An Exciting 2009: Report from A Toronto Programmer

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A report from Raymond Phathanavirangoon who worked for several years with international film sales outfit Fortissimo Films and is currently a programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival and Toronto’s Reel Asian Film Festival.

2009 already looks like a better year than the last, especially if you look at the upcoming titles. From masters like Alain Resnais (LES HERBES FOLLES) and Werner Herzog (BAD LIEUTENANT) to Lukas Moodysson’s highly anticipated MAMMOTH, there are, at least, a lot of big names to pick from. I have chosen 10 films (and a bunch of alternates) that are my most anticipated to highlight here. The list definitely gravitates toward the arthouse, because that is just my personal taste. So apologies in advance that I am not listing obvious titles like Park Chan-wook’s THIRST or Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTARDS. Of course, since I have not seen any of them yet, I’m just making guesses as to whether they will turn out great or not. And who knows, maybe some of them will not even make ’09…

In no order:

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, PRIMITIVE
After making some of the finest films this decade with SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY and TROPICAL MALADY, Weerasethakul has a boldly experimental new film that is borne out of a multimedia project. It kicks off with a 5-screen installation at the Haus de Kunst in Munich, Germany in February. Following hopefully soon after is the feature itself, which extends the director’s themes of memory and reincarnation into a weird and wonderful world of humans and apes. Yes, apes.

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Bela Tarr, THE TURIN HORSE
After THE MAN FROM LONDON, Bela Tarr has decided to return to Hungary to make something smaller in scale. Not that this film, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s breakdown later in his life, is any smaller in terms of subject matter. But Bela Tarr told me personally that this will be his final film. That will be a great loss to cinema, but I know that he will continue to be involved behind the camera. Just look at how Kornél Mundruczó (whose DELTA was in Cannes Competition last year) turned out.
Claire Denis, WHITE MATERIAL
Claire Denis’ last film 35 SHOTS OF RHUM was a huge critical success when it premiered in Venice and Toronto last year. She rapidly follows this up with WHITE MATERIAL, in which she returns to Africa to shoot this Kafka-esque story of a brewing rebellion and a white woman, Maria, who is caught up in mayhem. Isabelle Huppert, Isaach de Bankolé and Christopher Lambert are starring. And remember: the last time Denis was in Africa, she gave us BEAU TRAVAIL.

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Elia Suleiman, THE TIME THAT REMAINS
It has been a long time since the award-winning DIVINE INTERVENTION in 2001, but his contribution to 2006’s CHACUN SON CINEMA was a knockout. THE TIME THAT REMAINS purports to complete his trilogy of films about Palestinian identity that started with CHRONICLE OF A DISAPPEARANCE. Suleiman has nailed down the pitch-perfect comedic timing – here’s hoping that the visuals are just as bold and inventive and the politics as scathing as ever.
Tsai Ming-Liang, FACE
Director Tsai Ming-Liang has taken over the Louvre and turned it into his own little playground. His partner-in-crime Lee Kang-Sheng stars as a film director who is trying to adapt the story of Salomé. And talk about inspired casting: Jean-Pierre Léaud as John the Baptist, red-hot model Laetitia Casta as Salomé, and three names cinema lovers know well: Jeanne Moreau, Fanny Ardant and Nathalie Baye. No wonder, since Tsai states that François Truffaut is the inspiration behind this latest project.

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Jean-Luc Godard, SOCIALISME
Admittedly, I have no clue what this film is about, except that it went into production last year. I’m glad that he is still as active as ever, and if it’s anything as good as the more recent IN PRAISE OF LOVE and NOTRE MUSIQUE, which were both stunning, it will be a godsend.

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Lee Chang-Dong, POETRY
Lee Chang-Dong is, to me, the finest director in Korea. Though he hasn’t made very many films, each is a wonderfully crafted gem. His last, SECRET SUNSHINE, was an emotional rollercoaster topped by emotive performances and utterly controlled direction. His newest, about an old woman trying to find new meaning in her life, already sounds like another rich mine for a character drama.
Abbas Kiarostami, CERTIFIED COPY
A love story directed by Abbas Kiarostami??? As unlikely as it may sound, this film already has considerable interest due to its star: Juliette Binoche. The plot revolves around a middle-aged writer who meets Binoche’s character, and together they jet to Tuscany. How will Kiarostami, who has been making quasi-experimental films lately, approach something more conventional? We will see…

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Todd Solondz, LIFE DURING WARTIME (working title)
Described as part sequel/part variation of HAPPINESS and WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, Todd Solondz’s long-gestated project will finally be completed this year. But lest you think that Solondz is treading on his past successes, the film will, I believe, surprise a lot of people. For one, he doesn’t use any of the same cast as the previous films, though of course the “characters” themselves are the same. And boy, the script is great.
Vimukthi Jayasundara, FALLEN FROM THE SKY
Though definitely less known than the other filmmakers mentioned in this list, I am really eagerly anticipating this Sri Lankan director’s second feature film. His last work, THE FORSAKEN LAND (Camera d’Or, Cannes 2005) heralded a new cinematic talent with its sparse, allegorical landscapes and powerful war themes. If he manages to succeed in translating the excellent treatment for FALLEN FORM THE SKY into a film, then it is going to be an incredible piece of work – incredibly visual, surrealistic and mysterious.
Also greatly anticipated but just missed my list:

PERSECUTION (Patrice Chéreau)
MOTHER (Bong Joon-Ho)
NYMPH (Pen-ek Ratanaruang)
AT THE END OF DAYBREAK (Ho Yuhang)
NANKING NANKING (Lu Chuan)
THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (Jim Jarmusch)
THE WHITE TAPE (Michael Haneke)
RED EAGLE (Wisit Sasanatieng)
KING SHOT (Alejandro Jodorowsky)
ANTICHRIST (Lars von Trier)
THE TREE OF LIFE (Terence Malick)
THE ILLUSIONIST (Sylvain Chomet)

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