The Top 40 Picks From the Tribeca Film Festival

The Hit List

Gilaneh The newest film from Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Iran's grande dame of popular-resistance cinema, isn't quite the deft balancing act that Under the Skin of the City was, but it's the only Persian film we've seen that addresses life on the ground during, and after, the eight-year-long war with Iraq and "that Baathist bastard." It's a diptych: First, a histrionic matriarch and her pregnant daughter, refugees from bombing, decide on the eve of the war's end to return to their city homes, which they find bombed out and devoid of men. Fifteen years later, they're back in barren countryside, the grim after-effects of war dominating their lives. Co-directed with newcomer Mohsen Abdolvahab, Gilaneh is too indulgent to impotent peasant speechifying, but the reverb is substantial. ATKINSON

How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It) As testaments to Melvin Van Peebles's badassitude go, Joe Angio's doc trumps son Mario's recent narrative homage. Reminiscences weave through '60s footage from émigré days in Holland and France—where Van Peebles threw in with anarchist cartoonists and wrote novels in order to qualify for "French author" film funding. Acolytes like Spike Lee and Gil Scott-Heron recall the tinderbox of Sweet Sweetback, Van Peebles's proto rap albums, and Broadway forays. The man himself reflects on both artistic struggle and wicked tricksterism—like spraying watermelon air freshener in his office just to see if anyone had the guts to mention it. LAURA SINAGRA

I Am a Sex Addict Caveh Zahedi's latest autobiographical essay tells the story of his chronic obsession with prostitutes, largely though re-enacted episodes from his past. Drawing the viewer into the convoluted processes of the filmmaker's own self-absorption and artistic angst (take note: He's a former Ivy League philosophy major), I Am a Sex Addict provides a humorous but deceptively lighthearted journey. The full effect is deeply uncomfortable, and one cannot help but wonder if the film is not only an analysis of extreme artistic narcissism, but in itself a well-wrought symptom. HALTER

photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Midwinter Night's Dream This tetchy, melancholy drama from Goran Paskaljevic (Cabaret Balkan) loiters in Serbia's post-war skids with an aged veteran/convict (Lazar Ristovski, star of Kusturica's Underground), returning to his dead mother's house to find a middle-aged woman and her autistic daughter squatting there. Rich with lingering desolation both inside and out, Paskaljevic's movie sidesteps the obvious and delivers poignant haymakers, while maintaining an astringent and sometimes deadpan-comic visual viewpoint. It's Ristovski's movie, and his brooding bearishness carries a lot of history. ATKINSON

Miss Else Directed by Paul Czinner in 1929, this was the last silent film of Elisabeth Bergner, accomplished star of Weimar stage and screen. Based on an Arthur Schnitzler novel, it concerns an innocent girl whose parents are on the verge of ruin. They ask her to borrow money from a rich banker who has designs on her. The buildup is drawn out, but the bravura third-act payoff in a St. Moritz hotel is sensational, one of the strongest moments in German cinema of this period. A fascinating footnote to Bergner's bio: She was the real-life Margo Channing—All About Eve is based on a story taken from events in her career. ELLIOTT STEIN

My Sister Eileen Richard Quine's 1955 musical was the third of four dramatized versions of Ruth McKenney's stories about two small-town girls seeking fame in New York. It's cute and easy to take, although the tunes are not a patch on Leonard Bernstein's score for Wonderful Town, the Broadway version. Young Bob Fosse, ingratiating as an amorous soda jerk, moves like a dream—this was the first film he choreographed on his own. Janet Leigh shines as Eileen, but the movie belongs to Betty Garrett, as her sister Ruth. It turned out to be her penultimate picture—her career was cut short by the politics of the McCarthy period. STEIN

Mysterious Skin Like his most lasting contributions to New Queer Cinema's '90s big bang, Gregg Araki's eighth feature is notable for its strong outsider empathy and brashly complicated take on nascent sexuality and desire. But this Midwestern repressed-memory coming-of-ager, in which an act of child abuse may or may not be related to a UFO sighting, is atypically heartfelt. The film inverts the familiar Amerindie trick of pedophile identification, daring to portray one of the molested boys as a sexual being—that he's hardly a typical victim only reinforces the film's moral point of view. Tartan, opens May 6. LIM

Neo Ned As in neo-Nazi. Confined to a psychiatric facility following his involvement in a hate-crime murder, skinhead Ned (Jeremy Renner) hooks up with an African American woman (Gabrielle Union)—who apparently thinks she's possessed by Adolf Hitler. Director Van Fischer's second feature takes a few easy potshots at obvious targets like trash-TV-watching moms and condescending fast-food managers, but scores big with its soul-sick vision of institutional life, right down to the implacable monochrome walls. Renner's performance is a marvel of ADD kinesis, and the ironic ending is suggestive of Taxi Driver. JOSHUA LAND

News From Afar Starting out in the kind of crushingly impoverished Mexican highland town that Y Tu Mamá También only glimpsed from the roadside, this meditative debut follows a boy as he leaves home and looks for work in the urban grind of Mexico City. Ricardo Benet's first film provides a laconic document of the kind of rural life that globalization has condemned to anachronism. Its wide-angle shots of peaks and ochre skies contrast with images of open country defiled into tire-strewn junkyard wastelands. SINAGRA

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