Our coverage of Tribeca closes out with two international films that handle everything from the power of cinema to parental sacrifice.
(This review is part of our coverage of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.)
Last Film Show and Brighton 4th represent two international films of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival dedicated to sons that have disappointed their fathers. While Indian director Pan Nalin’s Last Film Show focuses on nine-year-old Samay, a boy falling in love with film, Georgian director Levan Koguashvili’s Brighton 4th eyes Kakhi, a father who travels to Brooklyn to aid his son. Two films about tradition and fatherhood, these movies paint different pictures of the father-son relationship in their respective cultures.
A love letter to the power of the cinema, Last Film Show echoes Cinema Paradiso and other classics, watching as the scraggly-haired Samay (Bhavin Rabari) discovers the magic of film. Against the wishes of his father, Bapuji (Dipen Raval), he skips school and travels to The Galaxy, a theater a short train ride away from his distant home of Chalala. He fights his father’s wishes to be an “ideal boy,” instead becoming a mischievous film lover who befriends the projectionist, Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali), giving him lunch in exchange for a seat to watch movies each day.
Early on, he says, “I want to become movies.” Samay’s uninhibited by what kind of boy he should be, what he can become, and what he can achieve, building his own projector with scraps and junk his friends find. Illustrating the ease with which passion can grow as a young child, the film exists as a collection of Nalin’s memories and influences. Last Film Show contains joy in abundance as Nalin shows Samay and his friends slowly becoming little cinephiles. They’re kids with boundless imaginations living in expansive, untouched landscapes, each with seemingly unlimited time to watch the clouds through the filter of a film roll.
Opposite Samay is Fazal, a simple, cynical man who instead loves food with the same passion that the boy loves film. His story is one of aging and modernization as Nalin shows the pain of seeing something of passion get destroyed and replaced with a digital upgrade. One such sequence shows them watch an old projector melt to create spoons, the intangible power of cinema replaced with something as functional as silverware. Both actors give warm performances driven by a mutual respect regardless of age.
Last Film Show becomes Rabari’s film, as the precocious actor particularly lights up the screen, flashing a smile that becomes synonymous with the film, breathing youth into a film about a platitude like “the power of cinema.” Samay’s love and enthusiasm for film takes precedence above all else, largely putting the stories of Fazal, his family, and his friends on hold.
When it comes to fatherhood, however, Nalin’s story takes a more obvious approach. Samay’s father has lived a life of hardship, selling tea to scrape by and providing whatever he can for his family. He hits his son when he misbehaves, not out of hate, but due to Samay’s lack of tradition and perceived lack of respect. And like most fathers in films about their children’s dreams, he changes, and even this obvious turn can’t sour the sweetness of his final gesture.
Last Film Show allows you to see film through Samay’s eyes with a sense of newness. It reminds you of the reasons you might love film, including its ability to transport you to a different world. It can be pure escapism and, for Samay, it plants the idea that your life can go in any direction. Nalin’s bildungsroman gives you the opportunity to watch someone become inspired and find their first love. There’s a purity in Last Film Show, a shown dream that’s untainted by life experience, a reminder that life isn’t scripted.
On to Brighton 4th — Koguashvili’s film puts Kakhi (Levan Tedaishvili), an aging father and former wrestler, into a shifting situation, as he travels to Brooklyn to check on his son. When he arrives, he learns that his son, Soso (Giorgi Tabidze), is in gambling debt, down $14,000. A methodical story, Brighton 4th sees a New York City borough through this community of close-knit Georgians, an area where everyone knows everything about one another.
Tedaishvili gives a calm, downplayed performance as Kakhi, a man who’s seen constant disappointment from his brothers and his son. He never seems to be rattled, pushing himself forward by will rather than the ease of living that most take for granted. His body continues to wither as his son’s chances for survival, and citizenship, take constant hits. Tedaishvili looks worn, exasperated by those around him, yet still fully giving them love and effort. He’s tremendous despite his small amount of dialogue.
Mostly shot in dark and dreary colors, Brighton 4th exists as a colder portrait of fatherhood. The action rarely comes, as most scenes consist of short conversations between Kakhi, his son, and the other Georgians in this community, from the landlord to the mob boss. Though sparse in nature, the narrative written by Boris Frumin gives each character time to breathe and contemplate this regressing situation, one that can only be solved by Kakhi.
And Koguashvili takes care in showing the absence of money for most of these people—immigrants that send money home to their loved ones—living in Brooklyn to hopefully give their families better lives. As such, the film shows a portrait of people that live away from their family, coming together because of shared heritage, becoming enemies and friends within minutes of each other. It never strays from this neighborhood, either, choosing not to show us their place in the larger city. These people, most of which are usually an afterthought for other Americans living in metropolitan areas, are given the dim spotlight.
Steeped in Georgian tradition, Brighton 4th ends up concerning itself with parental sacrifice. Kakhi gives the barest of his property and even his health for the sake of his son, a man whose actions bring pain upon his family. But the film is filled with a simplicity and an instinct that Kakhi possesses to protect his son. This innate desire propels the film forward and almost gives Brighton 4th a primal quality, one that bounces between a father’s love and his family’s survival.