Friday, May 22, 2015

BHFFNYC ’15: A Quintet

There is a reason some people stay in hostels even when they can afford nicer digs. They crave those brief but memorable incidental encounters. Travel is broadening, especially for those coming from or going to Berlin in the five-part multinational anthology film A Quintet (trailer here), which screens during the resiliently scrappy 2015 Bosnian Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York.

Of the five constituent short films, one of the best is the late night tale set in Sarajevo—a fact that should hardly surprise anyone. In Kosovar filmmaker Ariel Shaban’s “The Tourist,” a disgusted Sarajevan reluctantly protects a German visitor from the consequences of his hedonism. Slowly, a connection is forged, but the fatalistic Bosnian understands better than the naïve German their friendship mostly likely expires when the sun rises. Bosnian actor Armin Omerovic is terrific as the Samaritan, but what really distinguishes “The Tourist” is the way Shaban captures the strangely calm feeling one gets when completely lost in an Eastern European city late at night, when you do not speak the language. If you have ever been there, you will recognize it immediately.

Lebanese filmmaker Elie Lamah’s “Friend Request” is the other head-and-shoulders high point and it also happens to be the boldest. Rami, who coincidentally happens to be a Lebanese filmmaker, has been enjoying the German festival that programmed his film, until a colleague invites a group of Israelis to join them for drinks. While the Israelis are more than happy to overlook past tensions between their countries, Rami is not so gracious. However, he has some reason to be cautious, since, as he pointedly reminds everyone, he could be tried for treason by his government merely for associated with citizens of Israel. Nevertheless, he might just start to loosen up a little when he walks back to the festival hotel with Ayala, the Israeli director.

“Friend Request” packs a real punch precisely because Lamah never resorts to facile sentimentality or Pollyannaish takeaways. Instead, he suggests in no uncertain terms, hatred and misunderstanding are allowed to persist when average people like Rami are afraid to take the tiniest of stands.

There are also some lovely performances in Sanela Salketić’s opener, “The House in the Envelope.” It is a small story about a Turkish woman briefly returning home from German and the cabbie she keeps hailing, but it is a crowd-pleaser. Screenwriter Demet Gül brings a wonderfully subtle and refined presence to the film as the expat Leyla, while Salketić fully capitalizes on the Istanbul backdrops.

Despite its brevity, the narrative of Roberto Cuzzillo’s “Polaroid” is oddly (but not intentionally) disjointed. However, the work of cinematographer Roberto Montero and segment composer Enrica Sciandrone is quite striking. Unfortunately, Mauro Mueller’s New York-set closer, “The Cuddle Workshop” is about as cloying as it sounds.

A Quintet is all about fleeting moments and there are enough good ones in the film to make it worth your time. Recommended for fans of Bosnian-Kosavar-Turkish-Lebanese-German-Italian cinema, it screens tomorrow (5/23) at the Tribeca Cinemas, as part of this year’s BHFFNYC.