Tribeca Film Fest Report #7

From some of the most violent and desperate parts of the world come stories of putting aside anger and embracing a more gentle path. Two very different films screening at the Tribeca Film Festival take a fresh look at the human impulse to violence, and how at-hand the alternatives are.

Falafel

Did you know that one Lebanese girl out of two is an excellent dancer?

One night in Beirut, and it's instantly recognizable to anyone who lives in a major city: neon lights, fast-food joints, busy streets, and a party to be gotten to. It might not be quite fair to say that this affable little flick is about Lebanese slackers -- Tou, our hero, has a job in an Internet cafe, even if he's rather desultory about performing his menial duties -- but it's clear that writer-director Michel Kammoun has seen a lot of movies about the American variety, and that he really likes them ... the movies and the slackers. Tou's biggest challenge this night: getting to that party, on a moped borrowed from his job, so he can hook up with pretty Yasmin. His dork friend Abbouddi is along for the fun. A parking-lot altercation over a scratched bumper ruins the evening, though, and Tou is distracted with thoughts of vengeance, and here's where Kammoun's unique perspective turns what started out as an amiable cinematic jaunt into something far more profound and provocative. The ready violence into which a Hollywood film might casually explode is not on Kammoun's agenda; subverting that mindset is, with a touchingly homey matter sidetracking Tou in the most loving way. And what could have been a diverting but ultimately throwaway movie experience becomes something you just can't shake. [visit the film's official site]

Beyond Belief

I want my life to be more than that, I want to move beyond the hatred of that day.

Susan Retik and Patti Quigley are two suburban Boston moms who met after tragedy struck: their husbands were both killed on 9/11, both passengers on doomed airplanes. And they channeled their grief and their anger into Beyond the 11th, the foundation they started to raise money to support war widows in Afghanistan, the half a million women, most of whom cannot read, trapped in a cycle of poverty and desperation. Retik and Quigley are quick to point out -- and Beth Murphy's devastating documentary is quick to show -- that they are not giving handouts but a hand up, helping the Afghan women start their own small businesses (such as raising chickens for eggs and meat to eat and sell). Screening as part of the festival's World Documentary Competition, this powerful film becomes a force much larger than these women, Americans and Afghanis alike, who are strong and smart and beautiful in every way. It is a raging, slamming critique of, you know, everything: our culture of violence and aggression that turns the empathy of women like Retik and Quigley into the extraordinary story when it should be the men dropping the bombs or waging tribal war who are "beyond belief." Both a wildly hopeful glimpse at the possibility of a world where our knee-jerk reaction to trauma is one of compassion instead of one of hatred and a discouraging, dispiriting suggestion that we are far, far from such a place, this is a movie that everyone must see, starting with our so-called leaders. [visit the film's official site]

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MaryAnn Johanson (email me)

reviews, reviews, reviews! at FlickFilosopher.com