Thursday, 3 September 2009

TIFF '09 Coverage: PIcks & Pans #1

Single tickets to TIFF go on sale tomorrow at 7am. Here are my thoughts on some of the films I've screened so far.
ALL FALL DOWNIf you're a lover of experimental films, this one is for you. I can watch experimental shorts, but a feature length documentary is too taking for me. Look to other reviews on this one, as I had to walk out of the screening.

BLESSEDMotherly love is depicted in various ways in this Australian film about mothers and their children. Great cast, and even better performances by all involved in this depiction of the day in the life of first, the children and then the mothers. I'd give too much away if I commented on the plot, which does interweave at times, but some scenes in this film will make you squirm with discomfort while others will surprise you with unexpected feelings of understanding. Worth seeing.

CARCASSESI actually enjoyed the first part of this documentary about Jean-Paul Colmar, a man who is surrounded by the "carcasses" of old cars, trucks and sundry aged mechanical equipment. Living by himself, Jean-Paul follows a schedule that he repeats every week, but the bulk of his time is spent dismantling or repairing he junk around him, and dealing with potential clients looking for the odd part for their old vehicles. If the documentary had been shorter and remained focused on Jean-Paul, I would have watched the film and remarked on how living a marginalized life can suit some people, while others continually try to break into the mainstream; however, the director has chosen to add another meaning of carcass to the film, and that introduction seems forced and unnecessary. The film fell apart at that point, the blend of fiction and non-fiction an uneasy mix that does not satisfy, and detracts from Jean-Paul's story.

CAIRO TIMEI loved Ruba Nadda's last film, Sabah, and was really looking forward to this film. Nadda again shows her understanding of women, especially older women, and relationships. Patricia Clarkson stars as a woman (Juliette) waiting for her husband to join her in Cairo. While waiting, she begins a friendship with past staff member of her husband's, Tareq (Alexander Siddig). The stunning backdrop of Cairo, the strengthening relationship between Juliette and Tareq, and the wonderful score are reminiscent of past films that studios produced specifically for female audiences. While I don't think that this is Nadda's strongest work (besides Sabah, she has done some very powerful short films), she does show that she is able to work with a bigger budget on a bigger film. Cairo Time is more a film of subtle, gentle emotions, than a film with obvious action and predictability. It's a film where nothing much happens, but so much does. Take a walk down a tree-shaded lane, smell the flowers along the way, and let your skin drink in the sunshine. Nothing major happens along the way, but you will feet different at the end of this pleasant journey.

CRACKIEMary Walsh is an amazing actress. (I thought the CBC was decidedly short-sighted and mean-spirited cancelling her series Hatching, Matching & Dispatching.) Walsh plays a tough grandmother (Bride), determined to save her granddaughter (Mitsy) from going down the same bumpy, ugly road as her mother (Gwenny). Mitsy idolizes her loser mother, and is constantly at odds with Bride about Gwenny. Gwenny is insensitive to everybody's needs but her own, and Bride is a cantankerous, worldly woman who knows she was a failure as a mother to Gwenny. The relationship among these three women is harsh, realistic and fascinating. In the midst of the family drama is the "crackie" dog, Sparky. Sparky's constant, discordant barking will get on your nerves, but he is a product of his environment and his cries are in keeping with the constant, discordant voices of the people around him, and a metaphor for the harsh living conditions at the lower end of Newfoundland's economic scale.

AN EDUCATIONCarey Mulligan is absolutely brilliant in this film, elevating this story of a smart sixteen year old who becomes involved with an older man named into something deeper than the usual popcorn movie. The issue of education is explored on many levels, with scholastic versus life experience being the dominant chords running throughout the film. How stifling life in an all-girls' British school must have seemed to a young girl interested in the arts and all things Parisian. When David (Peter Sarsgaard) appears in her life, Mulligan's character Jenny is instantly attracted by the high-life he lives, so too are her parents (Alfred Molina is a crack-up as her father). They have never been to anything other than the local concert halls, and think that Jenny's association with David will enhance her chances of getting into Oxford. As the audience, we, too are seduced by the worldly, charming David (he rents apartments to Negros when other in post-War England will not). Sarsgaard's performance as the sophisticated, swinging (pre-Carnaby Street) David is bang on; he truly is the perfect screen match for Carey Mulligan's socially frustrated Jenny. A wonderful film.

EXCITEDA fluffy romantic comedy about a man who dares to date after years of celibacy induced by sexual condition that makes him reluctant to be intimate with women. When he meets his dream woman, he not only has to deal with his very personal secret, he has to deal with his intrusive mother, who is hell bent on getting a grandchild by any means necessary. Cute, but not exactly enlightening, and would have been better served as a short film rather than a feature. Still, it's refreshing to see the west coast represented on screen and the outrageously funny performance by Gabrielle Rose as the mother. A Sunday afternoon rental.

FIVE HOURS FROM PARISI’m going to use the word “sweet” to describe this movie and I hope you don’t respond with “next!” and move on to another film. Dror Keren is perfectly cast as Yigal, an Israeli taxi driver in love with his son’s music teacher. What Kern does with the role is extraordinary in its ordinariness. There are no visible signs of acting in his expressions and movements on screen. When he deals with customers I his cab, we see a taxi driver. When he picks up his son from school, we see a father walking down the hallway. When we see him talking to his ex-wife’s new husband, we marvel at his capacity for tolerance, and think, too, that he’s a bit of a pushover. Dror is Yigal, the nice guy who gradually falls in love with the artistic, cultured, and married Lina (Elena Yaralova). We like Yigal and don’t want to see him hurt, but at the same time, we want to see him happy and in love. We are standing behind him when he gazes at her through the round peephole in her classroom door. We yearn for Yigal and Lina to get together, even though we know she and her husband have applied to live in Canada. We don’t know how the story will end, but the ride is filled with anticipation. America has churned out so many bad romantic comedies that the big screen romantic drama seems to be a forgotten genre. I’m glad that other countries haven’t eschewed the format.

A GUN TO THE HEADA gun to the head is what it would take for me to finish watching this film. The script crackles with very funny dialogue, but the cast is weak and the direction unfocused. Writer/director, Blaine Thurier should have gotten someone else to direct his wonderful script because some great lines are now squandered in an awful movie, and I’m really sorry about this missed opportunity. Damn!

HADEWIJCHA young novice (Céline) gets kicked out of a monastery because of her extreme and distorted devotion in this French film. When Céline returns to the secular world, I thought the film would then examine what lessons in devotion she may or may not learn or that her belief would drive her to madness; however, the film descends into a perplexing mess with stereotypical Muslim characters and no real answer to any of the theological questions posed by the movie. I don’t usually wish a director would present anything other than his vision, but with the racial tension that exists in France today, I wonder whey director Bruno Dumont would choose to depict new French immigrants in such a negative light. TIFF usually generates a buzz about certain movies, but this one will get a buzz of a different sort (much like the dreaded 29 Palms did at TIFF ’03). Skip it!

LES HERBE FOLLES(Wild Grass) I enjoyed Alain Resnais’s Coeur at TIFF ’06, and know him to be a respected director, but I did not have fun watching this film. The tale of stolen wallet, the capriciousness of chance, and a budding extra-marital romance, should have been a perfectly baked soufflé in the hands of this French master, but what we end up with is a flat, inedible concoction that in unworthy of the fine table it is set upon. The film drags in the middle and the end winds up too quickly. Such a shame.

HIPSTERS Bring your dancing shoes to dance in the aisle when this film ends. I didn’t have mine with me, but I danced anyway, and I’m still riding high after seeing this Russian musical. In love with American youth culture, a group of young, Cold War era Russians flaunts tradition and political consequences by dressing in bold peacock colours, adopting American names (Bob, Fred, Betty, Polly…), and dancing the boogie-woogie on “Broadway”. In the cool world of the “Hipsters”, pompadours and perms are the latest rage, and a defiant response to the accepted homogenous culture. The kids don’t think they are better than anyone else; they just want to be different.

At the heart of Hipsters is the lovely romance of Polly and Mel (formerly Mels-Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin). Polly’s mother is ashamed of her, while Mel’s father gives him hair advice and loves his new clothes. Daring to be different, however, can be dangerous, and the hipsters are often attacked by good communist youth toting scissors to cut off hipster hair and nylons. The serious undertones of the film reach a climactic moment in a memorable musical scene that chills even as it impresses.

The music in Hipsters is infectious, the energy high and I especially loved the cinematography: the juxtaposition of bleached and vivid colours in the same scene emphasizes the contrasting points of view in the film and keeps you in this unique world.

I wouldn’t exactly recommend a poodle skirt or plaid purple and yellow jacket, but I would recommend wearing a bright red lipstick and bolder than usual tie. Oh, and your dancing shoes:)

J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother)Good films have been coming out of Quebec for several years now and this trend hasn’t let up. Young Xavier Dolan, not only stars in the film, he is also the director and writer of this tumultuous drama about a gay teen who lives with his divorced mother. Rage and bad taste live in their house. They scream at each other and the furniture and his mother’s bad clothes scream right back at us. We are bystanders in their squabbles, watching helplessly as fight for supremacy. As a single mother, how do you deal with an out-of-control teenager who doesn’t understand the pressures you might be facing? As a teen, how do you deal with a mother that society demands you love, but whom you love less than anyone else you know? The fact that the script is semi-autobiographical adds to the intensity of the drama and of the sadness among the laughs in this film. A worthy first feature that may bring up issues for those who may not or could not resolve their own familial issues.

KELINI find it remarkable that Ermek Tursunov chose to make his directorial debut with a silent feature film. Who has the nerve to do that these days? Tursunov must be feeling some measure of satisfaction that his film will reach an audience at TIFF. Seasoned festival goers will be intrigued by the films lack of dialogue and landscape lovers will be chomping at the bit to see the eye candy of snow-covered Kazakhstani mountains dwarfing a single yurt.

The beautiful Kelin has been married off to Baktashi and taken to live with his family. Despite the fact that he has lost Kelin to Baktashi, Mergyen (Kelin’s first love) vows to have her for his own, meanwhile, Kelin must adapt to her new home with Baktashi’s mother (Ene) and younger brother (Kaini). Kelin (Gulsharat Zhubayeva) is beautiful, but if ever there was an actress made for the silent screen, it is Turakhan Sadykova (Ene). Her lined face and expressive eyes tell an unspoken story of a woman who has endured years of living in a harsh environment. The mystical air about Ene transcends dialogue and that is due to the woman playing her. The story of love, jealousy and tragedy is not new, but what makes it fascinating is the setting and Tursunov’s commitment to storytelling.

Info or 416-968-FILM (toll-free at 1-877-968-FILM)

Festival Box Office
Nathan Phillips Square. 100 Queen Street West (located in the white tent, on the west side of the square). You can also order on line 24 hours per day.



Kim said...

Thanks for the insightful reviews! Can't wait to see some of these films! I saw An Education and was delighted with the performances.

Anonymous said...

Great blog!! Can't wait to se some of these films. Thank you for your reviews!

A Sweet Liar: Theatre Francais de Toronto's Le Menteur/The Liar

The tag line is  "Don't believe a word he says" , but you can believe me, Le Menteur/The Liar is a fun way to spend a night at...