This article is an expansion of a brief piece originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad
The best of the LGBT lot at Tribeca this year was surely Love is Strange, which I reviewed at Sundance. I didn't see all the gay titles but that's a safe assumption since Ira Sach's drama about newly married seniors (John Lithgow & Alfred Molina) who lose their longtime apartment is already feeling like a future classic. But though the other titles I took in were lacking, Mariana Rondón's spanish-language Bad Hair is a worthy runner-up to Love is Strange's crown.
The film opens next month in Venezuela and it would be a worthy Oscar submission from that country which has yet to secure a Best Foreign Language Film nomination. A submission is certainly possible as Rondón was submitted once before for Postcards from Leningrad in 2007 and most countries tend to favor directors they've previously embraced with submissions. [More...]
Bad Hair ("Pelo Malo") is a real keeper. It's quite unassuming in form, really, a low key repetitive but never boring observational drama about a mother and son in the Venezuelan projects. It's summertime and they're both at home (she's recently lost her job and he's out of school) and they just aren't getting along. But form and lack of "plot" can fool you. This is a well judged movie that builds considerable feeling. The nine-year old son "Junior", beautifully played by first-timer Samuel Lange Zambrano, is a precocious biracial tween who hates his curly hair. He wants to get it straightened and look like a famous singer for a class photo. On the sly he experiments with different hairstyles with his black grandmother (his father is dead before the movie begins) and his best friend, a plump little neighbor girl who shares his love of dressing up for photos, as willing accomplices. They all instinctively know to hide this desire from his mother who is perpetually irritated by her oldest son and deeply stressed with a new baby and a job search.
Over the course of the movie we glean more and more about the mother/son relationship. They rely on but don't quite love each other enough and they have considerable trust issues. The rift between them is the boy's homosexuality. She knows he's gay even if he hasn't put it into words yet -- sex isn't really on his mind at nine though he has an obvious crush on a very handsome teenage neighbor. The mother's deep fear of her son's natural proclivities leads to some outrageously ill informed acting-out on her part.
In some ways Bad Hair is completely devastating in how excruciatingly well it details the process by which insidious external homophobia becomes internalized for baby gays and leaves them feeling perpetually "other". (This cause/effect is mirrored with interalized racism to a lesser degree) But the movie is also exhilarating as only the truth, artfully and sympathetically told, can be. And somehow, against the odds, I think Junior will come out of this okay. 'It gets better, Junior!' He's full of character and his inner resolve and almost casual acceptance of whatever he's interested in (he likes what he likes) will surely pay off in the long run, despite undoubtedly rough teenageyears ahead.
Oscar Chances: A low key non-glamorous (though beautifully lensed) drama like this would need loud critical support to make waves in Oscar's foreign film category if submitted at all but I would willingly lend my vocal chords to the cause. I haven't stopped thinking about it and it was very nearly the first film I saw at Tribeca. None of the subsequent movies remotely scrubbed it from my memory as back-to-back festival screenings can sometimes do with even good movies.
Other Oscar Hopefuls?
Bad Hair didn't win any prizes at Tribeca but this festival is no stranger to future Oscar contenders in the Foreign and Documentary categories as Film Actually recently pointed out. The other categories much much much much less so since the substantial Oscar nominees that didn't start at Sundance wait for Cannes or the fall film A list festivals to launch. I didn't catch any of the Tribeca winners myself (I have terrible luck that way at film festivals) but it's worth keeping you eyes out for them in case they find distributors or launch Oscar campaigns.
OTHER FOREIGN FILM SUBMISSIONS?
The top fest prize went to Israel's Zero Motivation (reviewed by Diana) which would have to win the Ophir to be Israel's Oscar entry but the Academy likes Israeli cinema so it's a possibility. Paolo Virzì's Human Capital is a contender for Italy but, like France, they always have a lot of films to choose from so you can't bank on any film being a sure thing for that committee. Colombia's thriller Manos Sucias is also a definite possibility though the Mexican winner Güeros sounds a little too youthful/hip for Oscar tastes. Just a hunch.
Among the handful of documentaries that won prizes the ones that two that seem most Oscar-likely (though it's always a crapshoot with hundreds of documentaries in the running each year and seemingly arbitrary finalist/semi-finalists lists are Point and Shoot about an American embedded in the Libyan revolution and the jazz legend / blind pianist documentary Keep On Keeping On, just picked up by TWC-Radius. Oscar does like himself some war journalism and music docs.