Downtown Express

25 movies to catch at the Tribeca Film Festival

LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE Thai director (and Pratt alum) Pen-ek Ratanaruang teams with Hong Kong–based cinematographer Chris Doyle and Japanese dreamboat Tadanobu Asano for this lovely, bruised rumination on chance, symmetry, and international relations. Asano's neat-freak librarian, adrift in Bangkok and compulsively concocting suicide scenarios, bonds with a mutually bereft local girl days before she leaves for Osaka. A minor-key ballad filled with delicate but haunting shifts in register, the film is best summed up by its original Thai title—literal translation: Tiny Enormous Love Story. A Palm release, opens August. D.L.

Last Life in the Universe
photo: Tribeca Film Festival
Last Life in the Universe

The Last Train
photo: Tribeca Film Festival
THE LAST TRAIN Alexei Alexeyevich German, same-named son of the Soviet-era master behind My Friend Ivan Lapshin and Khroustaliov, My Car!, co-opts his dad's widescreen mise-en-scène and wartime humanism for this breathtaking debut, a desolating visit to the Soviet front of WWII, wherein a corpulent, foolish German surgeon wanders into the snowy forests and never comes out. Like a traumatized consciousness, German's movie withholds cause-and-effect and temporal fluidity; it's a smothering, tubercular nightmare of unseen deaths and Sisyphean action, all in startlingly eloquent black-and-white. MICHAEL ATKINSON

LIPSTICK & DYNAMITE, PISS & VINEGAR Ruth Leitman's peep at the world of female wrestling from the '40s to the '70s reveals a culture that ran the gamut between hard-won liberation and hard-knock abuse. Pioneers describe how they were photographed like glamour girls and trained like Olympians—expected to be ladies on the street, freaks in the bed, and monsters in the ring. Predictably, as these tough broads relive their glory days, tales of off-hour exploitation by the men who held the purse strings seep through the rosy recollections. L.S.

THE MAN WHO STOLE MY MOTHER'S FACE The flipside of Long Night's Journey Into Day, this effectively agonized doc provokes the question of whether a privileged white South African's personal suffering might also merit a filmmaker's quest for truth and reconciliation. That the filmmaker, Cathy Henkel, is the daughter of the victim—who was raped and beaten in her Johannesburg home in 1988—lends an extra layer of empathy to a story in which justice appears more easily attainable than peace. R.N.

THE MOTHER In this bold quasi-update of Fear Eats the Soul, a newly widowed English grandmother (Anne Reid) takes up with a bit of rough half her age (Daniel Craig), who also happens to be her daughter's married lover. Directed in a crisp deadpan by Roger Michell from Hanif Kureishi's barbed screenplay, The Mother bracingly—and humanely—resists sensationalism and sentimentality. At once fearless and vulnerable, emphatically putting the sex in sexagenarian, Reid's performance is a self-contained miracle. A Sony Classics release, opens May 28. D.L.

THE ORIGINS OF AIDS By now it seems clear that AIDS was born from contact between humans and chimpanzees infected by the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus. Peter Chappell and Catherine Peix's highly disquieting doc explores the possibility that the devastating transfer was inadvertently caused by scientists. Witnesses recount how chimps were used in the manufacture of virologist Hilary Koprowski's experimental polio vaccine in Africa; he denies all knowledge of the matter. ELLIOTT STEIN

POSTER BOY Zak Tucker's first feature represents an overdue advance for the gay coming-out movie—insofar as it forgoes solipsistic affirmation and factors in culture-war realities and a more nuanced view of sexual and political identity. The closeted son of a bigoted senator is pressured into helping Dad campaign, but changes his mind after a one-night stand. Though the plot machinery is creaky, the actors are persuasive, and the scenario's bristling election-year topicality should not be underestimated. D.L.

SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER Forgotten genre-freak Jeff Lieberman (his erratic career began in 1976, as the auteur behind the giant-worm saga Squirm) manufactured this '80s-style gore-farce out of crummy horror-flick spare parts, but the upshot is conceptually maniacal and witty. A semi-delusional kid, obsessed with a satanic video game, meets and obliviously assists a grinning-demon-mask-wearing psycho as he litters bodies through an iconic suburbia on Halloween—a setup that allows Lieberman to fill front-lawn graveyard displays with corpses and bloodied knives. M.A.

SO THIS IS NEW YORK For this 1947 farce (the program calls it a belated New York premiere, though it has actually played in Brooklyn and at MOMA), first-time producer Stanley Kramer had on his payroll scenarist Carl Foreman (High Noon); director Richard Fleischer, a talented craftsman; and the versatile composer Dimitri Tiomkin. He was less lucky with his leading man, radio comic Henry Morgan, playing a small-town cigar salesman in the big city, but Hugh Herbert, usually seen as an asexual nincompoop, is splendid as a lecherous shrunken-head collector. E.S.

A SOCIAL GENOCIDE Radical thunderflash Fernando Solanas hasn't tempered his ferocity one foot-candle since his hellacious Marxist masterpiece The Hour of the Furnaces (1968), and this fist-in-your-face history lesson of modern Argentina's economic downfall at the hands of politicians and the IMF could make your nose bleed. Framed by astonishing footage of the Buenos Aires street protests of 2001, Solanas's video document faces not military dictators but privatization and illegal debt, explicating the pillage of the nation's resources in bullet points, while contrasting Argentina's dire poverty and its palatial corridors of financial power. M.A.

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