Highlights from this Year’s TFF: Part 3

Most of us have already moved on to Cannes by now, but memories of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival continue to dance in my head, so I’ll give it one last entry here on The Ajnabee. While I talked about the “can’t believe it” moments in Part 1, and skimmed over the films in Part 2, I must get deeper into my personal favorites, the movies that if you know me well by know you understand you’ll be hearing me talk about endlessly in the months to come.

Without thinking that the order has anything to do with favorites and such, I will begin with one film that warranted its own piece on the Huffington Post: Mahmoud Kaabour’s Grandma, a Thousand Times (Teta, Alf Marra).

Why has this 48-minute documentary about a Beiruti grandmother who sits around on her terrace smoking Arguileh, peeling oranges and making coffee, while talking of her deceased husband conquered my heart? Because it is so honest, so simple and so wonderfully candid in its depiction of what true love really is. Kaabour’s affectionate cinematic letter to his aging grandmother is what I wish I could do for my own beloved, deceased grandfather Hans. It’s what every grandchild who has ever loved a nonna, teta, baba or yaya and lost them wishes they had in their possession, to remind them of a love that lives in their heart but no longer has arms to hug, or a voice to tell them stories. Sometimes we don’t know what we had until it’s gone. Kaabour knew what it meant, and did something about it. The result is, as I pointed out in the title of my piece, MAGICAL. The film plays next at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Last Night was instead a film I decided to watch last minute, no pun intended, and it turned out to be my favorite narrative. The film was incredibly emotional for me, so full of pregnant meaning and personal experiences that I felt like discussing it with everyone around me. While not everyone shared my views, it was soon clear that the film touched a lot of people — and film critics — a lot more deeply than they wanted to admit. The film is also a great love story to downtown Manhattan, with languid shots of the Meatpacking District and SoHo that simply made me fall in love with my city once again. If you have a chance to catch this Miramax release in the theaters, run don’t walk to your closest cinema! Never mind that it was the film where I discovered my latest movie crush: Guillaume Canet… One word, YUM.

While I am the first to admit that Cairo Exit was not as equally exquisitely filmed as the bigger budget Last Night, the film ended being a very strong statement to the divisive power of religion. Cairo Exit tells the story of a Amal, a young Coptic Christian woman and her Muslim boyfriend Tarek, both wanting to survive what is a logistically impossible situation, and relationship. Cairo Exit, produced by the legendary Sherif Mandour, is a statement to courage, even present in the fact that Mandour saved the only copy of the film by mailing it to his office in Poland. He did this to avoid the destructive power of the Egyptian authorities, who never authorized the filming schedule and would have not only destroyed the film, but jailed both he and the filmmaker Hesham Issawi.

Love During Wartime is a documentary by Swedish filmmaker Gabriella Bier about real life couple Jasmin and Osama — she an Israeli and he a Palestinian. Married and both adoring of each other but also deeply loved and supported by their own families, the couple face an uphill battle from the Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Jasmin can’t live in Ramallah with Osama, and he cannot even cross into Israel. The film left many questions unanswered for me, which is always a good sign with a documentary. Primarily, it re-defined whether it is right or wrong to involve others in our own fight for a relationship. My latest answer — NO! — surprised me.

Flowers of Evil was an interesting study in the power of the internet. Are we more free now that we can communicate with our friends and family across continents and oceans? Or does that make us even more imprisoned by our guilt, our need to know what is happening to the ones we love and our desire for a true connection… Are we alienated by the power of Twitter and YouTube instead of feeling freed by it? David Dusa, the filmmaker, shows a female protagonist, the Iranian Anahita, who cannot survive in her country but also cannot thrive abroad, because of her inability to detach. While her French Algerian new boyfriend Rachid has found a way to enjoy life despite his difficult upbringing and struggled existence, Anahita’s obsession doesn’t allow her to view the wonder that is right in front of her. Flowers of Evil feels like a cinematically disguised very serious commentary on all those desperate souls I see every day on the subway, staring blankly into the screens of their Blackberries and IPhones, instead of creating a small connection with the world around them, say even that Italian woman staring at their alienation…

The last film I’m sharing in this post is The Kite (Patang) which I can best describe as a postcard homage to the colorful city of Ahmedabad, India, during Kite Festival. Having been there, as a guest of a family that owns a house just doors down from where the rooftop scenes of the film were shot, I can attest to the fact that filmmaker Prashant Bhargava captured the spirit, the look, the feeling and even conveyed the smell of the city at Makar Sankranti time. For me, it was a personal journey back to a time and place that inspired many, many written chapters of my life, but even for the Kite Festival un-initiated, it’s a superbly magical film. The Kite boasts the appearance of two of the most understatedly talented actors of today, Seema Biswas (Bandit Queen, Cooking with Stella) and Nawazuddin Siddiqui who played the shy reporter — my favorite character — in Peepli Live.

It seems that I may need one more piece on Tribeca, I just can’t seem to fit it all in three segments. Stay tuned for Part 4 in the next couple of weeks. Maybe I’ll dish some of the dirt… But that is just SO unlike me.

All images courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival and Image.net

Bookmark and Share

Leave a Comment