By Steve Greene | Criticwire April 27, 2012 at 10:10AM
Unlike this year's Sundance, where “Beasts of the Southern Wild” cemented its status as the Sundance feel-good after seemingly everyone got behind it early, the Tribeca Film Festival program has divided critics. Rather than one film catching the attention of the masses, the reviews from our Criticwire members were more spread out at Tribeca. C and C+ grade averages dot the landscape. Nevertheless, there have been a handful of films that have either fared well or gained notoriety for various reasons. Here's a look at some of films that have provoked strong reactions from critics.
The Narrative Standouts
The World Narrative category at this year’s festival featured a dozen films that mostly landed in the dreaded B- to C range of apathy. These include the promising ("The Girl," a David Riker/Abbie Cornish collaboration, now stands at a C+), the curious (hipster isolation drama "First Winter" also has a C+) and the not-so-surprising (vampire romance "Jack and Diane" has a solid C, including a rating from a critic who deemed it the "worst film ever").
One that has established itself is "Yossi," Eytan Fox’s follow-up to "Yossi & Jagger," a film centered on love in the Israeli military that made a splash when it played at Tribeca back in 2003. "Yossi" takes place a decade after the events of its predecessor, with Ohad Knoller returning in the title role. This latest installment, co-written by Itay Segal, was one that came highly praised by the festival’s Director of Programming Genna Terranova (you can read our post-lineup-announcement interview with her here).
Indiewire’s Eric Kohn shares in that estimation, as he wrote in his review: "There's an immediate sense that Fox and Segal have brought a more considered approach to Yossi this time out, gradually seeping in the atmosphere of his life before building on the tensions he continually tries to contain...The intimate perspective of Yossi's routine allows the filmmakers to create a variety of moods, resulting in a story that's alternately sad and humanely funny in an understated way."
"War Witch (Rebelle)" premiered at Berlin earlier this year, but as a part of the World Narrative competition at Tribeca, which it won last night, it has attracted even more attention. Following a string of personal tragedies, a young pre-teen girl Komona manages to escape the horrors of being an African child soldier, only to be drawn back into the world of violence and confusion. Shadow and Act’s Tambay Obenson concisely described Canadian director Kim Nguyen’s film as "like a piece of hell in heaven." Although Obenson takes umbrage with some of the narrative choices that Nguyen makes (setting the film in a nameless area of the continent, portraying African poverty in a way that he calls "trite and tiresome"), he adds that "not that any of this completely ruined my viewing experience; it's a picturesque, and even somewhat hypnotic, yet raw film, with strong acting and direction."
The Solar System of Positive Doc Feedback
We’re guessing that it’s probably a coincidence that two of the best-reviewed films of this year's festival slate have the word "Planet" in the title. That would be "Planet of Snail" and "Journey to Planet X."
Reading the first paragraph of the synopsis on the film’s Tribeca film guide page, it’s hard not to imagine this Korean film as a subtle work of fiction. Young-chan lives a sheltered existence as a blind man who yearns to be a writer, only to meet Soon-ho a woman with a spinal disability. The loving relationship between the two grows as they depend on each other in their daily lives.
Writing at Twitch, Christopher Bourne calls "Planet of Snail" his "personal favorite" of the festival, primarily for what the film opts not to indulge in. "It most emphatically is not a maudlin, earnest social-problem documentary that dwells on the difficulties of their existence and holds [Young-chan and Soon-ho] up as sentimental objects of pity," he writes. Instead, what unfolds is a portrayal of two people who "are a good deal more in tune with and attentive to the world they live in than most of us so-called able-bodied folks."
Perhaps one of the most self-referential documentaries to play at Tribeca, "Journey to Planet X" charts the efforts of two scientists (Eric Swain and Troy Bernier) in their attempt to produce a science fiction short. The result is a nonfiction exploration that plays, as Eric Kohn asserts, better than the film that eventually gets finished.
As an added bonus, Kohn wonders if directors Myles Kane and Josh Koury have created a film that criticizes the very nature of the independent film scene. "Filmmakers are often beaten down by the endless pressure to perform, hustle and network along the film festival circuit," he writes, adding "that hectic cycle is a world away from the tiny bubble in which Swain and Bernier work." Joe Bendel argues that Swain and Bernier’s dedication adds a special layer to the proceedings. "Whether they pull it off or not, they are really going for it, which is cool to witness," he writes.