Tuesday, 28 September 2010

TIFF 2010: What I Saw and My Top Ten Faves

At left: Cameron Bailey (TIFF Co-Director) and actress, Ludavine Sagnier at the screening of LOVE CRIME in the historic Eglin Theatre.

Top Ten lists are never easy, but this year, there were so many films on the same level of enjoyment that my list could have been a list of ties. In the end, though, I went through the elimination process several times, whittled down my list, and restrained myself to one tie (40 and Africa United). The only easy choices for me to make was my overall favourite: West is West and my runner up, Nostalgia for the Light.

1. 40 (Turkey) + Africa United (UK)
2. Beginners (USA)
3. Blessed Events (Germany)
4. The Housemaid (Korea)
5. The Hunter (Iran)
6. Mamma Gógó (Iceland)
7. Nostalgia for the Light (Chile)
8. Small Town Murder Songs (Canada)
9. A Useful Life (Uruguay)
10. -West is West (UK)

40. A bag of money connects three residents of Istanbul, a screw-up bag man, an African refugee longing to reunite with his childhood sweetheart, and a nurse in a bad marriage who makes her life choices based on numerology. I enjoyed the fresh, youthful energy of the film, the city scenes, and a story that clips along briskly with enough pauses for you to consider the choices being made by the characters and the impact those choices have on their lives in “heaven, hell, and purgatory” that is modern-day city.

AFRICA UNITED. A comedy out of? Yes, and it’s fantastic viewing for all ages, with plot elements for children as well as adults. I saw the film with an adult audience and we all had a very satisfying experience. A group of young Africans travel South Africa for the World Cup. Along the way, they experience challenges and adventures that only serve to strengthen their bond. The young actors do a stellar job in bringing their characters to life: Doudou, a sports “manager”, his sister Beatrice the “doctor”, Fabrice, a young footballer, Foreman George, a child soldier and Celeste, a young sex trade worker are all charismatic without being “Hollywood-cute”. The filmmakers deliberately chose to make this an English language film to appeal to a wider audience; a decision I hope will help this film find it way to commercial theatres. Another wise choice was animating the story that is told by Doudou at various points in their journey. The story mirrors the children’s trek, the animation making it easier for younger audiences to understand the film and adds a creative element that adults will appreciate. I know I was always looking forward to hearing the next chapter of Doudou’s story. Thanks to Rwandans Eric Kabera (producer), and Debs Gardner-Paterson (director) for bringing us a film that shines a new light on Africa without shying away from its social issues. Having enjoyed every moment of the recent World Cup, I felt very “in the know” hearing references to Rooney, Drogba, Henry and others.

This graceful comedy punctuated by soulful jazz selections was my last film of TIFF 2010, and what a pleasing way to end my festival. Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor play father and son and doggie wonder, Cosmo plays Arthur in this film about how we choose to love. Plummer is a father who has come out of the closet in his seventies and is discovering a world that he had repressed during his long marriage. His wife is dead, he has never been able to be openly gay, and is now embracing that side of his life with an enthusiasm that only those with not too many summers left, can achieve. He has discovered love and thrown himself into every gay movement/group imaginable. On the other hand, Ewan McGregor’s character has been an observer of his parents’ cool marriage and is reluctant to commit to any long-term relationships. In flashbacks, we see how absent his father was from his life, and how he had to stand in for his father as his mother’s social companion and confidante.

I really appreciated the unhurried pace of the storytelling that allows us to watch the developing relationship between father and son, and the tentative stirrings of a romantic relationship for the son with a woman who is also not used to long term entanglements. Even the dog is well directed in this film, his performance adding a rueful tone to the picture rather than the usual one-dimensional “cutsie/love me” role that dogs usually play in films.

BLESSED EVENTS. This film is not for everyone. I’m not being condescending, just realistic. Not everyone can sit though a film where silence reigns and you have to fill in the blanks yourself based on careful observation. For example, the film starts with us hearing fireworks and looking through a window at a sleeping woman wrapped in a comforter. In a following scene, we see the same woman in a bar by herself ordering a drink while Danny Boy plays in the background, setting up the melancholic tone of the film. The woman has a one-night stand that night and later finds out she is pregnant. When she runs into the father, she finds that he is thrilled about the news and the two become a couple. What follows is an examination of the relationship based on the viewpoint of this insecure, anxiety-ridden woman. Is what we are seeing really what is going on in her life, or is everything just based on her skewed interpretation? The disturbing stillness of the film, the guessing game we play, the lighting and direction all come together for me and makes Blessed Events something to savour even as it leaves you a bit on edge. Just writing this makes me want to watch the film again.

THE HOUSEMAID.What can I say about this film, but “yum!” I wish I had had some popcorn while watching this film because it just called for it. Unfortunately, I was watching this in the P & I Library (couldn’t make any of the screenings), so I had to make do with my grande Passion tea, and let me eyes do the eating. And what a delicious meal of a melodrama this is, with a naïve young nanny, a rich and powerful man, his pregnant wife, her evil mother, and the conflicted housekeeper, Mrs. Cho. According to Mrs. Cho, the job as a housemaid is R.U.N.S (revolting, ugly, nauseating and shameless). With skilled production design and cinematography, and confident handling by a director who knows how to tell a complete story, The Housemaid is as satisfying as a sip of expertly chilled champagne from the perfect flute.

Sorry, Biutiful but I chose The Hunter over seeing you. Why? Because I knew that the Javier Bardem film would be released in theatres, I love Iranian films, and I had no idea when The Hunter would see the light of day in Canadian theatres. As I revealed to director, Raffi Pitts, when I interviewed him, I wasn’t familiar with his work, but will be checking my indie video stores to find them. The Hunter is about a man who seeks revenge for the loss of his wife and daughter. Not knowing if he should blame society or the police, he hides in the hills of Tehran shooting at will. This study of pain that runs too deep to be expressed by screaming stars the director, himself, who stepped in after his actor showed up unfit for filming on the first day. I adored Pitts location choices, the boxed in scenes of the city’s highways, the deep green of the forest, and the gray mists of the hills, all serve to create a tense atmosphere that reflects the “time bomb” feeling that is pressurizing modern day Iran. As I said before, I like silence in movies, and this film delivers that, leaving me with Pitt’s choice of framing and expressive eyes to tell the story.

There are some subjects that I have dealt with or continue to deal with in my own life, and have no interest in seeing them on screen: Alzheimer’s is one of those subjects. Oscar-nominated director, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, must have heard my thoughts when he was thinking of doing this movie about his mother’s illness. The disease is no laughing matter but Fridriksson was tired of the bleakness of he had seen and wanted to show some of the humorous situations that occurred with his mother (and others he knew). Icelandic treasure, Kristbjörg Kjeld plays Mamma Gógó, an impish woman whose comic antics become more and more dangerous to her as the film progresses. No less comic or less serious is the financial difficulties faced by The Director (played by Hilmir Snær Guðnason) who is praying for an Oscar nomination in order to get funds for his next project. The two storylines weave together in a dark comedy that is full of light in its tone, in its cinematography, and in the magic that is brought to the screen by Kjeld’s outstanding performance.

NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT. My second favourite film. I wish I could have seen this on a larger screen, but even watching it in the P & I Library, I found this film captivating, thought provoking, and awe-inspiring. Under the masterful direction of Patricio Guzmán, science, politics and the past meld in this documentary about astronomers, archaeologists, and women looking for remnants of their “disappeared” loved ones in Chile’s Atacama Desert. All three groups are pre-occupied with the past. With light from the moon reaching Earth in over a second (the sun reaching us in about 8 minutes) and planets in the universe being light years away from Earth, everything the astronomers discover is from the past; the archaeologists discover ancient travel routes and relics from pre-Columbian shepherds; and, as the years pass and they age (and die), the women are stuck in the time of Chilean Coup searching for the “disappeared”, whose bodies were buried by Pinochet’s men, carelessly exhumed from their mass graves, and strewn across the desert or the sea. The desert’s clear sky and altitude provide a unique and beautiful place to look beyond ourselves even as we contemplate the calcium match between the stars we look at and the unearthed bones found in the desert.

(See my review)

A USEFUL LIFE. I applauded at the end of this film. It just seemed so appropriate once the credits came up. Being a fan of Classic cinema, and TIFF Cinematheque, I had to see this film about Cinemateca Uruguaya. While Toronto’s is flourishing (especially with the new Bell Lightbox), Cinemateca Uruguaya’s membership is dwindling and its equipment is outdated. For twenty-five years, Jorge, the Cinemateca’s director, has spent his life enmeshed in the world of film. When the funders decide to give money only to cultural activities that bring in a profit, Jorge has to decide what to do with his life. Black and White are the colours of romance and nostalgia, key themes in this film where Jorge pursues a new love like a romantic film star, and film education is trumped by financial considerations. The ages old battle between art and commerce could easily have been depicted in a depressing manner, but director Federico Veiroj choses to travel from dark to light, opening his camera’s iris wider and wider until a spirit of hopefullness illuminates the finishing frames of this this sixty-seven minute film. On a personal note, this film reminded me of a past TIFF programmer, Ramiro Puerta. May he rest in peace. FIN.

WEST IS WEST. My Top Ten Favourite! I had a fantastic time watching this family comedy. West is West can stand on its own, so no need to worry that you haven’t seen East is East.

Sajid (Aqib Khan) skips school to get away from being bullied about his Pakistani heritage. When his father George Om Puri admonishes him for being called to the principal’s office, Sajid hurls racial slurs at his father, blaming him for his troubles. Hurt by his son’s words, George decides that it’s time for Sajid to spend some time in Pakistan to learn about his heritage. Once there, the foul-mouthed, defiant Sajid refuses to wear anything but his school uniform, but manages to eventually become involved in life in rural Pakistan thanks to the intervention of his elder brother, a young boy his own age, and an “uncle” figure who allows him to learn on his own terms.

While Sajid adapts or bends rules to suit his mechanations, his father George must finally face the wife and adult daughters he left behind when he moved to England and married a British woman. For the past thirty years, his Pakistani house has been an address to which he sent money; but he must now face daughters who grew up without a father while he was raising his half-British sons and a wife who has aged beyond her years from dealing with abandonment and of raising the girls on her own.
Strong direction by Andy De Emmony keeps the film moving along at a steady pace, with the necessary dramatic elements, never overpowering the light, audacious comedy that the brilliant young actor, Aqub Khan, brings to the entire film. Cinematographer, Peter Robertson does an equally good job of lighting scenes with just enough contrast in tones to add to the dramtic or comic elements of the film.

Guilt, humour, and love are all finely tuned emotions in screenwriter Ayub Khan-Din’s clever script. Khan-Din has written as good a script as he did for East is East, and by avoiding any overt references to that film, he allows viewers to thoroughly enjoy West is West. Seeing East is East is simply icing on a cake that has all the right ingredients.

For the most part I saw one good film after another. I saw 57 films this year and I was surprised when reviewing my list that I only saw only a handful of films that were “okay/weak”. No wonder TIFF 2010 had such a high number of film sales this year; there seemed to be an abundance of films to suit various markets.

1. !WomenArt Revolution (USA)review
2. 13 Assassins (Japan) in photo
3. 40 (Turkey)
4. Africa United (UK)
5. Amazon Falls (Canada)review
6. Beginners (USA)
7. Behind Blue Skies (Sweden) review
8. Blessed Events (Germany)
9. Breakup Club (Hong Kong)
10. The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman (Hong Kong)
11. Carancho (Argentina)
12. Crying Out (Canada) review
13. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (China)
14. Easy Money (Sweden)in photo
15. Girlfriend (USA) review
16. Guest (Spain)
17. Home for Christmas (Norway/Germany/Sweden)
18. The Housemaid (Korea)
19. How to Start Your Own Country (Canada) review
20. The Human Resources Manager (Israel)
21. The Hunter (Iran)

22. I Am Slave (UK)in photo
23. I Wish I Knew (China)
24. Jaloux (Canada) review
25. John Carpenter’s The Ward (USA)
26. Julia’s Eyes (Spain)
27. Karla and Jonas (Denmark)
28. Lapland Odyssey (Finland)
29. Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (Hong Kong/China)
30. The Light Thief (Kyrgyzstan)
31. Little Sister (China)
32. Love Crime (France)
33. MODRA (Canada)
34. Machete Maidens Unleashed! (Australia)in photo
35. Made in Dagenham (UK)
36. Mama Gogo (Iceland)
37. Mandoo (Iraq)
38. Monsters (UK)
39. Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon (Australia)
40. Norberto’s Deadline (Uruguay/Argentina) review
41. Nostalgia for the Light (Chile)
42. October (Peru/Venezuela/Spain)
43. Pink Saris (UK) review

44. Pinoy Sunday (Taiwan) review
45. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Finland/Norway) in photo
46. Red Nights (Hong Kong/China/France)
47. A Screaming Man (France/Belgium/Chad)
48. Small Town Murder Songs (Canada) review
49. Soul of Sand (India) review
50. Special Treatment (France) review
51. The Strange Case of Angelica (Portugal)

52. SUPER (USA) in photo
53. A Useful Life (Uruguay)
54. Wasted on the Young (Australia) review
55. West is West (UK)
56. You Are Here (Canada)
57. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (UK/USA/Spain)

JULIA'S EYES (Starts out as a very good thriller than descended into the ridiculous. Would rent from the cheap section for a good laugh.)

John Carpenter’s The Ward (John Carpenter, I love you, but this time you picked a bad cast of actresses who brought down a good story and your filmmaking. You couldn't even scare me, the person who used to tape the X-Files so she could watch in the daytime?)

Jaloux (See my review)

Norberto’s Deadline (See my review)

Mandoo (Honestly, I forgot that I even saw this film.)

Breakup Club (Some great ideas, and fresh filmmaking but the film went on waaay too long.)

I had a really good time at TIFF 2010 meeting new people in line, in the Press and Industry Offices and staircases of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Arranging my interviews was easily facilitated by independent publicists and with the able assistance of the TIFF Press Office, especially staffers Kelley, Aisling, and Micole. Volunteers at the hotel and especially those in the P & I Screening Library were very helpful and pleasant.

Friday, 24 September 2010

TIFF 2010: Made My List Now Checking It Twice

So, TIFF 2010 may be over, but now comes the hard part--listing my Top 10 faves. As soon TIFF ends everyone wants to know how many I saw (57) and what I enjoyed. Well, I can readily admit to liking an overwhelming majority of what I saw this year, so making my Top 10 list has been even more daunting than usual. Since I will be announcing these on The More the Merrier tomorrow, I have given myself until midnight tonight to make my final selections.

If you can, tune in tomorrow between 1-2pm and join my discussion with blogger, Heidy M. and Kirk Cooper of Film Market Access. To listen tune in to CIUT 89.5 FM or listen online at ciut.fm The number to call is 416-946-7000.

Photo: A shot from Box #2 at beautiful Winter Garden Theatre.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

TIFF 2010: What Have You Seen?

How is your TIFF going? Please share by leaving a comment about what you liked didn't like. One film I was surprisingly bored by was John Carpenter's The Ward. It didn't scare me, a self-confessed scardy cat who couldn't even watch everything at Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Amber Heard was the weak link that spoiled this picture. The girl has only one expression and I'm not even sure what her face is trying to say...

Here are some recent viewings that I can recommend:

Africa United
The Housemaid
Karla and Jonas (family)
Little Sister (family)
Nostalgia for the Light
Red Nights This one plays tonight!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

TIFF 2010: Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon

I am more than happy (can you tell?) to be posing with the guys from MOTHER OF ROCK: LILLIAN ROXON: director, Paul Clarke (orange shirt), producer, Robert de Young (gray jacket) and legendary rock photographer, Leee Black Childers (striped shirt). Had a great interview with the trio on the floor of Paul's hotel room at the Hyatt Regency; Leee held court in a desk chair (as befitting rock royalty).
I could spend a whole day with Leee and not learn everything about the people he has met, photographed and rubbed shoulders with. No doubt, Paul and Robert felt the same way when they were working on the documentary about Lillian Roxon, the rock critic who also wrote the historic Rock Encyclopedia. She was a woman way ahead of her time, recognizing such talents as Leee himself (fresh from the south when she met him in New York), Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, The Doors and countless others. The documentary is a revelation about an extraordinary woman who died way too young (in her thirties) and who never saw the rise of the talents she wrote about, and the change that she predicted would come in the rock scene. Hope you can catch the film at TIFF 2010.

Wednesday September 15 8:30:00 PM AMC 9
Saturday September 18 12:00:00 PM AMC 2


My interview will air on CIUT 89.5 FM's The More the Merrier at a date to be determined.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

TIFF 2010: Mamma Gógó director, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson

Met Oscar-nominated director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson yesterday. I rudely kept him waiting for five minutes (yikes!) because I lost track of time interviewing Iranian director, Raffi Pitts (The Hunter)--more about that interview at a later date. Thankfully, Fridrik didn't seem to mind and our interview about his film, Mamma Gógó was short and sweet.

The film is a semi-autobiography about his financial trouble and the onset of his mother's illness. Alzheimer's is not an illness that is often treated with humour in films, but Fridrik said that some of the situations he encountered with his mother were so comical that he decided to approach this aspect of his life through comedy. He was also tired of the bleak nature many of the films he had seen that dealt with the issue. His mother remains healthy, but her illness has progressed beyond what is depicted in the film. She still remembers him in her own way, and squeezes his hand and smiles when he visits her. His mother's impact on his life is significant (his father died when he was very young), so this film is really a tribute to his mother.

The film is also a tribute to one of Iceland's most revered actresses, Kristbjörg Kjeld, a recipient of Iceland's highest honour, the Order of the Falcon. Frikdrik knew he wanted her to star in this film and used footage of Kjed from her 1962 film, 79 af stöðinni as flashbacks for the character of Gógó. Included in these flashback of Gógó is actor, Gunnar Eyjólfsson who starred with Kjeld in the black and white film. In Mamma Gógó, Fridriksson used these scenes to depict the two actors as the director's parents, allowing us to understand the love and loss of Gógó and her fantasies about her dead husband.

The financial difficulties faced by The Director (he is never named in the film) is one faced by Fridriksson himself, and which still impacts the film industry in Iceland. Frikdriksson used to executive produce many children's films in Iceland (including one of my favourites, Ikingut), and this sector of film, which used to be so productive and well-done, is at a virtual standstill. Like The Director (played by Hilmir Snær Guðnason) who longs for an Oscar nomination in order to have the clout to finance more films, Fridriksson (and I) hope that a nomination for Mamma Gógó will boost production of films in Iceland (where funds for film have been cut by 35%).

Mamma Gógó
Sunday September 19
12:30:00 PM


Monday, 13 September 2010

TIFFF 2010: Blessed Events (Glückliche Fügung)

Met director, Isabelle Stever and actress Annika Kuhl yesterday. Very nice women, a bit shy, and concerned about their English (they are German), but I had a good time speaking with them about their film, BLESSED EVENTS (Glückliche Fügung). The interview is in the bag, so stay tuned for that to air on CIUT 89.5 FM in the upcoming months. In the mean time you can catch this very original film based on the short story by Anke Stelling. Kuhl plays Simone, a very lonely, insecure woman who becomes pregnant from a one-night stand. When she runs into the father, she is surprised that he wants to become part of her life. The two become a couple and set up home, but Simone's lack of confidence undermines every step of the relationship. She cannot understand why a man like Hannes (Stefan Rudolph) would be interested in her. In contrast to Simone's distant emotions and anxieties, Hannes is warm and caring--he is the perfect nurse caring for dying people.

The tension that builds in this dialogue-sparse film is unsettling to the viewer. We become as tightly wound as Simone, and can never really relax, always wondering what she is thinking and what her reaction will be to certain situations. Hannes, whom the director chose to shoot out of scene or just slightly in frame (we rarely get a had on shot of him) is never there to reassure us of what is going on; so we are forced to rely on Simone's reactions. This being the case, we have to figure things out for ourselves. There are time when you want to shout at Simone that Hannes really loves her, damnit!, but would she even understand us when she has such a hard time believing in her good fortune?

If you like puzzles, and figuring things out as the story unfolds, the this film is for you. Don't forget to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

BLESSED EVENTS (Glückliche Fügung)
Wednesday September 15 2:45:00 PM AMC 3
Sunday September 19 8:30:00 PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 11


Sunday, 12 September 2010

TIFF 2010: Director Emre Sahin and Producer, Sarah Wetherbee's "40"

Will director, Emre Sahin (pronounced sha-heen) be credited with kicking off a new generation of Turkish cinema with his debut film, "40"? Only time will tell. I had a chance to sit down with the young director and his producer (and wife) Sarah Wetherbee yesterday to talk about the film which had it's International premiere on Friday night. Sahin and Wetherbee are from the world of documentaries, which is probably why their film about a bag of money and how it affects the life of three people, comes to life so well on the big screen. As, the two are at ease working with the general public, so when scouting the streets of Istanbul for shoot locations, they were able to make friends with some locals in order to gain access to a very sketchy neighbourhood in the city. The team were not shooting a tourist brochure; they wanted to bring their city to life for Turks as well as an international audience. Little did the two dream that their film would make it in to the Toronto International Film Festival, and even after "40" was accepted, they still were nervous thinking that there may only be a handful of people in the audience--were they more than pleasantly surprised! They were also pleased that although "40" has definite youth market appeal, that the film were appreciated by the mix of ages at their first screening.

What role will fate/God/luck have on a screw up, a Nigerian refugee, and a nurse living in the "heaven, hell, purgatory" of Istanbul. Go see the film and find out. As for Sahin and Wetherbee’s filmmaking fate, the answers are in the stars--or should I say, the sales market at the Toronto International Film Festival?

Monday, September, 13th, Varsity 7th

NB: My interview with Emre and Sarah will air on CIUT 89.5 FM' s The More the Merrier Arts Radio at date to be determined.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

TIFF 2010: Interview with Steve Gravestock, Associate Director, Canadianan Programming (TIFF)

donna g: Why should people consider seeing Canadian films at TIFF? I love and support Canadian films but many people tell me they choose foreign films over Canadian because they may not get a chance to see those films again.

Steve Gravestock: One of the reasons to see Canadian films at the Festival is that some may not show up in Toronto again (especially the Quebecois films -- though this will change with the opening of the Bell Lightbox). More significantly, the directors and in many cases the performers will be present at the screenings -- and that kind of situation is unique and unlikely to be duplicated. (This would apply especially to this year since there are a large number of very prominent international performers in a large number of productions -- as well as Canadian performers who have become internationally known.) Also, there's a certain excitement in seeing films first. That said, it's always a good idea to mix up things and see films from a variety of different countries, regions, etc. Frankly, I think this kind of approach shows how well we stack up against other countries.

More importantly, these films show us where we are now – and I don’t know why any Canadian wouldn’t want to know about that..

donna g: Could you share with new attendees to TIFF, the different areas of Canadian films to choose from at the festival?

Steve Gravestock: There are two specifically Canadian programmes: Canada First! and Short Cuts Canada. The former is a showcase for emerging Canadian filmmakers and is primarily comprised of first time feature filmmakers. The second is made up of short films. These include filmmakers who will go on to make features as well as artists who specialize in the short film form, a form Canadians have always excelled at.

The other films are spread across the Festival in a variety of programmes: Contemporary World Cinema, Visions and Real to Reel; Special Presentations and Galas (there are a very high number of these this year); and Midnight Madness--in fact, this year marks the first time a Canadian film (Mike Dowse's FUBAR 2) will open that section.

donna g: Could you please give some highlights from the different programme areas?

Steve Gravestock: I love everything in Canada First! It's a very wide-ranging programme including everything from Katrin Bowen's AMAZON FALLS, a neo-noir about a fading actress in L.A.; Daniel Cockburn's meta-detective story YOU ARE HERE; and of course the opener Mike Goldbach's comedy drama DAYDREAM NATION which is a small indy film with a big cast (Kat Dennings, Josh Lucas, Katie Boland) where Dennings plays a teenager whose father relocates her to a small rural town where all the high school students are permanently stoned. They do some very interesting things with household products.

There's way too many good films to pick out a few, but we're thrilled to be showing INCENDIES, the amazing and emotionally devastating new film from Denis Villeneuve (the director of POLYTECHNIQUE, which won every major award in Canada and Quebec last year); the new film from Jacob Tierney, GOOD NEIGHBOURS (an off-the-wall macabre thriller with Scott Speedman, Jay Baruchel -- who starred in Tierney's last film, THE TROTSKY, a big hit at TIFF last year --and the luminous Emily Hampshire); and Carl Bessai's REPEATERS. Bessai is a very interesting director and we've shown a lot of his work over the years, but this one is bigger in scope and on a larger scale than some of his earlier work. REPEATERS focuses on three teens in a rehab centre who wake up to find they're repeating the same day over and over again. It's pretty intense, with a great young cast and it uses the thriller genre as a means of addressing some pretty big, possibly even existential issues, in a very smart way. And of course Bruce McDonald's TRIGGER, a phenomenal piece of work, starring Molly Parker and Tracey Wright, one of our finest actresses, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

Contemporary World Cinema, which is sort of the backbone of the Festival and includes a wide range of different kinds of films, there's CRYING OUT or A L'ORIGINE D'UN CRI, the latest from one of Quebec's most interesting young filmmakers Robin Aubert, which marries some truly intense domestic drama (think Eugene O'Neill and Michel Tremblay) with a baroque visual and symbolic landscape that evokes David Lynch. It's about three generations of alcoholic men careening around the Quebecois countryside. It shares some affinities with Ed Gass-Donnely's film, SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS, which also takes place in a rural area, and focuses on a cop, played by the great Peter Stormare, who's haunted by his violent past. We also have MODRA, a beautiful, lovely new film by Ingrid Venninger -- it's her first solo feature -- about the relationship between two teenagers starring her daughter Hallie Switzer. The film was shot almost entirely in Slovakia -- in fact there are a lot of films that have an international scope or setting this year.

In Vision, we have two major works, MOURNING FOR ANNA or TROIS TEMPS APRES LA MORT D'ANNA, the latest from Catherine Martin, a devastating drama about a woman mourning the sudden death of her daughter, and Denis Cote's CURLING, which already won the director's prize in Locarno and is possibly his best and most accessible film to date.

In Real to Reel, we have two great documentaries: Bill MacGillivray's portrait MAN OF A THOUSAND SONGS about East Coast singer-songwriter Ron Hynes and Jody Shapiro's funny and very compassionate piece HOW TO START YOUR OWN COUNTRY, about micro-nations, small (even tiny) countries that aren't usually acknowledged by other nations.

Gala-wise, we're obviously looking forward to the world premiere of SCORE, the new movie by Michael MacGowan; Richard J. Lewis's BARNEY'S VERSION, the adaptation of the Mordecai Richler novel produced by one of the country's most prominent producers; A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO ENDINGS, a very funny, sometimes macabre family comedy written and directed by Jonathan Sobol, and starring Harvey Keitel; Jason Jones; Paulo Costanzo; and Tricia Helfer; Stephen Silver's THE BANG BANG CLUB, a very powerful and visceral drama about photo-journalists in the lead-up to the first free elections in South Africa which stars Ryan Philippe and Malin Ackerman.

What CANADIAN FILMS will you see at TIFF 2010?
Thanks to Steve Gravestock, you now have on excuses not to see Canadian Films at TIFF 2010. Enjoy! and don't forget to share you feedback by leaving a comment.

Photos: Crying Out/L'origine d'une cri (top); MODRA (second)
Photos courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

TIFF 2010 Reviews #6: Behind Blue Skies, Small Town Murder Songs, Soul of Sand

Behind Blue Skies, Hannes Holm, (Contemporary World Cinema)
Bill Skargard
is the focus of this film about a teenager who seizes the opportunity to escape the tension in his family home and make some money to help his beleagured mother.

The film is inspired by a true story that occurred in Sweden in the 1970’s, but honestly, the events are so universal, and the film is told in such a way, that the facts hardly matter. There are no date and time stamps to follow except, the clips and commentary about another young Swedish teen, Bjorn Borg. Bill Skargard’s character, is just like any teen who goes away for the summer to work at a resort. He has to share a room with a pots-moking lout, he falls in love with young woman, and he tries to find his place among hierarchy of new and returning workers.

When his circumstances at the resort change, Martin becomes captivated by other means of making money. His new father-figure, Gösta (Peter Dalle), the camp director, introduces him to a way of life that he has never experienced, easing the strain he had always experienced at home and building his confidence. Skargard’s innocence, and yearning for change can be read in his wonderfully expressive eyes. I can’t help but smile remembering his elation when he is first kissed by a pretty girl at the camp, and I can’t help but marvel at the strength of character he brings to the role of a teenage boy looking out mother while trying to get his alcolic father under control.

Director, Hannes Holm, offers us the lightness of a summer camp teen romance with the sombre wash of poverty, alcholism, and crime. Skargard is in almost every scene of the film, and the weight of its success lies with his portrayal of a boy transitioning into manhood. Lucky for us, we get to see an emerging young actor who is able to carry a feature film on his very talented shoulders.

Small Town Murder Songs, Ed Gass-Donnelly (Contemporary World Cinema)
I’ve been a fan of Ed Gass-Donnelly since saw his first feature film, This Beautiful City. Last year his 60 Seconds of Regret (Short Cuts Canada '09) showed that he could tell a story in a brief amount of time, but I was still a bit apprehensive to see how hewould do with this second feature. I’ve interviewed Ed, I love and support Canadian and didn’t want to have to write a negative review. Well, as soon as the film started, I knew that if Ed just kept to the story he was telling then, I had no need to worry. Congratulations, Ed, Small Town Murder Songs did not disappoint.

The film stars Peter Stormare as Walter, a small town cop with an anger management problem that has caused him to be on the outs with his Mennonite father. He has also lost one girlfriend Rita (Jill Hennessy) and is now living with Sam (Martha Plimpton), and trying to keep things together. Walter is heading an investigation into the murder of a young woman, whose body was dumped in his jurisdiction. Who is she? She's obviously not a local (everybody knows each other in this town), so where did she come from? Who killed her?

What’s different about this film is that it’s told in chapters, demarcated by passages from the Bible and accompanied by rousing religious music that is pure brimstone. The film would fall apart without the assurance with which actor plays his conflicted character. Like many people with anger issues Walter is mostly even tempered and can get along with everybody; when he loses his temper, it’s explosive and shocks you into remembering his flaw.

Shots of small town Ontario solidly grounds the piece in its Canadian setting, with shots of Main Street, scenes inside the ubiquitous town diner where pie and coffee are served along with the latest gossip. The meat and potato dinner scenes with Walter and San, the awkward third party communication between Walter, his brother and his estranged father (in English and the Old Language), and the inclusion of the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) serve to define the nature of the town, and emphasize how rare an occurrence the murder is.

I love this new style of filmmking by Ed Gass-Donnelly. I will be seeing this one again!

Soul of Sand, Sidharth Srinivasan, (Discovery)
TIFF’s Cameron Bailey stabbed me in the heart when he compared this film to works done by directors, Satyajit Ray and Ingmar Bergman. Did he see the same movie I saw? Sidharth Srinivasan’s film Soul of Sand isn’t even in the same league as those masters! Srinivasan’s film about a watchman at an abandoned silica mine is fine if you’re watching it on OMNI on a Sunday afternoon—grab the popcorn— but to pay $20 to see it at TIFF? No way! Save your money.

Soul of Sand starts out as an impressive social drama with a touch of the absurd as we see a lone watchman guarding, guarding the defunct Royal Silica Mine. Sitting in the hot son, his posture erect, holding his defensive pole and wearing the drab uniform embroidered with RSM on his breast pocket, the watchman seems to be portraying the dramatic “Fool”. Kow-towing to his upper-caste master upon his visits, the watchman is so entrenched in carrying on his generational dury as a watchman and carrying out orders, that he is oblvious to the master’s forced attentions on his wife. If the film had remained focussed on the social elements of the class and opression, the film would have been worthy of the praise Bailey has heaped upon it; but after the opening scenes the film descends into a laughable high drama with a mysterious hitman chasing after the master’s daughter and her runaway boyfriend. This is an indulgent soap opera with a cool bad guy a la Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti westerns, this film is so bad it fun, but in no way is it the “artful” film Bailey proclaims it to be. Sorry, but this director is no "discovery".

What will you see at TIFF 2010?

Monday, 6 September 2010

TIFF 2010 Review #5: How to Start Your Own Country, Pink Saris,

TIFF’s Real to Reel programme is a great section to pick from if you prefer documentaries to fiction features, or, if, like me, you like to mix up your screening experience at TIFF. Both Jody Shapiro and Kim Longinotto are award-winning documentarians whose works are always films to look for on the festival circuit.

Jody Shapiro’s realm is the world of nature and the environment. He co-directed, Green Porno, about the sex lives of insects, with Isabella Rossellini and directed and produced Ice Breaker about life on a Canadian Coast Guard vessel. Shapiro also was the producer and cinematographer on Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (winner Best Canadian Feature, TIFF 2007).

Kim Longinotto’s primary focus is the world of women and trans people. In watching her work over the years, I am always impressed with the way she is able to connect with people of varying cultures in her features. I don’t know how much time she spends with her subjects before she starts filming but her obvious white-skin privilege never seems to be a barrier; there never appears to be any suspicion on the part of her subjects as to why she is interested in telling their stories. Two of her features, Sisters in Law and Rough Aunties are among my favourite documentaries, and her latest, Pink Saris does not disappoint.

How To Start Your Own Country, Jody Shapiro, (Real to Reel) How to Start Your Own Country is a revealing documentary. How does a country -become a country? No one really has the definitive answer to this question but resolute individuals and groups are determined to be breach the doors of the United Nation’s exclusive “country” club. Prior to this film, I had never heard of the six mico-nations that are featured in the film: Hutt River Principality (established 40 years ago in Australia), the Republic of Molossia (in Nevada, no less), the Principality of Sealand (an former WWII gun tower off the coast of England in the North Sea), the New Free State of Caroline (more a state of mind than an actual land mass), the Seasteading Institute (a proposed nation of platforms built at sea), the Kingdom of North Dumpling (a private island in the Long Island sound) and the Principality of Seborga (founded 1,000 years before Italy became a country).

Besides the very interesting founders of each nation/state/country, the documentary also includes interviews with international lawyers well-versed in areas of constitutional and sovereignty laws, as well as United Nations diplomats. What arises out of these interviews is the contradiction surrounding exactly what constitutes a country or state. What does it take to become a member of the United Nations? Some nations are members even though other members of the United Nations do not recognize them, so why can’t other newer nations join? The United States and Canada were both British colonies that have become countries. Will one of the featured micro-nations be allowed to follow in their footsteps, and who will decide?

Pink Saris, Kim Longinotto (Real to Reel) Sampat Pal Devi is loud, abrasive, woman who may have had one sips too many of her own Kool-Aid, but as the leader of the Gulabi Gang (a.k.a. the “Pink Gang”), a group of women who fight for the rights of women in Uttar Pradesh, she is a vital necessity. The gang dress in all pink and are the voice of female dalits (untouchables). Centuries of tradition have given little to India’s lowest caste, and, as is the case where people are oppressed, some of the oppressed become oppresors.

Sampat Pal knows all about being an untouchable, and not having anyone to turn to for help. Born into the dalit caste, she knows what it is like to be married off at twelve and sent to live with in-laws, severing ties with her family. She ran away from her marriage, but not her family; she provides for her husband and their grandchildren, even though she lives with a man who is from the highest caste.

In this documentary by award-winning director, Kim Longinotto, we see Sampat Pal as a spokeswoman, judge and jury presiding over such domestic disputes as a runaway couple, a pregnant young woman who risks being killed by her family if she does not marry the father, a young wife being sexually abused by her father-in-law and physically abused by the rest of the family, and her own niece, whose baby was not given medical attention because the child was a girl.

Sampat Pal believes in family; that they should take responsibility for their actions and support women brought into their families as wives. In cases of domestic abuse, the focus is on stopping the violence, not removing the woman from the home. She does, however, want those most at fault to be arrested, and she has the power to do so. She is a master of the photo op and getting her name in the local paper; this is her power. Her vulnerability is seen at the end of the documentary where she reveals aspects of her own life and her financial struggle to help other women—she, her partner and the extended family all live on donations to the Pink Gang.

Sampat Pal is an extraordinary woman trying to bring about change and hope. Kudos to Kim Longinotto for bringing us this story about untouchable women in modern India, and for documenting a heroine that is a far cry from the usual Princess Diana or Mother Theresa type.

What will you see at TIFF 2010?

Sunday, 5 September 2010

TIFF 2010 Reviews #4: Girlfriend, Norberto's Deadline, Pinoy Sunday, Wasted on the Young

According to TIFF, the Discovery programme is "a showcase for innovative new filmmakers." This is the section where you might find the next big director (or not) and have the privilege of saying that you were there at the beginning of their career. Here's my take on the few I've seen so far...

Girlfriend, Justin Lerner, (Discovery)
Don’t go see this film because you heard that it is the first American film to cast an actor with Down syndrome in a starring role; Girlfriend is not a gimmick. Set in a small Massachusetts town, the film is the story of Evan (Ben Sneider) a young many with Down syndrome, who lives with his mother and works with her at a café. The love of Evan’s life is Candy (Shannon Woodward), a young, single mother who can’t seem to shake her ex-boyfriend, Russ (Jackson Rathbone). Evan, Candy, and Russ all went to school together, where Candy and Russ were a known couple. With Russ no longer with Candy, Evan desperately wants Candy to be his girlfriend. When he comes into some unexpected funds, he shares it with Candy so she can pay off some of her bills. To the romantic Evan, taking care of Candy means he is her boyfriend because that’s what boyfriends are supposed to do.

I absolutely loved Shannon Woodward in her role as Candy, the conflicted young mother, who is trying to take care of her child and keep a roof over her head. That her character, Candy, cannot resist the good-for-nothing, Russ, is understandable given actor Jackson Rathbone’s dirty, bad boy sexuality. The subtle expressions on her face portray her conflicted emotions towards Evan and earned my own divergent love/hate towards her character. I empathized with her ability to make me understand why she takes the money from the lovelorn Evan, but I also hated her for continuing to do so even when she knows that Evan wants a full relationship with her.

As Evan, Evan Sneider brings to the screen a fully realized character, who just happens to have Down syndrome. Evan is a man in love, and his earnest wooing of Candy and his concern for her son, makes him no different than any other prospective boyfriend, in his desire to care for her. What adds to dramatic interest to the film is the fact that Evan and Candy are not at the same intellectual level or emotional level. Candy’s intellect far exceeds Evan’s but she is not mature enough to make wise decisions about her life. She is also not emotionally stable enough to cut her ex-boyfriend out of her life or to make it fundamentally clear to Evan that she cannot be his girlfriend. For his part, Evan knows how to be a boyfriend from watching soap-operas, this false way of looking at life, added to his high school crush on Candy prevents him from really grasping the fact that they cannot be a couple.

Writer/director, Jason Lerner falls into the trap of many first-time feature directors and adds one too many plot points to his film. Perhaps having made short films he didn’t trust that he had enough of a story to hold the audience. Who knows? By throwing in a couple of unnecessary scenes towards the end of the film, he undermines his own work. Still, Girlfriend is worth a watch because most of the script does work, and for what actress Shannon Wodward’s brings to the screen.

Norberto’s Deadline/ Norberto Apenas Tarde, Daniel Hendler, (Discovery)
Daniel Hendler is a well-known actor in Uruguay, but I don’t know what to make of his Norberto’s Deadline, his screenwriting and directorial debut. There is nothing wrong with the story of a sad-sack married man who takes a job at a real estate agency after being fired from his airline job. We can only guess why Norberto was fired—his timidity, perhaps? When his real estate colleague suggests that Norberto needs some assertiveness training, Norberto decides that acting would be a way in which to overcome his shyness. As his he falls deeper into the world of Chekhov’s “The Seagull”, Norberto makes new friends with the young theatre-student cast, and gains independence even as he loses his wife.

I couldn’t connect emotionally with Norberto, so I have no passionate feelings towards this film. It’s not bad enough to hate, but I have no desire to see this film again, either. I think actor, Fernando Amaral was too unemotional for me. His sloppy clothes and slumped shoulders strike the right note for the character, but he is lacking the accompanying emotions in his eyes, that quality that American actor, Paul Giamati is so good at communicating when he plays characters that are just outside the social norm. A shrug and a “next!” is what I thought after seeing this film.

Pinoy Sunday, Ho Wi Ding, (Discovery)
Stories about migrant workers are usually heavy dramas, focusing on the hardship and exploitative nature of such contracts, but in this story comedy is the genre used to tell the familiar tale. Through the direction if Ho Wi Ding and lens of cinematographer, Jake Pollock, we see the daily life of two Filipino workers, Manuel (Epy Quizon) and Dado (Bayani Agbayani) living in Taipei. They work in a bicycle factory with strict rules, and live in the factory-owed dormitory. That life is not easy for the workers in Taiwan is seen from the very beginning of the film where Dada meets a Filipino in handcuffs on his way back to the Philippines; another Filipino is being sought for deportation, and they are living in a country where they don’t speak the language fluently and are seen as outsiders.

Manuel is a ladies man who falls in love at the drop of a hat; Dada is a married man who staves off loneliness by forming a relationship with a Filipina who works as a personal care attendant for an elderly Chinese woman. The two men live for Sundays where they go to church and meet and mingle with other Filipinos. They also have a dream of decorating their dorm so that it feels like a real home, instead of temporary, sterile digs. One Sunday afternoon, they find a red sofa abandoned in front of a building and it seems as if their dreams have come true. Manuel and Dada spend the rest of their Sunday trying to get the sofa back to their dormitory by curfew. Run ins with other characters, the Taipei cityscape (including the stunning 101 Taipei building), and the blaring political announcements and posters promising “change” are the backdrop to this buddy road movie where a red sofa is the embodiment of a longing for “home”. Music by Yao Jen Tsai rounds out this wonderful comedy that charms and delights even as it makes us think about the loneliness of the migrant worker.

Pinoy Sunday is Ho Wi Ding’s first feature film and I am hopeful that his next film will be as well constructed and visually engaging.

Wasted on the Young, Ben C. Lucas, (Discovery)
The age-old story about high school cliques, insiders and outsiders is taken to a higher level than usual with today’s social networking, camera phones, and computer technology. Teenage emotions are ramped to a level that hasn’t been seen in history, and when a teenage girl wakes up on a beach after a party with no knowledge of how she got there, rumours about her and the swim team spread like wildfire at an exclusive boarding school and on social networking sites. What really happened to her? Was the swim team captain, who has total control of the student body, involved in anyway, and does it matter to the rest of the students? What will the swim captain’s un-cool stepbrother, who had a crush on the girl, do about what happened?

The absence of adult authority and presence in the film serves as a warning to society, and parents, guardians and teachers, especially, of the dangers we all face in this new age of technology in the hands of an emotionally immature teens. The film is also a warning to teens that they have the power in their hands to bow to peer pressure or take a stance against its most negative impact.

Wasted on the Young is a good looking film with interesting visuals that add to the technology driven world of the film. Cinematographer, Dan Freene does a stellar job of lighting the glass house in which the stepbrothers lives (sans parents who are travelling) as well as the school’s interiors and exteriors. Alex Russell, who plays the evil swim team captain with such brilliant sang-froid, has a career ahead of him after this film. The camera loves his dimpled, chiselled good looks, and his character’s few moments of vulnerability shows that Russell is more than capable of being a cookie-cutter villain.

I really wanted to like this twenty-first century take on disaffected youth, but first time feature director, Ben C. Lucas made it really hard for me to do so. The way he and editor, Leanne Cole chose to arrange scenes undermine a good story, and made it a frustrating watch for me. Anyone who has seen Gus Van Sant’s Elephant will make automatic comparisons with Wasted on the Young. Perhaps if, Lucas had as much experience as Van Sant, he wouldn’t have telegraphed plot elements too early in the film, and would have eliminated his use of flashbacks altogether. If my criticisms seem harsh it’s because I saw a good film that should have been a great film. As much as I hated the inept editing of this timely story, I clearly see that Ben C. Lucas is definitely one to watch.

What will you see at TIFF 2010?

Friday, 3 September 2010

TIFF 2010 Review #3: Special Treatment

Special Treatment, Jeanne Labrune (Special Presentation) One of my favourite French actresses, Isabelle Huppert, is back on the screens at TIFF, playing Alice, a self-managed prostitute of a certain age who has become tired of her profession. Xavier ((Bouli Lanners) is also tired of his profession as a psychoanalyst and seems incapable of dealing with his failing marriage. Besides their professional malaise, Alice and Xavier share a love of fine art: both are collectors. Alice’s focus is a beautiful chandelier; Xavier’s focus is a statue of an angel.

Director, Jeanne Labrune’s carefully constructed film contrasts the lives of these two characters with edit choices and dialogue that move fluidly from scene to scene and character to character. In both worlds, clients arrive by appointment and depart at the end of their special treatment. Perfunctory and not in the least intimate, these exchanges are merely business transactions with neither Alice nor Xavier being emotionally engaged.

Inevitably, the two characters meet and our curiosity becomes engaged as we wonder how their relationship will unfold. Art, culture, prostitution, and psychoanalysis are not the strange bedfellows we might have thought and the fully realized characters of Alice and Xavier make this an interesting, very human story to watch. We observe scenes of the educated, seeming poised prostitute, and the prominent, repressed psychoanalyst as if we are watching a tennis match or a game of chess between two equals; what will the next play be?

As Alice, Huppert, is sexy as hell, whether her character is in her various working gear or her off-hours clothing of black jeans and simple leather jacket. Leave it to the French film industry to keep women over forty (well, fifty, in the case of Huppert) in lead roles on the big screen.

What will you see at TIFF 2010?

TIFF 2010 Reviews #2: Amazon Falls, WomenArt Revolution – A Secret History

Amazon Falls, Katrin Bowen, (Canada First)
April Telek stars as Jana, an aging actress living in L. A. with a much younger DJ boyfriend. At the beginning of the film, Jana is a buxom blonde with perfect hair and make-up. It’s the day before her fortieth birthday and Jana is a self-assured actress going to an audition with Lee, her protégée and best friend. Lee is a twenty-something who thinks of Jana as a seasoned actress who knows all about the acting world. Jana’s legitimacy as a screen actress is her starring role in a series of "Amazon" films that have a minor cult following, but which were done many, many years ago.

When a producer tells Jana that he might have a part for her as a “confident but desperate” woman it seems like a contradiction in terms, but as the story progresses the assured Jana becomes increasingly obsessed with attaining stardom, even as she faces rejection. Her amour of make up, hair extensions, and foundation garments are flimsy fortifications against the soul-destroying, semi-prostitution of her hostess job at a cocktail lounge and the youth-obsessed culture of L.A.( Even her DJ boyfriend has to be publicly “single” to retain his job). It’s time for Jana to move on, but against the advice of her agent, Jana refuses to acknowledge her changed status.

First-time feature director Katrin Bowen captures Jana’s gradual downfall in a measured revelation of scenes in which April Telek depicts Jana’s vulnerability and her mental and physical deterioration. The story about the pitfalls of acting and the dog eat dog world of La La Land is nothing new, and the L. A. exteriors don’t quite match the made-in-Canada interiors (and some exteriors) of the film, but I really connected with the strong performance by April Telek.

WomenArt Revolution – A Secret History, Lynn Hershman Leeson, (Real to Reel)
How much can you really know about a society if a segment of the population has no voice? If you can name five female artists then you are way ahead of most people. This exercise carried out at several major art galleries at the beginning of this documentary…and then the answers stop. As I watched, I calculated the number of women artists that I knew and was pleased that I could name more than five, but I wasn’t satisfied to know that I couldn’t name twenty. The documentary knows we are all in the same boat; we haven’t been educated about women artists because art by women was not considered serious, collectable art. Further, many major galleries only carried work by men—and white men, at that.

Women artists were creating works, but they couldn’t sell them for vast sums of money, and trying to convince a gallery to show their work was almost impossible. Even artist/director, Leeson had her art returned when a buyer found out the pieces were created by a woman.

Tied to the civil rights movement, women artists became activists and feminists, and formed collectives to mentor and share their work. With women telling their stories through art, many captured the inequalities of their roles as women (aka wives) and, if they were women of colour, they depicted issues of racial discrimination and demands for social justice.

When women shamed galleries across the U.S. into admitting female artists, their work often was censored. In the case of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, Congress heatedly debated the pornographic nature of her work--and this was the 1980's!

An interesting point of fact that I had never considered is the fact that the Minimalist Movement of the Sixties coincided with a time of great social turmoil in America but there was very little of this reality being depicted on the walls of major art galleries. Women were capturing the rapid social changes, but Minimalism was in so you had gallery walls plastered with lines and dots.

The film is a fascinating lesson in history, art, feminism, and culture. Director, Leeson spent over forty years talking to and documenting this socially imposed “secret” world of women artists. I especially loved the works of Ana Mendieta, and enjoyed the commentary by B. Ruby Rich . Leeson could not, of course, focus on all the artists she knew, but the ones she chose to include in this film are each very interesting and worthy of documentaries of their own. Thankfully, we have Leeson’s film to act as an introduction and the film's website also provides much needed information.

What will you see at TIFF 2010?

Thursday, 2 September 2010

TIFF 2010 Reviews #1: Crying Out/À l’origine d’un cri, Jaloux

Crying Out/À l’origine d’un cri, Robin Aubert, (Contemporary World Cinema)In this film by Québécois director, Robin Aubert, the grandfather is dealing with his pending mortality; the father is mad with grief over the death of his second wife (“the love of his life”); and the son is an angry out-of control mess who fills his life with alcohol and one-night stands. When the father takes off after his wife’s funeral, the son is ordered by his army of aunties to go get his grandfather from the retirement home and go looking for the father. It seems the grandfather is the only one that has a chance of convincing the runaway father to come home.

There is the expected series of misadventures that take place during the search, some funny, some sad, but it’s the small, unusual facts dropped into this film that makes it seem so real (despite the magic realism that is part of this film). The fact that there are two sets of children (a daughter from the first marriage takes care of her younger step-siblings); that the first wife is a psychic who never really wanted children (but loves them); that the son, who works in a toilet paper factory writes poetry; and that the grandfather is a war veteran are all touches that make the characters seem like real people. There is a wonderful scene with aunties that speaks to shared familial characteristics and temperaments that will resonate with everyone. It’s not a major scene in the film, but its inclusion adds to our belief that we are watching the story of a particular family.

The unaffected acting, the script that finds the right balance between guttural expulsions of grief and rage, and love and humour combined with well-photographed interiors and exteriors of the gorgeous Québec countryside results in an exceptional cinematic experience.

WARNING: I absolutely loved this film and highly recommend it, but I must caution that the film starts with a brief scene of child molestation that is disturbing. The camera never shows the act itself, and the scene is relevant to the development of one of the male characters, but I know too many survivors not to share this fact about the film.

Jaloux, Patrick Demers, (Canada First)Just when I thought Québec only let its best work out of the province, I encountered Jaloux. Yep, they let a bad one out, and TIFF captured it. Since many of my favourite Canadian films come from la belle province, and I want you to join my I Love Canadian Films Fan Club, I thought I’d better steer you away from this acting and storytelling mess.

The story sounds really good on paper: a couple decide to see whether or not their eight-year relationship can be salvaged by heading off to cottage country to spend some time together to see if they still work as a couple. As circumstances would have it, they get to the cottage and are greeted by a man they think is the next-door neighbour. We know he’s not the neighbour, but they are so busy fighting and sulking in silence that they miss all the clues. Sounds good, right? Well, perhaps, director, Patrick Demers should have spent some time making sure the storytelling worked, and that he had really good actors before he went off into the woods to shoot this sixteen-day improvised film.

From beginning to end, this film felt like an acting exercise rather than a well-plotted thriller. I don’t want to see the acting in a movie; I want to escape into the world of the characters. I don’t want to hear dialogue cues that are supposed to forward the plot; I want to hear a real conversation. The fact that I didn’t care for the couple in the film made me care even less whether or not they worked out their relationship; she was a screeching banshee and he was a passive aggressive knucklehead. As for the neighbour, he is of the “smell the fart” school of acting where flared nostrils indicate are his way of announcing his evil thoughts. Skip it!

What will you see at TIFF 2010?

I was reviewing past coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and realized that as good as it is to use social media, I m...