Downtown Express

25 movies to catch at the Tribeca Film Festival

A TALKING PICTURE Manoel de Oliveira rehearses his farewell with this cruise around the Mediterranean in the company of a history professor and her young daughter. The tone is bizarrely straightforward, though midway, John Malkovich and three European divas arrive to raise the eccentricity level. A travelogue that imagines the origins and the end of European civilization and amply justifies its title, A Talking Picture has so little vanity it's not even artless. Watching the movie is like getting high on spring water. A Kino release, opens late 2004. J.H.

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

THE TIME WE KILLED A beautiful, impressionistic cine-poem (and a companion piece to her short Chronic), Jennifer Reeves's debut feature combines elements of experimental film, narrative cinema, and documentary to create a stellar example of personal filmmaking. Poet Lisa Jarnot plays Robyn, a borderline agoraphobe who can't prevent the outside world from penetrating her Brooklyn apartment—whether it's a murder-suicide next door, memories of her true love, or September 11. MARK PERANSON

VULCANO Director William Dieterle was called in to direct Anna Magnani in this juicy 1950 melodrama after both she and the project were dumped by Roberto Rossellini, who took off to shoot Stromboli with Ingrid Bergman. In addition to Magnani's lusty performance (as a prostitute banished by the Naples vice squad to her native island), the film's assets are colorful semi-doc scenes of local life and some first-rate underwater sequences. This is the U.S. premiere of the original Italian version. E.S.

WAR IS OVER! Iranian-Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi (Marooned in Iraq) crafted this pedestrian's-eye video diary of everyday life in post-Saddam Iraq with more urgency than polish, but its value as first-person reportage remains self-evident. Odd music choices (light jazz over shots of coalition-occupied Baghdad?) and a chatty voice-over that occasionally curls into deadpan cynicism gloss images of a shell-shocked toddler playing next to a burning field, and junk markets selling off everything from loose medications to small firearms. Screens with Saddam's Mass Graves. E.H.

WINTER SOLSTICE Anthony LaPaglia plays a blue-collar widower dad struggling to maintain connection with his two sons, the elder (Aaron Stanford) through with high school and sick of playing co-parent to his troubled younger brother (Mark Webber). Despite minor incongruities—the 'hood seems a bit ritzy for its "dead-end" rap—writer-director Josh Sternfeld's ear for familial vernacular, determination to present working people actually doing work, and affection for grounding detail warm up this slice-of-life vignette. L.S.

ZAMAN, THE MAN FROM THE REEDS The first feature made in Iraq in over 10 years, Amer Alwan's simple, DV peasant fable was already in production as Bush II's invasion was being debated in international news (footage was confiscated by the old regime, leaving Alwan to finish it once Saddam was ousted). Studiously meta-realist in the Kiarostamian tradition yet amateurishly executed, Alwan's movie affects a mock-doc structure and quietly matures into a pained critique of Islamic culture. M.A.

ZATOICHI Takeshi Kitano plays the titular blind swordsman, beloved folk hero of numerous Japanese serials, as a platinum-blond recluse forever chuckling over some private joke (maybe it's that he can actually see?). With its taiko-heavy score and punchily choreographed bursts of torso perforation, Kitano's first period movie repeatedly threatens to turn into a musical, and eventually does, complete with ecstatic, tap-dancing chorus line of samurai, peasant farmers, and cross-dressing geisha. A Miramax release, opens June 4. D.L.

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