Monday, April 21, 2014

TRIBECA FEST: Zero Motivation, Incident Urbain & Karpotrotter

My day at the Tribeca Film Festival took on a decidedly foreign spin, as I sampled a trio of films from world cinema. These included "Zero Motivation" (Israel), short film "Incident Urbain" (France) and "Karpotrotter" (Slovenia). Read on for reviews of these films below:

The first film of the day was the debut feature of Israeli director Talya Lavie. Her film is called "Zero Motivation" and it's set in an Israeli military base where a group of young female soldiers work. Their daily routine is filled with ups and downs, providing a wealth of material for this drama-tinged comedy.

The film begins with the start of a new year at the remote military base in the desert. Best friends Zohar (Dana Ivgy) and Daffi (Nelly Tagar) have just arrived on the bus and are already dreading the time ahead. Although they are enlisted as soldiers, their duties amount to nothing more than secretarial work. As they and their colleagues count down the days until they complete their mandatory military service, they face a number of obstacles that reveal various aspects of their individual personalities.

These distinct personalities turn out to be the most compelling feature of this film. Daffi is delicate and incompetent, Zohar is the troublemaker and the gang also includes a pair of self-centered divas, a tough Russian and their stern, ambitious commanding officer. All these great personalities clash in very amusing ways, fueled by a shared dissatisfaction with their situation. Still, they make the best of it, committing themselves to excelling at basic computer games and other frivolities. From staple guns to shredding machines, these girls manage to find the fun in their mundane lives.

Despite the trivial nature of their daily routine, Lavie has grander ambitions for her film. Dividing it into various segments, she seamlessly tells the story from the points of view of each of the main characters. It allows greater insight into their diverse outlooks and instills a lot of depth to the characters. There's a richness to the script, as it explores themes surrounding sex, friendship, misogyny and heartbreak. What's most impressive is that it doesn't take itself too seriously, conveying the message with a light, humorous tone. Even at its most tragic, the plot manages to counteract the darkness with jokes, without feeling distasteful.

For a debut directorial effort, "Zero Motivation" is a remarkably assured film. Talya Lavie is clearly a director with a knack for working with actors (all the performances are stellar) and telling stories with a strong vision and purpose. Likewise, her writing ability also shows great promise, crafting a screenplay that delivered an abundance of laughs. I look forward to seeing what she does next. Rating: ★★★★

The second screening I attended was a double feature of the short "Incidental Urbain" and "Karpotrotter". I have thus included my brief tweet review of the former, followed by a full review of the latter.

Matjaž Ivanišin's "Karpotrotter" is a difficult film to review. Its experimental nature leaves many things to interpretation and as such, it will have slightly different meanings depending on the viewer. Of course, you can say the same about many conventional features, so I'll give this my best shot.

The film is a road movie that seeks to pay homage to Karpo Godina, a prominent filmmaker in Yugoslavia in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, Godina made his own road trip movie throughout various villages in Yugoslavia, which was never completed. To fill this void then, Ivanišin decided to make his own film that takes some of Godina's footage and mixes it with his own contemporary technique.

What results is a unique artistic vision that's purposefully vague, yet somehow still accessible for the viewer. The variety of filmmaking styles on display allows for an intriguing visual aesthetic. To recapture Godina's journey, Ivanišin conducts with interviews with various residents for the places he visits, all of whom had acquaintances with this fascinating man. As they tell their personal stories, the director uses their anecdotes as the foundation for his avante-garde style.

This style is one of meditation and abstract feeling. Using voice-over narration and the aforementioned array of visuals, he reflects on the essence of the region. The mood is nostalgic, yet never sentimental. It's all about the land and its history, the people and their collective memory. Culture is also a major factor, mainly through the folk music that's endemic to the region.

This is the general impression I took from the film and its a mostly positive one. However, while I found the style fascinating, the content never managed to excite me. The film often feels like an avante-garde mix of narrative filmmaking and the documentary format and this combination didn't really work for me. Neither is given much more depth apart from the general ideas and technical aspects. The film is only 50 minutes long, but it still feels like the material was stretched too thin.

Certainly, the film's vagueness could be approached with much enthusiasm by others who respond more favourably to this type of cinema. For me though, I couldn't help but wish for more substance behind the admittedly intriguing concept. There's obviously a competent filmmaker behind the camera, so there's definitely a chance that I could love his future work. This time however, I was mostly captivated but ultimately dissatisfied. Again, experimental art is highly subjective, so you can probably take my words with a grain of salt. Rating: ★★★

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