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Thalia Book Club Camp offers up-close interaction with renowned children's book authors and illustrators, book discussions, and book-related field trips around the city. This blog follows the camp's activities.

2010 Tribeca Film Festival Day One

Published on April 23, 2010

I’ll be reporting on the films I see each day. While there are films I seek out, there are times when the schedule is such that my available choices are not films on my radar and I’m very happy to take what comes my way. It’s a good way to discover something new and unexpected and I’m rarely disappointed.

My day starts out with a Phillippines/France co-production: Lola directed by Brillante Mendoze – Cannes’ Best Director in 2009. It is in Fillipino and Tagalog–which I mention strictly because my nephew Todd has developed many internet friends in the Phillipines and is learning Tagalog! The film centers around a theft resulting in homicide, but both the victim and the accused are ancillary to the story, which mostly centers around their respective grandmothers. One is looking for funds for a burial and the other to post the bail bond. Set amongst the poverty of the Manila slums, its overcrowded streets and waterways, the ever-present roar of traffic, TV’s and torrential rainstorms, these matriarchs scratch out an existence and are the driving forces of their families.

Despite the harshness, there is still dignity. One notices the clean clothes and civility, the neighbors’ donations towards the funeral. This is a culture that respects age. It is also one in which the state does not prosecute if the victim’s family have come to an understanding – which brings the grandma’s together. The films pace and feel make it seem very ‘real’. There is little dialogue, which adds to the overall effect, combined with simple, powerful performances. A few lighter moments relieve the heaviness – even in the worse of times, there can be some joy, however fleeting. What comes across even more strongly, are the ties of family, perseverance and making do.

Next up is Moloch Tropical by Raoul Peck from Haiti/France. A fictional Haitian President is ensconced in his mountain fortress – with an ultra modern, designer interior – and the best food, wine and clothes. The country is in chaos- riots and protests against the U.S. backed regime – but the reigning megalomaniac and his cronies, women and men, hold fast to their power and the perks. Even the servants scheme for a buck or a visa, trading sex for promised favors, but they have little choice anyway.

By shooting the film almost entirely in and around the fortress, the isolationism of the government to the people and of the Island to the world is heightened and further illustrated by the difficulty of the staff to secure a good crowd of dignitaries to commemorate the anniversary of independence. What little humor there is comes across as very dark, while scenes of brutality to a political prisoner are chilling in their understatement. This is a good ensemble cast of strong performers and a most unusual, but worthwhile film.

Last film of the day, (hey, I have to get back to my desk on weekdays!), is Road, Movie. An India/USA film directed by Dev Benegal. Good way to end as I need a little relief from the previous seriousness. A young man persuades his uncle to let him deliver his truck containing a portable cinema to a distant city. Along the way, he picks up a young boy and an old man. This simple tale starts with a somewhat self-centered man who makes a believable transition to one with compassion. Most of the journey takes them through the desert, and the many mirage-like episodes of their encounters are hauntingly beautiful.

The scenes in which old films are shown to people who have rarely or never seen such works are reminiscent of Cinema Paradiso in the best possible way. The most grave moment in the film deftly turns light – just the right thing. Despite a few minor inconsistencies (why do they need to tap onto an electric line to power the projectors in one village, but have no problem powering up in the middle of the desert?), this is a lovely film, well-acted, beautifully shot, and restrained. I look forward to more work by Mr. Benegal!

Catch the rest of Ed’s thoughts about the Tribeca Film Festival by clicking here

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