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Tribeca '08

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Man on Wire
Directed by James Marsh
April 26, 27, 29; May 4

In 1974, French funambulist Philippe Petit and his determined cohorts smuggled and installed a high-wire rig on top of the World Trade Center, where Petit then walked, danced, and laid down between the Twin Towers—criminal performance art to the ESPN2 extreme. In Brit filmmaker James Marsh's exhilarating doc account—a crowd-pleaser in such witty, poetic ways that even an art-house curmudgeon couldn't deny its tidy vigor—Petit's adventure, from dentist's-office inspiration and eight months of scheming to the ultimate stunt, is re-enacted like a slick heist thriller. Errol Morris couldn't have done it better, at least not with such understatement: Never mentioning 9/11 beyond the hint of a poignant photo shot from below, Marsh shows Petit becoming as one with the sky as a nearby plane. Aaron Hillis


My Winnipeg
Directed by Guy Maddin
April 24, 30; May 4

Guy Maddin's love-hate letter to his Manitoba hometown is, like Brand Upon the Brain! and Cowards Bend the Knee before it, a documentary-ish dreamscape with one foot in cinema's earliest era and the other in his own subconscious. But more than just a whimsical curiosity, My Winnipeg takes an extraordinary leap forward, as Maddin folds archival footage seamlessly into his pomo-retro stylizations to produce genuine intrigue, laugh-out-loud comedy, nostalgia for a place most of us have never been to, and—oddest of all—truth. Maddin narrates and eulogizes the ambiguous history of "the heart of the heart of the continent" (a park built on a garbage dump, a three-story public pool segregated by gender, a fake Nazi holiday—is this place for real?) with a cast of sleepwalkers like the younger "Guy" (Darcy Fehr) and his overbearing mother, as played by the narrator's "mother" ('40s femme fatale Ann Savage). Aaron Hillis


Night Tide
Directed by Curtis Harrington
April 29; May 4

The 1961 feature debut by the recently deceased Curtis Harrington, whose full filmography begs attention (The Killing Kind!), gets a welcome restoration. A proto avant-gardist in 1940s L.A., Harrington forays here into cheapjack Tourneur atmospherics, under the auspices of Roger Corman's production company AIP. A sailor on leave chats up a dark, ethereal girl on the amusement pier. She has a reputation on the boardwalk: Previous boyfriends came to bad ends; hired to play mermaid at the sideshow, there's a suspicion that she has actual mythical origins. For his lead, Harrington hired friend Dennis Hopper, his career then in TV-Western purgatory. He's disarmingly gentle and serious here, in sync with the film's sad quietude—the washed-out seediness of the Venice Beach locales is not soon forgotten. Nick Pinkerton


Playing
Directed by Eduardo Coutinho
April 29; May 1, 3, 4

Playing is weirdly mesmerizing for a movie that consists almost entirely of Brazilian women sitting on a stage in an empty theater, telling their life stories. Half of them are talking about themselves; the others are actresses hired to impersonate the original storytellers, word for word and gesture for gesture. They might sway or wave their arms or raise their eyes to the sky for emphasis, but the camera always holds their heads firmly within its fixed gaze. Subjects are probed and prodded by director Eduardo Coutinho, who conceived of the film as a way to explore the relationship between acting and playing. The whole thing is highly conceptual, and worth a watch if only for the mind-reeling sensation of observing two women—one "real" and one "fake"—chip away at the same character simultaneously. Julia Wallace


Redbelt
Directed by David Mamet
April 25, 27

The synopsis in the press notes for Redbelt, the latest meditation on American malehood from the heart and loins of David Mamet, is three pages long. Surprisingly, it's the talkiest thing about this labyrinthine, sequence-driven movie. Mamet's steely, staccato language is still in evidence, largely by way of a super-chill ethical vessel named Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), whose manifold codes of honor derive from the martial arts. A Desert Storm veteran with a demanding Brazilian wife (Alice Braga) and a jujitsu studio where he puts cops, thugs, and rape victims through their paces, Terry is a fighter, not a competitor. A series of chance encounters (most absurdly, with a Hollywood fat cat played by Tim Allen), however, conspire to get him back in the ring. Mamet is clearly enthralled with the world of body drops, Zen koans, and fight-movie motifs, but his self-seriousness actually works in favor of this satisfyingly overblown genre romp. Michelle Orange


The Secret of the Grain
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
April 28, 29, 30; May 4

This overlong but absorbing drama turns an intensely detail-oriented eye to a Franco-Arabic community in a depressed seaside town. Slimane (Habib Boufares), a freshly laid-off dockworker, is the shy and stoic center of a raucous extended family. Prodded by his stubborn but doting stepdaughter (the magnetic young actress Hafsia Herzi), he takes tentative steps toward realizing a dream: opening a restaurant that sells his ex-wife's famous fish couscous (the secretive grain of the title). Some abrupt transitions punctuate the film's long stretches of dense, Altmanesque chatter, but director Abdellatif Kechiche captures his milieu just right—the gossip, the good food, the endless gutting and eating of fish. Julia Wallace

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