Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tribeca Reviews: the fourth batch

The Suger Curtain

A documentary directed
by Camila Guzman Urzœa

Camila Guzman Urzœa's father was talented, rich and socialist. Thus when the government of Chile was overthrown in 1973, he and his family were welcomed to live in Cuba as privileged refugees. Thus, little Camilia had a very good life in the so-called “worker's paradise.”

Now a filmmaker living in Paris, she's gone back to look up old friends and see how they turned out. I was expecting pure propaganda, but happily I was wrong. It appears that she “gets it.”

Camila goes on a tour of Havana, looking for old friends, all of whom were from the new privileged class and fondly remembered the days of their childhood, where they went to Camp once a week and during summer, and the Soviet Union paid for pretty much everything they needed as far as school supplies and Communist Summer camp went. Since communist indoctrinations is actually rather kid-friendly, the “PIONEERS” was a blast [at least for the “cooler” among them], but then that mean Mr. Gorbachev screwed everything up by causing the entire Communist World to collapse and without all that gracious funding, the fun ended.

The so-called “special period” was all about Castro hanging on to power, and the people be damned. All Camilla's friends have relations that have emigrated, and the fact that the Cuban government helped pay for this depressing film is pretty amazing, considering the indirect criticism of the government and the acknowledgement that the whole communist “paradise” was one huge Potemkin village, a façade with no insides, which collapsed almost immediately and is only surviving on western tourism and handouts from Venezuela.

Having been to Cuba (legally), I can personally testify that the island is lovely, the people nice, and that once Castro goes to the great below there's a chance that everything could be just fine in the future. In the meantime, this is a lovely portrait of a benevolent despotcy.

Vivere, (Germany) – World Premiere.

Written and Directed
by Angelina Maccarone

On Christmas Eve, Antoinetta Conchiglia (Kim Schnitzer), a teenager if there ever was one, runs away from home. Her dad (Aykut Kayacik) sends sister Franceska(Esther Zimmering) to find her. Knowing that Antoinetta has gone to Rotterdam with her rocker boyfriend Snickers(Egbert Jan Weeber), she heads off in the family’s taxicab to find her.

On the way, Franceska finds a car that has crashed into a dumpster, and that the driver, Gerlinde (Hannelore Elsner), is still alive, so our heroine takes her to the hospital, but Gerlinde doesn’t WANT to spend Christmas in the hospital, and goes back to the cab to hitch a ride all the way to Holland, where she disappears. In the meantime, Franceska locates where her sister is supposed to be and starts up something with the proprietor of the club(Tygo Gernandt), where Antoinetta is finally found…in bed with Girlinde! We then rewind for chapter two, to follow Girlinde to the same point, then Franceska.

This film is extremely gay. Gerlinde is a lesbian from waay back, and it seems that Franceska might be switch-hitting as well. Granted Antonetta has a hereto thing for Snickers, but men seem to be the last thing on auteur Angelina Maccarone’s mind and seems very unhappy to even let them on the screen as more than extras. This is especially true of the three men who have more than a line or two, who are rather boorish and unwelcome, this is especially true of Dad and the club owner, the latter of whom just seems to be there to be smarmy.

All in all, this is a rather boring and pretentious film, full of an adolescent angst that pervades everything, even Gerlinde’s relationship with her lover. This will probably never be seen again on this side of the Atlantic, which is probably a good thing.

West 32nd, (U.S.A.) – World Premiere.

Written and Directed
by Michael Kang

The title of the film refers to a rather obscure fact: for two blocks between seventh and fifth avenue, the signs on 32nd street are mostly in Korean. This is where they do business, as most of the community lives in the outlying boroughs. Like most people outside or even IN the tribe, John Kim (John Cho), an ambitious young lawyer, knows very little about this. That is until he hears about a 14-year-old kid indicted for murder in a mob hit there, which is a perfect case to do pro bono as a way to drum up paying business from the community.

So he goes to Queens to interview the suspect’s sister Lila (Grace Park) and mother(Ja Won Kim), who seem to imply that this is a major miscarriage of justice perpetrated for racist reasons. However, they do give our hero some leads, which lead him to a local bunch of wannabe gangsters led by a certain Mike Juhn (Jun Sung Kim), who was briefly the successor of the murder victim as the manager of a 32nd street “room lounge” which is a Korean institution resembling a cross between a bar and a whore house. The term “briefly” is quite important here, because it leads to conflict between Mike and his superior in the Korean mob(Jun-ho Jeong). A perverse friendship develops between John and Mike, who takes our hero through the Korean underworld.

This is about as exotic a film as one can get. Despite being Korean, John is an outsider and as such is fascinated at the exoticness of the whole subculture that’s right under his nose, and that sucks the viewer into the film even more. That all involved except John and the kid’s family [the kid himself is never actually seen for more than a couple of seconds near the end], want the kid to go to jail is an interesting plot point which adds to the mystery of whether he’s actually guilty or not.

The acting is rather good. Cho and JS Kim have a good chemistry together and JW Kim is excellent in her extended cameo as the mother. This is a taught thriller to be sure, and does indeed keep one interested. Worth the bucks despite the subtitles.

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