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Film Critic Harlan Jacobson at Tribeca 2018

Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

This is as good a time as any to take a little time out from the crazy-making news cycle and check in at the movies. The Tribeca Film Festival opens this week, and it’s the festival that counts now in NYC, with close to 100 films in the feature film lineup of which 46 are directed by women.

There are 10 films in this Year’s Tribeca International Competition, and I’m looking forward to seeing Amateurs a Swedish comedy about competing films about a small town—the one by the town investment board and the other one by a couple of teenagers, who tell a different story.

There are 3 gala screenings, including The 4th Estate by doc vet Liz Garbus, this one following The NY Times around on the Trump trail, Love Gilda, a doc about SNL’s Gilda Radner, and Zoe, by Drake Doremus with Ewan McGregor and French star Lea Seydoux -- from Blue is the Warmest Color--about dating in a techno world.

And among the 15 films in the Spotlight section, I’m aiming for Disobedience, by Sebastian Lelio, who won the foreign Oscar last year with A Fantastic Woman. Disobedience stars the two Rachels, McAdams and Weisz, in an affair that rocks the Hasidic community of North London. Because nowhere in the Shulchan Aruch, literally the long table of 613 laws that stops to prescribe the frequency and terms of sexual intercourse between a man and a wife, does it say anything other than Oy when it’s not about the boy. Unless it’s a goy, and they’ll do anything.

A good chance to re-see three restorations at Tribeca, including In The Soup, by Alex Rockwell, a wry comedy with Steve Buscemi and Seymour Kassell, that won the 1992 Sundance Film Festival – a fest that turned its back that year by the way on Quentin Tarantino’s young master work, Reservoir Dogs, also with Buscemi as the weasely Mr. Pink, while ironically putting Tarantino forward on the world cinema map, and more or less guiding Rockwell into a productive career teaching film here in NYC.

No better premiere at Tribeca this year than Woman Walks Ahead, written by Steven Knight, who wrote Locke, that high wire act of screenwriting and direction featuring Tom Hardy as a concrete engineer on the eve of a huge construction pour, as we see only him behind the wheel of his car on his cel phone and juggling his wife, family and a woman with whom he’s had a one-night stand. This one’s directed by Susanna White, based on a NYC society painter, played by Jessica Chastain as another in her lineup of proper ladies invading the rough terrain of male privilege by leaving society behind and setting out to find and paint the portrait of Sitting Bull sitting out his post Little Big Horn retirement on the Standing Rock Reservation. You can catch up to Woman Walks Ahead at Tribeca starting Wednesday through Sunday, and then again in May when it opens in theaters from A24, those good folks who took Moonlight to the Oscars a year ago.

I’m also looking forward to seeing The Rachel Divide, a doc about Rachel Dolezal, who you may remember as the president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP – until she was revealed as white, not black, as she identified. I hope director Laura Brownson has done well by this subject. It’s one I bring up all the time in conversation with friends, since it seems to land directly on the question of biology versus identity, about which public opinion has shifted somewhat recently when it comes to gender. But nothing about identity trumps the biology of race, apparently, when it came to the case of Dolezal, whose life was turned upside down for acting on white privilege, when, as far as I can see, she did nothing Christine Jorgensen didn’t do in renouncing male privilege in 1951 about gender. I hope The Rachel Divide clarifies the issue, the person, and my thinking, when Netflix –which by the way was banned from the Competition at the upcoming Cannes film festival -- opens the film in theatres and streams at the end of the month. But you can see it at Tribeca starting Monday, 23rd. The short message is, there’s a whole lotta shaking going on at Tribeca and you can make yourself a part of it at www.tribecafilm.com through the end of the month.

Finally, there’s a film you should not miss outside Tribeca, Chloe Zhao’s The Rider. About a young rodeo cowboy, Brady Jandreau playing a character named Brady Blackburn, who is forced to give up bronco riding after a nearly fatal rodeo fall. The film, which came out of Cannes 2017, knits together in one flawless narrative the shift in masculinity that defined the early cowboy films from Tom Mix to John Wayne and the later ones of Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood, to something different that began mid-20th Century.

The Rider is a great Western set in the Badlands of South Dakota. It features a real family, the Jandreaus. Brady Jandreau, in his way, calls on the trace memory of Harold Russell, the GI who came back from WWII with hooks for hands, and played the character of Homer Parrish in William Wyler’s 1946 classic, The Best Years of Our Lives. Why is it, you might ask, that in films it’s only when men get hurt that they get more human? As we see in The Rider, hard as it is to believe sometimes, the best years of our lives are still ahead, if we will them so. I leave you with Brady and his adolescent sister, Lilly, working out the future.

Harlan Jacobson became WBGO's film critic in 2010, covering the international film scene for the "WBGO Journal," with reports from film festivals around the world about films arriving on the scene in the greater New York-New Jersey metroplex.