On Saturday night, New York’s Tribeca Festival wrapped with a premiere and a party. For the first time since mid-March 2020, Radio City Music Hall threw open its doors to welcome around six thousand ticket-holders, only this time around, all of them were fully vaccinated. They’d come to see Dave Chappelle: This Time This Place, a concert movie that began as an experiment. Last summer, with the pandemic raging, the economy shut down, and the streets vibrant and furious with protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Chappelle, who lives in a small town in Ohio, decided to put together a few outdoor shows in a neighbor’s cornfield.
He went over to his other neighbors, Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert, the team behind the Oscar-winning documentary American Factory (2020), knocked on their door, and suggested that they might want to get some of this on record. The shows, which took place all summer long, ended up attracting the likes of Jon Stewart, Tiffany Haddish, Chris Rock, David Letterman, and Kevin Hart. Between stand-up sets, Bognar and Reichardt splice in scenes of the local community coping during that long, hot, crisis-ridden season. According to Deadline’s Jill Goldsmith, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, and the Hollywood Reporter’s Hilary Lewis, the audience greeted the film with laughter and applause and then leapt to their feet when Chappelle came out on stage to introduce a showcase of New York rappers including Redman, Ghostface Killah, ASAP Ferg, Fat Joe, De La Soul, Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, and Jairobi White.
Saturday’s screening and concert made for one of the most memorable of the over 250 in-person events Tribeca hosted around the city since opening on June 9 with Jon M. Chu and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. On Friday, Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move premiered as the festival’s Centerpiece presentation. Set in 1954 Detroit, the heist movie stars Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro as small-time crooks hired to oversee an operation that naturally spins out of control, unfurling subplots and a sprawling cast, which includes David Harbour, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Craig Grant, Julia Fox, Ray Liotta, and Bill Duke. “Double-crosses and side deals stack up one on top of another,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney, who notes that, by the end, there’s “a comment being made about wealth disparity but it gets a little lost in the bouncy narrative shuffle.”
But Soderbergh directs “with his usual fleet-footed grace, his work a pleasure (as ever) just to watch, loaded with inventive compositions and sprung editing rhythms,” writes Jason Bailey at the Playlist. The director also “revels in the period trappings,” writes Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, “the rounded cars and stylish baggy clothes, the elegant brick-based architecture, the surface ’50s ‘innocence’ that now looks like it was designed to conceal corruption.” No Sudden Move is “an ambitious light-spirited high-twist modernist noir in the tradition of Devil in a Blue Dress and Soderbergh’s own Out of Sight.”
Tribeca presents dozens of awards, and this year’s winners were announced on Thursday. Lauren Hadaway’s The Novice, which Daniel Gorman, writing for In Review Online, calls “a startlingly immersive portrait of ambition curdling into obsession,” tops the U.S. narrative competition, winning best film, actress (Isabelle Fuhrman), and cinematography (Todd Martin). Fuhrman plays Alex Dall, a rower pushing her body to its limits in her quest to make the varsity team. “Think Whiplash with shades of Black Swan set in the rowing world,” suggests Hadaway at Women and Hollywood. She tells Stephen Saito that one “question I have gotten a lot is, ‘Why?’ What drives Alex Dall? Why is she doing this? And it has frustrated me at times. The question is, ‘Why not?’ You only live once, and this movie is really my existentialist anthem.”
Brighton 4th, the third feature from Georgian director Levan Koguashvili, has won best film, actor (Levan Tediashvili), and screenplay (Boris Frumin) in the international narrative competition. Like Tediashvili himself, his character, Kakhi, is a former wrestling champion. Having covered his brother’s gambling debts, he leaves Tbilisi for Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, where his son, living among other Georgian immigrants, is supposed to be studying medicine. Instead, he, too, has been placing bets. “What’s remarkable,” finds Kaleem Aftab at Cineuropa, “is that while the gambling plot plays out in the way one might expect, it unfolds in such a surprising and arresting manner that one barely thinks of gangsters at all.”
In the documentary competition, Jessica Kingdon has won best new director and best feature for Ascension, a multi-faceted portrait of Chinese factory workers. “Rather than a posture of omniscience (à la Godfrey Reggio) or studio artmaking (à la Edward Burtynsky),” writes Steve Dollar for Filmmaker, “Kingdon anchors herself to the human factor, never as amusingly as when observing a roomful of workers assemble lifeline rubber sex dolls, fussing over the proper shade for nipples.”
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