TIFF 2010 Day 6

SUBMARINE UK 5 cats Wow, is this a director to follow, Richard Ayoade! I love his sense of humor, quick wit, his playful and fresh visual style. Also, this was the funniest Q&A of the festival (impressive, considering Drydon & Coogan were in the mix). Oliver Tate, the star of his own Woody Allen film, is trying to negotiate the hell that is school, to get Jordana, the girl of his dreams to notice him, and to keep him mom from breaking up the family by running away with her old ex whose moved in next door and is now a new age guru type. The director struck gold in his casting - Oliver and Jordana are spot-on, and have endearing chemistry. Jordana Bevan is what Ferris Bueller's girlfriend tried too hard to be: aloof, beautiful, mysterious, occasionally vulnerable and sometimes casually cruel, with a pyro's taste for sparklers. Oliver, meanwhile, is the lovechild of John Cusack circa Say Anything and Jason Schwartzman at his Rushmore best – he’s smart enough to know how to play along, while also knowing he is fated to never be at the top of any pecking order. He’s not a complete outsider, either by choice or circumstance - he’s just odd and knows it, without being hostile or condescending towards more ‘typical’ or popular students. This sort of specificity is clear in the film’s use of what several now commonplace tricks of the ‘smart-teen film’ trade: the voice-over, animation, fun with scene cards or other graphic story breaks, the color scheme, the role of music – all are employed, but with a fresh take, a judicious eye and quick editing hand. They pop in long enough for you to notice, but not so long that it seems precious, or it pulls you out of the film. The director has fun with other cinematic flourishes not usually found in this genre of film, one of which provided the biggest laugh out loud moment. Finally, I could not get enough of the parents, played by Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor. Unlike other films where the quirky teen has a normal (or hyper but normal) family, seemingly created just to provide something to rail against, here Oliver’s parents are as odd as him, albeit in their own fashion.
 
ALL ABOUT LOVE Hong Kong 3.5 cats OK, the plot is a bit convoluted, as befits a romantic farce, so bear with me. Two women, exes, meet again years later at a meeting for unmarried pregnant women. They resume their romance, while their various exes, including both birth daddies (who donated the old-fashioned way) become their extended family, watching, arguing, helping as the couple juggles their issues about commitment and motherhood.   Despite this being my first exposure to the Hong Kong lesbian community, and my assumption that much of the details were heightened to play up the farce, good god was I cracking up to see how much is the same a world away! Discussions of who’s a better feminist by doing x instead of y, the few degrees of separation between you and all of your exes the longer you’re in the community, the whole butch/femme, fashion or politics? conundrum. Good times. Fortunately the film doesn’t let itself get bogged down by this – I liked very much that the director found the balance. You come away feeling like you know these people, but you also feel like you have a sense of this particular community, and its place in the greater Hong Kong world, too. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that there are just some lesbian jokes that apparently are universal, ditto classic vaudevillian physical schtick.   The two leads are well cast, and essentially divide the work; one is stronger in the emotional dramatic scenes, while the other is clearly a comedian at heart.
 
HEARTBEATS Canada (Quebec) 4 cats The sophomore effort of Quebecois wunderkind Xavier Dolan, whose first film I KILLED MY MOTHER we sponsored at this year’s Provincetown Film Festival. Two best friends fall for the same maddeningly gregarious and noncommittal man, and revel/writhe in the beautiful pain of unrequited love/obsession.   Early twentysomethings all being gorgeously extreme as they play through every dramatic response they can think of it while in their ‘ah love’ predicaments.   Dolan is just 21 – so where did he get his film vocabulary? His style and point of view are too layered and self-assured to be able to chalk it up just to ‘he does mashups of Godard and Wong Kar Wai’. The TIFF introducer called him the Tarantino of Quebec, and while I think that comparison paints with a brush way too wide, I see where he was going with it.   It is kind of freaky how good Dolan is already  – his compositions (particularly extra close-ups), sense of song placement & style, his love of slo-mo and color saturation, using a repertory of actors/friends, the elliptical yet realistic snippets of conversation between friends…whether or not you want to join him in the ride, you can’t argue that he knows where he wants to go. Sumptuous is a good word, I think, to describe his style. But despite the languorous ‘in love with exquisite longing’ pace, the film has its share of impish moments that keep the film from sliding into too precious pouty posing*, the best moment of this being the very end of the film, I think. Droll, droll, droll.  Another thing that prevents the film from tilting too far in that direction is the strong chemistry between the two friends, who are good friends in real life, according to Dolan during the Q&A. Two things about seeing him in person – one is, he is so so so tiny and adorable; and the other is that it was an odd thing, hearing someone speak English with absolutely no accent yet it still being completely clear that English was not his first language.  At first I was confused by the awkward way he’d pause (was he doing Walken or Shatner, I wondered), but then at the point where he gave up and spoke French to the TIFF person for translation help, I figured it out. That was a little bit of a brain twist, I have to say. (*what I call ‘the three Ps of French film’ that I discovered after one too many New Wave movie nights during college).
 
CURLING Canada (Quebec) 2.5 cats I found this one to be disturbing, and unfortunately not only did the Q&A not alleviate any misgivings, it just exacerbated them. A man trying to keep the world at bay raises his daughter in a remote Canadian town. Ruled by his fears, he is making her into a blank-eyed near prisoner in their home. Set during winter, this film stars a real-life father and daughter in the leads, and while they are both good, knowing this pushed the film from irksome to disturbing.   The man is surrounded by good hearted people – while the emotional lives of the pair are dark and stunted, and the physical space around them bleak and unforgiving, the community is pretty normal and typically human. People want to help them, but to no avail. At one point during such an attempt, he discovers an interest in watching curling. Meanwhile, the daughter, who wanders the woods alone during the day (she doesn’t go to school, he home schools her when he’s around and thinks of it), stumbles upon a grisly collection of dead bodies. She tells no one, and returns every day to sit by or next to them. Meanwhile, the father sees the body of a dying boy on the side of the road – unable to get him to the hospital in time, he just drives home and stows him in the garage/shed.  They try to visit her mother, in jail. He leaves her at home without warning for a long weekend to do some dating in the big city. He comes back for dinner. Then the movie ends.   Argh. You know, I need a story here, people! It doesn’t have to be plot or character driven, or linear – I can be happy as a pig in mud with a thematic or visual or ideological thread running through…just give me something that coheres, so I don’t wonder why the whole damn time!   There was so much potential laying around here, it just felt like he muddled about with elements of all variety of storytelling and just mashed them together, rather than spend some more time to winnow and refine down. 

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