Not a drop of rain fell in Toronto during my eleven day stay – one day for the art galleries showing the festival’s Future Projections and ten days to see 45 features and 19 avant-garde shorts. I’m headed to the Vancouver International Film Festival in about ten days and all the lines are outdoors. I’m afraid I’m due for buckets of rain.
Back to TIFF. This year the festival generally felt like a weak kick-off to the fall movie season, but these were my favorite films:
A Letter to Uncle Boonmee & Phantoms of Nabua – two short films by Apichatpong (“Joe”) Weerasethakul. The first screened as part of the Wavelengths program and the later was part of Future Projections. You can read about Apichatpong’s installation here and you can watch the later film here. Let’s get Joe’s work to Seattle! His Tropical Malady is one of the greatest films of the decade. Some arms at NWFF have got to be twisted! Let’s urge NWFF to hook-up with a gallery and get his installations and films and Joe himself to Seattle!
Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu) – This film continues the streak of great new Romanian cinema over the last couple of years. It’s just as good if not better than Christian Mungiu’s 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days and Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Police, Adjective tells the story of a police detective tracking a high school student suspected of dealing drugs. The film is brilliantly conceived and executed. Long spying scenes meld into two unforgettable encounters between the detective and his wife and one soul-crushing scene between the detective and his boss. This one, I think, is a masterpiece.
A Prophet (Jacques Audiard) – Audiard doesn’t have the critical rep in the U.S. like so many of his fellow French directors, but he makes very stylish, artful commercial films (see The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Read My Lips). This new film won the Grand Prize at this year’s Cannes Festival. A young North African is sentenced to seven years in prison. To survive he pledges obedience to the Corsican kingpin who essentially runs the prison from the inside. It’s Audiard’s most ambitious and accomplished work – often breathtaking, but more than anything, the storytelling is magnificent and the acting unforgettable.
Vincere (Marco Bellocchio) – This is perhaps the most “conventional” film of the films I admired at Toronto. Historical biography isn’t what I’m usually looking for at the cinema. This is the true story of Mussollini’s first wife. The film is dark and cunning and the acting is stellar. The opening scene with Mussollini as a young man denouncing God in front of a fervent religious group is unforgettable.
Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl (Manoel de Oliveira) – Cinema’s most senior auteur at 100 years old, Oliveira is the oldest director still working in the world. Here, he creates the perfect short story. At just 64 minutes, the direction is deliberate and assured and the story is sharp and biting.
Le Refuge (Francois Ozon) – Ozon has had a very uneven career, but his new film (a TIFF World Premiere) is beautiful and feels oh so contemporary. A Parisian junky whose boyfriend dies of an overdose in the opening minutes is hospitalized from the same drugs. There she finds out she’s pregnant. She spends her pregnancy at the seashore with her boyfriend’s gay brother. Their time together is fascinating.
White Material (Claire Denis) – This film with Ms. Denis returning to Africa at first struck me as an unwelcome turn to the conventional for one of my absolute favorite directors. Maybe it was the place (troubled Africa) that felt routine and overexposed to me. But really, how “conventional” has this director’s recent career been (L’Intrus, Friday Night, Trouble Every Day)? Actually, her most recent film 35 Shots of Rum, which opens at NWFF this November, has a premise that may appear to be slightly conventional, but the film certainly is not. Anyway, at the airport coming home I read this assessment at The Auteurs web site and I can only say I want to see the film again. Already with the reassessment.
Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Love) – Three daughters and their mother deeply love their workaholic film producer father-husband. That love is tenderly displayed in the first half of this surprising and beautiful film. In the second half they deal with loosing him.
Happy End (Arnaud & Jean-Marie Larrieu) – This has to be the oddest film on my list of favorites. If you think you might want to spend the last 2 hours and 13 minutes before the end of the world smiling at the often bemused look on the face of Mathieu Amalric (in my opinion the greatest actor of the last thirteen years – since My Sex Life or How I Got into an Argument) then nothing could be more sublime.
The Ape (Jesper Granslandt) – And finally, a very dark, uncompromising and singular vision. This is the second feature by Granslandt. He also directed a little gem of a film (Falkenberg Farewell) that I loved at SIFF ’07. This film is completely different. A man in his thirties wakes up on a bathroom floor with blood on his hands and shirt. He’s groggy. Washes up, changes clothes and heads off to work (the work day doesn’t last long though). Over the course of the day we will find out what happened the night before and what his future holds when night falls. Gripping. While I don’t want to compare the film to the Dardennes (it doesn’t deserve that), the side of the neck of our anti-hero is definitely the star of the film. I really hope this one finds its way to Seattle.
The reason the festival often felt like a bad dream were these auteurs (major and minor) stinking up the place with very mediocre films:
Antichrist (Lars von Trier), The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke), Air Doll (Hirokazu Kore-eda), Face (Tsai Ming-liang), Wild Grass (Alain Resnais), Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont), Soul Kitchen (Fatih Akin), Enter the Void (Gaspar Noe), Vision (Margarethe von Trotta) and Mr. Nobody (Joco Van Dormael). Wasted hours and disappointment all over the place.
These films I missed at TIFF, but plan to see at VIFF starting on October 1:
Broken Embraces (Pedro Almadovar), Like You Know it All (Hong Sang-soo), Lebanon (Samuel Maoz), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam), Mother (Bong Joon-ho), The Time That Remains (Elia Suleiman), To Die Like a Man (Joao Pedro Rodrigues), I Killed My Mother (Xavier Dolan) and Tales from the Golden Age (various Romanian directors).
Some helpful posts:
Mark Peranson on Apichatpong