Volume 80, Number 48 | April 28 - May 4, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

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Photo by Pablo Paniagua

In “Blackthorn,” Sam Shepard stars as an incognito Butch Cassidy — who takes the name James Blackthorn and falls into old habits of self-employment.

Tribeca flicks worth flocking to
Four reviewers, four films, eight upward thumbs

BLACKTHORN
Directed by Mateo Gil
98 minutes.
In English/Spanish, with subtitles.

Fri., Apr. 29, 9pm, at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St., btw. 7th & 8th Aves.).
For tickets ($16), purchase at the Box Office or call 646-502-5296 or visit www.tribecafilm.com.

REVIEW BY TRAV S.D.

This may well be the most Southerly western in all of the genre’s history. Set not in Texas, not in Mexico, but in the mountainous jungles of Bolivia, it purports to tell the story of Butch Cassidy’s nonage — some two decades after his presumed demise at the hands of local authorities (an incident known to audiences so well from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”).

Finely crafted by the Spanish team of Mateo Gil (director) and Miguel Barros (screenwriter), it’s now 1927 — and the pot-bellied, wind-beaten and white-bearded Butch (Sam Shepard) is getting lonesome for home and maybe a little tired of anonymity and inactivity. He puts together a little grubstake and starts his journey north before — wouldn’t you know it? — he bumps into a young fugitive (Eduardo Noriega) who claims to have embezzled from a rich mining executive. The two ride together, slowly becoming partners in crime, and inevitably friends. But with the Bolivian army in pursuit, along with a Pinkerton man who has been following Butch for decades (Stephen Rea), the odds are stacked against them.

As impossible as it may seem, the film steers clear of clichés. Flashbacks to the young Butch and Sundance and their mutual love interest Etta are self-conscious and a little cringe-inducing in their nostalgia-baiting. But the meat of the story, which moves as slow and stately as its mature star, still packs plenty of original twists, action and surprises. Fans of Shepard (like this reviewer) will glean right off the bat why he took the part. The actor/playwright, so long identified with the west, fits his iconic character as though he’d worn it all his life. It’s a career-defining statement. He even sings several folk songs on the soundtrack. Seeming like he’s having the time of his life, Shepard turns in some of the best acting of his career.

Lord knows what kind of distribution a little film like this will get in the United States. Do yourself a favor and see its gorgeous jungle vistas on the big screen now while you still can!


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Photo by Jerry Rothwell

This “Doner Unknown” daddy was living free as a bird, until his kids came looking for him.

DONOR UNKNOWN
Directed by Jerry Rothwell.
78 minutes.

Thurs., Apr. 26, 6:45pm at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St., btw. 7th & 8th Aves.).
For tickets ($16), purchase at the Box Office or call 646-502-5296 or visit www.tribecafilm.com.

REVIEW BY BONNIE ROSENSTOCK

This compelling, thought-provoking documentary, filmed by English director Jerry Rothwell, is subheaded, “Adventures in the Sperm Trade.” A more apt catchphrase could be, “Who’s Your Daddy?”

JoEllen Marsh, 20, raised by two lesbian mothers in Pennsylvania, discovers an online registry that connects donor-conceived children. Through it, she finds a half-sister in New York. The New York Times picks up the story, and by some lucky twist of fate, Jeffrey Harrison, the anonymous Donor 150 daddy in question, happens to read it and comes forward, not something that most donors do. Harrison, now 52, is living alone with four dogs and a pigeon in a cluttered, broken-down RV in a car park in Venice Beach, “where crackheads and millionaires live near each other,” he says.

The movie follows Marsh and four of the 20-something half-siblings (probably the only ones who agreed to be interviewed), as they connect with each other — they recognize their common physical characteristics, temperament and interests — and with the eccentric, kind-hearted Jeffrey, who at first glance, might not be the father of their dreams. By the time of the film Marsh had discovered 13 half-siblings, scattered across the U.S., and so far, she had met seven of them.

Cappy Rothman, co-founder and medical director of California Cryobank, from where Harrison’s sperm was chosen, characterizes his business as “a soul caller.” He gives us an inside look at this growing, high-tech industry, where vats of the steaming, frozen stuff are stored, as well as the erotic rooms, catering to varied tastes, used to stimulate deposits. We learn that Cryobank is the sixth largest user of Fed Ex in California, and 30,000 vials have been mailed all over the U.S. and abroad.

Around two decades ago, Harrison was a handsome, well-built aspiring actor — he is now gaunt with a face lined by years of living on the margins — who supported himself by making hundreds of donations. Because of his glowing profile, which he admitted was slightly exaggerated, his sperm was very popular. Marsh muses, half in jest, if she meets someone who she is interested in having a relationship with, how can she be sure he isn’t a sibling?

The existential who am I and where do I come from initiated Marsh’s quest and bonded the sibs. Explored in the film and still to be worked out, is how Harrison will affect their and their families’ lives — and how they will impact his unconventional, solitary lifestyle. But Rothwell also wants us to ponder the larger ethical and moral issues, like what constitutes family and fatherhood, what is the role of genetics, do donors have the right to remain anonymous if they choose to do so and should couples be allowed to select the characteristics of their donor. But for now, it seems the kids are all right — or at least they say they are.


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Image courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival

Maryhan as Amal, in “Cairo Exit.” See review

CAIRO EXIT
Directed by Hesham Issawi
96 minutes.
In Arabic, with English subtitles.

Fri., Apr. 29, 5:30pm, at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St., btw. 7th & 8th Aves).
For tickets ($16 evenings/weekends; $8 matinees), purchase at the Box Office or call 646-502-5296 or visit www.tribecafilm.com.

REVIEW BY RANIA RICHARDSON

I tend to be biased in favor of movies with characters named Rania. The Queen of Jordan shares my name — one that is very common in the Middle East. In “Cairo Exit,” Rania is a secondary character who makes sacrifices to secure a husband. The drama revolves around her friend, Amal, a Coptic Orthodox Christian girl who is living in the slums of Cairo like herself.

Amal is in love with Tarek — a Muslim boy who is eager to migrate to Italy. The chemistry is palpable between actors Maryhan and Mohamed Ramadan, who play the star-crossed lovers.

Writer/director Hesham Issawi’s sophomore effort focuses on the hardscrabble day-to-day lives of the underclass. The film is a gritty counterpart to last year’s “Cairo Time” — starring Patricia Clarkson as an American woman who experiences the Egyptian city as sensuous and exotic.

Amal is the caretaker for her mother, so refuses to leave with Tarek. She announces that she is pregnant in hopes that he will stay and marry her, but religious taboos make the proposition next to impossible. Caught kissing in a car obscured by the washing belts in a car wash, the two are threatened with arrest for indecency. Meanwhile, Muslim Rania, played by Sana Mouziane, raises money for an operation to “revirginate” herself so a married man will accept her as an additional wife.

Throughout, the story illuminates the many compromises women make in contemporary Egypt. Moments of joy are interspersed with the hardships, such as Amal speeding through the city with Tarek on a motor scooter or a spontaneous belly dance she does for him while fully clothed. A melancholy finale suggests that there is one heaven for all religions.

The Tribeca Film Festival has an exceptional track record for screening new work from Egypt, from Marwan Hamed’s epic soap opera, “The Yacoubian Building” in 2006 to Yousry Nasrallah’s enigmatic “The Aquarium” and Engi Wassef’s informative “Marina of the Zabbaleen” in 2008, to Ruba Nadda “Cairo Time” in 2010.


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Photo courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival

Hop to it: Rachid Youcef, as parkour practitioner Gecko, in “Flowers of Evil.”

FLOWERS OF EVIL
Directed by David Dusa.
99 minutes.
In French and Farsi, with English subtitles.

Thurs., Apr. 28, 4pm at AMC Loews Village 7 (66 Third Ave. at 11th St.).
For tickets ($16 evenings/weekends; $8 matinees), purchase at the Box Office or call 646-502-5296 or visit www.tribecafilm.com.

REVIEW BY ALINE REYNOLDS

Burning cars. Bloodshed. Chaos.

Violent images fill director David Dusa’s film — which skillfully contrasts the heartwrenching warfare taking place in modern-day Iran with the peaceful, socialist tenor of contemporary France. Dusa successfully lures us into the budding relationship of Anahita, an Iranian student vacationing in Paris, and Gecko, a French-Algerian hotel bellman.

The characters’ reliance on the Internet as a primary means of communication underscores the indispensability of social media in our time. Anahita obsessively checks Twitter and YouTube to stay abreast of news back home in Tehran, and becomes acquainted with Gecko on Facebook after their initial encounter in the hotel he works at.

As the two youths begin a romance, they gain insight into each other’s culture and lifestyle. Gecko, a free-spirited, hyperactive orphan, realizes he has it relatively easy compared with Anahita — who fears for her friends and family as she watches the horrors taking place in Tehran (uploaded onto YouTube).

In his time spent with Anahita, and with the help of Wikipedia, Gecko discovers a culture that was completely foreign to him (when he first meets Anahita, he says, “you come from a country of traffic jams,” oblivious to the real daily struggles Iranian citizens face.) Anahita, in turn, learns how to enjoy life and accept death, which once terrified her.

Gecko, a foster care child, has had his own share of tragedy. As a teen, he witnessed his best friend’s death in a car accident and his father’s passing. His freedom, we learn, is what gives him happiness and purpose — a basic right that Anahita is denied in her shackles back home.

One particularly poignant scene juxtaposes the lovers passing their fingers through a candle fire with the Iranians desperately trying to escape the flame-filled streets of Tehran.

The exquisite and imaginative cinematography contrasts grit and glamour by shifting between amateur footage of scenes in Iran with pristine shots of everyday life in Paris. Also effective is the text that appears on the screen showing digital interactions between the characters, and compelling camera angles that evoke the film’s disparate moods.

However, certain aspects of the film just don’t work. It is somewhat unrealistic that Anahita would travel to Europe on her own, knowing that her loved ones are in danger. Her ability to access the Internet in practically every public place in Paris seems implausible (even New York City isn’t that connected). Also, Gecko’s compulsive parkour maneuvering — on subway platforms, in the street and everywhere else — becomes tiresome and distracting.

Nevertheless, kudos to Dusa for creating a credible, gripping film, which captivated this viewer with its vivid rendering of grim realities and raw emotions. 

 

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