"Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world," Jean-Luc Godard once alleged. Ah, if so, here is a fraud that is a stairway to many a truth, at least that’s what’s this year's Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) persuasively demonstrates.
From an early handful of TFF offerings I’ve screened, there was not a bummer in the crop, just far-reaching offerings tackling various issues with an applaud-worthy savvy: DACA angst, love spurred on by Covid-19, sex trafficking, religious hypocrisy, alternative music posturing, Jewish childhoods in Brooklyn, musical takes on Black Lives Matter, aging while sitting next to a tree, arranged marriages, and a blind cat-sitter.
Clearly, the Fest's opening feature is the most highly publicized film of the year, In the Heights. The musical's creators and performers have been interviewed by everyone but SpongeBob. At this writing, worrisomely for some, the film has not been breaking box office records, plus creator Lin Manuel Miranda's been accused of Afro-Latinx erasure. Yet the production has inarguably broken Hollywood's self-imposed taboos on depicting the Hispanic experience in the States, not to mention upending the studios' reluctancy to allow Hispanics to be groomed for stardom. With its invigorating choreography, its candy-colored cinematography, its songs that become more addictive with repeated viewings, and its first-rate cast, the Washington Heights populace's cry for an equal chance to live the American Dream should become more palatable to those of all political persuasions.
Miranda calls this seeking a sueñito, which translates into a "little dream." There are many a folk depicted here with sueñitos, but for some reason, the character whose quest had me tearing up was Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), the teen-aged cousin of lead character (Anthony Ramos). When Sonny realizes he might not be able to get into college because of his lack of citizenship papers, his pain is palpable. (Also catch an early-on shot of Sonny biting into a potato chip while working in a bodega, then returning the uneaten half back into the bag. He does so with unbridled style. A bravo! comic-snack moment.
Pulkit Arora’s first film, the 6-minute short, "Milk Toffee," is a simple tale that was shot in one day at the Navy Children School in India. Here a Goan schoolteacher/nun (the engaging Tanvika Parlikar) has caught several of her students stealing toffees, which at first they refuse to admit. That’s a no-no, especially when the following phrase is shouting from the classroom bulletin board: "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord." However, when one of the boys shows up with his furious dad, to save the boy from an obvious beating, the teacher lies and states that she, in fact, was the one who stole the toffee. The father hollers that he’ll see she’s fired. Left alone, with the stolen candies on her desk and the lesson-of the day on the blackboard ("God will guide your steps."), she steers her chair away from a huge sculpture of a blue-eyed Christ, unwraps a toffee, and contentedly chews away. Moral: lying lips are sometimes the best type of lips, and the most Christian.
As for Eric Oh, this acclaimed artist left his job animating for Pixar (Finding Dory, Inside Out) to create his own personal cinema. The result was "Opera," which earned an Oscar nomination this year for Best Animated Short. His latest is "Namoo" (Korean for tree), a delightfully dark take on life, rather reminiscent of Shel Silverstein's classic, The Giving Tree. A babe is born as is a sapling. As the boy ages, so does his tree, but instead of bristling with leaves, the branches are weighted down with the artifacts of the lad's life: his toys, a bicycle, a guitar, awards he has won, and drawings reflecting his dreams. Then come the at-times harsh realities of adulthood. A love won and lost. Office jobs replacing creative ambitions. And finally a traipse toward death, a finality that turns out to be quite rewarding for both tree and man. A second Oscar nom wouldn’t be out of the question here.
Other noteworthy Tribeca offerings: See for Me, the sensational Seven Days, and Poser.
(The 2021 Tribeca Film Film Festival runs until June 20th.)