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June 2022

Reality Bites

Adriel Gonzalez

Subject (2022)

Movies about movies are rarely a bad idea, especially when shown as part of the Tribeca Festival. And producer-directors Camilla Hall and Jennifer Tiexiera hit on an extraordinary idea with “Subject”: revisit the subjects of famous documentaries and discuss how the experience of being captured on screen affected their lives. They also scored a great coup with the participation of Margie Ratliff, i.e., one of the daughters from “The Staircase,” which is currently having another moment. But in its analysis of how their participation in a documentary altered their lives, they equate two kinds of participants; and their choice to do so is a misdirect from a very serious mistake.

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Something Borrowed, Something New

Lukasz Dziedzic

Roving Woman (2022)

“Roving Woman” is dedicated to Connie Converse, a singer-songwriter who spent nearly a decade trying to make a name for herself and her music in 1950s Greenwich Village, except she was a woman ahead of her time so nobody cared. She gave up in the early 1960s, around the time Bob Dylan strode into the limelight, and in 1974 packed up her car and disappeared. She’s never been seen again, probably a suicide, but also because (according to her Wikipedia page) her family decided to “respect her decision” to vanish and never searched for her. It’s exceedingly unlikely she is still alive, but her music survived due to the protection of a friend and was discovered by the wider world about 20 years ago. The movie is named after one of her songs, about a woman’s use of cards and drink to be led astray. But this beautifully sad little film, shown at the Tribeca Festival, is instead about how easy it is for a life, in the words of Britpop favorite Pulp, “to slide out of view.”

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Break the Routine

Tribeca Festival

Woman on the Roof (2022)

It’s late summer 2021 in a small town in Poland. A sad middle-aged woman lives in a cramped apartment with an unkind husband, Julek (Bogdan Koca), and a permanently shirtless adult son, Mariusz (Adam Bobik). As the movie begins, she’s in the laundry room when she notices the rungs in the wall go up to a hatch on the roof. She climbs slowly; the crocs she’s wearing are not designed for this. The hatch isn’t locked. On the roof she pauses to feel the sun on her face, and then goes to peek over the edge. From where she stands it’s not such a long way down, not at all. Her life is on the edge of a precipice, which her men have utterly failed to notice, but why would they? She is there to cook their meals and iron their clothes and what else is a mother and a wife for? Well, when she does something that surprises even herself, everyone finds out.

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And Then There Were Two

Sara Larrota

Petit Mal (2022)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a group of people living in a so-called alternative arrangement, must never shut up about it. Most of them don’t make movies screened as part of the Tribeca Festival about themselves set in their own home, which is generally a big loss; there’s little more enjoyable than being nosy and/or judgmental about how other people live. The bourgeois bohemians of “Petit Mal” are a trio of Colombian lesbians who live in a huge rural house and are pretty pleased with themselves. This is not necessarily a complaint. Laia (Ruth Caudeli, the writer-director) is a movie director; Martina (Silvia Varón) is a film editor who works at home; Anto (Ana María Otálora) does the dishes. They all sleep in a big bed in a big bedroom in matching teddy-bear onesies. When all three of them are together the rest of the world vanishes into nothing. But right from the start there’s a burbling concern that paradise was only built for two.

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Reappraisal of a Radical

Jerry Bauer

My Name Is Andrea (2022)

Andrea Dworkin has always been a divisive figure, within feminism and without. She’s best known for spearheading, alongside Catharine MacKinnon, legal attempts to ban pornography in the 1980s, seeing that as the first step to ensure equality between the sexes. That goal has been comprehensively lost, but her wider point – the threat of sexual violence is a cultural whip used to keep women in line from girlhood, and women should unite to fight back against that by any means necessary – was often lost in the fuss. Pratibha Parmar’s biographical story of Dworkin, as shown at the Tribeca Festival, isn’t quite either a biopic or a documentary. Unfortunately its message is lost in the fuss.

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Marriage Minded

Zelma Cutout

My Love Affair With Marriage (2022)

For a movie that was never officially distributed, “Sita Sings the Blues” has had an incredible influence. “Sita Sings the Blues” combined uncombinable things into a work of beauty: director Nina Paley’s lousy marriage which fell apart between San Francisco and Trivandrum, a Hindu myth about the mistreated wife of a prince, and the jazz-era songs of Annette Hanshaw (the cost of the rights to which meant the movie was released under a creative commons license, instead of regular copyright). There is no way that movie should have worked and yet all the pieces somehow melded together perfectly. Did I mention it was animated? “My Love Affair with Marriage,” a Latvian-Luxembourgish coproduction shown at the Tribeca Festival, uses the same template to tell a similar story. A woman’s romantic relationships in a strange and alienating society with a heavy mythic past are explored through animation and commented on with voiceover and song, but it’s unfortunate the overall effect is less powerful, possibly because the songs were composed for the film instead of a serendipitous back-catalog discovery. They are sung by a Greek chorus of winged bird-women (the band Trio Lemonade: Iluta Alsberga, Ieva Katkovska and Kristine Pastare) who hammer home the life lessons Zelma (Dagmara Dominczyk) learns growing up in the U.S.S.R. Writer-director Signe Bauman also added a highly original twist – Zelma’s story is narrated by Biology (Michelle Pawk), as in the literal and differing neurons in her body which are fired up every time she experiences an emotion. But this unusual combination of narrative choices unfortunately depersonalize a very personal story.

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Family Skeletons

Oren Soffer

Allswell (2022)

“Allswell” is an old-fashioned movie in the best possible sense: a slice of ordinary daily lives driven entirely by the characters without a single special effect. As shown by the Tribeca Festival, the heroines are three Nuyorican women in their late 40s who have quite a lot of life left in them – something incredibly offensive to say in real life, but deeply necessary in cinema, which prefers to center the young. Their choices and their attempts to find happiness are all the more valuable for being flavored with past disappointments and the already-learned knowledge that not everything works out the way you want. It’s a rare treat.

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Spiritually Weak

Robert Vroom

You Can Live Forever (2022)

Teenage romance is tricky. Either it’s a couple of kids messing around, practicing at love, or it’s unexpectedly real and overwhelming, with serious long-term consequences. How those consequences are handled depends on the kids. Some are mature enough to understand what’s happening and prepared to gamble their life on this early throw of the dice, and others are naïve, both about themselves as well as the wider world. And what most kids don’t realize is there are always adults observing, especially in a small town in Quebec in the early 1990s. It’s even more fraught when a large part of the town are Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian sect most notable for proselytizing to strangers and not celebrating holidays, including birthdays. “You Can Live Forever,” shown as part of the Tribeca Festival, is interested in figuring out whether it’s possible for a believer and a nonbeliever ever to be happy together. The fact that the teenage romantics are both 17-year-old girls is almost beside the point.

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Ship of Fools

Fredrik Wenzel

Triangle of Sadness (2022)

“Triangle of Sadness” continues writer-director Ruben Östlund’s preoccupation with the upending of hierarchical social constructs – gender, race, wealth, class, chain of command etc. – in the face of disasters natural or manmade. It’s certainly the kind of stuff that plays well at festivals, as evidenced by Cannes twice bestowing on him the Palme d’or. But does anyone honestly remember what happens in “The Square,” which won him his first in 2017, without looking up the plot? “Triangle,” Mr. Ostlund’s second Palme d’or winner, has a wild ending that feeds right into the rush of the festival setting; the problem lies in the uneven two and a half hours it takes to get there.

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News of the World

Alex Takats, left; and Carl Juste

Endangered (2022)

“Endangered” follows four journalists of the liberal press going about their trade in four geographically separate but equally unsettled parts of the world, running into all the dangers that the trade has always encountered plus the ones brewed up in our current tense period. Dire as these are, sometimes they don’t seem so novel. Governments have always threatened reporters and the cops have always fired tear gas at them and people who mark their ballots in a different place have always been angry. When the film arrives at its natural destination with the Jan. 6, 2021, Washington riot and the abuse of journalists there, it seems one item on a continuum rather than a rogue data point. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s HBO film puts its journalists on another continuum, the honorable one leading back to The Washington Post and Watergate, and further back to clips from a 1960s U.S. TV program about the strength of a free press and the roaring print lines churning it out. Whether this is a road map to rescue or a last lament is less clear.

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