My first batch of reviews from the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival

The Tribeca Film Festival kicked-off on Wednesday with the premiere of the latest (and supposedly last–hurray!) Shrek romp.  I didn’t make it to that movie, but I have seen a number of other titles playing at this year’s festival and will be seeing many more over the next week so check back here for (hopefully) frequent updates.  Tribeca wraps up on May 2; to get more information (including screening dates/times) for the films covered in these columns, click on the titles to be taken to the festival’s website.


Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring Dany Boon, André Dussollier, Nicolas Marie

It’s clear by now that French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet–the man responsible for such inventive, if sometimes irritating movies as Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children–is physically incapable of making a film that isn’t suffused with his peculiar brand of Gallic whimsy.  The closest he’s probably come was his lone Hollywood picture, Alien: Resurrection, and even that movie was noticeably offbeat and odd for a big-budget action flick. Micmacs, Jeunet’s latest effort, has been described as his version of an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist movie and that comparison is an apt one.  Like every entry in this genre, the movie revolves around a group of bandits–each of whom possesses a specific skill–that plans out an elaborate scheme to rob a wealthy mark (or, in this case, two wealthy marks).  Usually these Robin Hoods are dapper fellows: think Clooney in the Ocean’s series or Michael Caine in The Italian Job.  But since this is Jeunet we’re talking about, his motley crew is made up of…well, freaks.  And I mean actual old-fashioned circus freaks, like a contortionist, a human cannonball and our hero, a guy with a bullet lodged in his brain.  As usual Jeunet’s cartoonish style can feel oppressive at times, but Micmacs clips along at a nice pace and, overall, is far less indulgent than A Very Long Engagement or the beloved, but in my opinion anyway, wildly overrated Amelie.  And like the best heist movies, it features a surprise ending that’s genuinely surprising.


Road, Movie
Directed by Dev Benegal
Starring Abhay Deol, Satish Kaushik, Tannishthah Chatterjee

A big-hearted love letter to cinema, this offbeat comedy sends its main character, the son of a hair oil manufacturer unhappy about his career prospects, on a bumpy ride through the dusty backroads and parched deserts of India.  Piloting a broken-down truck filled with an ancient projector and scratchy prints of old Bollywood hits (the vehicle’s original owner used it as a traveling movie theater) from his family’s home to the drop-off point hundreds of miles away, the hair oil scion runs across three fellow wanderers who join him behind the wheel, including a gray-haired nomad with a knack for getting stalled cars moving again, a savvy young kid looking to hitch a ride to a big city and a stunning woman from a local tribe trekking through the desolate wilderness in search of fresh water.  Director Dev Benegal makes the most of the stunning scenery offered by India’s landscape and the characters are a fun group to spend time with, although it must be said that the film’s ostensible hero can be a real pill at times.  Halfway through though, the movie starts to drift off course as the travelers run afoul of a gangster in a storyline that’s neither introduced nor resolved effectively.  Benegal also stacks the proceedings with a few too many Cinema Paradiso-style “Gee, aren’t movies magical?” montages.  Particularly at a film festival, that kind of material just comes across as preaching to the choir.


Soul Kitchen
Directed by Fatih Akin
Starring Adm Bousdoukos, Moritz Bleibtreu, Pheline Roggan

Best known for wrenching dramas like Head-On and The Edge of Heaven (both of which made by Top Ten list in the respective years they appeared), Fatih Akin lightens things up considerably with his latest film, a rough-around-the-edges screwball comedy set in a run-down restaurant on the outskirts of Hamburg.  The owner and operator of the titular establishment is a Greek immigrant whose girlfriend wants him to sell the place in order to follow her to China.  But he’s having a hard time letting go of the business he created and, in true screwball fashion, a number of improbable things occur that make it even more difficult for him to leave.  Recapping these various incidents would take too long and, besides, much of the comedy is derived from being unprepared for what our beleaguered hero has to face next.  Soul Kitchen‘s busy narrative isn’t as sure-handed as the equally complex plots in Akin’s previous films; the final half-hour in particular feels rushed and jumbled.  But the director’s affection for his characters and the movie’s playful spirit makes it an entirely satisfying cinematic meal.