Best in Show

The Top 40 Picks of the Tribeca Film Festival

A Perfect Day

A sullen Lebanese mood piece in which the entirety of Beirut seems haunted in its details by the civil war of 1988, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige's film studies a day in the lives of a widow still waiting for her long- disappeared husband to return, and her grown son, who is plagued by a wholly symbolic case of narcolepsy. They bridle at the sense of stasis in their lives, and the movie feels hypnotically on the verge of a disaster that never comes—or has come and gone years before. A big winner at Locarno and an eloquent experience thanks largely to the city itself and contents-under-pressure performances, especially by the Magnani-esque Julia Kassar. M.A.

Prix de Beauté

illustration: Jorge Colombo

In her final starring role, Louise Brooks plays a Parisian typist who wins a beauty contest and dumps her boyfriend, with tragic consequences. Augusto Genina's direction is routine, but this is a cinematographer's movie, from the dazzling location shooting to the beautifully lit projection room climax. Cameraman Rudolph Mates does wonders with Brooks's radiant face—her performance is an irresistible mix of innocence and eroticism. The film began shooting as a silent, sound was added, and it was released in four languages. The rarely revived silent version will be shown, preceded by Giovanni Pastrone's The Fall of Troy, an important film in the history of set design—the magnificent decors often give a sense of bound- less space in contrast to the one-dimensional sets of earlier historical pictures. E.S.

Punching at the Sun

A South Asian teen grapples with the loss of his brother on the mean streets of Elmhurst, Queens. Tanuj Chopra's first feature doesn't deviate much from the coming-of-age template, but it has a tenderness and intimacy that recall recent small-scale NYC triumphs like Our Song and Raising Victor Vargas, not to mention a dazed summer-in-the-city energy proudly lifted from early Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. D.L.

Shoot the Messenger

An acerbic identity-politics analysis served up in a contemporary picaresque, Ngozi Onwurah's sprightly satire combines wry, dark humor with TV-movie style melodrama. "I hate black people," soliloquizes protag Joe. "I hate being black. Being black feels like a curse." Cursed he may be: Joe's fortunes propel him from hardnosed schoolteacher to homeless beggar, mental patient, Christian charity case, job placement officer, and cocktail partygoer. The film travels through these numerous pockets of black British culture with an eye for social detail that's equal parts Spike Lee and Charles Dickens. E.H.

The Shutka Book of Records

Another shot rang out from the Balkan hinterlands, this Macedonian doc is as whimsical and subjective as nonfiction gets—but its wild sense of absurdity and peasant magic sprouts from the native soil of what is apparently Eastern Europe's largest and most famous all-Rom village. Recording Shutka's daily life, first-timer Aleksandar Manic (who is a resident and a doctor) offers up dervishes, unseen genies, silent-movie antics, psychotic entrepreneurs, obsessives of all stripes, South American soap operas, Tito fetishists, nonstop music, and "champions" whose "most" and "best" achievements you'll never find in Guinness. M.A.

Sounds of Silence

Amir Hamz and Mark Lazarz's low-tech but meticulous doc explores the vagaries of the Iranian music industry, an apparent hall of mirrors in which contemporary musicians, producers, and even retailers never know for sure what is permissible under sharia and what is not. The articulation (particularly of rock journalist Shadi Vatanparast) of the regime's byzantine rules for lyric content, women singers, musical tone, etc., speaks volumes politically, even as the officially condemned culture persists in a nation where nearly 65 percent of the populace is 25 or under. M.A.

Street Thief

Believed responsible for some 100 safecrackings since 1996, Chicago-based burglar Kaspar Carr is the subject of this transfixing documentary. Filmmakers Malik Bader and Miles Harrison strive for a comprehensive view of the "profession," following Carr through months of painstaking preparation and, most provocatively, riding along on several jobs, including a six-figure score at a suburban multiplex. Bader and Harrison largely ignore the obvious ethical questions raised by their enterprise, which must be why their final-act turn to the police in a desperate effort to explain Carr's still unsolved 2004 disappearance feels so self-serving. J.L.

Taking Father Home

The dizzying chasm between urban and rural China—a perennial subject in Jia Zhangke's films—is fodder for blunt melodrama in Ying Liang's first feature. An obstinate village kid heads to the big city in search of the father who abandoned him years ago, his motives suspended between revenge and reconciliation. Ying's knack for framing overrides the no-budget production values, and he even manages a credible late shift from black comedy to tragedy. D.L.

Tell Me Do You Miss Me

Matthew Buzzell's doc about the farewell tour of cult heroes Luna amounts to a grubby indie-rock scale-down of The Last Waltz—less an epic send-off than a grueling long goodbye of sound checks, nightly gigs, and endless van rides with people who can barely tolerate each other's company. But the film has a mournful, sleep-deprived mood that matches the melodic Velvety drone of the group's songs, underlined by the prickly, weary offstage chemistry of band members Dean Wareham, Britta Phillips, Sean Eden, and Lee Wall. The result may likely create new fans now that it's too late—which seems fitting. J.R.

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