Tribeca 2024 Dispatch: International Narrative Competition, Slices of Family Life, Sometimes Melancholy, More Often Miserable

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
Tribeca 2024 Dispatch: International Narrative Competition, Slices of Family Life, Sometimes Melancholy, More Often Miserable

Family life usually provokes strong, personal reactions, either positive or negative. In the case of the films in the International Narrative Competition at the 2024 Tribeca Festival, family life exerts a powerful influence upon the narrative in the 10 films (out of 12) that were made available for remote coverage, whether its the combustibility of a trio of men who form an uneasy familial bond, as in the excellent thriller Hunters on a White Field, reviewed here or the quieter disruptions to two families as depicted in the finely-tuned drama The Freshly Cut Grass, reviewed here.

Family plays an important role in Samia, based on the true story of Samia Yusuf Omar, a young girl who loved to run. As a former runner myself, I readily identified with Sami's sheer joy. She was born in Somalia in the early 1990s, however, a society that was religiously conservative and frowned upon young women exerting their own personal identity. Samia battles with her mother, but finds comfort and support from her father, as well as her best friend, even as she lives in dangerous times. Directed by Yasemin ┼×amdereli, it's a sobering film that stings, even as it reminds that families can surprise you.

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A journalist in Belarus, Lena also lives in dangerous times, as the opening moments of Under the Grey Sky vividly demonstrate. After the pulse-pounding opening sequences, director Mara Tamkovich brings the pace down; the film is inspired by a true story, and so the events that follow effectively dramatize life under a repressive regime where armed authorities can bang down your front door and haul you away to prison, for reasons not given. Locked up, Lena remains firm in her beliefs, while her husband Ilya begins to wonder if wavering a bit, for the possibilities of promised freedom, may solve their immediate crisis. It's a true test of their marital bond and will dictate what sort of family life they can have in the future.

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Another journalist, Dina (Saltanat Nauruz), who has worked for years on television in Kazakhstan, faces her own moral crisis in Bikechess, not due to her marriage mate, but because of her younger sister, an activist who is a proud lesbian in a nation where same-sex coupling is lawful but can stir up vociferous anger; she is also a committed activist, which is starting to cause questions to be raised against Dina and her career on television, where she is assigned to cover mind-numbing civic activities. Dina mulls over her future and tries to make the best of things, even though nothing sounds very promising.

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Family is not much of a salvation in director Qiu Yang's Some Rain Must Fall, which follows what happens after Cai, a mother and a housewife, accidentally injures an older woman at a sporting event. Raised to believe that having a happy family would ensure a good life, Cai lives unhappily with her unhappy husband as they begin divorce proceedings, while she also raises her unhappy adolescent daughter and cares for her live-in mother-in-law. It's a dour situation for all involved, and director Qui Yang amplifies a stifling existence with his shooting style, as well as the quietly-spoken dialogue.

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The early scenes in Family Therapy set up a broadly satirical contrast between two families, one whose car has caught on fire on a lonely highway, the other a wealthy family who speed by on the way to their elegant home, filled with carefully chosen possessions and many, many windows. The latter family is composed of a father, a mother, and a teenage daughter; they have been joined by the husband's 25-year-old son by another woman, long estranged for reasons that are not initially declared. The son brings some much-needed life into the household, even as the unsteady narrative threads begin to unravel. Writer and director Sonja Prosenc has a keen eye for striking compositions and arch dialogue, even if her characters tend to try the patience over the 122-minute running time.

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Not all families are traditional nuclear units; sometimes, our friends are closer to us than anyone related to us by blood. Directed by Joseph Roze and Pablo Cotten, Eternal Playground considers a group of high school friends in France who reunite years later, after one of them dies. One of them is now a teacher; with the ending of the school year, he is able to access the deserted school, where the friends chat, dance, argue, eat, sleep, and otherwise pass the time. The setup is borrowed from The Big Chill (1983) but, without the 60s cultural context, it gets very shallow, very fast, without much to recommend it, beyond the earnest performances by an attractive cast.

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The lack of a traditional family structure has contributed to the isolation felt by an orphan named Martin in The Dog Thief; he ekes out a living by shining shoes in La Paz, Bolivia, and is acutely aware of his meager social status, as his classmates cruelly taunt him. A kindly, older tailor is a regular patron with a fine German shepherd, which prompts Martin to share that information with a street buddy, who steals the dog. Martin and his friend have the idea that they can get the old man to pay a pretty penny for the return of the dog, but Martin finds himself getting closer to the gentleman, who is practically the only person who treats him kindly, and wonders if the old man might even be his father. Writer-director Vinko Tomicic's film is gentle, loving and empathetic.

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Adela always found familial comfort in her best friend, Elena, whose recent death has left her completely adrift. Written and directed by Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge, Don't You Let Me Go is perhaps the lightest-in-spirit film in the International Narrative Competition, though that doesn't mean it's disposable or a throwaway comedy. Instead, it's a thoughtful, imaginative journey into memory, as Adela somehow finds herself again enjoying a weekend with Elena from her past, when they were young and happy and everything seemed possible. Wishful and wistful, it sneaks under the skin, close to where distant good times live forever.

Catch up with all our Tribeca 2024 coverage.

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