Sunday, May 07, 2006

Tribeca 15: the preantepenultimate batch

With the Festival over, we've been writing up what's left of what we've got. I've seen over 70 films and we're probably going to write up most of them. I don't think we'll do them all, though.

Five Fingers

Written and Directed
by Laurence Malkin

According to the press notes, Martijn (Ryan Phillippe) is an idealistic Dutch pianist on his way to Morocco to work on a humanitarian food project. His girlfriend (Touriya Haoud) is Moroccan and wants to help those less fortunate from her country, fair enough. So since she doesn't have a passport, Martijn and his bodyguard Gavin(Colm Meaney) head off to North Africa with a million bucks (US) and high expectations.

But once they arrive there, the pair are kidnapped, and they wind up in a basement somewhere in Africa, or at least we think it's Africa. Greeting them is Ahmad (Laurence Fishburne), their captor, who doesn't quite believe that their intentions are as good as they claim.

With Gavin dispatched almost immediately with a shot between the eyes, we're treated with what might be called a psychological thriller. On the one side we've got Martijn, who must try to outwit Amad and fellow terrorists Youseff (Said Taghmaoui) and Aicha (Gina Torres), who are more than happy to follow Amad's lead and cut off Martijn's fingers from his left hand when he refuses to give out the information requested.

This is a horror flick with a political agenda, and not the one you would think at the beginning. Things begin to change as the film goes on and by the end, the whole situation has been stood on it's head. This may be one of the few PRO torture films to ever be made.

This film is clearly Oscar@-bait. The performances by Fishburne and Phillipe are terrific, Torres is really good as well. The questions it raises are the right ones to be asked at this point in history and may actually be worth full price.

The Treatment (U.S.A.) - World Premiere.

Written and Directed
by Oren Rudavsky

Romantic comedy is always better with a little hallucination. Jake Singer(Chris Eigeman) is an English teacher in a fancy prep school where he also assistant coaches basketball. His life is kind of on the boring side, what with his still pining for his lost love Julia (Stephanie March) and all. This torch will have to be put out as she's about to marry someone else.

This is not that kind of movie. His shrink Dr. Ernesto Morales(Ian Holm) is the last of the great Freudians and won't allow for that sort of thing. Not only does he give bizarre advice when he's presiding over his $125-an-hour sessions, but he's apt to appear at the most opportune moments out of the blue to give sage advise.

This is mostly of no help when he meets the beauteous Allegra Marshall(Famke Janssen), a widow with two adopted children. It's not exactly love at first sight, but it's your typical romantic comedy relationship. There are the usual complications. Jake's father(Harris Yulin), with whom he's not talking has a major illness and Allegra's having problems with the adoption agency.

Then there's the problems with the shrink, who's more of a pain in real life than as a hallucination. It's all rather predictable, but the cast is so damn winning, and the script so cute that we can't help but have a good time watching the romance bloom, crumble and bloom again. The jokes all work and the pathos is just right temperature. This is worth seeing.

House of Sand (Casa de Areia)

Directed by
Andrucha Waddington

When one thinks of Brazil, one tends to imagine the Amazon rain forest but that's not what the country looks like. It's as big, if not bigger than the United States, and one of the stranger parts of the country is Maranhao, which is kind of like an endless desert that turns imperceptibly into an endless beach. It's that way now, and was that way back in 1911, when a certain Vasco de Sa (Ruy Guerra) has dragged his young pregnant wife Aurea(Fernanda Torres), mother-in-law Maria(Fernanda Montenegro), and a bunch of extras over miles of sand to a small oasis near the sea.

They are menaced by the descendents of escaped slaves and most of the immigrants escape back to civilization, but Saa won't let his wife and mother-in-law go. He himself bites the big one soon enough, and the women try to make a run for it, but Maria doesn't have the energy. They have to go back, and it's a life sentence.

All of a sudden it's ten years later, and Aurea is now the mother of a ten year old girl named after her grandmother (Camilla Facundes), and is in a relationship with Massu (Luiz Melodia), one of the local population in this desolate area. There is a window for escape, with an expedition of scientists testing Einstein's theory or relativity, but this fails.

The various scenes in the film are sometimes decades apart with Torres and Montenegro changing parts as grandma dies and mom and daughter grows old against a timeless landscape.

With very few characters, it's just the two women and Massu as everything and nothing happens. This isn't bad as art films go, and the two lead actresses, who are mother and daughter in real life, are terrific. Worth a look when it comes out on cable.