I’ve been in pre-production on my next film Crooked & Narrow, a thriller shooting in Philly in June and July, leaving little time to blog. I’ll have more info on that within the next two weeks, but for now, here’s a quick recap, with links, of the films I caught at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
Black Coal, Thin Ice
My favorite film at the festival (read my review HERE), Black Coal, Thin Ice is a slow build that features the kind of structure I really love: traumatic event as a sort of prologue changes a character drastically. That scarred character will then have to solve some kind of crime while dealing with internal trauma for the remainder of the film.
In my review I likened the end of Black Coal to a Fellini film. And while that’s high praise, I stand by it. I also see some other similarities here to Bela Tarr’s The Man From London, in that both are clearly indebted to the noir tradition but have more on their mind than just femme fatales and fedoras. I also could feel some sense of a Czech New Wave in the critique of the police force.
Above all though, Black Coal is great because it’s beautiful, wryly funny, tense, and just really well-conceived. The divorce prologue is really well-mirrored in the heterosexual relationship at the end, and the violence is shocking, shot usually in one wide-shot, and never over-the-top.
A funny film – there were lots of laugh-out-loud scenes – Life Partners is one of those movies that you enjoy moment-to-moment but is annoying overall. Its structure is way too obvious. I don’t mind predictability, but at least try to thwart me or hide the structure in nice turns. None of that here. I also wasn’t particularly impressed with the leads and the direction felt so routine (particularly camera direction: establishing, wide interior, shot-reverse-shot).
Kate McKinnon has an unfortunately short cameo. Maybe the producers could only get her out for a day, but it’s a shame: she steals the film.
I Won’t Come Back
I Won’t Come Back is odd in that the first and second halves feel like they’re directed by different people. This coming-of-age road movie features poorly staged scenes with wooden performances for the first 40 minutes, and then very nearly the exact opposite in the second half. It’s good, defies expectations at times while still being structurally neat (take a look, Life Partners) and has some strong child performances, which are always impressive.
My second favorite film of the festival, this one is maybe most noted because it was executive produced by Spike Lee, but it doesn’t feel like a Spike Lee Joint. I kind of like that Spike’s on the credit list and there are no big stars – it seems to me (and I certainly don’t know if this is true or not) that he put his weight behind it to get the film made and then stepped aside to let the young director take over.
I really like how this film looks. The camera movement and the muted colors, the subtle blocking of extras when there are any to speak of are all fantastic. It’s also noteworthy because it’s essentially three long scenes that make up the three acts. I think it’s pretty difficult to build tension on the same basic plot point for a solid 30 minutes, but Manos Sucias pulls it off, particularly with the ending extended chase scene.
Young Bodies Heal Quickly
One thing that was really cool about the fest was getting to see Andrew T. Betzer’s debut feature, Young Bodies Heal Quickly. I met Andrew at the Southside Film Festival years ago where we bonded over some late-night talks about Maurice Pialat. I consider his John Wayne Hated Horses one of my favorite short films and Young Bodies is essentially an extension of that: older man-younger boy relationships in a mostly silent atmosphere.
That quiet is what I like best about this film. There is so little dialogue, but the story is still clear and strong. I love it when a filmmaker will just let the natural, diegetic world take over the soundtrack and that’s exactly what happens here.
I interviewed Andrew about the film, and you can read our exchange HERE.
Love and Engineering
Unfortunately the only doc I caught at Tribeca this year, Love and Engineering sounds kind of dumb but is really funny and heartfelt. An engineer tries to use calculations and logic to get his fellow group of dorkish Finnish engineers a love life. I like documentaries that really focus in on one person and Love and Engineering does just that by picking probably the most charismatic of the group and making him the center. Because many of these guys would file themselves under “nerd” there are a lot of video game, technology, and sailor costume (that’s right) jokes that almost all land. But like the best comic-docs, this one isn’t about making fun. When these guys hurt the camera remains trained on them and it doesn’t feel like an MTV confessional, but instead a genuine bit of sorrow.