What’s always most exciting about film festivals is the range of different films available for watching and enjoying – all within the same period of time, and often in the same venues. That’s just as evident as ever in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival line-up, a festival that has kicked off with The Five-Year Engagement, will end with The Avengers, and will show over 200 films in between. Our first round of Tribeca reviews only highlights that variety of films, as it include a French actioner, an true American independent, and a dramedy about ladies of the night.
After the break, check out mini reviews for Sleepless Night, Supporting Characters, and Elles – all very different Tribeca Film Festival films, and all films likely to find their own unique audiences in the Big Apple and beyond.
One of the festival circuit’s most buzzed-about films finally lands in New York City, and damn if all of that high praise didn’t give it a bit too much to live up to. Frederic Jardin‘s Sleepless Night follows the best kind of cop to follow in a film like this – a dirty one. Vincent (Tomer Sisley) and his partner botch a job stealing a duffel bag full of cocaine from some dealers (bad idea) and botch it spectacularly – the partner dies, Vincent get a stab wound he can’t take anywhere for treatment, and one of the bad dudes sees his face. He can’t go to his bosses, he can’t go to the hospital, he can’t tell anyone – what can he do? Well, when the guy who owns all that coke figures out what’s what and kidnaps Vincent’s young son and holds him for druggy ransom, he can only do one thing – fight back.
The majority of Sleepless Night takes place in that mob boss’s giant nightclub complex as Vincent busts in and attempts to get his son out (alive). It’s a sprawling entertainment center, a pulsating club, a giant restaurant, a massive pool hall, with nooks and crannies and private rooms around every corner. It’s a wonderfully inventive place to set the film, and Sisley has enough fighting moves to keep it interesting – especially when a pair of cops catch wind as to what’s going on and turn up at the club as well. The French actioner has style to spare, but it’s missing some essential humanity. Vincent is a bad dude no matter how you slice it, and Sisley’s smooth moves and jaw-dropping fight sequences don’t do much to combat that. We’re clearly supposed to sympathize with the guy, but when it’s his own greed and bad choices that have landed him in so much hot water to begin with, it’s hard to just let location and gut punches wipe that away.
The set-up and execution of the film are stunning, but there’s just something out of place that keeps it from being a rare bit of action perfection.
Sleepless Night is already getting an American remake, care of Warner Bros., so be sure to check out the original while you still can.
Peppered with a number of actors and actresses fans of independent NYC cinema will instantly recognize (including even Lena Dunham, who pops up as a halfwit sound engineer), Daniel Schechter‘s Supporting Characters is frequently amusing, but potentially too inside baseball for most audiences to gravitate towards. Written by Schechter and star Tarik Lowe (who is consistently engaging and watchable), the film centers on Lowe’s Darryl and Alex Karpovsky‘s Nick, best friends and film editors who are trying to finish up the latest film from idiotic and unengaged director Adrian (Kevin Corrigan).
While the film is ostensibly a buddy flick, most of its time and attention is spent focusing on the effect that Nick and Darryl’s individual romantic relationships have on them – we come to understand early on that Darryl’s new girlfriend, Liana (Melonie Diaz), has changed him in a positive manner, he’s sweeter and softer than he was before her, less prone to drinking and partying. Ever-sarcastic, Nick focuses on the negative aspects – like his perception that Darryl has stopped working as hard as he normally does (which is still harder than Nick works). Nick’s relationship with his own fiancee Amy (the always lovely and appropriately skittish Sophia Takal) also seems to work and to help Nick be a better person – a better person that is chucked by the wayside once Nick finds himself consumed by a crush on the film’s star Jamie (Arielle Kebbel). Nick’s overwhelming (and idiotic) lust seems to have just one result – it turns Nick into a raging asshole. While Nick and Darryl have real affection for each other, and Lowe and Karpovsky have a steady chemistry, the film spends most of its time on other relationships.
It’s amusing that, for a film that’s about editors and the editing process, Supporting Characters runs too long. Nick and Daryl spend much of the film arguing about cutting a scene in order to chip away at the film’s extra 20 minutes, and Supporting Characters could have benefited from such pruning. The film is at its best when it’s not trying to expand on things too far, and its finest moments are little ones – a look that crosses over Nick’s face when he meets Jamie’s boyfriend, an offhand comment about lighting by an angry director of photography, a wordless shot that conveys the state of Nick and Amy’s relationship after a particularly brutal party.
Schechter’s next film is the big screen adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Switch, which is looking to star Jennifer Aniston, Dennis Quaid, and John Hawkes – the sort of news that should guarantee that audiences are paying attention, but Supporting Characters is fine enough and funny enough on its own to garner notice.
The plot of Malgoska Szumowska’s Elles is perhaps too simple – which must be why she’s tried to gussy it up with non-linear storytelling, gratuitous sex scenes, and a too-quick ending that, in retrospect, actually renders the whole affair moot. What fun! Luckily for Szumowska, the film stars Juliette Binoche who is as lovely and engaging as ever – I shudder to think what Elles would be like without her presence.
The film starts off with a bang – well, to be precise, a blow. Binoche plays Anne, a French journalist working out the kinks on her latest story – a piece on college-aged prostitutes – so the film is littered with scenes like the shocking blow job that opens it. Of course, it’s to be expected that a film about prostitutes would feature copious amounts of sex, and Elles treats even the most deviant of acts in a matter-of-fact manner, yet they somehow manage come across as both over-the-top and boring. Unsexy sex, as it were. In the midst of culling through her materials (mainly consisting of interviews with two different prostitutes), Anne comes to see the parallels between her life and their lives. Essentially, Szumowska tries to draw a line between getting paid for sex acts from strangers to making dinner for one’s family. Going even further, Anne begins to feel that all women are prostitutes. It’s certainly a provocative statement to make, but the comparisons the film tries to illuminate are basic, never living up to its very eye-opening theories.
The film is, however, energetically directed, and Szumowska’s attempts at her non-linear style of storytelling work well. Elles flits between Anne’s assumed present and back to her past meetings with the two girls, which then give over scenes depicting the stories the girls have told Anne. Szumowska quite effectively weaves together her different times and perspectives, and as unsatisfying as the plot and aims of the film are, it at least technically succeeds and shows great promise in its director – she just needs better, more mature material.