add O’Dell’s novel to your Fandor Winter Book Club list, but we almost don’t want to spoil it for ourselves. Luckily, we don’t have long to wait: Back Roads will be in theaters starting December 7th.
Speaking of all things Appalachian, the trailer for Matthew Brown’s sophomore feature, Maine, finds a trail-hiking twist for the classic cinematic scenario of strangers thrown together by circumstance. The trail, which begins in Georgia and winds up through the eastern United States, is a place where danger looms just as nature’s majesty surprises and enthralls, where hikers are reborn with new names as they chase their own reasons for roughing it on a backpacking pilgrimage, of sorts. Bluebird (Laia Costa, Victoria) and Lake (Thomas Mann, Me and Earl, and the Dying Girl) are two such hikers, whose solo missions merged sometime before the movie begins. Maine is their intended terminus, the end of the line, the top of the country, the goal to achieve — but even if they make it, do they really know what happens next?
If this trailer is any indication, Maine is a movie that will invite, and demand, close watching and intent listening. The dialogue has serious mumblecore vibes (albeit removed from the usual “Gen Y urbanity” of the genre) and leans heavily on inflection, facial expressions, and body language to convey meaning beyond words. A trail is a place out of time, allowing for Lake and Bluebird to play with their new, isolated, and distilled identities, as they ricochet off of one another in sometimes sweet, sometimes sullen ways.
Whereas in Back Roads, the setting is claustrophobic, unglamorous, and even oppressive, in Maine it is expansive and ripe with possibility, defying its essentially finite nature. Both movies represent the efforts of newer directors to explore the intricacies of human dynamics, especially in how their characters process and live with psychological pain, and how these interactions can harm and heal in equal measure. Both areas ringing an endorsement as any to pay close attention to Tribeca’s programming, both now and in the future.
Watch Now: Fandor has tons of films available for streaming that have played at Tribeca over the past seventeen years! So many, in fact, that we made a whole curated Tribeca Weekend Playlist with some of our very favorites!