2018 Tribeca Film Festival Roundup

For its 17th edition, the Tribeca Film Festival had its annual array of features and documentaries, television and Netflix series for preview, dozens of shorts and talks and special events. In the first festival since the #MeToo movement, women both in front of and behind the camera were featured, starting with Woman Walks Ahead, Susannah White’s absorbing historical drama about Catherine Weldon, a widowed painter from New York who in 1892 traveled across the country in hopes of painting the great warrior Sitting Bull. As usual with such films, historical veracity be damned, but Woman Walks Ahead is filled with gorgeous western vistas and an estimable cast led by Jessica Chastain’s forcefully bull-headed heroine and Michael Greyeyes’s humane, gentle Sitting Bull. There’s also fine support from Sam Rockwell, Bill Camp and Ciaran Hinds as the men who help—or hinder—Weldon in her seemingly quixotic quest.

Based on the early life of the author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley has sumptuous sets and costumes that smother the familiar tale of a young woman not being taken seriously in a culture where men are the poets and thinkers. Elle Fanning makes an engaging if superficial Mary, Douglas Booth a less-than-fascinating Shelley (the poet who takes Mary away at age 16) and Bel Powley a too-modern stepsister Claire (who had a baby with Lord Byron). Director Haifaa al-Mansour gets bogged down in bodice-ripper clichés; Bright Star this isn’t.

From the Quebecois duo of director Sophie Lorain and writer Catherine Leger, Slut in a Good Way is an irreverent look at a bunch of high-schoolers (particularly 16-year-old Charlotte) and how their casual attitudes toward sex often confuse the issue. A group of engaging young performers—led by the remarkably self-assured Marguerite Bouchard as Charlotte—makes this an amusing and pointed ride through raging teen hormones.

French actress Sara Forestier consolidates her status as a triple-threat by writing, directing and starring in M, a funny, touching, sometimes difficult-to-watch drama about a young woman with an embarrassing stutter who falls in love with a barely literate baker. Their volatile romance, complicated by social and economic differences, is enacted with formidable intensity by Forestier and Radouanne Hardane, and there’s a realistic sense of two imperfectly matched people hoping to not just get by but transcend their hardscrabble environment.

Following his Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film A Fantastic Woman, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio returns with Disobedience, an Orthodox Jewish lesbian romance. For a movie that spends much of its time delving into the culture of the London Orthodox community, it all boils down to when Rachels Weisz and McAdams—both sensationally good (except for McAdams’ occasional lapsed accent)—will find their way to a bedroom. Lelio never sensationalizes the women’s relationship, even if he and co-writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz succumb to melodrama. But both actresses, at the top of their game, invest this charged material with emotional directness; credit also goes to Alessandro Nivola, who scores in the underwritten role of McAdams’ husband.

Set before and during the 2011 riots in London, Obey is a scalding study of people living in a maelstrom of social unrest, racism and economic poverty. Zeroing in on a young man who falls for a beautiful but dangerous young woman, Obey has its missteps but on the whole is a stellar debut for director Jamie Jones. Another look at a real-life volatile area, Smuggling Hendrix follows Yiannis (Adam Bousdoukos), whose dog Jimi runs away to the Turkish controlled part of Cyprus, from which he cannot brought back without it becoming an international incident. Writer-director Marios Piperides shows a light but artful touch with potentially sticky material, smartly having his hero enlist his ex—now with another man—to retrieve their dog. Bousdoukos is a perfect put-upon everyman, and Vicky Papadopoulou gives a bravura performance as a woman whose feelings for her beloved canine help her through a dicey situation with Yiannis.

A choppy distillation of Chekhov’s heartbreaking play, The Seagull sacrifices the depth and humanity of Chekhov’s writing and characters in director Michael Mayer’s and writer Stephen Karam’s unfortunate adaptation, leaving only the bare bones of unrequited love, which is not remotely what Chekhov was after. Still, there’s splendid scenery and forceful acting by Annette Bening, Brian Dennehy and especially Siorose Ronan, an actress who seemingly gets better every time she appears onscreen.

Every Act of Life, Jeff Kaufman’s documentary about playwright Terrence McNally, is a joyous valentine to theater and an affecting reminiscence in which McNally engagingly speaks about his life growing up in the Midwest and moving to New York where he became a celebrated writer and Tony winner while befriending seminal artists like Edward Albee and Wendy Wasserstein—with both of whom he had affairs!—and worked with first-rate actors like those heard from in the film: Nathan Lane, Angela Lansbury, John Benjamin Hickey and Christine Baranski, for starters.

Marco Proserpio’s documentary The Man Who Stole Banksy enlightens us about a seedy side of the art world: the legal buying and selling of illegal artworks, namely the public street art of the famous eponymous artist who went to Palestine in 2007 to paint on many of the area’s outdoor spaces. We see an enterprising businessman who takes it upon himself to make sure that money can be made from Banksy’s site-specific works, no matter the economic and moral difficulties.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda, director Stephen Nomura Schible’s touching documentary about the Japanese composer who won an Oscar for The Last Emperor, shows an artist dealing with devastation from within and without: his 2014 throat cancer diagnosis and horrifying disasters like September 11, the Iraq War and the Fukushima nuclear-plant disaster, all of which marked him personally and artistically. Sakamoto is a gentle, soft-spoken soul, and Schible’s intimate portrait presents a hopeful glimpse of how art can heal.

17th Tribeca Film Festival
New York, NY
April 18-29, 2018