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TIFF Wrap-Up from Bruce!

TIFF 2009 was slightly smaller than it has been in past years but there were still 335 films to choose from, an absolutely impossible task. This year seemed generally higher in quality than past years but that could be simply the luck of the draw. At the end of the festival I had four clearcut 5 cat favorites:

DOGTOOTH - this Greek film makes one painfully aware that many interesting films rarely see the light of day in English speaking countries. This dark comedy is the story of parents who have succeeded in raising three children in a fortresslike compound. The three teenagers, a boy and two girls, have never seen another person other than their parents. When the father hires a sex worker to satisfy the biological urges of the son, things begin to unravel.

THE GOOD HEART - reunites Brian Cox and Paul Dano, this time in a black comedy from Iceland directed by Dagur Kári. No, Cox and Dano do not speak Icelandic as the film is in English and is set in New York City. Cox, a curmudgeonly bar owner, rescues homeless man (Dano) after the two end up as roommates in hospital. Each changes the other profoundly and things go swimmingly until a woman (Isild Le Besco) enters the picture.

LES HERBES FOLLES - this French absurdist comedy is the latest from master Alain Resnais (LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES). A stolen handbag leads a middle aged man into an adulterous affair with an emotionally unstable avaitrix. I totally agree with a critic who said the cinematic agility of this film seems more likely the work of a 27 year old than an 87 year old. The film won the Palme d'Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

VISION - veteran director Margarethe von Trotta succeeds in making the 12th century fascinating,with her tale of nun Hildegard von Bingen: the mother of herbal medicine; a composer,poet and the person most responsible for resuscitating dramatic arts which had laid dormant for one thousand years since the time of the ancient Greeks. Hildegard wrote liturgical musicals which the nuns in her convent performed and her music is very much alive today. Barbara Sukova is magnificent as the nun who had visions, a fatal attraction to one of the nuns in her order and a wily tactical ability to manipulate the chauvinistic leaders of the Catholic Church who held great power over the people. She even convinced the Archbishop and Pope that science and religion were compatible.

Other excellent films include: AN EDUCATION, LESLIE MY NAME IS EVIL, CHLOE, J'AI TUÉ MA MÈRE, POLICE ADJECTIVE, LIKE YOU KNOW IT ALL, CAIRO TIME, I AM LOVE and WHITE MATERIAL.

TIFF Day 4 - Sunshine and Sex Dolls!

Sunday continued the trend of bright sunshine and balmy weather. After catching a program of short films in the late morning, Scot and I met Bruce to walk west on Queen St. to the Robert Bulger Gallery to attend the Opening Reception for Don McKellar’s art installation, IMAGINARY LOVERS. As we strolled down Queen Street, we serendipitously ran into Gil and Amanda who had arrived the evening before and invited them to come along. After a lengthy and surprisingly warm walk, we arrived at the Gallery (formerly Atom Egoyan’s Camera) and joined the party. Tracy introduced us to her good friend Caroline Gillis, with whom she has worked on stage (most notably the Off Broadway run of Daniel MacIvor’s play, ‘A Beautiful View’). Caroline would be recognizable to fans of ‘Twitch City,’ ‘Slings & Arrows,’ or MONKEY WARFARE. Don’s installation was comprised of a series of short films shot on cell phone featuring women all over the world sending message telling their boyfriends they missed them. Some Chlotrudis members might remember a pair of Don’t films, PHONE CALL FROM AN IMAGINARY GIRLFRIEND: INSTANBUL and PHONE CALL FROM AN IMAGINARY GIRLFRIEND: ANKARRA bookending one of our short film festivals. After complete the two initial films, Don continued to make these shorts during his travels, including stops in Wellington, New Zealand, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Regina and Montreal. The films are strangely touching and haunting, and utilize Don’s trademark humor to good effect. They are visually arresting, despite the limitations of shooting on cell phone. It was great to be able to see them as part of this installation.

The other non-film highlight of the day was my chance to finally meet the delightful Paprika Steen (who as you may recall was scheduled, but unable to attend our Chlotrudis Awards Ceremony earlier this year). I introduced myself after the screening, and she said she’d recognized me in the audience. (She gives a great Q&A!) We spoke for a few moments before she was rushed off, and she invited us to the APPLAUS party (which, if you can believe it, we were too exhausted to attend!) My hope is we are able to bring Paprika to Boston for Chlotrudis sometime in the future. She would be a terrific guest. Congratulations on your outstanding performance Paprika!

And now, on to the reviews!

Short Cuts Canada Programme 2
75 EL CAMINO
director: Sami Khan
THE TRANSLATOR
director: Sonya Di Rienzo
OUT IN THAT DEEP BLUE SEA
director: Kazik Radwanski (pictured right with Guy Maddin)
NIGHT MAYOR
director: Guy Maddin
VOLTA
director: Ryan Mullins
DE MOUVEMENT
director: Richard Kerr
SNOW HIDES THE SHADE OF FIG TREES
director: Samer Najari

Contrary to what you might think, I didn’t elect to see this program of short films because the new Guy Maddin short was featured (although that certainly was an added bonus). I really wanted to see the third film by Kazik Radwanski, Chlotrudis Short Film Festival alum. His debut short film, ASSAULT was a Chlotrudis selection in 2008. I’m always a little wary of the short film programs, because there are usually a couple of gems, and a couple of bombs, with some mediocrity filling out the rest. I am pleased to report that this year’s batch was the best selection of short films that I have seen in Toronto! Sami Khan’s 75 EL CAMINO is a moving film about getting older and the nostalgia of an old car and what it represents. In THE TRANSLATOR, Sonya De Rienzo subtitles the thoughts of various people on a subway ride, including a young couple who find themselves drifting apart. Kazik Radwanski completes his trilogy begun by ASSAULT and followed by PRINCESS MARGARET BLVD. with OUT IN THAT DEEP BLUE SEA, a poignant examination of middle age and the conflict between doing what you need to do and what you want to do. Guy Maddin is wacky and I just love him. In NIGHT MAYOR Guy invents an imaginative history for a real life friend, weaving humor, social commentary and Canadian history into a seamless fantasia. VOLTA by Ryan Mullins, explores the disappearance of the movie theatre, and what that means for a social life in this documentary about a little village in Africa. Richard Kerr’s DE MOUVEMENT is a visual collage of images plucked from historic trailers. The program ended powerfully with Samer Najari’s fantastic portrait of the immigrant experience in the snowy streets of Montreal in the film SNOW HIDES THE SHADE OF FIG TREES.

APPLAUS
director: Martin Pieter Zandvliet (pictured right with Paprika Steen)
cast: Paprika Steen; Michael Falch; Sara-Marie Maltha; Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks; Noel Koch-Søfeldt

In a tour de force performance, Danish actress, and Chlotrudis honoree Paprika Steen unleashes a powerful and fiery performance as an actress recovering from alcoholism. Thea’s addiction led to her divorce and loss of custody of her two young sons. Now on the road to recovery, Thea takes hesitant steps toward being a part of her children’s lives again. Her ex-husband is trying to help, but Thea’s impatience causes her to lash out in frustration, needing things to move more quickly because as she notes, she doesn’t drink anymore. As she feels her life spinning increasingly more out of control, she relies heavily on her caustic wit and biting intelligence. She lashes out in one moment, and then submits to logic and calm the next. It’s exhausting to watch, giving the viewer an idea of what it must be like to live it. The narrative is intercut with scenes of Thea playing Martha in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ on stage – scenes of Paprika actually performing the role in Denmark. The juxtaposition allows for insight into Thea’s character, and provides us with a nice twist at the film’s end.

While first time solo director Martin Pieter Zandvliet does a good job keeping things tightly focused on Thea, shooting her in unflattering lighting and in tight close-up as an unforgiving witness, he and his collaborator Anders Frithiof August fare less well with the screenplay, which doesn’t allow for much of a dramatic arc. That said, this film is all about Paprika Steen and her unflinching, exhilarating performance. Awarded the best actress award at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, this is a sure contender for a Chlotrudis award if it gets released in the U.S. While I would give Paprika’s performance 5 cats, the film as a whole gets 3 ½ cats.

AIR DOLL
director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
cast: Du-na Bae; Arata; Itsuji Itao

One day an inflatable air doll, a substitute for sexual pleasure, wakes up to find she has a heart. She is self-animated, self-aware, and filled with wonder as she discovers the world around her. On a meandering sojourn around the neighborhood she wanders into a video rental store and gets herself a job, carefully concealing the fact that she, in fact, made of plastic and filled with air. She returns home each night before her owner arrives from work, but soon grows tired of the sexual acts he performs with her and becomes more fascinated by the parade of humanity that she encounters each day; most particularly the young man with whom she works at the video store. Of course, as we all know, along with wonder and delight, life brings sadness, pain and heartbreak. After she accidentally tears a hole in her arm and her true nature is revealed to her co-worker, he hastily tapes her up and re-inflates her with his own breath. It is at this point that she truly learns what it means to be human, as she falls in love with her benefactor. Her further adventures lead her to an elderly man in the park on a respirator, a woman struggling against aging, a little girl and her harried father, and the man who created her.

Kore-eda is a master filmmaker, weaving elements of loneliness and alienation into this charming story about the creation of a new life. In parallel to the air doll’s inflatable nature, we see a series of humans who are empty inside, desperately seeking something to fill the void in their hearts. Duna Bae is magnificent as the innocent experiencing life for the first time. Her large eyes grow wider with each miraculous sight she sees, and she capably conveys the joy, confusion and pain of living with each move she makes. Despite the wacky and somewhat salacious premise, Kore-eda is such a life-affirming personality that you know you’re in for something special. 5 cats.

PIFF - Day Three

Despite the late nights, I got up early on Friday morning in order to make it to my first (and ultimately only) "Breakfast with..." PIFF has this great series of breakfasts which feature different categories of filmmakers discussing their craft over a fine meal in a local restaurant. Friday morning's breakfast featured documentary filmmakers and a lovely breakfast as Bayside Betsy's. On the panel were Randy Barbato, director of THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE and INSIDE DEEP THROAT who was attending the festival with WHEN I KNEW; Lucia Small, director of MY FATHER, THE GENIUS, who was screening THE AXE IN THE ATTIC this year, and John Walter, director of HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY, this year attending with his film THEATER OF WAR. Moderating the panel was Boston Phoenix film critic Gerry Peary. The panelists talked about their very different documentary styles, the profitability of the documentary today, and how their careers evolved. (at right: Peary, Small, Barbato, Walker).

The Substitute (Denmark; 93 min.)
director: Ole Bornedal
cast: Paprika Steen; Ulrich Thomsen; Jonas Wandschneider; Nikolaj Falkenberg-Klok

This Danish science fiction/comedy/suspense film hits all the right notes, especially with the casting of the divine Paprika Steen in the title role. What's a willful and rowdy class of students to do when they discover that the substitute teacher is an alien from outer space? They try to do the right thing and go to their parents, but Ulla is no dummy and she's already spoken to them about their kids' overactive imaginations.

The success or failure of THE SUBSTITUTE relies completely on Steen's performance, and the actress/director's outstanding performance doesn't miss a note. She alternates between cruetly and kindness with her students, she is sweet then monstrous wihotut missing a beat. She is all kinds of fun, and this performance, added to her many others has catapulted her into the upper echelon of my favorite actresses. I wonder if I can get her to come to Chlotrudis next year? This one's tons of fun, and I hope you get a chance to see it. 4 cats.

Were the World Mine (USA; 95 min.)
director: Thomas Gustafson
cast: Tanner Cohen; Wendy Robie; Judy McLane; Nathaniel David Becker

Based on the short film FAIRIES (which was entered into the Chlotrudis Short Film Festival a few years ago) WERE THE WORLD MINE focuses on Timothy a young gay high school student who, after winning the role of Puck in the drama classes' production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," develops a potion to make people fall in love with the first person they see. It sure sounds fun and also like a dream come true for this put upon student in an all-boys' private school. Not only must he endure the taunts and jeers of his classmates and phys. ed. teacher, the conservative little town he lives in is pretty darn homophobic as well, as his single-mother knows and endures herself.

I'm getting tired of films where the protagonist continues to make bad choices that hurt others until they finally learn the lesson of the film. I'm also really tired of seeing films with endless beautiful people. Ironically I was chatting with a young film student at the festival, and he only likes films with beautiful people in it (we were talking about AMERICAN TEEN) so perhas it's a generational thing... and WERE THE WORLD MINE is about high school kids, so maybe that audience needs everyone to be beautiful. Wendy Robie (one-eyed Nadine from David Lynch's "Twin Peaks") is pretty awesome as the Titania-like drama teacher, Ms. Tebbt, and the young men are good singers for the most part... oh did I mention that it's a musical? I usually love a good musical, and the actors are certainly talented, but unfortunately this one just didn't work for me. 2 cats

After the day's films we headed over to the Schoolhouse for the Filmmaker reception. This is one of our favorite parties and I did have the honor of being rubbed against by Gael Garcia Bernal as he left with his fiancee while we arrived. Also saw the ubiquitous John Waters (and got to thank him for his help with the Q&A at last year's AMERICAN CRIME screening) Gregg Araki, Tom Kalin and Christine Vachon. We also hung out with WERE THE WORLD MINE director Tom Gustafson and co-screenwriter Cory James Krueckeberg. Very nice guys and fun to hang out with at a party. I'm sorry I didn't enjoy their movie more.

PIFF - Day One

This year, for the first time, we decided to arrive at the Provincetown International Film Festival for Opening Night, so Scot, Beth Caldwell and I boarded the fabulous, if ungodly early Ptown Ferry at 8 a.m. to get a day of relaxing before the movies kicked in. We checked in to Romeo's Holiday, our B&B, got our terrific massages by Lenny, and were prepared for our opening night film.

FILTH & WISDOM (UK; 81 min.)
directed by Madonna
cast: Eugene Hutz; Vicky McClure; Holly Weston; Richard E. Grant

I'm not sure what I expected from Madonna's directorial debut, but I know the main reason why I came was because of a fairly positive review I read from the Berlin Film Festival. Had I dug a little deeper, I would have found this Variety review and stayed far away. That said, FILTH & WISDOM is not without some redeeming qualities (its 81 minute running-time being one of them), and it was fun to be a part of the opening night film. As an added bonus, actress Vicky McClure, one of the film's three leads, was present for the Q&A, which I have to say was a more enjoyable experience than the film itself.

The main problem with FILTH & WISDOM wasn't the direction (although a more experience director would have certainly done a better job, Madonna did a perfectly fine job at the helm) but the writing. While the imdb credits the screenplay to Dan Cadan, the film itself listed the screenwriters as Madonna and Cadan. Based on her own experiences, Madonna would have been better served by a better script. The story, about three roommates living in London and going through some tough times is fairly disjointed (certainly as evidenced by the plot explanations needed by the audience during the Q&A!) and certainly less than compelling. There is some philosophical claptrap about, you guessed it, filth and wisdom, the filth being evident, but where she came up with the wisdom is anyone's guess.

The actors acquitted themselves well, and there are moments of a delicate directing touch that surprised me such as a moving moment with an Indian housewife (that really shouldn't have been in the film in the first place as it came out of nowhere). As A.K., the philosophizing, Ukranian punk-rocker/sex worker, Eugene Hutz (EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED) is certainly a compelling figure and is making quite the name for himself in what seems to be a new stock character. Vicky McClure is wonderfully effective despite the script limitations as a down-on-her-luck retail worker at a chemist who longs only to travel to Africa to help orphans. From the sounds of the Q&A Madonna is a director who works well with her actors, possibly from her experience acting in films. Only time will tell if she can hone her craft to create a truly worthwhile film. 2.5 cats.

After a quick dinner, we regrouped with Beth and Beth for PIFF's opening night party at Crown & Anchor. Again, as my first time attending Opening Night, I was surprised by the number of people who attended that party. The ubiquitous John Waters was there, of course, as were many of the filmmakers with films in this year's festival. One pleasant surprise was re-connecting with Lucia Small (pictured left with Beth Curran and me), director of the Chlotrudis Awards nominated MY FATHER, THE GENIUS, whose latest film, THE AXE IN THE ATTIC is playing this year. Lucia used to live in Boston, but has relocated to NYC, so we haven't seen each other for a while. She's such a delightful person, it was so nice to catch up with her.

TIFF Day 7: The Asian Invation (+1)

So I'm slowing down. I've been back from Toronto for one week and I'm having trouble getting the last two days of reviews posted! Isn't it annoying how life intrudes? Anyway, I should get these last reviews out before the weekend is out, and then I'll try to get some pictures from the Q&As up.

Thursday was another four-film day, but fortunately we were able to sleep in a bit. No trip to the box office, and a first film at 12:30 p.m. This was originally going to be a three-film day, but a late addition of A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE, Nobuhiro Yamashita's follow-up to LINDA LINDA LINDA at 9:15 p.m. brought us up to four.

RECLAIM YOUR BRAIN (Germany/Austria; 141)

director: Hans Weingartner

cast: Moritz Bleibtreu, Elsa Sophie Gambard, Milan Peschel, Gregor Bloéb, Simone Hanselmann

I was really looking forward to Hans Weingartner's follow-up to the 2005 Chlotrudis Buried Treasure winner THE EDUKATORS. Imagine my disappointment when RECLAIM YOUR BRAIN fell far short of the high bar Weingartner had set for himself with his previous film. The premise is good: after a devastating automobile accident, a wealthy, high-powered, drug-addicted TV executive realizes that the crap reality shows that he is producing provide little to no value to their viewers. He investigates the rating systems and along with a ragtag bunch of misfits, discovers a way to circumvent the ratings system and educate the masses. Okay, I got a little glib toward the end, because Weingartner ends up taking the low road just about every chance he can. In fact, the story ends up being borderline morally reprehensible as the protagonists end up manipulating society as much as the "villains" of the piece.

Production values are terrific. The film opens with a high-energy sequence that takes road rage to new levels. Lead actor Moritz Bleibtreu (RUN, LOLA, RUN) crackles with dangerous energy as he swaggers and smashes his way across the city, snorting obscene amounts of cocaine and swinging a baseball bat. It's too bad that after this manic opening scene, things start to wind down, and credibility becomes strained. By the end of the film I just couldn't stop rolling my eyes.

HELP ME EROS (Taiwan; 103 min.)

director: Lee Kang-sheng

cast: Lee Kang-sheng, Yin Shin, Jane Liao, Dennis Nieh

Lee Kang-sheng should be familiar to any fans of director Tsai Ming-liang: he has starred in all of the director's films. With HELP ME EROS, Lee offers his second directorial effort that while clearly influenced by the work he has done with Tsai, is a strong, elegantly-made film all on its own.

Lee plays Ah Jie, a young man who finds himself living in poverty after he loses all the money he'd amassed on the stock market. He passes his days in a in a pot-induced haze smoking the spoils of his carefully tended closet-greenhouse. His cries for help are heard through the telephone helpline operator named Chyi, but he rejects her after finding out that she is overweight. He becomes involved with a betel nut girl (a fascinating Taiwanese cultural curiosity where young attractive, scantily-clad women operate neon-lit convenient store booths on busy roadways, delivering cigarettes and lottery tickets by sliding down fire poles to the waiting consumers) but as their sexual escapades become increasingly meaningless he pushes her away. The film ends with a remarkably filmed closing scene that, had we been able to stay for the Q&A I certainly would have asked him about filming. Lee could do worse than to follow in his mentor Tsai Ming-liang's footsteps, and if HELP ME EROS is any indication, he's well on his way.

SAD VACATION (Japan; 136 min.)

director: Shinji Aoyama

cast: Tadanobu Asano, Eri Ishida, Aoi Miyazaki Joe Odagiri, Yuka Itaya, Ken Mitsuishi

Despite an intriguing, adept cast, and some skillful camerawork, Shinji Aoyama's SAD VACATION has a little too much plot to be entirely successful. In fact, more than once I wondered if this film was a sequel and I had missed the first part. Multiple characters and scenarios are mentioned as if we are expected to know their backstories, but apparently we don't. Similarly, several plotlines are inexplicably dropped mid-film without explanation as if to be continued in a later film. Perhaps this is Aoyama's supposition; that we are being dropped into the middle of a story that isn't going to be tidily wrapped up by film's end, but it makes for somewhat frustrating viewing.

The marvelous Tadanobu Asano stars as Kenji, involved in some shady dealings that land him in hot water with a gang, and in possession of a Chinese orphan. When his path serndipitously reunites him with the mother that abandoned him as a child, he embarks on a complicated scheme of revenge that causes him to jettison any sort of concern for those around him. There are several other plot threads weaving in and out of this main story, and they do add some depth and interesting character, but are ultimately a bit extraneous. If SAD VACATION were the second part of a trilogy, I think it might work better.

A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE (Japan; 121 min.)

director: Nobuhiro Yamashita

cast: Kaho, Masaki Okada, Yui Natsukawa, Koichi Sato, Hiromasa Hirosue

Thank Goodness Nancy mentioned in casual conversation over lunch one day that she would be seeing the new film by the director of LINDA LINDA LINDA. What? How did I miss that? Such is the bane and the beauty of TIFF. There are so many films you're bound to miss some (even miss knowing about some) that you want to see; but through conversations and interactions, you often find out about them and are able to rearrange things to see them. Such is the case with Nobuhior Yamashita's A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE.

Based on the manga series written by two women called Tennen Kokekko, the film takes an sweet look at life in a tiny Japanese village in the country where there live six kids who go to school in the combined primary and middle school. The oldest, an eighth grader named Soyo Migita who loves taking care of the younger students is nervous about the arrival of a boy her age moving to the village from Tokyo. He's dripping with urban cool and she assumes they will fall in love, yet when she meets him, her infatuation turns to disappointment when faced with his clumsy, insensitive behavior. Naturally, you know they will be holding hands soon.

Like the manga it was based on, GENTLE BREEZE is very episodic, telling lovely tales of innocence in a village that seems too good to be true. There's the story about the slightly scary, but ultimately benevolent ghost on the bridge; the class trip (for the two eighth-graders) to Japan; and the group trip to the nearby festival. It's all very sweet and lovely, yet in a way that avoids the cloying, Disney-feel of American films. It's a welcome portrait of a girl's world; something we see so little of on film.

TIFF Day 6: Catching my Breath

After four movies and two parties on Tuesday, I knew I would have to take it easy on Wednesday, so I scheduled a two-film day. Of course, what I didn't account for was the fact that I had to get up early in the morning one last time to go to the box office, and my afternoon was booked for a group-Chlotrudis lunch (the only time I would see Ned & Ivy during the entire festival!) With the ever-growing festival fatigue that hits in the latter half of the trip, and another party looming in the evening, I knew this was going to be a tough day. Fortunately, our first film wasn't until 12:30 p.m., so we did have a couple of hours in the morning to rest.

UNE VIEILLE MAÎTRESSE (France; 114 min.)

director: Catherine Breillat

cast: Asia Argento, Fu'ad Aït Aattou, Roxane Mesquida, Claude Sarraute, Yolande Moreau

A new Catherine Breillat film is always something that sparks my interest, and in her latest film, the first after the director endured a serious stroke, Breillat tries her hand at a period piece... a true costume drama set in the early nineteenth century. Based on writer Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s notorious novel of sexual intrigue, UNE VIEILLE MAÎTRESSE charts the tempestuous ten-year relationship between young Ryno de Marigny and the foul-mouthed, half-Spanish libertine Vellini. Now that Ryno is engaged to marry the virtuous gem of the French aristocracy, Hermangarde, he must come clean about his past to her grandmother La marquise de Flers, who is shockingly understanding. Ryno insists that it is over between he and Vellini, and explains to La marquise the sexual dynamic that kept him in her clutches for so many years. Their late night conversation is punctuated by the voracious sexual encounters and the social manipulations between the young lovers.

The casting of Asia Argento as Vellini is an interesting choice for Breillat. Argento is not known for her deft acting skills, and her on-screen presence is decidedly modern. Still, she inhabits the roll of Vellini quite well; her unrefined screen presence matching the uncouth Vellini in a way that works for the film. Newcomer Fu'ad Aït Aattou, a barber Breillat discovered at a French cafe, does a fine job as Ryno, acquitting himself nicely despite being chosen quite obviously for his looks. Frequent Breillat collaborator Roxane Mesquida (FAT GIRL; SEX IS COMEDY) adds just enough backbone to the virginal Hermangarde to give her much needed depth. The standout in the cast is certainly Claude Sarraute as the unflappable La marquise de Flers, who takes in Ryno's scandalous story and gives him the benefit of the doubt that he has changed.

What lifts UNE VIEILLE MAÎTRESSE above the vaguely reminiscent DANGEROUS LIAISONS is the way the two main characters are allowed a range of emotions. There is more than just cruel manipulations behind the actions of the young lovers; true emotions simmering just beneath the surface. As far as the production itself, Breillat, who in her introduction to the film explained her obsession with period details, has taken pains to create an accurate look and feel of the time. The film's budget is more than all her previous films combined, and you can see where the money was spent onscreen. This is a fine continuation of a controversial filmmaker's body of work.

THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS (Canada; 77 min.)

director: Bruce McDonald

cast: Ellen Page, Ari Cohen, Max McCabe-Lokos, Max Turnbull, Julian Richings, Zie Souwand, Slim Twig

This was surely the year of Ellen Page at the Toronto International Film Festival. After receiving well-deserved accolades for her fine comedic work in JUNO, she turns around a floors audiences in Bruce McDonald's ("Twitch City"; HIGHWAY 61) dramatic feature THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS. This is a film that has the potential to blow your mind, incorporating a strong enough screenplay, a powerhouse lead performance, and a visionary director that pushes the boundaries of filmmaking to take the film's title literally and give the audience visual fragments of the titular character's psyche.

In some ways, Tracey Berkowitz is similar to Juno, Page's other leading role at the festival. Both are high-school girls on the fringes of that community. But while Juno has a strong support base in her friends and family, Tracey is adrift alone, picked on mercilessly by her peers, and shunned by her parents who find her to be a problem child. Or it's possible that Tracey is just a very disturbed young girl rejecting any assistance that comes her way. The film is told entirely from Tracey's decidedly skewed point-of-view, it is difficult to gauge the ineffectiveness of her parents accurately. Central to the story is the disappearance of Tracey's seven-year-old brother, who thinks he's a dog. The story is told in flashback, through erratic flashes of Tracey's memory, as she rides a bus through the city, wrapped only in a flowered shower curtain, an impending blizzard looming in the near future.

Two films came to mind as I watched THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS: Lukas Moodysson's LILJA 4-EVER and Darren Aronofsky's PI. The former because we are watching the helpless downward spiral of a girl in way over her head. The latter because of the visual and aural assault Bruce McDonald uses to convey this tragic story. The fragmented visuals and helter skelter editing McDonald employs really adds tremendously to what might have otherwise been an R-rate after-school special type of story. The powerful, sountrack by Broken Social Scene matches the visuals nicely. The film works best if you stop resisting and let it wash over your senses. Moments of near calm are granted in Tracey's discussions with Dr. Heker, a female psychologist cast and played brilliantly by the very male Julian Richings (MY LIFE WITHOUT ME; THE RED VIOLIN).

The film has some minor flaws, mainly in the screenplay, but Page's outstanding lead performance and McDonald's creative and assured directorial hand managed to catapult THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS into my top film of the Festival. I'm hoping that a successful roll-out of JUNO will grant THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS a U.S. distribution deal. I would also love to co-present this film at the Independent Film Festival of Boston next April if it hasn't yet been released.

Once again, we hooked up with Don and Tracy after the film, along with Gerry Peary and Callum Keith Rennie, to walk over to the Century Club and THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS after-party. We once again chatted with Nadia Litz and Kish, as we navigated the crowded party filled with Canadian film notables. Just as the late hour threatened to overwhelm us and we made our way to the exit, we came across the star of the evening, the incredibly talented Ellen Page, and we were able to chat with her, congratulating her on her success. She graciously allowed us to take all the credit south of the border for discovering her rising star when we gave her the Breakout Award at the 11th Annual Chlotrudis Awards.

Toronto Day 2: Catching Up

I'm going to try to do a little catch-up here, with reviews from the three films I caught yesterday.

CHANCUN SON CINÉMA (France; 119)

director: Theo Angelopoulos, Olivier Assayas, Bille August, Jane Campion, Youssef Chahine, Chen Kaige, David Cronenberg, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Manoel de Oliveira, Raymond Depardon, Atom Egoyan, Amos Gitai, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Aki Kaurismäki, Abbas Kiarostami, Takeshi Kitano, Andrei Konchalovsky, Claude Lelouch, Ken Loach, David Lynch, Nanni Moretti, Roman Polanski, Raúl Ruiz, Walter Salles, Elia Suleiman, Tsai Ming-liang, Gus Van Sant, Lars von Trier, Wim Wenders, Wong Kar-wai, Zhang Yimou

Omnibus films like PARIS JE T'AIME have been popping up a lot lately. CHANCUN SON CINÉMA was commissioned to honor the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. Thirty-three world class directors each contributed a three minute film celebrating the love of cinema. What more perfect omnibus for a Chlotrudis member could there be? Naturally, as is the case with all films of this type, some of the offerings are brilliant, others are good, and a handful needn't have bothered. Fortunately in this case, the brilliant and the good far outweight the needn't have bothered.

Part of the fun of this film was in seeing how quickly I could identify the director of any given piece. I was pleasantly surprised at how adept I was at this identification. Highlights include Olivier Assayas' (DEMONLOVER) twist on the purse-snatching moviegoer; Jane Campion's (THE PIANO) surreal look at one cinema's uninvited guest; David Cronenberg's (THE HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) twisted and satrical comment on television journalism; Atom Egoyan's (WHERE THE TRUTH LIES) look at movie viewing in a mobile world; Aki Kaurismäki's (THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST) deadpan (go figure) look at the factory theatre; Takeshi Kitano's (DOLLS) wry look at the Japanese country cinema; Nanni Moretti's (THE SON'S ROOM) sweet diary of a film viewer; Elia Suleiman's (DIVINE INTERVENTION) absurdist take on a filmmaker's visit to the local cinema; Zhang Yimou's (HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS) adorable take on outdoor cinema; Lars von Trier's (DOGVILLE) hilarious revenge on the talkative filmgoer; and Walter Salles' (CENTRAL STATION) standout false ending that should have concluded the program instead of Ken Loach's amusing but curious choice that made an interesting comment on cinema.

PLOY (Thailand; 107)

Director: Pen-ek Ratanaruang

Cast: Lalita Panyopas, Pornwut Sarasin, Ananda Everingham, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Phorntip Papanai

At first, Ratanaruang's latest film PLOY seems nothing like his previous film, the dreamily divine LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE. A Thai couple have just arrived back home for a funeral after spending the last 10+ years living in the States. It quickly becomes apparent that their relationship has seen better days, despite their physical closeness on the plane and in the taxi to the hotel. When Wit leaves the hotel room to get a pack of smokes, and ends up spending the next hour or so in the hotel bar befriending the nubile, teenager Ploy while his wife Dang wanders restlessly in their room, it becomes evident. While looking for the luggage key in her husband's suit jacket, Dang discovers a piece of paper with a woman's name and phone number on it; her brow furrows and we wonder if after 7 years of marriage this is it.

When Wit invites Ploy up to the couple's room while she waits for her mother to pick her up in a few hours, things enter LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE country, where dreams and reality collide and intermingle. Are the housekeeper and the bartender really having steamy sex in one of the empty guest rooms? What about the brutal twist that delivers Dang to an abandoned garage in fear of her life? Ratanaruang doesn't provide any easy answers, but that doesn't make PLOY any less a joy to watch. High marks for the three principal cast members too. Together they erased any disappointment that the lack of Tadanobu Asano created.

AMERICAN VENUS (Canada; 81 min.)

director: Bruce Sweeney

cast: Rebecca De Mornay, Jane McGregor, Matt Craven, Nicholas Lea

Social satire is a tricky thing to pull off, but I had high hopes for AMERICAN VENUS after happening upon Sweeney's previous film THE LAST WEDDING, which took a critical eye to marriage. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite manage to pull it off, a fact I don't blame on his script or direction, but rather on the inability of star Rebecca De Mornay to successfully pull it off.

De Mornay plays Celia, a fiercely driven mother and ice skating coach to Jenna, who after botching her chance at the National's, wants only to get far away from her family (especially Mom) even if that means leaving the country. Despite Celia's best attempts, Jenna does hightail it to Vancouver, but when Celia shows up unexpectedly at her door, the subsequent week unspools as a living hell. Deprived at the border of the handgun that gives her so much comfort, Celia spends much of the week unwilling to leave her daughter in Canada, and simultaneously searching desperately for something that she can shoot.

De Mornay bites into Celia with career-reviving vigor, but the beauty of a good satire is when the players play it straight. Celia's mugging and tetanus-stiffened walk turn Celia into a parody of a monster-mother that negate the potential strength of Sweeney's screenplay.

NYAFF Notes

posted for Tomfish

I just got back from a weekend full of good to great movies at the New York Asian Film Festival.

Most anticipated on my must-see list is Chan-wook Park's newest film, I'M A CYBORG BUT THAT'S OK. I was a little afraid that A) My expectations were way too high and B) Park's leaving his Vengeance mode and hitting up what is being marketed as a romantic comedy would just not measure up to his past successes.

After seeing LADY VENGEANCE, I was ready to deem Park as the Greatest Living Director, but seeing he only had 4 movies under his belt at the time I figured it was a bit premature. After finishing my viewing of I'M A CYBORG (in seats that made the Ryerson seem like the fluffiest down) I will now proclaim it: Chan-wook Park is the Greatest Living Director. Shut up, Miyazaki.

CYBORG took two of my main movie peeves (romantic comedies and movies that make mental illness look cute) and turned them on their ear. Every single piece of information, every little cute quirk, every seemingly throw-away bit comes full-circle and gets neatly wrapped up before the movies end.

I guess I'll make some quick notes about the other movies I caught.

  • THE BANQUET - Wire-fu does Hamlet. Everyone dies. Zhang Ziyi pulls off Gertrude. Plus she's hot.
  • RETRIBUTION - Kiyoshi Kurasawa makes the creepiest movies you'll ever see. RETRIBUTION is a more linear story than CURE, CHARISMA or PULSE, but it still made it hard to sleep that night. I'm not sure if he likes exploring similar themes or is making references to his earlier films, but there was a scene that reminded me of his earlier moves every now and then.
  • EXILED - Johnnie To does Sergio Leone. I love cowboy movies, I love frontier justice, I love Tony Wong, I love EXILED.
  • DOG BITE DOG - This may have been one of the best over-the-top brutal violent movies ever, if only the last 15 minutes weren't so damn gawdawful.
  • DASEPO NIAUGHTY GIRLS - Nice to look at, slightly funny. No depth.
  • HULA GIRLS - There's a spate of movies in Japan right now where a ragtag group of misfits banD together and overcome adversity to finish off with a grand finale. WATER BOYS, SWING GIRLS, etc. HULA GIRLS fit this formula to a T. It's a very good movie, but someone has to break this mold soon. LINDA! LINDA! LINDA! has come the closest. The fact that this movie takes place in a coal mining town and the mother only accepts her daughter's foray into hula after watching her had me shouting "Dance, Billy, Dance!" in a brogue accent all night.

So every movie is worth a viewing, although I don't think you should lose any sleep if you miss DASEPO NAUGHTY GIRLS...

Tom

Director Formerly Known as "Joe" Wows Critics

Last year one of CSIF's Buried Treasure nominees was a surreal, dreamlike film from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul called TROPICAL MALADY. Back than the director was referred to by film critics as "Joe," but with the release of his latest film, SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY the "Joe" references seem to have vanished as critics praise the work of this uncompromising filmmakers. I'm sure Chlotrudis fans of TROPICAL MALADY are looking forward to this new film. It has played at the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival, and has fortunately been picked up for U.S. distribution by Strand Releasing. Here's hoping it earns a good theatrical release. Check out some of the glowing reviews: indieWIRE, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Reverse Shot.