Like a lot of film festivals, Tribeca is in many ways a celebrity-driven affair (it did, after all, kick off with a splashy premiere of the mediocre Jennifer Lopez documentary “Halftime,” with Lopez in attendance). Likewise, the presence of such familiar faces as Matt Dillon, Isabella Rossellini, and Anna Gunn no doubt lured some curious viewers into checking out Shoja Azari and Shirin Neshat’s “Land of Dreams.” The near-future-set political satire/drama, about an Iranian-American census department employee who grills citizens about their dreams as part of some mysterious government project, is a listless and largely incomprehensible mess that feels more like Wim Wenders’ last few narrative features rolled into one and without a killer soundtrack to help it seem more palatable.
On the other hand, one of the more notable star-driven projects, Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat’s “Official Competition,” proved to be one of the festival’s most unquestioned delights. In this deft satire, a wealthy businessman decides to finance a film in the hopes of bolstering his legacy and hires an acclaimed art-house filmmaker (Penelope Cruz) to adapt a Nobel Prize-winning novel about the fraught relationship between two brothers. The director hits upon the idea of hiring two wildly different actors—one a worldwide movie star (Antonio Banderas), the other an extremely self-serious Method type (Oscar Martínez)—in the hopes that their disparate attitudes towards acting will help inform their performances. A chaotic game of one-upmanship then develops between all three during the bizarre rehearsal period. Sure, pretentious actors and weirdo filmmakers are relatively easy targets but this film manages to score a lot of big laughs along the way, thanks in large part to the performances from the three leads—this is one of Cruz’s best performances (certainly her funniest), and Banderas is hilarious as he deftly mocks his own star persona.
That said, there were a lot of new faces in this year’s lineup on both sides of the camera and their efforts were often ambitious, if not always successful. “88,” a conspiracy thriller from writer/director Eromose, starts off on an intriguing note as the financial consultant to a political super PAC discovers some strange anomalies related to donations, but eventually the film devolves into a confusing and confused mess. That was still preferable to the inexplicable, irritating mess that was “Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying,” a deeply annoying and unfunny comedy in which a pair of hapless filmmakers (Devin Das and Parker Seaman, who co-wrote the screenplay with Seaman also directing) learn that a friend they haven’t seen in years is dying of COVID and decide that making a film chronicling their journey to his presumed deathbed will be just the thing to jump-start their careers. Stupid and mean-spirited in equal measure, this was arguably the worst thing I saw at this year’s festival. Even at a relatively brief 78 minutes, it feels endless.