That title is to be sung with a backup band of nuns, naturally.
With over 250 films, many mid-level ones arriving without any kind of buzz, airing twelve at a time at press and public screenings scattered throughout the city from 68th Street to Battery Park, the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival is enough to make a grown journalist cry. We’ve seen it.
Or perhaps we’ve done it ourselves. We haven’t had much luck so far with our picks, possibly because we’ve stuck mainly with the narratives when by most accounts the docs have been far stronger (which is becoming a truism of American festivals in general). A quick rundown of some of what we’ve seen so far, with forewarning that these are almost certainly going to be unnecessarily bitchy, we’re short on sleep.
"Shadow of Afghanistan"
Directors: Jim Burroughs, Suzanne Bauman
This documentary about Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion through to present day is as much about the act of covering the unrest and war in the country as it is about the events themselves, and the solid history and rare non-newsreel footage it presents are curiously marred by a tone of self-congratulation. The film is partially centered on Lee Shapiro and James Lindelof, a pair of documentarians who were killed filming in Afghanistan in 1987, and whose footage makes up the earlier part of the film â€” surviving member of their crew returns to Afghanistan with the "Shadow of Afghanistan" filmmakers to complete Shapiro and Lindelof’s work. Information about the difficulties of shooting in such tense conditions is interesting; a frequent voice-over reminding us of how dangerous what the filmmakers are doing is unnecessary, and some of the tossed-off lines ("Look at those smiles! These are such a resilient people.") are truly wince-worthy.
"The Yacoubian Building"
Director: Marwan Hamed
Based on a popular, controversial novel, "The Yacoubian Building" is being widely touted as "the most expensive Egyptian movie ever made," leaving unstated the fact that. given the frequency with which Egyptian productions grace US cinemas, it may as well be proclaimed "the only Egyptian movie ever made." Deliciously soapy, the film resembles (and is as enjoyable as) a Cairo version of "Tales of the City," a sprawling look at the intrigues of the varied inhabitants of a once-grand apartment building now populated by fading gentry, the newly (and perhaps suspiciously) rich, and the poor (confined to former servants quarters on the roof). "The Yacoubian Building" shocked Egypt with its grim assessment of nationwide corruption and its open depiction of a homosexual character; US audiences may be more startled to see a character’s descent into religious fundamentalism and terrorism being merely the fodder for further melodramatics.
Director: Chen Kaige
Proving that talent from Korea, Hong Kong, mainland China and Japan can
unite to make a truly terrible flick, the most expensive film in ever made in China is surprisingly lousy looking. A florid fantasy that harkens back to the earlier, cheesier days of wuxia,
"The Promise" follows a princess (Cecilia Cheung), who, as a girl, made a deal with the goddess Manshen (who sports a fairly fabulous CG-assisted hairdo): she’ll grow up to be a celebrated beauty, but in return will lose every man she ever loves. There a puppy-eyed slave (Jang Dong-Kun) who can run very fast; an arrogant general (Hiroyuki Sanada) so manly his weapon is literally a pair of brass balls; and an evil duke (an awesomely campy Nicholas Tse) who is, as far as the film is willing to admit it, way gay. Unintentional silliness abounds â€” everyone sports some kind of garish costume (many involving feathers); sets float in darkness in a fashion that approaches Expressionist; characters talk about the sentiments of "the people" when, as far as we see, every single person in "The Promise"’s universe is either nobility or a soldier serving nobility.
"Land of the Blind"
Director: Robert Edwards
A political satire with the subtle delicacy of two stoned porn shop
workers trying to beat each other to death with giant dildos, Robert
Edwards’ feature debut delights in broad, equal-opportunity abrasion
without purpose. Ralph Fiennes stars as a prison guard in a grim near future who is drawn to a political prisoner (Donald Sutherland)
and ultimately enlisted in his plan to overthrow the reigning corrupt
dictatorship. Of course, the new regime turns out to be just as
oppressive as the old. Edwards throws in references to the current
North Korean autocracy, "The Manchurian Candidate," the Cultural Revolution, "Brazil," Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, "1984,"
and the Bush administration, but is content to let them hang there
without commentary or any accumulated meaning, making the film nothing more than the "Scary Movie" of dystopian imaginings.
"Journey to the End of the Night"
Director: Eric Eason
Eason gathered one hell of a cast (Brendan Fraser, Scott Glenn, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Mos Def) and landed one hell of a location (SÃ£o Paulo). The result is, unfortunately, one hell of a howler about a drug deal gone wrong in the gritty streets of a city we barely glimpse. Moreno has little to do but look pensive or cry as the young wife of Glenn’s brothel-owner who’s been making plans to run off with her stepson (Fraser). Fraser snorts coke and hurls phones around gamely, but has been saddled with the bulk of the film’s worst lines; Mos Def, playing a saintly African immigrant, is immensely likable as always.