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Last updated: January 14, 2006
Copyright 2006
Michael R. Colford. All rights reserved

Film Festival Reviews

Toronto International Film Festival, 2005

 

ChrisToronto Wrap-Up

"Sixteen movies in six days—I felt like I was back in grad school."
by Chris Kriofske
 

Shanghai DreamsSHANGHAI DREAMS (China, Wang Xiaoshuai)

The first film I saw was one of the very best, so good that I worried it would set an impossible standard for the rest of the festival. Set in the Chinese province of Guizhou in the early 1980s, this Cannes Jury Prize winner focuses on Qinghong (Gao Yuanyuan), a teenaged girl. Her displaced factory worker father (Yan Anlian) desires to move his family back to Shanghai. He’s fiercely overprotective of his daughter, fearing that if she fails at her studies or succumbs to distraction from boys, she will then never get into college and end up laying down roots in this tiny backwater. Although the film is often bleak, director Wang Xiaoshuai also allows some much needed emotional release. He portrays this time and place with accuracy but also affection; particularly in one wonderful scene where Qinghong and her friend attend an underground dance party (the girls stand in a line, too shy to approach the boys who end up dancing with each other!). And although the father’s attitude is harsh and misguided, you never doubt that his intentions are good, even if he is unable to express them appropriately. Strongly reminiscent of Zhang Yimou’s more contemporary dramas (TO LIVE, NOT ONE LESS) and with great performances all around (not to mention some unforeseen, brilliantly executed plot twists), SHANGHAI DREAMS is both disquieting and powerful. 5 cats

 
3 Needles3 NEEDLES (Canada, Thom Fitzgerald)

No film at the festival disappointed me more than Thom Fitzgerald’s latest. He seems to have peaked with his first feature (THE HANGING GARDEN) and hasn’t been able match its ambition and balance since. As the title suggests, this one is a triptych about AIDS. The first story follows a troupe of nuns (Chloe Sevigny, Olympia Dukakis, and Sandra Oh) taking care of a remote African village that has been virtually wiped out by the crisis. The second follows a black-market blood transporter (Lucy Liu in a non-English speaking role) in a similarly remote area of China. The third concerns a young, infected Montreal porn star (Shawn Ashmore) and his mother (an unrecognizable Stockard Channing). Fitzgerald interweaves the stories, but fails to develop many insightful parallels between them. Curiously, the Montreal story drops out of the film for well over a half-hour; given that it’s the least involving of the three says something about Fitzgerald’s lack of faith in it. As Michael also noted, the entire film would’ve worked better had Fitzgerald stuck to one story. While far from perfect, the African sections have the makings of a haunting, profound fable. As is, however, the finished project is a bloated, wounded beast, albeit one with scattered moments good enough to match anything in the director’s oeuvre. Think smaller, Thom. 3 cats
 
UndertowTHREE TIMES (Taiwan, Hou Hsiao-Hsien)

From one triptych to another: instead of interweaving three stories, however, Hou Hsiao-Hsien presents them as separate entities centering around a pool-hall in 1966, a brothel in 1911 and modern day Taipei. Each tale explores a male/female relationship and the characters and stylistic differences vary to the point that I did not recognize that each section featured the same actor and actress. The 1966 story is by far the most involving: it follows a slowly blossoming courtship. Framed with eloquently employed period music and beautiful cinematography, it builds towards a sweet, emotionally rewarding climax. The most interesting thing about the 1911 story, however, is the director’s decision to present it as a silent film (without any Guy Maddin-style jocularity); unfortunately, its obtuse narrative jars with the mood set in place by the first story. The third one, about a lustful affair between a music photographer and his girlfriend, is more obtuse still, strongly reminiscent of the dreamlike panorama of the director’s MILLENIUM MAMBO. It’s best to look at THREE TIMES as three good-to-great short films, all with their own merits. That Hou isn’t entirely successful at making known all the possible echoes between these tales is what renders the entire project merely pleasant rather than transcendent. 3.5 cats
 

The Devil and Daniel JohnstonTHE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (USA, Jeff Feuerzig)

Music documentaries, especially ones about artists eccentric and mentally imbalanced enough to join Brian Wilson in his sandbox, work best when the director convinces us of the subject’s genius and tells us something other than the usual rags-to-riches-to-drugs-to-recovery trajectory done to death by too many BEHIND THE MUSIC imitators. Thankfully, Jeff Feuerzeig’s Sundance-winning film succeeds on both counts. It justly celebrates Johnston, a cult DIY singer-songwriter who should’ve been the next Jonathan Richman, but it also critically acknowledges and examines the dualities (and exceedingly less palatable aspects) of the man’s fractured personality. The cornucopia of Johnston footage, ranging from scores of homemade audio cassettes and super-8 films through an unlikely early appearance on MTV and more recent concerts, is rarely boring and often enlightening. It may not always dig as deep as DiG! and you could probably sharpen its impact by shaving ten minutes off the end; those quibbles aside, Feuerzeig’s film speaks volumes about how art is shaped by living through conflict and madness. 4 cats

 
The QuietTHE QUIET (USA, Jamie Babbit)

That frankly awful title should’ve tipped me off, but no, I had to see Jamie Babbit’s long awaited follow-up to BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER. What was most disheartening about this deaf-teen-in-suburbia-teeming-with-secrets thriller is that it had so much potential to be thoughtful and multifaceted, or at the very least, gloriously trashy fun. Plus, the cast is decent (especially Edie Falco, loopy without seeming ridiculous) and the characters are all well-drawn. But the convoluted plot turns make POISON IVY look like PSYCHO and the eventual denouement deflates all the tension building up with a lazy shrug. As Scot noted, the film also cheats (and more than once at that). 2 cats
 
Eve & the Fire HorseEVE & THE FIRE HORSE (Canada, Julia Kwan)

A slight but charming, entertaining peek at two young Chinese girls and their family growing up in Canada in the mid-70s. After their grandmother dies and Jehovah’s Witnesses leave a bible at the door, the girls take a precocious interest in religion and spirituality, and eventually decide they want to become Catholic. Their Buddhist mother figures that two Gods are better than one, and enrolls the girls in Sunday school. Predictably, an array of culture clashes regarding ethnicity and faith ensue, but director Julia Kwan lends most of them a light touch. The results are good-natured and whimsical: a film about childhood that doesn’t condescend, with nice performances from the young actresses who play Eve (Phoebe Jojo Kut) and her sister Karena (Hollie Lo). 3.5 cats.
 

Twelve and HoldingTWELVE AND HOLDING (USA, Michael Cuesta)

As I watched Michael Cuesta’s subtly audacious follow-up to L.I.E., I was continually anxious. The film sets up and courts so many potential wrong turns (dubious ones that Todd Solondz would probably gleefully travel down), but then constantly surprises and impresses by taking them in different, unexpected directions. This is one of the few films I’ve seen that pretty much nails what it’s like to be twelve years old, living in that intriguing, awkward chasm between childhood and full-blown adolescence. The less revealed about the plot, the better, only that it concerns a circle of friends struggling to deal with death, disappointment, loneliness, and physical shortcomings. Their parents are as much a part of the story as the kids themselves, yet there is a constant (and quite realistic) disconnect between the two sides. The cast is excellent, especially young Zoe Weizenbaum as Malee and Jeremy Renner as Gus, the sad, shellshock adult she develops a crush on. TWELVE AND HOLDING reaches a cathartic, sure-to-be controversial but well handled climax that left me shaken like few films have in recent memory. Hopefully, it won’t fall through the cracks like L.I.E. did. 4.5 cats

 

LucidLUCID (Canada, Sean Garrity)

I felt a little tepid about this kooky, not-as-smart-as-it-wants-to-be Canadian psychological thriller. I guess it works as a sub-SIXTH SENSE study of dreams, though it reiterates a slew of ideas given far more depth and sustenance in WAKING LIFE. I tolerated Jonas Chernick in the lead as an insomniac psychotherapist, but I perked up whenever Callum Keith Rennie popped up as a darkly funny anger-management challenged patient. Director Sean Garrity also has the basic genre atmospherics down cold, which is fitting since he shot the film in Winnipeg in the wintertime. Although not necessarily stupid or compromising, LUCID ultimately plays the same few notes over and over to the point of irritation. 2.5 cats

 

InnocenceTHESE GIRLS (Canada, John Hazlett)

I only saw this because it stars Caroline Dhavernas (of the great, criminally short-lived TV show WONDERFALLS) and I had a time slot to fill. In this low-budget Canadian feature that’s at least better than its awful title, she plays Keira, a recent high school grad stuck in a small, lifeless town. She and her two female friends all fool around with a hunky older gardener/marijuana harvester (played by David “Angel” Boreanaz) who’s married with a child, and that’s pretty much the entire plot. Not a great film by any means, but amusing nonetheless. Dhavernas is fine (playing a less neurotic, more sexually brazen variation on her TV character Jaye), but Holly Lewis is the one to watch here: as Lisa, a budding Seventh Day Adventist/baseball enthusiast who isn’t above a little pot smoking or sexual experimentation, she defies caricature, bringing her role to life with good-hearted gusto and crack comic timing: someone please construct a film around her. 3 cats

 

CachéCACHÉ (France/Austria/Germany/Italy, Michael Haneke )

Michael Haneke’s latest head-scratcher is an ingenuous, stimulating study of what information we choose to reveal and obscure to each other and ourselves. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche (both fabulous even when their characters are fatuous) play a bourgeois couple who are being videotaped and blackmailed for reasons not entirely clear. As in TIME OF THE WOLF, key information is deliberately left out (the film’s English title, after all, is HIDDEN), and it’s up to the viewer to continually re-examine what the hell’s going on. The results are frustrating but usually compelling. CACHE could be a tumble through the rabbit hole worthy of Bresson or prime Antonioni (or even seen as a cool inverse of REAR WINDOW), but I’ll need to see it again to be sure. 4 cats

 

Trust the ManTRUST THE MAN (USA, Phil Bart Freundlich)

But don’t trust indie filmmakers who think the best way to court the mainstream is to retain all the pretty faces of their earlier features and then place them in a tableau where the audience never needs to do something pesky like thinking. The sad thing is that the cast here (David Duchovny, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Billy Crudup, and the director’s paramour, Julianne Moore) is fine, but the waspy Woody Allen-ish screenplay would’ve seemed stale a decade ago. You can just imagine how tired and clichéd and stoopid it feels now. (and still, Fox Searchlight paid $8 million to acquire this drivel!) 1 cat

 

Whole New ThingWHOLE NEW THING (Canada, Amnon Buchbinder)

We’ve all seen the one about a young student developing a crush on an adult teacher, but how about one where both parties are of the same gender? Emerson (perfectly cast Aaron Weber) has been home-taught all his life when his progressive parents (Rebecca Jenkins and Robert Joy) decide he needs a small taste of public school. Refreshingly, Emerson is fairly well-adjusted and self-assured (more so than Max Fischer in RUSHMORE), although he’s still seen as a freak by his small-town classmates. However, he has no trouble relating to his literature teacher, Mr. Grant (Daniel MacIvor, who co-wrote the screenplay), an affable but lonely gay man who frequents public restrooms for sex. Emerson’s burgeoning crush on Grant is believable and sensitively handled, and the film’s resolution is succinct and teeming with unexpected epiphanies for more than one of the film’s figures. A subplot where the mom cheats on dad distracts from the central story, and director Amnon Buchbinder doesn’t quite reach that transformative place MacIvor did in his film WILBY WONDERFUL. But compared to a lesser, similar movie like THE RAGE IN PLACID LAKE, this is a smart, engaging, well-intentioned character study about individuality and friendship. 4 cats

 

C.R.A.Z.Y.C.R.A.Z.Y. (Canada, Jean-Marc Vallée)

Just when I never wanted to see another coming-of-age/coming out tale again, along comes Jean-Marc Vallee’s tremendously likable, stirring and imaginative French Canadian feature—the best film I saw at the fest, and possibly this entire year. The protagonist, Zac, was born on Christmas Day, 1960, and the film follows him until he’s in his early twenties. The fourth child in a family of five rambunctious boys, Zac looks up in admiration to his cool father, Gervais (Michael Cote), who, among other pursuits, loves to listen to Patsy Cline (which inspires this film’s unique puzzle of a title). However, it’s pretty clear from the get-go that Zac is gay, which Gervais is unwilling to accept. The story unfolds at key moments in Zac’s life as he struggles with his identity (sexual and otherwise), accompanied by a thrilling, omnipresent soundtrack of pop songs, opera, and chorales. Often resembling a cross between VELVET GOLDMINE and a David Sedaris essay, the film seduces you with style, whimsy, and an unrelenting pace, but Vallee also proves to be a masterful storyteller, excellent in bringing out the most intimate details in the most universal, abstract themes. Cote and Marc-Andre Gondrin (as teenage/adult Zac) are both award-worthy, and Vallee doesn’t hit a single wrong note throughout the film’s 127 minutes. Deserved winner of the Toronto City Award for Best Canadian Feature Film, it’d be crazy if this funny, poignant film didn’t receive U.S. distribution. 5 cats

 

The Squid and the WhaleTHE SQUID AND THE WHALE (USA, Noah Baumbach)

Generally, I steered clear from movies I knew I could see in regular release in Boston within the next four months, but I couldn’t resist this Sundance winner for screenplay and direction, especially with stars Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney there in person. And I lucked out: since the festival, I’ve been thinking about it more than any other film (except maybe for C.R.A.Z.Y.). Director Noah Baumbach’s autobiographical piece about a family falling apart in mid-80s Park Slope, Brooklyn was a surprise and a delight. Wes Anderson produced, but before you dismiss it as a ROYAL TENENBAUMS knockoff, note that while Baumbach retains some of Anderson’s influence and incredibly distinct sensibility, his style is worlds less quirky and far more stripped down. Daniels and Linney both excel at humanely portraying considerably unlikable parents, and their sons (Owen Kline and ROGER DODGER’s Jesse Eisenberg), struggling with joint custody following their parents’ divorce, are also very good in tricky roles. With an amazing soundtrack (featuring Blossom Dearie, Pink Floyd and Lou Reed!), accurate period detail, and a sharp, succinct screenplay (the film ends exactly when it needs to), THE SQUID AND THE WHALE exemplifies everything right in commercial indie cinema today (whereas TRUST THE MAN typifies all that’s wrong). 4.5 cats

 

ScaredsacredSOUVENIR OF CANADA (Canada, Robin Neinstein)

This documentary essay about Vancouver author Douglas Coupland’s book of the same name (regarding Canadian pop culture and cultural identity) is as much an exploration of the book’s topics as it is about Coupland itself. He makes a genial host/subject, and you can’t help but get caught up in the fun as he pieces together Canada House, a temporary, labor-of-love museum that brings the book to life. Featuring a peppy score (by A.C. Newman of brilliant Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers), this lovingly crafted documentary will no doubt resonate with any Canadian. As a Yank, I found it a little more entertaining than informative, but what I really want is an Ook-Pik plush figure. 3.5 cats

 

Saving FaceTIDELAND (UK/Canada, Terry Gilliam)

My final film this year, and unquestionably the most peculiar. Terry Gilliam’s been a little weird before, but this one’s right up there with FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (with less drugs). Eight-year-old Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland in a brave performance) is one creepy child, which is inevitable given that her father is Jeff Bridges in The Dude mode and her mother is Jennifer Tilly, who appears to be channeling a doped-up Courtney Love. Tilly snuffs it, and then the movie gets really odd as Jeliza-Rose and her dad wind up at his mother’s ramshackle, middle-of-nowhere dilapidated house. From there, fantasy and reality (and a little taxidermy) blur as the film seems to exist in Jeliza-Rose’s head (which also has room for four decapitated doll’s heads, all brought to life by her galloping imagination). An unrecognizable Janet McTeer appears as an androgynous witch-like creature who seems to have wondered her way in from a Tim Burton film. It all keeps getting stranger and darker, continually pushing the envelope, teetering over the edge until a plot twist as sensible as the one near the end of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL arrives, and the film just ends. Whether TIDELAND is necessarily “bad” or “good” I’m still afraid to say. It’s so schizophrenically ingenious and off-putting that I don’t know what to make of it—such sheer audacity always gets a thumbs-up from me, and I’d rather Gilliam do stuff like this than THE BROTHERS GRIMM or work with Robin Williams again. Still, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it to everybody. 3 cats

 

Bruce Kingsley Films Bruce Saw (click for reviews)

 
AMU BACKSTAGE BENARES
THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU DELICATE CRIME FAMILIA
GABRIELLE GILANEH I AM
MASSEUR, THE PORCELAIN DOLL, THE SA-KWA
SHADOWBOXER SHANGHAI DREAMS SHOOTING DOGS
SOMEONE ELSE'S HAPPINESS SORRY, HATERS THREE TIMES
TWELVE AND HOLDING WE FEED THE WORLD WHOLE NEW THING
 

Diane YoungDiane's Best and Worst in Toronto

Toronto: My Top Three

CapoteCAPOTE (USA, Bennett Miller)

No surprise that it's an acting tour de force from our fave Phil Hoffman, as Truman Capote doing the research for In Cold Blood. Film centers on the journalist's search for fulfillment thru a good story, versus his personal compassion for the real people in it. Many shots where Hoffman's face fills the whole screen, listening, thinking, and so much is conveyed--he has a wonderful transparency. And Capote is a good character to use the hands, which Hoffman is effective with (not to mention voice). Kudos to Phil's high school drama teacher! This is a top-notch film. Chris Cooper and Catherine Keener are just the right actors for the roles of the local investigator and Harper Lee. Bob Balaban plays Wally Shawn's father, another great choice. A couple of weaknesses: highs and lows not pointed enough in third quarter; murderers' efforts to play Capote off each other is not developed enough to be worth including. You gotta see it. 4 cats.

 

Twelve and HoldingTWELVE AND HOLDING (USA, Michael Cuesta)

Chris and I sat behind director Michael Cuesta. Like another Festival film , A TRAVERS LE FORET, this is about how people handle grief. The kids, center stage at twelve years old, were played by
great actors (who will get my nom: Jacob, Malee, Leonard?). Neither Chris
nor I realized that one of the kid actors was playing two roles.

We see children parenting their parents. As in DANCER IN THE DARK and many other films, there's a scene of two people talking on the phone in the prison visitation room, but it's bizarre when it's two twelve-year-olds. Tense, edgy, uncomfortable, this one really got me in the gut. Cuesta got a simliar feel in L.I.E. Good soundtrack, including a piano solo of "Danse macabre" played perversely light and lively. Two bad Cuesta couldn't pronounce the names of his screenwriter and actors. Nom for screenplay and film. 5 cats.

 

Takeshis'TAKESHIS' (JAPAN, Takeshi Kitano)

Takeshi Kitano rolls together directing, acting, off-stage life (except of coursse it's not) in which everything has a doppelganger. Even though the last third became too repetitive for me, this film makes my top three because I couldn't stop thinking about it. We are brought along seeing things thru the eye of a filmmaker in this dream of revenge, where
acting and real life weave in and out of each other.

Takeshi plays "himself" and a down-and-out actor who I thought was the most sympathetic character I had ever seen on film or stage--I so wanted him to be a hero. Once again, as in ZATOICHI, a redemptive dance. Twin sumo wrestlers hoisting a giant caterpillar on a rope is only one tiny taste of this marvel of a film. For when you're looking for a complicated film experience.... Best director. 4 cats.

 

Toronto: My Bottom Three

I erred badly this year and saw too many mainstream mvoies, and bad ones
at that. Next year just watch me--I'm going to do much better!
 

NeverwasNEVERWAS (USA, Joshua Michael Stearn)

Could only look on in horror. Filmmaking 101--none too subtle. Telegraphed plot. Cutesy ideas about mental illness, including one of each major DSM-IV type in therapy group. Have you ever watched an entire movie with your eyebrows lifted in astonishment at how bad it is? No wonder I was exhausted that night. First sin: Joshua Michael Stern debuts as director with his own screenplay. (OK, some people pull that off wonderfully, but not here.) About the darkness of children's literature, this could have been handled really well by someone else. Ian McKellan shines through the material. Nick Nolte was in attendance in Hollywood black, Alan Cumming joined him on stage in a wonderful red and white plaid suit with a jade green T-shirt. 1 cat.

 

 Breakfast on PlutuoBREAKFAST ON PLUTO (Ireland/UK, Neil Jordan)

Hey, here's an idea for Neil Jordan: a transsexual gets mixed up with the IRA! Esp. since CRYING GAME is one of my all-time faves, this parody seemed a travesty. Adapted from Pat McCabe's novel, each episode of this completely uninvolving story started with a title ("Chapter 23. In Which I Was a High Class Escort Girl."), only increasing my strained sense of time passing very slowly. Kind of HEDWIG-ish in tone. Best left on the printed page. Cillian Murphy stars as a man that some people somehow mistake for a woman. 1 cat. However, Liam Neeson on the red carpet knocked my socks off.

 

River QueenRIVER QUEEN (New Zealand/UK, Vincent Ward)

Need a dose of beefcake or cheesecake? Try this sappy film with the look of a perfume ad and overwrought acting. They must have had quite a crew just to keep Samantha Morton's Victorian sleeves falling off her shoulders. Stephen Rea has a small role, as he does in PLUTO (above)--look the how mighty have fallen! Narration reminiscent of THE PIANO, which I hated. As a matter of fact, it's very similar: woman in dificult territory, ends up loving the man she hates. Slo-mo used for slaughter scenes, hazy lens treatment. Oh, I'm dredging up too many bad memories and have to stop writing. 1 cat.

 

And One More...

Romance & CIgarettesROMANCE & CIGARETTES (USA, John Turturro)

Zany beginning fades to a ragged story in John Turturro's third outing as director. James Gandolfini opens with an all-out singing and dancing number on the street of his Brooklyn neighborhood, supported by garbagemen et al. His wife, Susan Sarandon, has found evidence of an affair and is throwing him out.

Later, Gandolfini, beleaguered father and husband besotted by dirty-talking Kate Winslet, reprises Victor Mature's "Samson and Delilah" on a backyard swing set. Choreography includes moves from WEST SIDE STORY, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and your other faves. Delightful perfs from Christopher Walken, Elaine Stritch, Steve Buscemi. Typical cinematic shots get a twist in this working class neighborhood setting, e.g., snow falling on an electric meter.

Tuturro was on hand to introduce, revealing that he is the love child of Laurence Olivier and Danny Kaye. Coen Brothers produced. 2 cats.

 

Marilyn and MichaelMichael's Toronto Round-Up

Here is a list of the films that I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival with reviews. To see my commentary on the festival itself, visit our Mewsings blog archive for September 2005.
 
Douches FroidesDOUCHES FROIDES (France; 102 min.)

director: Antony Cordier
cast: Johan Libéreau; Salomé Stévenin; Florence Thomassin

The best thing I can say about DOUCHES FROIDES, my first film at the Toronto International Film Festival, is that it was all up from there. I was skeptical before I went, just looking at the image from the film and reading its brief synopsis, and it lived up to my very low expectations. Mickael is the captain of the high school judo team and enjoys a steamy romance with fellow student Vanessa. When Clement, the new kid in town, joins the judo team, Mickael is asked to take him under his wing and prepare him for upcoming matches. Gradually, the two boys grow closer, and eventually, Vanessa joins the two in a sexual tryst that apparently shakes Mickael to the core; not that you’d notice. It seems like an excuse to how off some taut, French flesh to me. There are some interesting themes brought up but poorly executed, such as the class differences of Mickael and Clement’s families; and the interesting notion that Vanessa enjoys the threesome because she is more sexually satisfied by two men than one. Watch this one on late-night cable. 1 ½ cats.

 
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is MagicSARAH SILVERMAN: JESUS IS MAGIC (USA; 72 min.)

director: Liam Lynch
documentary

My experience with Sarah Silverman amounted to her brief appearances in the recent documentary THE ARISTOCRATS, but an invitation to the Sarah Silverman party was reason enough for me to catch her first performance film, SARAH SILVERMAN: JESUS IS MAGIC. I was also intrigued to find out that Sarah’s sister Laura Silverman, who I had come to enjoy in Lisa Kudrow’s show “The Comeback,” also appeared in the film. The bulk of this film focuses on Sarah’s concert routine, but is framed rather ingeniously with some narrative bits featuring Sarah hanging out with a couple of friends talking about their accomplishments. The film is also interspersed with inventive music video-style performances with songs penned by Silverman. Sarah doesn’t hold back in her comedy either, potentially offending everyone from gays to Jews and everyone in between. Her humor is so effective because of her delivery and lengthy silences filled only by her expressive face. Scot suggests that it all works because Silverman is more of an actress than a straight comedian. Whatever the reasons, SARAH SILVERMAN: JESUS IS MAGIC is a winner. 4 cats.

 

Shanghai DreamsSHANGHAI DREAMS (China; 123 min.)

director: Xiaoshuai Wang
cast: Yuanyuan Gao; Bin Li; Yan Anilan

Director Xiaoshuai Wang hit one out of the park in Toronto several years ago with his 2001 film, BEIJING BICYCLE. In 2005, he scores what very well may be my #1 film of the festival with SHANGHAI DREAMS. During the 1960’s, the Chinese government encouraged families to settle in villages and work in factories built there. These families did the duty that their government requested, but longed to return to Shanghai, particularly to give their children the lives they were denied. SHANGHAI DREAMS focuses on 19-year-old Qinghong, a young woman who is satisfied by her life in the village, and her secret romance with a local factory worker. Her father, a strict disciplinarian who thinks Qinghong is shirking her responsibilities and her schoolwork for frivolous activities, and terrified with the thought that she might marry a local and be doomed to a life that he longs to flee from, attempts to bend his daughter to his will. Despite a gloriously delightful interlude at a secret dance, where the boys prance about like John Travolta in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, SHANGHAI DREAMS chronicles the harsh difficulties of a life where far-off gunshots still mean extreme and often unfounded punishments, while children and adults alike struggle with their unfulfilled dreams. Fans of Zhang Yimou’s more naturalistic films (NOT ONE LESS, TO LIVE) will delight in the bleak harsh realities of SHANGHAI DREAMS. 5 cats

 

3 Needles3 NEEDLES (Canada; 123 min.)

director: Thom Fitzgerald
cast: Chloë Sevigny; Olympia Dukakis; Shawn Ashmore

3 NEEDLES is Thom Fitzgerald’s A.I.D.S. epic, spanning three continents, telling three stories, and clearly a movie that was a labor of love, in addition to clearly being a labor of high finances. In Africa, three nuns double as nurses assisting the doctors who must face the rampant epidemic of A.I.D.S. while an uncaring white power turns a blind eye to rape, and unprotected sex. In China the drawing of blood for the black market causes an unexplained epidemic that nearly wipes out a village. In Montreal, a young porn star steals his dying father’s blood to pass off as his own in order to pass the HIV test. It’s all wrapped up in sweeping vistas of Africa… so many in fact that they started to annoy me. Chloë Sevigny takes the point as Clara, the novice nun who takes on the powers-that-be in Africa. She acquits herself well, but the role follows a pretty expected path that takes away from the effectiveness of her portrayal. Olympia Dukakis and Sandra Oh round out the trio of nuns, with the former being inexplicably miscast (she even provides the sometimes-unnecessary narration) and the latter being incidental, and hardly needed in the film at all. Lucy Liu is impressive in an all Manadrin-language segment playing a very pregnant blood broker. Shawn Ashmore doesn’t do much as the porn star, but Stockard Channing is amazing as his mother, perfectly delivering the French Canadian accent; yet as a friend mentioned; why not hire a French Canadian actress? I respect Thom Fitzgerald and 3 NEEDLES, but I think the writer/director bit off more than he could chew. 3 cats.

 

Three TimesTHREE TIMES (Taiwan; 120 min.)

director: Hsiao-hsien Hou
cast: Chen Chang; Mei Di; Su-jen Liao; Fang Mei; Qi Shu

Like Thom Fitzgerald’s 3 NEEDLES, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s THREE TIMES is a triptych of stories. However the stories presented in THREE TIMES take place in three different time periods; the 1960’s, the turn of the century, and today, in that order. The two lead roles are played by the same lead actors. The films grow increasingly more cynical and less romantic, from the idealistic romance of the 60’s, to a more harsh-edged modern look at relationships. Correspondence seems to be a central theme in each story, as is music. The couples in each movie could represent the same pair of souls throughout time, starting with an unfulfilled relationship involving a courtesan and a client, flowing through the innocent sweetness of a romance between a service man and a pool-hall girl in the 1960’s. The story concludes with a photographer and a musician, both of whom are involved in other relationships that seem to be bound together regardless. The slow-paced film leaves much unsaid, and the distinct execution of the three tales is occasionally opaque and difficult to follow, yet innovative and intriguing. This is a film that needs more than a single viewing to fully appreciate. 3 ½ cats.

 
CapoteCAPOTE (USA; 110 min.)

Director: Bennett Miller
cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman; Catherine Keener; Clifton Collins, Jr.

If ever a film proved the talent of Chlotrudis favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman and proved him worthy of his entry into the Chlotrudis Hall of Fame, Miller’s CAPOTE is it. Chronicling the famous author’s life while writing his non-fiction blockbuster In Cold Blood, Hoffman brings Truman Capote to vivid, self-centered, insecure life with a show-stopping performance. The hit of the New York party scene, Capote had made a name for himself as an author with such trifles as Breakfast at Tiffany’s. After reading about a brutal family slaughter in Kansas in the newspaper, he hit upon the topic for his next book, which ultimately changed the face of non-fiction writing in America. With his best friend and confidante, about-to-be-published author Harper Lee (a magnificent Catherine Keener), he travels to Kansas and becomes intrigued with the two alleged murderers, ultimately befriending them during their extended trial and appeals.

CAPOTE’S screenplay, adapted by actor Dan Futterman from the book by Gerald Clarke, takes it’s time to allow the characters to fully develop, particularly Capote. The leisurely pace lends to the somber mood of the piece, and Miller and Futterman wisely allow Capote to appear not as a saint, and not as a monster, but as the complex person that he most likely truly was. While I have some minor quibbles with the direction of the film, this is one film that all involved should be proud of. 4 1/2 cats.
 
The QuietTHE QUIET (USA; 91 min.)

Director: Jamie Babbit
cast: Camille Belle; Elisha Cuthbert; Edie Falco; Martin Donovan

This disappointing follow-up to Babbit’s entertaining debut, BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER has trouble deciding what it wants to be; a campy comedy, a tense thriller, a serious family drama, or a horror film. What it reminded me most of is the Canadian low-budget horror flick, GINGER SNAPS, but without the werewolf. When Dot is sent to live with a foster family, the hearing-impaired, teenaged girl finds a heap of dysfunction beyond her wildest dreams. Paul, the family patriarch, is unsure as to why they’ve taken Dot in when they have their own handful in teenaged daughter Nina. His wife Olivia is a spectator in her own family, retreating to drug use whenever her stress level rises (which is often) and trying desperately to reach out to a husband that has little use for her anymore. Nina is popular at school, filled with attitude, and has little time for Dot except to make fun of her. But when the people around her realize that they can confess their sins to Dot, they fell a lot better and she cant hear them… or can she? What starts as in intriguing film swiftly devolves into ham-fisted dramatics and horrifying violence. Camilla Belle does her best with Dot, and Edie Falco and Martin Donovan are strong as Paul and Olivia, Babbit can’t lift THE QUIET out of its overblown and poorly constructed story. 1 ½ cats.
 
Imagine Me & YouIMAGINE ME & YOU (UK/Germany; 93 min.)

Director: Ol Parker
cast: Piper Perabo; Lena Heady; Matthew Goode

What would you do if moments before saying “I do” at your wedding, you lock eyes with your soul mate, and it’s not the man you’re marrying. To complicate matters, it happens to be a woman and you’re not gay. This is the premise of the delightfully charming IMAGINE ME & YOU written and directed by Ol Parker, a relative newcomer on the scene. Rachel (Piper Perabo) is finally marrying her long-time boyfriend Heck (Matthew Goode) much to everyone’s delight. She really loves him, in that comfortable way you love an old, broken-in sweater. At the ceremony, she briefly locks eyes with Luce (Lena Heady) the florist, and her world turns upside-down. Shortly afterwards, you all become friends until it becomes clear that Luce is falling in love with Rachel and tries to remove herself from the equation. The problem is, Rachel is falling in love with Luce as well.

I put this in the category of quirky, British pop fluff that is actually well-written, is entertaining, features terrific performances, and tells a moving story. It reminded me in many ways of LOVE ACTUALLY or FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL. It’s even more a partner of a film from last year’s festival, SAVING FACE. Lena Heady is magical as Luce, adding a lovely spark to her character that is so appealing. Vet British actors Anthony Head ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and Celia Imrie (BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY) put in fun performances as Rachel’s parents. Piper Perabo and Matthew Goode make the lead couple in the awkward spot both sympathetic and heartbreakingly real. Sure there’s that cheesy romantic moment at the end where everything suddenly works out great, but it was heartfelt and totally deserved. 4 cats.
 
L'AnnulaireL’ANNULAIRE (France/Germany/UK; 100 min.)

Director: Diane Bertrand
cast: Olga Kurylenko; Marc Barbé; Stipe Erceg

This is a perplexing French film adapted from a Japanese novel by Yoko Ogawa. Exploring issues of memories and loss, or perhaps what the things we own say about us, L’ANNULAIRE is a meditative, beautifully shot film with muted performances from an international cast. When the tip of Iris’ finger is cut off in an industrial accident, she moves to a port town to find another job. She ends up working for a mysterious gentleman who catalogs and preserves personal artifacts for people, often in an act of letting go of memories. She also finds a place to live, sharing with a sailor who works nights, so the two never meet, they merely learn about each other through the personal objects in their shared space. When the man puts a pair of red shoes on Iris’ feet, a strange bond develops between them that ties them together. Is it against Iris’ will? We’re never quite sure, although we are led to believe that it is not.

The film is beautifully shot, with little dialogue, letting images tell the story. It combines the languid, quiet feel of a Japanese film with the sexually charged content of a European film. First time actress Olga Kurylenko from the Ukraine did a great job, and it was a delightful surprise to see THE EDUKATORS’ Stipe Erceg in the role of the sailor. Still, the film was a mite too perplexing for me to really get behind. I think I would have enjoyed it more had it been a Japanese film. 3 cats.
 
LucidLUCID (Canada; 89 min.)

Director: Sean Garrity
cast: Jonas Chernick; Lindy Booth; Callum Keith Rennie

The second of five Canadian films screened at the festival, LUCID was a bit of a disappointment. In the vein of films like THE SIXTH SENSE or even MEMENTO, not all is as it seems in Lucid’s already complex story. Joel Rothman is having trouble sleeping; his wife has left him, and his daughter seems to be suffering from mental distress. Joel is a counselor for three disparate figures who have all dealing with the post-traumatic stress disorder of an horrific accident. Are the four patients all suffering from paranoid delusions? Or is there truly something paranormal going on that the social service workers simply refuse to see.

Chlotrudis favorite Callum Keith Rennie, along with Lindy Booth and Michelle Nolden have a great time playing the three psychiatric patients, the actors allowed to portray a wide arc of emotion as the characters fluctuate from rational to Cast and Director of LUCIDseemingly unhinged at the drop of a hat. Lead actor Jonas Chernick, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Garrity, seems a little too close to the material to be completely effective. It was nice to be sitting right by Canadian actor Paul Gross (WILBY WONDERFUL) during the screening. 2 ½ cats
(left: the cast and director of LUCID)
 
Sorry, HatersSORRY, HATERS (USA; 83 min.)

Director: Jeff Stanzler
cast: Robin Wright Penn; Abdellatif Kechiche; Elodie Bouchez

This rollercoaster ride of a film is in top contention for my #1 film of the festival, and if nothing else, it is certainly film that made the biggest impact. When businesswoman Phoebe (Penn) hops into a cab driven by the Arabic Ashade (Kechiche) neither he nor the audience could possibly predict where this cab drive will lead. Along the way we meet Eloise (Bouchez), Ashade’s sister-in-law, who is struggling to provide assistance to her husband, who was deported from the country after running afoul of the heightened post 9/11 security procedures at the airport. There is also Phyllis (Sandra Oh) Phoebe’s co-worker, who is unaware of the drama unfolding around her.

Stanzler wrote SORRY, HATERS (the title comes from an MTV-like network’s reality show) in response to the emotional impact of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on ordinary residents of New York City. His screenplay is complex and surprising, but with much more depth than some of the twists and turns might suggest. The acting by Kechiche, Bouchez, and Oh is top-notch, but it’s Robin Wright Penn who truly shines in SORRY, HATERS and her fearless, powerful performance will leave you breathless. 5 cats
 

CachéCACHÉ (France/Austria/Germany/Italy; 117 min.)

Director: Michael Haneke
cast: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou, Annie Girardot, Bernard Le Coq, Lester Makedonsky

Michael Haneke brings to Toronto a most disturbing and challenging film with CACHÉ. This is the type of film that leaves you scratching your head, a pondering what it was you just saw. This is the type of film that finds you examining each scene with your friends as you try to piece the story together. This is the type of film that you need to see again. CACHÉ (which translates to HIDDEN) is most aptly titled. Haneke is most concerned with what is not shown in the film. It’s a completely alien way to watching a film, where the viewer usually pays attention to that which is shown. Haneke turns this convention inside out as we find ourselves pondering the things that we do not see.

Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche play a upper-middle class suburban couple whose domestic life is blindsided through a series of unsettling packages that arrive in the mail. The first is a surveillance video of the front door of their home. Someone is watching them. As the deliveries increase in number, so does their (and our) anxiety. The film goes on to explore racism in France, the fragile nature of middle class domesticity, and secrets from the past. Auteuil and Binoche expertly navigate the sketchy terrain to convey these feelings of anxiety and dread. Haneke leaves us with a puzzling sense of frustration, knowing the answers are there, just beyond our reach. It’s a bold and accomplished statement from this talented director. 4 ½ cats.

 
Trust the ManTRUST THE MAN (USA; 103 min.)

Director: Bart Freundlich
cast: David Duchovny; Julianne Moore; Billy Crudup; Maggie Gyllenhaal
Bart Fruendlich
If only a cast a movie made. During his introduction to the film, Fruendlich, who has made a great film (THE MYTH OF FINGERPRINTS) and a good film (WORLD TRAVELLER) said that TRUST THE MAN was his gift to audiences because it requires no thought. Yes, he actually said that. Going for broad comedy, Fruendlich focuses on two couples, stay-at-home dad Tom (Duchovny) and his successful actress wife Rebecca (Moore); and Rebecca’s brother Tobey (Crudup) a ne’er do well sports writer, and budding children’s illustrator Elaine (Gyllenhaal). The men cheat on their wives and generally act like boors, while the women wonder why their men are such schlubs. Ellen Barkin and Glenn Fitzgerald put in brief supporting turns that are bold and embarrassing respectively. While it’s fun to see the super-talented Moore do comedy (she has some great slapstick moments), and Gyllnehaal is always superb, this is an embarrassing misstep for Freundlich. 1 ½ cats
(left: Bart Freundlich, director of TRUST THE MAN)
 
Whole New ThingWHOLE NEW THING (Canada; 92 min.)

Director: Amnon Buchbinder
cast: Aaron Webber; Daniel MacIvor; Rebecca Jenkins

After being home-schooled by a pair of environmentalist, former hippies, Emerson is sent to high school much to his chagrin. When he finds his English teacher Don Grant is actually far more cultured than the backwoods Western Canada town they live in, Emerson becomes intrigued. He is further intrigued when he deduces that Mr. Grant is gay. Filled with churning emotions, the precocious Emerson revels in his student-teacher crush, heedless of the consequences. Buchbinder and Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor have written a smart and funny coming-of-age drama that maintains its originality while telling a familiar story.

Aaron Webber does a terrific job as the intelligent yet emotionally immature Emerson, and MacIvor brings his easy, natural style to the role of Don Grant. Rebecca Jenkins is excellent as Emerson’s mother, who is frustrated by the righteousness and remoteness of her husband Director and cast of Whole New Thingand finds solace in the arms of a neighbor. There are just a couple forays into the realm of unbelievable in a smart, and funny screenplay that borrows from MacIvor’s own experiences from his youth. 4 cats.
(left: The Director and cast of WHOLE NEW THING)
 
BackstageBACKSTAGE (France; 115 min.)

Director: Emmanuelle Bercot
cast: Emmanuelle Seigner; Isild de Besco; Noémie Lvovsky

After a gripping, surreal opening that promised great things, this rock ‘n roll ALL ABOUT EVE descends into maudlin, backstabbing melodrama. Lauren Waks (Seigner) is a superstar whose fan base is largely young men and women who scream hysterically and chant all night from below her hotel room window. When Lucie wins a contest where Lauren comes to her home with a camera crew to perform her new song and spend an afternoon with Lucie. Lucie’s mother sets up the prize as a secret surprise for her daughter, but when she returns home to her idol singing directly to her, she is overcome by emotion and breaks down. Yet a connection is made between the two women, and when Lucie appears the next day at Lauren’s hotel room, she finds herself admitted to the stars’ inner circle. Yet the closer she becomes to the diva’s true self, the more she uncovers and the less she finds. Nothing too surprising here, just the general histrionics. 2 cats.
 
MonoblocMONOBLOC (Argentina; 83 min.)

Director: Luis Ortega
cast: Graciela Borges; Rita Cortese; Caolina Fal

This Argentinian riff on ‘Waiting for Godot,’ takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where males are scarce. Perla must undergo a painful blood cleansing daily to stave off her impending death. She shares a tiny apartment in a massive complex with her daughter Nena, who must prostitute herself to raise money after Perla is fired from her amusement park job. Next door is a family friend, Madrina, who visits the mother and daughter every day and alternately annoys and keeps them going. While their conversations are mundane and avoid the plight they seem to be in, the three women soldier on, until something changes in their dynamic that threatens to destroy the fragile equilibrium they have found. Ortega’s second film is thought-provoking and intelligent, but it occasionally lacks cohesion. 3 cats
 
Souvenir of CanadaSOUVENIR OF CANADA (Canada; 70 min.)

Director: Robin Neinstein
documentary

Robin Neinstein, director of SOUVENIR OF CANADANeinstein’s documentary is based on a book by novelist Douglas Coupland about Canadian pop culture. Narrated by Coupland himself, the film uses animation, clips from old films and film reels and interviews with Coupland and his family to explore those things that are uniquely Canadian. From the Terry Fox phenomenon to beer; Chimo! (a briefly adopted Canadian greeting) to ookpik (an odd Canadian creature that was also briefly adopted as a mascot), most of the things discussed emerged in the 60’s and 70’s. While the film was entertaining and informative, I was expecting a bit more on Canadian pop culture. Instead the film spends a lot of time with Coupland’s family, which, while entertaining, wasn’t completely what I was looking for. 3 cats.
(left: Robin Neinstein, director of SOUVENIR OF CANADA)
 
Vers le SudVERS LE SUD (France/Canada; 105 min.)

Director: Laurent Cantet
cast: Karen Young; Charlotte Rampling; Ménothy Cesar

Laurent Cantet follows up his compelling TIME OUT with a complex tale of political, sexual, and racial issues set in Haiti. Three middle-aged, American women spend extended time at a resort in Haiti where their every need is catered too, including their sexual needs with the beautiful, black teen-aged young men who fulfill their every need, whether that be attention, sex, or perhaps, even love. As the complex sexual dynamics play out amidst the sun and froth of the beach, the political backdrop of this third-world country play out quietly in the background. As the film plays out, the two arenas slowly come together with tragic consequences.

Adapting the film from short stories by a Haitian writer, Cantet and his co-screenwriter Robin Campillo have created a spare yet politically-charged tale that uses restraint to tell a story fraught with issues and emotion. Charlotte Rampling is superb as Ellen, the eldest of the three women, who acts as their matriarch, bestowing favors and advice until someone gets in her way. Karen Young tackles the difficult role of Brenda, a naïve woman searching for love among the natives, in the form of one particular young man, who happens to be Ellen’s favorite. Louise Portal, a Canadian actress, shines as Sue, a fun-loving, slightly overweight woman who craves attention, affection and joy. With the least screen time of the three, she also remains the most sensible and self-aware as the story unfolds. VERS LE SUD is a worthy addition to Cantet’s socially illuminating films. 4 cats
 
Where the Truth LiesWHERE THE TRUTH LIES (Canada/UK/USA; 108 min.)

Director: Atom Egoyan
cast: Kevin Bacon; Colin Firth; Alison Lohmann

One of Atom Egoyan’s strengths as a filmmaker, is telling a multi-layered story that can be seen on many levels. He confounded some viewers with this tactic in the film ARARAT, which some (like myself) seeing genius, and others seeing didactic disappointment. With WHERE THE TRUTH LIES, Egoyan wields his deft hand again, creating on the surface, a straight-forward, murder mystery with broad appeal, all the while constructing a multi-faceted story exploring truth and identity, two themes that run through all of his films. With “big” name stars Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth in the starring roles, TRUTH was poised to be Egoyan’s breakthrough film, until he ran afoul of the Ratings Board which slapped an NC-17 rating on the film thereby curtailing his chances for the audience the film deserved.

Atom EgoyanAlison Lohmann plays a plucky young journalist in the early ‘70’s researching a pair of entertainers (a la Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis) from the 1950’s for a magazine article. The pair was riding the crest of popularity when they mysteriously broke up, never to perform together again, after the body of a young hotel maid was found in their room. Bacon and Firth add gravity and talent to the difficult, and potentially stereotypical roles of the two entertainers, but unfortunately, Lohmann isn’t quite up to par playing the young journalist. (Oh, if only Sarah Polley had taken the role… she would have really been something!) Egoyan recreates the masterful films of the two eras through his use of camera, music and lighting, particularly during the ‘70’s sequences that harken back to films like CHINATOWN. And thanks to Atom for the shout out to his long-time fans by slipping Arsinee Khanjian, Don McKellar and Gabrielle Rose into a wonderful scene as editors at the magazine Lohmann’s character works at. 4 cats
(left: Atom Egoyan, director of WHERE THE TRUTH LIES)
 

The Notorious Bettie PageTHE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE (USA; 100 min.)

Director: Mary Harron
cast: Gretchen Mol, Lili Taylor, Jonathan M. Woodward, David Strathairn, Jared Harris

In theory, the life of Bettie Page seems like a perfect basis for a biopic. A young girl growing up in the 40's and 50's, Page travels from Nashville to New York to pursue her dreams of acting. She instead gets involved in nude modelling and becomes a famous pin-up girl, only to turn her back on her unique success in 1958 when she discovers religion and disappears from the public eye. While Harron's film is well-made and interesting, there is little dramatic arc to Page's life and her story is ultimately rather flat on the big screen. Gretchen Mol does a good job as the open-faced and inDirector, Producers and Star of THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE many ways innocent Bettie Page, and Lili Taylor is terrific as one of Page's photographers. Ultimately there isn't much to say in THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE. Harron sticks to the facts as they are known. Even the Senate hearings investigating pornography seem unthreatening. The film certainly captures a strange innocence and joie de vivre in Page's life, and it is enjoyable experience, but it certainly left me wanting more. 3 cats.
(left: Mary Harron, producer Christine Vachon, more producers, and star Gretchen Mol.)

 

U-Carmen eKhayelitshaU-CARMEN EKHAYELITSHA (South Africa; 120 min.)

Director: Mark Dornford-May
cast: Pauline Malefane, Andile Tshoni, Lungelwa Blou, Zorro Sidloyi, Andries Mbali, Andiswa Kedama with Thobeka Bede, Noluthando Boqwana, Bongani Bubu, Bulelwa Cosa, Portia Dladla, Lusindiso Dubula, Zamile Gantana, Mzukisi Gqadushe, Zukile Gqadushe, Thembela James, Andiswa Kedama, Fikile Khuzwayo, Andile Kosi, Mvakalisi Madotyeni, Nandie Mahlangu, Ntombizifikile Majola, Gracious Mbatha, Bongani Mbato, Thandiwe Mesele, Zintle Mgoli, Mvuyisi Mjali, Sibulele Mjali, Sanele Mohlomi, Dipuo Mogoregi, Sindiswa Mndela, Nobapostile Msongelwa, Joel Mthethwa, Ruby Mthethwa, Jim Ngxabaze, Mpontseng Nyatsa, Zoliswa Qumza, Ntobeko Rwanqa, Ebenezer Sawuli, Sibusiso Ziqubu

There have been many film versions of Georges Bizet's opera Carmen, but U-CARMEN EKHAYELITSHA must certainly be one of the most vivid, enthralling, and satisfying to date. Director Dornford-May first presented this African Carmen on stage with the Dimpho Di Kopane lyric theatre company. This inspired film adaptation uses the same players and integrates life in the South African township of Khayelitsha to grand effect.

U-Carmen eKhayelitsha's glorious star Pauline Malefane and director Paul Donford-MayPauline Malefane is the true power of this film. Her Carmen works in a cigarette factory, where she reigns supreme, defying convention when it comes to love and romance. The target of her affections is a local police officer engaged to another woman. Their tempestuous love affair can only end in tragedy. Malefane's first appearance onscreen is to sing one of her most famous arias. I was spellbound, and filled with the emotion that thrilling music can convey as Malefane sashayed boldly across the screen; her glorious voice powering the “Habanera” in the African dialect of Xhosa, with its clicks and whistles complete. Her confidence and talent elevate this Carmen to stupendous heights. This is one film that you won't want to miss if it makes it to the States. 4 1/2 cats. (left: UCARMEN EKHAYELITSHA'S glorious star Pauline Malefane and director Paul Dornford-May)

 

Linda Linda LindaLINDA LINDA LINDA (Japan; 114 min.)

Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita
cast: Bae Doona, Aki Maeda, Yu Kashii, Shiori Sekine

What can be better than Japanese school girls in uniform with electric guitars? For sheer, unabashed enjoyment, you can't get much better than LINDA LINDA LINDA. As the school fair approaches, a teen-aged all-girl band fears it will have to pull out of the show after its guitarist injures her finger, and the lead singer leaves in snit. In desperation, bandmembers Kei, Kyoko and Nozomi convince Son, a South Korean exchange student, to fill in on vocals, despite the fact that she has never sung before, and barely knows Japanese! The wrap their planned performance around the Japanese punk song "Linda, Linda, Linda" made famous by The Blue Heats, and focus their minds on practicing in the few days left before the performance.

In the tradition of the very best teen movies, whether American or Japanese, LINDA LINDA LINDA makes you feel great, leaves you laughing, and even conveys a subtle message; friends are just as (if not more) important than boys. Bae Doona shines as Son, bringing a laugh-out-loud comic performance to her resume which includes the under-appreciated TAKE CARE OF MY CAT. I defy anyone seeing this utterly delightful film to keep from singing, "Linda, Linda, Linda" for several days afterwards. 5 cats

 

The Great Yokai WarTHE GREAT YOKAI WAR (Japan; 124 min.)

Director: Takashi Miike
cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Hiroyuki Miyasako, Chiaki Kuriyama, Bunta Sugawara, Etsushi Toyokawa

A children's film by Takashi Miike, auteur responsible for the nightmarish (AUDITION), the sick (VISITOR Q), and the bizarre (HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS) certainly seems like an oxymoron. And upon initial viewing, this fable about Japanese goblins attempting to take over the world seems a little... visceral for childish consumption. Still, in the tradition of some of the more gruesome Eurpoean fairy tales, THE GREAT YOKAI WAR is a dark and thrilling fantasy populated by bizarre spirits and monsters that the kid inside all of us can cheer on. While the plot is fairly standard, in the way many children's fantasy stories are (child must save the world against an overpowering evil with the help of some pretty unusual allies) the visuals Miike creates are endlessly imaginative. I'm not sure whether THE GREAT YOKAI WAR will reach the audience it is intended for here in the States, but the midnight movie crowd will certainly enjoy it. 3 cats.

 

Troll ConcertoSHORT CUTS CANADA 3: THE MAKING OF...

including: DUMB ANGEL; UNWRITTEN...; UNE ÂME NUE GLISSE À L'EAU VIVE; AT THE QUNITE HOTEL; ONE BALLOON; PHONE CALL FROM IMAGINARY GIRLFRIEND: ANKARA; TROLL CONCERTO; CNOTE; PHONE CALL FROM IMAGINARY GIRLFRIEND: ISTANBUL

I'm always interested in seeing the short films at festivals to compare them with our own Chlotrudis Short Film Festival, and SHORT CUTS CANADA 3 had the added incentive of a pair of shorts by Chlotrudis-favorite Don McKellar. Unfortunately, with the exception of Don's and a couple of others, the films selected for this program were fairly substandard. Certainly films that would not get selected for our own festival.

Don McKellar's two films, PHONE CALL FROM IMAGINARY GIRLFRIEND: ANKARA and PHONE CALL FROM IMAGINARY GIRLFRIEND: ISTANBUL, are brief, cell phone commercials, commissioned by a cell phone company, and cleverly shot using a cell phone. They are amusing and surprisingly moving snapshots of young women sending video messages to their boyfriends back home. McKellar's wit and intelligence are evident even during these brief, several minute films.

Another film that hit a pretty high note was Alexandre Franchi's TROLL CONCERTO. In a fantasy world where imagination and art have been destroyed, young cellist Frida, must bring balance back despite the menace of her own family. It's pretty ambitious and largely successful.

 

Bed StoriesBED STORIES (Russia; 70 min.)

Director: Kirill Serebrennikov
cast: Iya Savvina, Marina Golub, Natalia Kolyakanova, Olga Khokhlova, Alexander Sirin

As the Festival drew near it's close, I think my mind had a more difficult time absorbing the nuances of the films I saw. BED STORIES suffers from this overload. A curious film following seven inter-connected stories that all take place in a bed, there were some strong performances, some clever writing, and an honest camera style that evoked a sense of realism and desperation intertwined with longing. Despite what the premise may lead you to believe, there is very little sex in BED STORIES, although there is a lot of discussion of sex. Despite the intimacy of a bed, BED STORIES is more about the alienation people can feel even when they are close together. Each story is shot in a single take, which throws the focus on the passage to time; something many of the characters are quite concerened with. With the limited number of films from Russia we get to see here in the States, BED STORIES is an intriguing addition. 3 1/2 cats.

 

THE WAYWARD CLOUDTHE WAYWARD CLOUD (France/Taiwan; 112 min.)

Director: Tsai Ming-liang
cast: Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Shiang-chyi, Lu Yi-ching, Yang Kuei-mei, Sumomo Yozakura

We extended our stay in Toronto two days in order to catch Tsai Ming-Liang's THE WAYWARD CLOUD, a sequel of sorts to the brilliant WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? It was definitely worth it, but definitely not quite what I was expecting. THE WAYWARD CLOUD is a sweetly subversive, powerfully disturbing musical about romance and sex. Lee Kang-sheng and Chen Shiang-chyi reprise their roles from WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? but their situations in life have changed. Hsiao-kang is no longer selling watches on the skywalk where the two characters have met. He now makes his living making pornographic films. Shiang-chyi has returned from her disastrous holiday in Paris and is working at a museum. When their paths cross, Shiang-chyi seems interested, and invites Hsiao-kang to her apartment. Hsiao-kang returns the young woman's affections, but seems to have to interest in physical intimacy. As the two grow closer, the barriers between their intimacy grow larger, culminating in a horrific conclusion that turns the whole film on its ear. Tsai Ming-Liang and Lee Kang-sheng, director and star of THE WAYWARD CLOUD

Using the musical genre, often combined with sweeping romance, Tsai Ming-liang is making a scathing comment about Hollywood romance. It seems he is responding to the undoubtedly many viewers of WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? who wished the two characters, separated by continents, could find happiness together. Tsai Ming-liang answers these wishes in THE WAYWARD CLOUD, to devestating effect. THE WAYWARD CLOUD is outstanding, playing gently with viewers expectations before pulling the rug out from under them. It's a film that stayed with me for days afterwards, and still upsets me when I think about it. That's the kind of movie I love. 5 cats. (left: Director Tsai Ming-Liang and star Lee Kang-sheng from THE WAYWARD CLOUD)

 
 

Boston International Festival of Women's Cinema High Falls Film FestivalIndependent Film Festival of BostonProvincetown International Film FestivalSidewalk Film FestivalSundance Film FestivalToronto International Film Festival Tribeca Film FestivalVenice Film Festival