The 2021 Tribeca Film Festival
A lovely tour of Paris. You can see the city in the background as the camera focuses on people talking. There’s two guys talking as they stroll along the Seine. A man and woman talk as they ride the metro. Another pair talk on a Vespa ride to Montmartre. The conversation passes from one pair to the next as they cross paths. Mostly they talk about themselves.
There’s a guy who’s picking up his friend’s sister and he freaks her out by telling her she’s hypnotized. A 30 something man and woman talk about pornography and he admits to filming himself. Perhaps most bizarre of all, a woman in a wedding gown talks to a seemingly abandoned infant in a carriage. She tells the poor tyke how she liked the idea of doing celebrities’ laundry until she encountered smelly briefs.
I can explain the title. In a conversation between two young women, one comments that decades start in the 20’s, ‘like the roaring 20’s.’ Hence we’re just starting a new decade now. I can explain little else. Is this perhaps a snapshot of how weird life has become after the pandemic? This is a unique film and a creative idea, but to be honest, I wasn’t that far in before I found myself hoping that each new chit-chat vignette would be the last. But the background was pretty.
The Stockholm Syndrome
You might not suspect Sweden of being a racist society. You might not suspect Sweden of being a repressive society. You might not suspect Sweden of having an unjust criminal justice system. That’s because you might not be a famous rapper from Harlem.
This is the story of A$AP Rocky. It’s actually two stories. There’s the story of Rocky’s life beginning with his mom showing his baby pictures. He talks of starting to rap at age eight and of how his brother steered him away from gangs, that is before he got shot on the street corner where they lived.
The other story is about Rocky’s 2019 gig in Stockholm. He and two members of his entourage got into a street fight with two guys who were following them. Rocky was arrested and tossed in jail. There’s no bail in Sweden and he was deemed a flight risk. He spent 30 days in solitary, no calls, no visitors.
Guess who gets involved? Trump. Seems Kim Kardashian picked up Rocky’s cause and got her husband Kanye West to talk to his buddy Trump who made some noise about making some calls. The whole thing ends with Trump being pissed that Rocky doesn’t thank him for getting him out. He didn’t really, he probably just made it worse.
He was eventually found guilty of assault and sentenced to time served. Turns out that if he was ruled innocent Sweden would have to pay for lost income. Know how much a month’s missed nightly shows would amount to for a world famous artist on a European tour?
Rocky is a compelling personality, articulate and honest. His is an interesting story and that makes for an interesting movie. There’s some good footage of his live performances as well. And, oh yeah, he goes back to Sweden.
Noam on his wedding night, sandwiched between the world’s most annoying bride and the world’s most intrusive parents.
It starts when Eleanor makes him carry her over the threshold of their hotel room multiple times until he gets it right. Before you know it, they’re out on an adventure to find her ex because she thinks he is with his ex and she wants to return a ring his former fiancé returned to Noam as a wedding gift. In the interim they had managed to swallow the ring in a Roomba. Confused? From the honeymoon suite Noam ends up in his parents kitchen eating leftovers from the wedding ceremony.
The movie is good for quite a few laughs, although the laughs run out before the movie does. It also starts to stretch the imagination in terms of how something of the sort could realistically play out. This is by no means a romance. The trials, tribulations and emotions of a much longer term marriage seem to play out here in a single night. Can’t help but think it would have made a great short.
Last Film Show
Samay is a young boy, maybe 12 or 13, in a remote area of India. He helps his father, who sells tea out of a shack at the local train station. Every day Samay’s mom packs him a lunch and sends him off to school. But Samay doesn’t go to school. He heads for the village cinema where he has a deal going with the projectionist. He gives the projectionist his lunch and in return is invited into the projection room, where he not only can see the movie but can see how it all works.
Samay passes on that knowledge to his crew back home. They figure out how to reflect light and after raiding a junkyard they build their own hand-cranked projector. This is a feat worthy of Edison! Splicing together some stolen film, they put on their first film show in an abandoned building that is part of what they call the ghost village. But at the same time, the last film show is taking place at the real village cinema. It’s going digital. The heavy projectors and equipment is trucked out to a furnace where it is melted down to eventually become silver spoons. The films themselves, stored as they are in cans, are taken to some type of recycling center, pulled from the cans and reels and boiled in a vat to eventually become bright colored plastic bangles.
This film is a tribute to the movies. Maybe you have to see through a child’s eyes to understand the magic of the cinema. Here’s a boy who never went beyond his local village and suddenly he discovers a whole world on that big screen.
There is also some nostalgia. About a time when the film was celluloid, wrapped on a reel and stored in a metal can. About a time when a person had to take the reels one by one out of their cans, mount them on the projector and thread the film into it.
Samay was a dreamer and in the end he has a dream. He’ll make movies. Though he may be a little sad to find everything is digital. A cool story.
Life and work in China. Mostly work. It’s as bad as you might expect: regulated, repetitive and relentless. There’s fabrics, components, plastics and meat. Sewing, stamping, assembling and packaging.
This is a cinema verite feature. There’s no narrative. Some dialogue and bits of presentations. I’m generally a fan of the style, but it did leave some questions unanswered. Like what exactly were those female mannequins with the enormous breasts that the workers were screwing heads onto.
It is not all about manual labor. We get an inside look on some assorted training classes. One trained potential influencers to pitch products online. Among the products was a kind of glue stick for fastening extraneous hairs to your head. A business etiquette course instructed as to how many teeth you should show when you smile (the correct answer is eight). A session that appeared to be intended to train bodyguards included a lesson in eating watermelons. This isn’t comedy folks, they’re dead serious.
Ascension is magnificently filmed. I streamed it but would have loved to see it on a big screen. So many pictures truly worth a thousand words. There is something of a score but much of it is like the background music you hear on corporate videos. I don’t find this to be a very compelling view of China. The “Chinese dream” is damned capitalistic and socio-economic inequality is a thread underlying so much of what we see. Every now and then you catch a glimpse of somebody whose eyes seem to be screaming out ‘WTF?’
A very different Chinese movie about money. In Wu Hai everybody owes somebody. Either you’re running from a debt collector or trying to collect from a debtor. Some characters are doing both. It all stems from an investment Yang Hua made with a partner in the development of a dinosaur park. The investment was more than just everything he had, so he mortgaged his apartment and car as well. The park never happened.
Amidst scenes of road rage and marriage rage there’s some peace when the scene shifts to Yang Hua’s wife’s yoga studio where they hang from the ceiling in slings and gently rock to new age music. And for humor there’s the scene where a debt collector tries to stick his foot in an elevator Yang Hua has just entered. Yang grabs the foot, the door closes and he finds himself riding up clutching a prosthetic leg.
The power of this movie is the cinematography. Whether it’s the landscapes and sunsets, or the dizzying city and driving scenes, the visuals are haunting and beautiful. The pictures themselves are so captivating, irrespective of the story and the dialogue.
This is not what you would call an uplifting story. This is all anguish. We watch distrust turn to hatred, hatred turn to life and death violence. In the end, it is the story of how one man destroys his life and that of everyone around him.
India Sweets and Spices
Alia is a 19-year-old UCLA student coming home to New Jersey for the summer. Home is a wealthy Indian-American community where the families take turns each week hosting massive and lavish dinner parties. It’s gossipy, pretentious, class-conscious and ultimately fake. Not an environment easily tolerated by a modern, active, socially-conscious 19-year-old.
Clearly this is not the first movie about young Indian-Americans rebelling against the traditional and unbending ways of their elders. At one dinner party, Alia puts down her beer to note “at least with our generation women can get as shit-faced as men.” But this movie goes beyond the usual laughs about the parents, aunties and uncles and their obsolete beliefs and lifestyles.
When Alia discovers her father having an affair it sets her off on a journey of discovery about her mother, her past and her marriage. It is at times infuriating and at times heartwarming. The portrayal of the relationship between this opinionated, temperamental teenager and her guarded but ultimately insightful mother is pretty special. Hard to say too much more without spoiling it. Sophia Ali is brilliant as Alia. This is a film worth watching.