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« Tribeca: An Order of Schmaltz | Main | I'm not aware of too many things, i link what I link, if you know what I mean »
Monday
Apr282014

Tribeca: Bits and Pieces

Glenn wrapping up his Tribeca film coverage with five films including Elisabeth Moss, Roman Polanski, Emory Cohen, Melonie Diaz, and the memory of a fashion icon.

The One I Love

Catching up with this high-concept romance after having missed it at Sundance was a good idea. Taking a Twilight Zone-ish twist to the relationship dramedy we see so often at festivals and on the indie scene, Charlie McDowell’s feature debut is a visually playful metaphysical look at marriage and the memory of love that is ultimately rewarding and inventive. Elisabeth Moss continues to be on top form following Mad Men, Top of the Lake, and Listen Up Philip with her role here, while Mumblecore graduate Mark Duplass gives fine if less attention-grabbing work as her somewhat dull husband.

The story is too complex to get into here (and yet easy to follow so don’t worry about this just being a winsome Upstream Color), and it’s probably best audiences go in as blind as possible to the twists that it takes with the story of a crumbling marriage and the retreat they take to the country where, apparently, everybody comes back refreshed and more in love than ever. Filmed in warm, picturesque yellow tones and with refined, yet deliberately essential production design, The One I Love is a winner that will likely be wonderful to revisit. B+

Venus in Fur, Under the Harvest Sky, Dior and I and X/Y after the jump.

Venus in Fur

It’s always disappointing when one has such little to say about a Roman Polanski film – especially one that discusses such topics as those in his latest theatre adaptation, Venus in Fur. This is certainly a better feat of filmmaking than the last one, Carnage, but it too is hobbled by the very fact that it’s a two-hander set in one exclusive location. Thankfully Polanski and David Ives, who helps adapt his own Tony-winning Broadway play, has shifted the narrative to his local France, which at least allows a bit of critical distance between the original and the adaptation (something that the English-language, but French-produced Carnage inexplicably did not), but what may have played well in the realms of live theatre (like the oh-my cross-dressing) come off as a lot less risqué on film.

Still, I liked the way Polanski played with the space of his theatrical setting. Film allows the characters to manipulate their way through locations that a stage production surely could not – I have not seen the stage production, which starred Nina Arianda and Wes Bentley (Off-Broadway)/Hugh Dancy (Broadway) – and how sometimes it is easy to forget that the physical space around a performer is as important as the intimate one around them on a stage. Likely attempting to respond to claims Carnage was little more than a lazily-filmed performance of the play, his flourishes with a larger visual canvas are at least appreciated. And despite being too old for the part, Emmanuelle Seigner is deliciously entertaining as Vanda; Mathieu Amalric less so, but he’s never not a wonderful face to navigate from a cinema audience. I have issues about its representations of women, especially towards the end, but Polanski’s film feels curiously uninspired in discussing much more than the very base text. Still, it certainly hits more of its marks than last year's similar Tribeca stage adaptation by Neil LaBute, Some Velvet Morning. B-

Beneath the Harvest Sky

In Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, Emory Cohen played a tough-talking upstate New Yorker with a bad-boy streak whose friendship with another young boy is tested by family issues. In Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly’s Beneath the Harvest Sky, Emory Cohen plays a tough-talking upstate New Yorker with a bad-boy streak whose friendship with another young boy is tested by family issues. It’s not Gaudet and Pullapilly’s fault that the similarities between their movie and the (far superior) Cianfrance movie get in the way of what could be a potentially interesting movie, but it’s a curious thing and unfortunately for the latter film doesn’t stand up in comparison.

Two boys, Casper (Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuiffe, a talented Australian actor who, just as an aside, looks exactly like my flatmate), have been saving up money from their respective careers as a pharmaceutical collector and potato harvester in the hopes of leaving their no-hope town for Boston. Naturally, things don’t go to plan as they get entwined in a drug delivery over the border and both become involved with girls that have questionable futures attached. Unlike like the superb Hide Your Smiling Faces, which screened at last year’s festival and is currently on VOD, this exploration of male youth lacks a truthfulness to make it stand out. The story of these boys doesn't feel special or unique, and by the third act tragedy that everybody will have seen coming, the weight of their situation doesn’t feel earned. Nice performances, especially by McAuiffe and Timm Sharpe (formerly of Enlightened), feel organic, but aren’t enough to allow Harvest to emerge out of the shadow of its familiar cousins. C+

Dior and I

Films about fashion are a dime a dozen these days if you know where to look. Whether its competing biopics about legendary designers Coco Chanel (Coco Avant Chanel; Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky) and Yves Saint Laurent (Yves Saint Laurent; Saint Laurent), TV movies about icons (Versace) or documentaries about photographers (Bill Cunningham New York), runways (The Tents) and fashion houses (last year’s Tribeca title The Director, produced by James Franco), they are everywhere. It’s for this reason that yet another one, Frederic Tcheng’s Dior and I could possibly sail by unnoticed, but it’s an accomplished documentary that probably deserves more attention than just from the very niche audience it will find from film-fancy fashionistas.

Dior and I follows the eight weeks at Dior of new head designer Raf Simons and the gaggle of employees underneath him as they seek to put together a memorable show that will make people forget the disgraced John Galliano. That Galliano is never mentioned is likely the film’s biggest mistake. Choosing to selectively omit him from the narrative makes the film skirt with being little more than a commercial rather than an examination of the re-building of a brand. Still, director Tcheng gives the film more visual panache than one might otherwise expect, and the star-studded finale catwalk show (Marion Cotillard! Jennifer Lawrence! Sharon Stone! Harvey Weinstein!) is breathtaking. Try and spot the dresses that were worn on red carpets, too! B

X/Y

Multi-narrative films are always tricky to pull off given the very real nature of some stories simply being more interesting than others. That’s certainly true for Ryan Piers Williams’ sophomore directorial effort (he also stars and writes) with its four connected stories of New York dissatisfaction. Thankfully a committed cast including Williams and his real world/on-screen wife America Ferrera as well as rapper Common and Melonie Diaz (who we loved in Fruitvale Station) give this indie film a verve that could have otherwise given way to whiny cynicism.

Respect to Williams for giving himself both heterosexual and homosexual sex scenes (surely a rarity for a straight male director/actor), and for finally giving America Ferrera a role worthy of her talent (she was also great, but severely underused in End of Watch two years back). It’s so nice seeing a film like this with actual racial and sexual diversity; it’s rarer than you would think. If, like Diaz’s character, the film occasionally feels adrift in search of its next big scene then I found myself able to forgive it rather easily. It’s unlikely that X/Y (a very appropriate title given the way it is equally transfixed with women and men of a certain intermediate generation as well as the tricky sexually ambiguous terrain that those of this age usually have to navigate) will break out of its New York independent trappings – not a problem for the director given there’s an entire scene where a screenwriter is told by his agent to make his script more marketable – but it certainly makes Ryan Piers Williams a name to look out for. B

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Reader Comments (3)

Glenn. You gave the Moss film a B+ (and a glowing review) and the Polanski film a B+ (and what I would call one step away from a pan). Can you explain why they got such disparate reports, but the same grade?

X/Y sounds very interesting. I hope I get a chance to see that one.

April 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

henry -- yeah, i had no interest in x/y till i saw this review.

this is the second festival in a row in which i've missed "The one I love" despite wanting to see it. hopefully it gets a release

April 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Henry, that should be a B-. I will edit it now, thanks for picking it up!

April 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

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