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There’s no ennui quite like youthful ennui, and Jaffe Zinn‘s Magic Valley makes the case that those in rural areas are the most prone to desperate behavior. Set in Idaho, the drama follows a handful of townsfolk through one Saturday, and there is a clear age divide between character attitudes. The sheriff (Scott Glenn) does not take his job seriously; he’s on the prowl for pheasants, not criminals. He’s the sort of guy who’d rather discuss his favorite moments of Walker Texas Ranger than do his job. On the other side of town, the owner of a fishery gets angry with the new guy from California who cuts off his water supply. Try he may to remain mature about the situation, but even he cannot is not immune from reckless outrage.

The high school kids do not fare much better. They indulge in a friendly game of asphyxiation: after exhaling and inhaling heavily, a friend will choke them until they pass out in a blissful high. TJ (Kyle Gallner) does not partake, and his mournful eyes suggest a dark secret. In a nearby field, a pair of young brothers discover the source of TJ’s melancholy: he murdered a friend of his (maybe his girlfriend?) and TJ is still terrified by his impulsiveness. Zinn tracks the kids and the girl’s family as they slowly become aware of a terrible tragedy. As a slice-of-life drama, Zinn does not shy away from the darker dimensions of his character’s lives. No apologies are made for them, and Zinn instead tries to do them justice with an unflinching eye. Repeated images become a evocative metaphor for their desperation, and as the characters converge on a single  event, Zinn hints a shared disposition led to tragedy.

Magic Valley is hardly the feel-good movie of the festival, yet it consistently finds the accurate note. It’s an empathetic, carefully-crafted drama, one that ends with an image so potent it’d make Luis Bunuel and Larry Clark jealous.

It’s been a few days since I saw Beyond the Black Rainbow, and I’m still wrestling with what I think of it. Panos Cosmatos‘s debut is so strange and uncompromising I have no doubt it’ll split audiences; even in a theater full of critics and members of Tribeca’s jury, there were a handful of walk-outs. Set in 1983, the movie is a deliberately retro science fiction – it looks like how someone from the 60s might imagine the future. Barry (Michael Rogers) is a deranged therapist who holds a Elena (Eva Allan), a young patient, hostage. Soon after Barry consults with his mentor and crosses into a bizarre otherworldly plane, he develops telekinetic abilities that further derange Elena. She makes a desperate escape, and all manner of terrible obstacles stand in her way.

Cosmatos keeps the action  surreal and glacial. The production values are effective though not particularly showy – this vision of 1983 is unadorned and bleak. Colors fill the frame – his favorites are sickly green and exit sign red – and it becomes clear the movie works better as a sensory experience. When Barry crosses the threshold of our reality, austere black and white images dominate the screen; eventually, psychedelic swirls of smoke make it clear this movie is not best enjoyed while sober. Lines are spoken deliberately, without conviction, which only add to the detachment from the characters. Once Elena embarks on her escape, Beyond the Black Rainbow stops meandering becomes somewhat engaging, yet there is little suspense because what precedes it is not relatable in any conventional way.

There is definitely an audience for Beyond the Black Rainbow, but I’m sure it’s fairly small. At the screening I attended, one guy even announced this was his second time seeing a movie. For most people, however, I suspect the movie is simply too weird to enjoy. The novelty factory certainly helps it along, as does the throbbing musical score. But just like Daft Punk’s Electroma, it is easy to lose one’s patience.

That’s it for this update from Tribeca! Check back soon when I review a vicious French thriller, an Israeli horror movie, and a documentary about classic hip-hop.

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