TIFF ’11

September 19, 2011: Six more films reviewed

The Sword Identity, a first feature by Xu Haofeng is less action (though there is some) and more philosophical probing of the martial arts, and somewhat of a history lesson. Xu Haofeng is not only a writer but an expert on the martial arts. As such his next project is as the writer on Kar Wai Wong’s The Grandmasters, to be released next year.

In this film, there are four sects of the Chinese martial arts, and to establish a new one, the supplicant must fight and defeat the four sects and then be invited to set up a new sect. For me, a disappointment.

The Lady is the bio-pic of Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi and seemed to be a faithful and straight up telling of her (and her family’s struggles). Director Luc Besson was on his best behavior, and stuck to the historical record – as far as I could tell. I was not aware of her father’s place in the history of Burma which was a revelation. I was aware of her husband’s place in her struggle, but not to the extent shown here. This is as much a film of a courageous woman as it is a love story.

The Nobel struggle and politicking were also fascinating. Yet, I never could get past a sense of stiffness in the actor (Michelle Yeoh) playing Aung San Suu Kyi. Beautiful cinematography of a land probably known only for the heroine of the people’s democratic movement.

The Awakening is the first feature film of the UK’s Nick Murphy. It was a single film ticket which I bought while at the festival – my 31st. It was a big to-do and a red-carpet gala showing at the large Roy Thompson Hall.

The film itself was really just a standard fare ghost story. You know the ones. There are dead children walking around making mischief. It’s probably worth a DVD rental from Netflix -or I guess we’re calling it Qwikster now. Rebranding, dontcha know. Rebecca Hall does a bang-up job as the ghost buster with a troubled past.

There were ten films in this year’s City to City section (Buenos Aires). I have already reviewed Vaquero. The other two were Pompeya and Invasion.

Pompeya was an interesting and innovative film: gruesome and bloody – and funny in a quirky sort of way. Directed by Tamae Garateguy in her first solo project, she (somewhat like Vaquero did) rips into the Argentinian film industry. Whereas Vaquero used the cowboy Hollywood film as its taking off point, here it’s the international gangster film. Russians and Japanese thugs galore. It’s a meta-film within, so if that’s not your thing, forget it. The director, and two screen writers are shown collaborating on the film, and what choices they should make, what genre assumptions they should exploit. There’s a funny scene when the director admits he loves to see “Asian people” in films, all of a sudden there is a yakuza gang strutting towards the camera in stylistic slo-mo. In the end the lines between the film-makers and the characters they have created for the film blurs – a character rebellion that is handled well Good stuff.

Invasion is a restored retrospective film from 1969, an Argentine noir-classic, filmed in prefect black and white. Director Hugo Santiago is a lion of Argentine film, schooled by Robert Bresson. Hard to follow at times (was that a rebel or a member of the invading oppressors?) it’s a visual treat in the way that black and white films can be. There is a climactic scene in a Buenos Aires stadium that was a predictor of the future.

Union Square, Directed by Nancy Savoca, is the type of film that I usually shy away from. Messed up families, sibling rivalry. All that. Centered around Thanksgiving no less. But in the hands of Nancy Savoca, it gets real. Just missed my top five actually, and Marisa Tomei kicked ass in this one. She’s a talent.

Union Square Q&A: Nancy Savoca (l), Marisa Tomei (c), Mike Doyle (r)

I have three more films that I want to write about – all in my top five, so more to come.

September 19, 2011: AWards and my TOP FIVE

TIFF prize announcements:

  • Cadillac People’s Choice Award – Where Do We Go Now? – Directed by  Nadine Labaki, a France/Lebanon/Italy/Egypt Co-Production
  • Cadillac People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award – The Raid – Directed by Gareth Evans, Indonesia
  • Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) – Discovery – Avalon – Axel Petersén, Sweden
  • Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) – Special Presentations – The First Man – Gianni Amelio,  France, Algeria, Italy
  • The SKYY Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film – Edwin Boyd – Nathan Morlando, Canada

Of these, I viewed only The First Man (reviewed on September 16th)

My top five festival films (not all reviewed yet):

  1. UFO In Her Eyes
  2. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia 
  3. Las Acacias (reviewed on September 14th)
  4. Violet & Daisy
  5. Dark Horse (reviewed on September 11th)

September 17, 2011: Day 9 (Final Day) – (3 Films)

To be Reviewed:

UFO In Her Eyes

The Sword Identity

The Lady

September 16, 2011: Day 8 – (4 Films)

The First Man
 is a French/Algerian/Italian co-production by Italian Director Gianni Amelio. Based on the last (unfinished) work of Albert Camus, it tells the story of a writer who returns to Algeria after several years of self-exile. He returns to his home in Algeria, where his mother still resides. The hand-written manuscript that the screenplay was based on alledgedly was pulled from the wreckage of Camus’ fatal car accident, and is acknowledged to by highly auto-biographical.

It’s an intimate tale of growing up without a father, and being raised by his mother and grandmother, both of whom were illiterate, as well as a concerned teacher.  Swirling around his formative years is the spectre of growing tensions between the colonial French and the native Algerians. When he returns. it’s 1957 and things have nearly reached a boiling point. One of his childhood acquaintances (I’d hardly call him a friend) is an Arab boy who reaches out to the Camus stand-in (Jacques Cormery) who reaches out to him with help for his own son who has been arrested in connection with terrorist bombings. The son of the man he grew up with is as stubborn as his father before him, and fiercely follows his own moral code, though it probably will mean sure execution.

Jacques  Cormery  (Jacques  Gamblin) has tried to get his mother to come back to France with him, but she prefers to remain in the place she knows. Algeria is an increasingly dangerous place for women such as her. Cormery makes several impassioned speeches at public gatherings, the last of which comes down to choices between several alternatives. In his final plea to the nation for peace, he avows that he will defend the rights of the Arab people for the right to self-determination, but with a warning that that does not include the innocent loss of life – such as his mother’s.

The film is an interesting characterization, but doesn’t give too much on the political side. It was a lesser film for that.

Another black mark against this years TIFF. I was scheduled for my second film of the day, Mausam, (a Bollywood from India) when I discovered that there was no line-up. The film had been cancelled. So, ok. These things happen. But being that the festival is nearing its close, there were limited opportunities for other films. I was offered a voucher to be used at any time in the future, but I explained that I was not from Toronto. Then they told me I could give the voucher to someone else. They couldn’t pro-rate the ticket since it was part of a package. Fuck them. They can do anything they want. The rules – any and all of them are made by TIFF. So I ended up selecting another film, that I didn’t necessarily want to see.

Bonsai is a Chilean/French co-production from Cristian Jiminez. The beginning of the film tells us that Julio will live and Emilia will die in the end. He wasn’t lying. Along the way the film bounces back and forth between two stages of Julio’s life, with and without Emilia.

Julio is a lit major and books play a large part in the film, especially Proust’s 7-volume Remembrance of Things Past. They meet in a lit class as the professor asks those who have read Proust to raise their hands. Well, they both raise their hands, but later after admitting that they have not read it, Julio buys the volumes to read in bed to each other.

He also buys her a small but delicate plant that is as fragile as young love. Later, Julio cultivates a Bonsai tree. In the later part of his life they have drifted apart, which is never explained, except to say that their love had grown stale and neither knew how to keep it vibrant – like the delicate plant. When he learns later that Emilia has committed suicide (he had been trying to reconnect with her), he buys another set of Proust to embark on the journey again – with hopes that there will be a fuller understanding with the distance of time and maturity.

Rather sweet, but never fully realized.

To Be Reviewed:

The Awakening


September 15, 2011: Day 7 (4 Films)

The film: Trespass

One word review: Dreadful

Learning #1: Trust your “better judgement”. They are better for a good reason.

Learning #2: Just because Nicole Kidman is in a film does not make it good to look at.

Learning #3: Just because it’s loud and everyone is shouting, doesn’t mean they are actually saying anything worthwhile.

Learning #4: Put into effect the following binding resolution. Do not be tempted by any future films that has Nicolas Cage in a leading role – or probably any role.

Another observation on the changes at this years TIFF: There seems to be a reduction in the amount of Q&A’s this year. As I recall, nearly all films in recent years had the option of a Q&A. This year, it’s surprising that for a number of screenings, that option is never mentioned.

Union Square, Directed by Nancy Savoca

Nancy Savoca’s new film features a tour-de-force turn by Mira Sorvino. Sorvino (Lucy) and Tammy Blanchard (Jenny) play sisters who haven’t spoken in a few years after a fallout. Then one day after a spat with her (married) lover, she shows up at her sisters apartment in Union Square, much to Jenny’s surprise and horror. Jenny has had a complete makeover, claiming she grew up in Maine. The recurring joke is that when family members arrive, they must be exhausted. They’re really just traveling from the Bronx.

Jenny and her fiance are now the owners of an organic foods business. No smoking allowed in the apartment. Vegetarian meals only. Lucy finds all of this not only strange, but not who her sister really is. Then Lucy drops the bomb that their mother has died.

Films of this kind (dysfunctional family comedy-dramas) are not usually my thing. But this film is funny and touching and Sorvino tears it up and spits it out. When Lucy (who in another surprise has brought along her husband and son) to Thanksgiving is asked by her husband to show everyone her “Facebook”, she reluctantly says she will as her husband boots up the computer. They all watch the “tribute” to Mom which is a really touching segment with Patti Lupone as mom. There seems to be the possibility of a real reconciliation of sisters.

A really terrific film of sibling rivalries.

Nancy Savoca (l), Mira Sorvino (c) and Mike Doyle (r) at the Q&A (World Premiere)

Yet to be reviewed:


Violet & Daisy

14 September, 2011: Day 6 (4 Films) Countdown by Korean Director Huh Jong-Ho hit paydirt with his first feature: he got the participation of two of Korea’s biggest film stars – Jeon-Do Youn and Jeong Jae-young. In a packed auditorium filled with Korean students or ex-pats (Toronto has a very larger Korean presence), when they were brought out before the film the house erupted These two are obviously rock-stars in the Korean community. I left my camera in my bag, assuming that they’d all be back for the Q&A. They were not, so I snapped the Director only.

It’s an unlikely plot that Huh presents us with: A ruthless collection agent learns he has liver cancer, and has no more than three months to live. He sets out to track down the organ recipients of his deceased son, and hooks up with Cha Ha-yeon (Jeon). There’s a car chase (complete with the obligatory ruined fruit and vegetable market), large sums of cash and plenty of villains to go around.

Ultimately, the film swerves from action-adventure to sweetly romantic melodrama. Fun viewing, but don’t know where the film would have been without the two superstars.

The Moth Diaries, directed by home girl Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol, American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page) is a supernatural thriller that doubles as a coming of age film. When a new and mysterious girl enters the private girls school, she appears to come between best friends Rebecca  and Lucy. The newcomer Ernessa had a father that committed suicide as does Rebecca, so they have that in common. As the story has it Ernessa’s real “target” is Rebecca (there have been mysterious deaths in the wake of Ernessa’s coming on the scene).

The opening was great with the emergence of  a moth (can’t remember the name) from its cocoon – a stunning visual. But with the exception of the young actress that played Lucy (Sarah Gadon), the other actresses did not impress me at all, and dragged the film down somewhat.

Las Acacias is a wonderful little film that has very little dialogue. It’s all facial expressions and feelings registered without words. It was finished just before Cannes and won the Camera d’Or. Quite a feat for Argentinian Pablo Giorgelli.

It has the skeleton of a road movie and the soul of a moving inner journey. Ruben is a trucker who hauls logs between Paraguay and Argentina. He’s got thirty years under his belt, But it’s a lonely existence. A loneliness that has become second nature, so that Ruben doesn’t even realize he’s lonely. His boss has asked him to take a woman along on his next trip as a favor. When Jacinta shows up with a 6-month old child, Ruben doesn’t know how to react.

The entire movie takes place mostly in the cab of Ruben’s truck. It’s awkward at first, and mostly silent. Ruben is not used to company. But you can see him thaw degree by degree as he grows to appreciate Jacinta’s motherhood and the innocent child’s gaze. The director was very humble and interesting as he talked about the “star” of the film (the child) and how many of the typical child emotions were captured (smiling, laughter, wonder, crankiness).

Las Acacias is a difficult film to write about. Writing about it doesn’t do it justice. It’s spare, but rich. It’s quiet (few words) but wonderfully telling (the emotional communication). Most certainly, one of the highlights of this year’s festival.

Then there’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia which is a great film. A film that moved me such that I want to sit on it awhile and write about it later. The Director is Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys) and is a film from the always fascinating Istanbul group of film makers. More to come. Finally. A day that makes the festival worthwhile.

13 September, 2011: Day 5 (3 Films)

Russian director Alexander Sokurov’s the director of one of my all-time favorite films (Russian Ark) and with Faust (Masters programme) he completes his “Men of Power” tetralogy with an interpretation of the Goethe work, a nineteenth century tale from folklore.  The film was awarded the Golden Lion at Venice on Saturday.

This is a fact-paced film of ideas, which is sometimes difficult to keep up with. It starts out with Dr. Faust eviscerating a cadaver, all the while discussing the location of the soul (if there is such a thing). This gives you a good idea of the ride you’re in for.

Faust follows around the The Moneylender who promises him knowledge and eventually his him sign his soul over to him, written in blood. It’s an odd Mephistopheles, that is more or less abused by Faust. Faust falls for a woman whose brother he has stabbed, either by accident or by the will of the devil.

Filmed in Brueghel browns and yellowed earth tones I had another problem with TIFF which screened this in a theater with a square screen. Everything looked like the aspect ration was fucked up. Plus the film was supposed to start at 10AM and the crowd was not let in until about 10 minutes past, The festival is nor covering itself in glory this year. I may look at alternatives for the future. Regretfully, since I do love this city.

Intruders which will open San Sebastian later this month, had its world premiere at TIFF in the Special Presentations programme. It’s one of those psychological thrillers for which the Spanish film industry has become known.

Director Juan Carols Fresnadillo was interested in exploring the origins of our fear, and how they just may be handed down from one generation to the next. How to combat these fears? He touches on and disposes of the ability of first religion, then counseling and medicine to address our fears. Truth telling and confronting our past may be the key.

The story involves two families thirty years apart, Figuring out how these two families are related is half the battle. Clive Owen is the star power here, but the two children are excellent and Pilar Lopez de Ayala as Luisa, Juan’s mother fares better than Clive Owen’s character’s wife.

Snowtown is a film from Australia by Justin Kurzel, his first film feature. It’s based on true events that happened in the town in Australia where Kurzel grew up. The subculture of poverty, welfare, sexual and drug abuse seemed ripe for the horrific events that played out in the late 1990’s.

Kurzel certainly spares no sensibilities with the retelling. Elizabeth just can’t pick her men. Divorced and having kicked one boyfriend out of the house for suspected pedophilia and/or child porn she takes up with a man who seems all-family, and a likeable guy. He cooks, carouses with the kids and generally gives the family a real cohesiveness for the first time. That doesn’t last long however, as John Bunting takes it into his head to become a vigilante with a coterie of admirers to help him with his deeds.  Deviants beware. When a man believes he is the final arbiter of morality, all bets are off. And when this man has a sadistic personality, the results can be quite unsettling as we see his vengeance played out on the screen.

The woman who plays the  mother at the center of all of this is played by a non-actor (Louise Harris), who looks on as the events unfold – she knows what’s going on – with a mix of horror, fear, and resignation as she understands that things are completely our of her control. But it’s Daniel Henshaw’s John Bunting with a searing performance, and a look that can kill – and often does – that is the centerpiece of the dramatic tension.

Have I said this before of a film at this festival? This film is not for anyone with a weak stomach.

12 September, 2011: Day 4 (3 Films)

The River Used To Be A Man explores the very specific superstitions and beliefs in one village in Botswana. The Director (German Director Jan Zabeil) cautioned that those beliefs in the movie were specific to that village and not to think of “Africa” as holding these beliefs.

The film has a young German actor (by profession) driving along in Botswana, when he cracks up his car. He hails an elderly Botswanan and catches a ride in his dugout canoe. They communicate in broken English. One morning the German wakes up to find that the old man has died in the night. He has no idea where he is and attempts to use the canoe to get somewhere, but doesn’t make much progress. He has no idea what to do with the body, so finally wraps him in a tarp and releases him overboard. He stumbles on a small village that at first looks deserted, but soon shows signs of activity. The only person who speaks any English at all turns out to be the son of the deceased man. When he understands what has happened to his father, he is furious. They take off and find the tarp, without the old man. A village shaman works his magic and informs them he has been eaten by a crocodile. In their superstitions, this means the unburied man will kill his family after having turned into a crocodile himself.

That’s about the extent of the movie (I wont reveal who if anyone gets eaten). the narrative is not well thought out (the director admits as much, and frankly could not have cared less). Artlessness passing as art. Even the scenery is not all that.

Anonymous (in the Special Presentation programme) is “the Shakespeare” flick. You’ve never seen Will look worse: a drunken, carousing, illiterate, who can read well enough to act, but can’t write a lick.

This portrayal is necessary to set up what the film is really about. The contention here is that the real author of the works attributed to Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. The Earl had to keep his writing secret since the occupation was considered beneath the peerage. He had most of the damn plays written out before he started to hand them out to Ben Johnson. Funny to see de Vere going through his plays to select the next one to be staged. But Johnson wanted nothing to do with the deal, so he gave them to William Shakespeare to take credit for authorship.

The real historical intrigue is in the Earl of Essex’s plot to claim the throne and the manipulation of the court’s politics by the Cecil’s. The Cecils were tight asses and dead set against the performance of plays. When Elizabeth finally dies, they get their victory as King James ascends to the throne. Ironic, as shown in a scene where James expresses his love of plays much to the astonishment of  Cecil the Younger and hopes to see many more from Mr. Shakespeare.

Better than I had hoped (this was not a first choice), there were two aspects which I thought well done. First, the conceit is that there is a broadway play (“Anonymous”) and it’s introduced to the attending audience by a sort of master of ceremonies (Derek Jacobi). This quickly of course morphs into the film. Then the end, when the introductory character comes back in a sum up. As the credits roll the shot is of a theater audience filing out. The odd thing is that the venue that this was shown in is the old Winter Garden Theater in Toronto, and it looked like that scene could have been filmed right there, with the audience filing out in the same way. That was a bit eerie.

Fine acting of course: Including among others, Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson as the elderly and the young Elizabeth, and Rhys Ifans as the Earl of Oxford,

The Year of the Tiger, a film from Chile directed by Sebastian Lelio, one of the Vanguard films. In February 2010, Chile was hit by a severe earthquake followed by a tsunami. The director started shooting a mere 8 weeks after the devastation. He freely talked about the moral dilemma in pointing cameras at people while they were really still in shock.

The film is based on two actual events post earthquake: First, the jails were damaged and many inmates escapeds it happens, many of them eventually returned voluntarily. The lead character Manuel essentially does the same. Second, many animals escaped from the zoos, including a tiger. The tiger plays a pivotal, if brief, role in Lelio’s film.

In his first act of “release”, Manuel releases the tiger. The tiger is subsequently  shot by a hunter. In his second act of release, Manuel “releases” a farmer from the cage of his life. He sees it as an act of mercy, and it appears to be so. Ironically, the farmer was the one who shot and killed the tiger. This film almost reaches a higher level than it eventually does. Another film that falls short.

11 September, 2011: Day 3 (3 Films)

Lipstikka: Toronto native Jonathan Sagall brings this Contemporary World Cinema film to the festival by way of Israel and the UK. The film begins with Lara (Clara Khoury) who confesses the state of her marriage: her husband has had a series of affairs and she pretends to not know about them, while her husband pretends not to know that she knows. A marriage built on pretense.

He’s a successful businessman and she’s an organized housewife. Well off in their beautiful home. A far cry from her origins, as we begin to see when Inam (popular Tel Aviv actress Mataly Attiya) knocks on her door one day. Lara is not pleased to see her, but Inam makes her way inside. A life force which Lara seems unable or unwilling to control. Then begin the flashbacks that reveal the origins and subsequent twists of their friendship from their schooldays in Ramallah to their immigration to London. The two could be not more different: Lara, a rather plump, timid girl as c schoolgirl seems to be smitten with Inam, a loose, fun-loving girl who seems to have little regard for the consequences of her actions. Inam is compelled to explore her sexuality, while Lara can only observe.

There is a history of lesbian exploration between the two, but more than that there is a seminal event in their lives whose memory haunts them both. But whose memory is correct? Memory, the recollection of events, depends on who is doing the remembering, and how much effect the remembered events has on their subsequent lives.

One night the two decide to sneak into Israel for a movie. On their way back home they are followed by two Israeli soldiers. As remembered by Lara, Inam got them in trouble with her big mouth and to get them out of it she takes one of the soldiers into a building where he takes her from behind (at Inam’s direction). Lara remembers the event in muted terms, the unarmed soldier very nearly reluctantly following Inam into the building. Inam remembers the event with subtle differences. She remembers the two soldiers as armed, and that she led the one solder into the building only ao allow Lara to make her way home. A sacrifice for her friend. In this scene she is unwillingly raped.

We see that Lara is married to the man who was previously the lover of Inam. Lara had soured her husband to be on Inam with a series of revelations to him that may or may not be the complete truth.

And the revelations keep unfolding to the very end. What we come to is quite a surprise, and the screenwriter Director Sagall) deserves much of the credit for this. The performances of the two female leads take the script and run away with it. Lipstikka (a lipstick case) is the final image that sums up all that has gone before.

L-R: Todd Solondz, Justin Bartha, Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair

Todd Solondz first came to the TIFF back in 1995 with Welcome to the Dollhouse. He’s back this year once again with the Special Presentation of Dark Horse. Solondz has a particularly sharp and penetrating view of the American middle-class, of all the ways in which we fail to meet even our own expectations of ourselves. The dialogue is stunningly, and uncomfortably comic.

Thirty something abrasive and loud-mouthed, Abe (Justin Bartha) works (as little as he can get away with) for his father in real estate and property management. He still lives at home with his parents. Not in the basement exactly, but in his room dedicated to action figures purchased on e-bay. Abe is still a child, and has not developed beyond the late teens years – not  intellectually, but in an emotional sense. And what a pair of parents he has: Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow shine – no that’s absolutely the wrong word – they exist in a numbing vacuum of boredom and malaise.

At a wedding, Abe meets up with Miranda (Selma Blair) and almost immediately (on their second date) decides that he wants to marry her. Incredibly, he actually expresses this desire to her out loud. Even more incredibly, she accepts. Selma Blair is outstanding as the heavily medicated Miranda, as is Mary Joy who plays the helpful and protective office secretary, and as a wildly different persona as a figment of Abe’s hallucinations.

This film has quite an exceptional acting ensemble gathered together by Solondz. They bring his skewered vision to the screen with dead-pan looks and there-I-said-it lines delivered with delicious relish. A must-see for Solondz fans (and there are legion). This one may even acquire a larger audience – though somehow I can’t quite see things getting that far out of hand!

Last film of the day was : Headshot, a Thai film in the Vanguard programme. I’ll say this, the director was one of the most personable and funniest characters I’ve ever seen at the Festival. Pen-ek Ratanaruang. A veteran of the festival (he’s brought many of his films here), along with a skeptical view of human nature that would rival Todd Solondz’. Admittedly, their approaches are radically different.

Before I say this is in the noir-thriller genre, I have to say that the emphasis was (unintentionally) on the noir side. I thought the movie was a little dark in some scenes but passed it off as intentional. But when the film was over, the moderator admitted that there were some technical issues, and that the film was darker than it should have been. The director commented on it several times, and admitted he just couldn’t watch it and left the venue until the end. This is the second glitch I’ve run into this festival. I’ve never had other issues with the films in this way since I’ve been coming to TIFF.

Despite that, the film was a kick. Tul, once a good cop, has been transformed into an assassin, working with a group that aims to rid Bangkok of the corruption that is rampant. the moral compass is broken. When Tul, dressed as a monk, assassinates a high ranking but corrupt politician, he takes a bullet to the head that puts him in the hospital for three months. When he finally comes to, he sees everything upside down. Fitting since the cops are mostly the bad guys and some of the criminals aim to fix all that. Vigilantism. The director penned the screen play from a novel and it has several twists and turns to keep the viewer fully engaged right to the end. It unfolds in a non-linear way which I could mostly keep up with.

Thai films are very nearly always innovative and interesting, despite the problem of censorship which the director humorously touched on in his Q&A.

10 September, 2011: Day 2 (4 Films)

Vaquero is an Argentine film from the City-To-City programme. Director Juan Minujin also played the lead role in the film about a mid-level actor who believes his big break may come in the form of landing a role in an American produced cowboy film. Julian is a loner, addicted to porn and makes his way through his life with a touch of self loathing. He’s also something of a misogynist, as we can easily determine from the internal dialogue which he carriers on with himself, commenting on those around him that he finds beneath contempt. And there are many.

He does get an audition and is handed a scene from the script to study. When the day comes, there is some confusion in his mind since the man appearing with him seems to be reading lines. The irony is that the cowboys lines weren’t his at all and never were meant to be. His are the lines of the Indian. So much for Hollywood stardom. The director’s commentary on the state of the Argentine film industry, the life of struggling actors, and what it means to be an actor without a true identity. Not to mention the cultural hegemony of American film. Thwap! And was that a thud?

Director of ElenaElena snagged a Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, and director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s third feature is certainly an accomplished piece of film making. As one of the films in the Contemporary World Cinema programme, Elena represents the state of Russian film at present. It’s certainly an interesting opening – and one that the director spent a lot of time on in response to a question in the Q&A.

As the two inhabitants of an upscale country home awake, it takes awhile to determine that the woman (Nadezdha Markina’s Elena) is not merely the live-in maid, but the woman of the house. Such is the status of women in Russia today, at least those in a rural environment – more servant than equal. Elena did become a part of Vladimir’s (Andrey Smirnov) life as a nurse, so the class component is also in evidence.

Although the couple seems contented enough, one of the running battles they have is the place of their children from previous marriages – Vladimir’s daughter Katerina and Elena’s no-account son. The director does not paint this argument in black and white. He is careful to allow us to empathize with both sides.When Vladimir suffers a heart attack, the argument takes on new meaning. Elena is faced with a difficult choice, and the choice she makes leads to a thoughtful ending.

The relationship between Vladimir and Katerina is an interesting one, in part because of the complicated portrayal by Elena Lyadova.. Good job by her. Zvyagintsev seems to be a “Directors Director”. I liked the film, and appreciated it – but I didn’t love it.

Rose (also in the Contemporary World Cinema programme) has to be one of the hardest films to watch (at least in part) I’ve ever attended because of the brutal portrayal of gang rape in wartime. It’s not for those with weak stomachs. Of all the complicated histories and ethnic hatreds exacerbated by political repressions, that of Poland may be the most complicated of all. Director Wojchiech Smarzowski turns his lens on a part of that history. This is a film to make you believe that there is no hope for the future of a species that can be so barbaric to its own.

Gypsy is one of those films that uses a nearly completely amateur cast that works. Director Martin Sulik has had his film placed in the Contemporary World Cinema programme. And by focusing on the plight of a minority community, we realize how many of the kind of similar situations there are around the world today. Some of them have been virtually wiped out or completely assimilated (see the film Rose above).

The story here is of a Romani boy whose father is killed and is replaced by his Uncle. His Uncle is a bully and Adam dislikes him intensely, so he starts to get into trouble. A secondary thread is the budding love between Adam and a maturing young gypsy beauty that he flirts sweetly with.

This is a film about the choices that Adam is forced to make, the choices that Adam’s mother had to make, the choice that Adam’s girlfriend has to make…Many of these would seem to be “wrong”, but in the social order, there can be a different perspective.

9 September, 2011: Day 1 (3 Films)

Alois Nebel: From The Discovery programme, this rotoscope film from the Czech Republic got off to a rocky start. They actually decided to restart it 5 minutes in because the subtitles weren’t showing up. As it turned out, the subtitles in this black and white film were on and off unreadable.  White subtitles against a snow-covered landscape. There’s no excuse for this at a major film festival, so I missed mush of the critical dialogue.

The film, which debuted at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, started out in 1989 just before the Prague Spring and flashes back to 1945, in narrative as well as in nightmares. Alois is a railroad man, a dispatcher in a small rail station. He can recite by memory the timetable of each stop along the route. Alois is a quiet, unassuming man who is uncomfortable around people, so keeps to himself. He has only his cat to keep him company, but prefers it that way. One day a man who has crossed the border illegally shows up at Alois’ rail station. No one knows who he is or why he has come there. He’s arrested and given electroshock treatments. These are pretty horrific scenes even in rotoscope. Alois also has had a nervous breakdown and has been sent to the same sanitorium, but is spared the excessive treatments of The Mute.

Through the flashbacks we learn that a man still around (Old Wachek) was a German collaborator and that during a roundup he killed the father of a woman who he subsequently raped and turned out as a prostitute.  Alois is haunted by the ghost of this same woman, and the visions of her are what sent him into a catatonic state. These spells were particularly impactful when the weather was foggy and rainy – the disorientation exacerbates his thin hold on the present. Although Alois is finally released without shock treatments, the world is completely different than when he went in. The Berlin Wall has fallen, and his switchman has taken his job, and his apartment.

Eventually, Alois is saved by a widowed woman who had been married to another railman.This is an incredibly atmospheric film. The scenes of torrential rains and flooding are simply wonderful. Again, marred only by the inexcusable substituting. In the favorite d0g-ate-my-homework excuse, the director was a no show for the Q&A: ‘Flight was just getting in as the film was being introduced’.

Mr. Tree is Chinese director Han Jie’s second feature film. It’s being shown as part of the Contemporary World Cinema Programme. From the film and the director’s Q&A after the screening, it’s apparent that he’s concerned with the problem of urbanization in his homeland. Several times in the film, politicians and land speculators are heard offering incentives to abandon their homes so that “progress” can be made. But rural workers in China become nothing more than refugees in their own country as they are suddenly taken out of their realm.

Shu (“Tree” in Chinese) is the village idiot, and just can’t seem to do anything right. Yet everyone seems to like him. Including a lively mute girl who works in a massage parlor, who he wins over  despite several missteps.Then one day he makes a prediction that comes true and he’s transformed from the village idiot to the seer and prophet.

The real pleasure of the film are the performances of the two lead actors. Wang Baoquiang plays Shu with a whole host of quirky mannerisms, just a wonderful permanence to watch. Nearly equalling him is Tan Zhuo who plays his deaf mute fiancée, Xiaomei.

The Hunter was a red carpet GALA. And the stars were in evidence from the director to the screenplay writer to Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe. Even Julia Leigh (who wrote the novel) was in the house – though not on the stage..

Worth seeing if only for the spectacular landscape (Tasmania). The bare bones of the story is a man (DaFoe) has been hired to track and bring back organs and DNA of the rare (if not extinct) Tasmanian Tiger. This for a multinational drug company who wants to corner the market on the tiger’s venom. The cast is competent, though doesn’t stand out in any aspect in my mind.

It was entertaining, if a bit slow unfolding. Worth a DVD rental when the time comes.

9 September, 2011

Ok, I’m here and ready to roll. Picked up my tickets (with a little trouble) and opted NOT to get in yet anther line to redeem my 2 vouchers. I did that this morning and had to go to the end of the list to get my films, which means the two I selected were like 5th or 6th choices. WTF!

My two additional films are:

  • An Israeli film, Lipstikka, which involves two immigrants to England, who meet again after many years and talk about their divergent memories of what happened in Ramallah all those years ago.
  • Dark Horse, a Todd Solondz film which I had bypassed originally. Not sure why: a helluva cast and Todd Solondz after al.l

2 September, 2011

I received my film selection confirmations yesterday and of the 30 films I selected, I received only 23. I was given my second choice in 5 instances and I’ll be picking up 2 vouchers when I get there.


  • Albert Nobbs, A Dangerous Method, Almayer’s Folly, The Woman in the Fifth (bye-bye KST), Sleeping Beauty, Drive (Dammit), and Tilda Swinton (bye-bye Tilda)


  • The River Used To Be A Man: This German film in the VISIONS category explores Germany’s complex relationship with Africa
  • Anonymous: This is the Shakespeare ‘did-he-write ‘em’ Elizabethan period piece that I toyed with selecting, but put it in as a 2d choice. Now I’ve got it.
  • Faust: This one I did want to see, the final film in Alexander Sokurov’s tetralogy, loosely title “Men of Power”
  • The Year of the Tiger: This is another I wanted to see, so this is a good substitution. From Chile. The aftermath of the February earthquake…
  • Las Acacias: A talky road movie from Argentina. This is the sort of film I go for, so this one should be good.

TBD: I have two vouchers that will have to wait for my ticket pick-up on the 8th. I’ll have to make my strategy for these.

1 September, 2011

Special Presentations: “Major films, Major stars, Major filmmakers”. I selected a third of my films from this Programme: ten films. At 67-films, I think it’s the largest Programme.

  • Countdown is a caper film from Korea and a debut for its director Huh Jong-ho. Korean star Jung Jae-young is a collections agent who is diagnosed with liver cancer, so he seeks to reclaim the liver donated by his dead son!
  • The Hunter is adapted from a Julia Leigh novel. An Australian film starring Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor and Sam Neill. The Dafoe character is sent by a multinational biotech company to Tasmania to track down the last remaining Tasmanian Tiger.
  • Drive is the much anticipated new film from Nicolas Winding Refn. Great trailer on YouTube and Ryan Gosling looks to be primed for this one. A stunt driver by day and a getaway driver by night.
  • Mary Harron brings her Vampire-in-a-girls-school tale to the festival: The Moth Diaries
  • The First Man is based on the novel that Albert Camus was working on when he died. You know…like “Mother died today…”
  • Seriously. Along about day 8, I’ll be looking for some Bollywood diversion. Clap your hands and DANCE! Mausam from India
  • Julia Leigh again. Here she directs (or is that re-directs) the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Sleeping Beauty from Australia
  • Violet & Daisy, a thriller about two female assassins looks to be a kick
  • There have been some great films to come out of Spain in recent years in the psychological horror genre. Juan Carols Fresnadillo’s Intruders looks to be another. With Clive Owen as John Farrow and Ella Purnell as his 13-year old daughter Mia. Ha. There’s a sense of humor, huh?
  • And of course there’s my Kristen Scott-Thomas jones that has to be taken care of. So we have KST in The Woman in the Fifth from French Director Pawel Pawlikowski.

That’s it. Thirty films selected. There are several Programmes that I didn’t even choose films from: Real to Reel (non-fiction cinema), TIFF Kids (International Family Cinema), Wavelengths (avant-garde film), Midnight Madness (I usually get a few of these (the audience for these is worth the price of admission, and the several Canadian Programmes features and shorts.

30 August, 2011 

Contemporary World Cinema selects films from around the world – “trends” as TIFF sees it on the global screens. There were fifty films from which to choose, from which I selected a paltry six. Hey, I do what I can.

  • The Polish film Rose, directed by Wojciech Smarzowski is his third feature and tackles the plight of civilians at the end of WWII in East Prussia as they come under suspicion from the advancing Red Army and the Polish Home Army alike. Rose is a woman alone, her German husband having been killed in the war who must face the daunting task of survival in unsteady times.
  • Mr. Tree is a film from China by  Han Jie. His second feature is about a village idiot who may not be such an idiot after all. I’ve noticed this is a rather popular theme which I’ve seen before. Shu (translated as “tree”) becomes the prophet for the village that is one of many in modern China that is faced with the increasing forces of urbanization.
  • In the 2009 Festival I was blown away by an impressively talented woman that brought along two of her films (She, A Chinese and Once Upon a Time Proletarian: 12 Tales of a Country) . I’ve been looking for her to return ever since, and she’s here with a film called UFO in her Eyes. From her own novel, Xiaolu Guo adapted for the screen and directed. This is my most anticipated film for this festival – bar none.
  • Gypsy (Cigán) is a film from Slovakia that I specifically targeted in the hopes that it may feature some of that music I love.
  • Elena is a Russian film of class and family relationships that has a score by Philip Glass
  • Union Square is the name of the film. Nancy Savoca is the director. Mira Sorvino is one of the cast. What’s not to like?

29 August, 2011

Bold films by innovative film makers are the hallmark of the Vanguard Programme. I’ve selected two films from this group:

  • The first is from Thai director Pen-ek  Ratanaruang: Fon Tok Kuen Fah (Headshot) is a crime thriller. A hitman is shot in the head (hence…) and wakes up after a three month coma. When he awakens from this, he sees everything upside down. Corruption in contemporary Bangkok. Making moral choices in an immoral world. Was the world already turned upside down before the ex-detective turned hitman (Tul) was shot in the head?
  • Snowtown is an Australian film based on a real life crime spree. Justin Kurzel’s debut effort digs beneath the headlines to delve into the subculture of those involved in these acts of horrific violence. When the vigilante’s aim to wipe out the scum, the cure is worse than the disease.

27 August, 2011

Gala Presentations are “high-profile”: big name stars and/or big name directors. These films usually get the “red carpet” treatment (although all showings are not “red carpet”. I’ve selected four films from this Programme group. I purposely do not select some films because they will almost certainly show up in theaters soon:

  • David Cronenberg directs A Dangerous Method. Michael Fassbender is Carl Jung, Viggo Mortensen is Sigmund Freud and Keira Knightley is their troubled patient. Well…
  • From Ireland, by director Rodrigo Garcia (son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez) comes Albert Nobbs. Glenn Close plays a woman masquerading as a man – for twenty years time. Close and Booker winner John Banville collaborated on the screenplay.
  • The Lady is one I really wanted to snag, and I did (if they don’t take it away from me in the lottery process). The Lady is the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, and it’s directed by Luc Besson. Certainly, it will be interesting to see how Besson handles this subject.
  • Trespass is one of those films I didn’t necessarily want to select, but the selection process sometimes dictates filling in a time slot. To it was with this one. This is a Joel Shumacher film with Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman. We’ll see. I’m skeptical.

Not getting a crack at Sarah Polley’s film Take This Waltz) was a huge disappointment. Some other GALA films that might be a good take when they open in theaters, or candidates for a DVD look-see: Moneyball with Brad Pitt and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a political film directed by George Clooney (and starring) along with Phillip Seymour Hoffman (again), Marisa Tomei, Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood: The Ides of March. Killer Elite with Robert DeNiro and Clive Owen – DDVDO (definite DVD only).

26 August, 2011

My selections from two more Programmes:

The Masters Programme gathers new films from the renowned cinema masters from around the world. This year two of my selections were from the Masters offerings. There were many others I would have liked to see but…can’t see ‘em all, though I’d like to. I really wanted to see Wim Wender’s dance film – it looks spectacular, but alas. Other films that I’d love to have seen were from Bela Tarr (Hungary); Gus Van Sant has a new one here (Restless); Alexander Sukurov winds up his tetralogy on men of power (Hitler, Lenin, Hirohito) with this final one, Faust.

  • La Folie Almayer (Almayer’s Folly) is from Belgian director Chantal Akerman. She adapts Joseph Conrad’s first novel for the screen, but moves it a decade ahead. The description of the film as one of “bold stylistic risks” and a mix of music and drama melded together in a “high theatrical style” are enticing. Akerman apparently is known for her long takes, which I love. Why, I don’t know. It’s just that there’s something about the slowed down pace that reaches out to me. Plus the theme of southeast Asian colonialism is one that I go back to again and again. It’s a matter of understanding, I guess. Or expiation. I was a reluctant colonial warrior myself once. Centuries from now, when the history of these times are finally fully understood, they will be understood in terms of exploitation and greed.
  • Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) is a new film from Istanbul director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys).  On the surface a “where is the body buried”  film. The description indicates to me that I’ll have to pay close attention, so I’ll need to get my sleep (yeah right!).

The Discovery programme is the place for what TIFF calls “new and emerging” directors. And when it comes to film, I’m a director guy first, and an actor guy second. I appreciate great acting, but often the great actors are only as good the directors they work with. I have selected two films from this Programme.

  • I always try to fit in one animated feature, and if it’s of the rotoscope variety (and in black and white to boot), all the better. Alois Nebel (ironically I am also seeing a film titled Albert Nobbs. Both AN, get it?) is the work of Tomas Lunak. It’s supposed to hearken back to the Czech films of the sixties. Remember when those were all the rage? Maybe you don’t….Closely Watched Trains ? Jiri Menzel? Alois is actually a dispatcher at a train station in the Sudeten.
  • The second film meets another requirement of my festival going: a sword play film from either Japan or China. Here, The Sword Identity is being screened from Beijing director Xu Haofeng. More than a martial arts film, The Sword Identity is “more a philosophical and historical essay cast on the screen.” This one sounds absolutely delicious.

25 August, 2011

The Festival shows films in several Programming Categories. This year there are eighteen such. These are tweaked somewhat from year to year, but not all that much. I enjoy one of the newer ones called City To City. This is a category that brings films from a specific global city each year. This new category was unveiled with the ’09 Festival, and focused on Jerusalem in its first year. Last years was excellent as the fascinating city of Istanbul was focused on.

This years City focus is Buenos Aires and the festival is presenting eleven films. Not all of the films in this group are “new”. The programmers invariably include some of the classics of the country/city in focus. Of the eleven films, I’ve selected these three:

  • Vaquero (Cowboy). Juan Minujín’s debut feature is about a struggling actor who hears of a Hollywood director that will be filming a Western in the pampas. A send-up of the film industry itself, as well as a look at the hegemony of North American “culture”.
  • Pompeya. Another debut feature, this one by a female director, Tamae Garateguy. Interestingly, this seems a companion piece with Vaquero. Again, the director also lambastes the Buenos Aires film industry, but her other target is not Westerns, but Gangster films. It’ll be an interesting comparison.
  • Invasión (Invasion) is a 1969 film from director Hugo Santiago. The original screenplay was co-written by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, then further adapted by the director. The programmer calls this black and white classic an Argentine Alphaville.

Another Programme is called Mavericks, billed as “intimate conversations” with (mostly, but not exclusively) artists connected to the film industry. I don’t really attend film festivals to watch ‘talking heads’, but if the ‘talking head’ is Tilda Swinton, then I change my mind. Tilda has, for one thing, one of the most fascinating faces in all of film – or anywhere. And her roles have almost universally been a demonstration of a boldness that a film fan cannot help but admire. And I do admire Tilda Swinton. She does have a film here at the festival, We Need to Talk About Kevin, but I couldn’t get this one to fit into my schedule. With two of the films in my City to City selections being related to the subject of criticism of the state of cinema, I can’t wait to hear what Ms. Swinton has to say about the subject.

24 August, 2011

Tuesday, my Festival book arrived along with the selection selection booklets and the complete film schedule, So Tuesday and tonight I’ve been diligently working up my schedule. I’ve selected 30-Films and I sending back toe selection books tomorrow (they need to be there no later than Monday. Then all purchasers go through a lottery process for first choices. THis is one way of saying I may have selected mu films, but there is no guarantee that you’ gte everything you asked for. Second choices are encouraged. I’m posting the films I selected, and over the next few days amplify a bit on the films themselves:

A Dangerous Method
Albert Nobbs
Almayer’s Folly (La Folie Almayer)
Alois Nebel
Mr. Tree
Once Upon A Time in Anatolia
Sleeping Beauty
The Sword Identity
The First Man
The Hunter
The Lady
The Moth Diaries
The Woman in the Fifth
Tilda Swinton
UFO in her Eyes
Union Square
Violet & Daisy

16 August, 2011

Most (but not all) of the rest of the films were named today, including the Contemporary World Cinema Program, Visions and the rest of the Galas and Special Presentations films. Twenty-three days left and getting close to the full slate of films. The complete and final list is scheduled to be released next Tuesday. I should get my Program book and schedule to make selections early next week.

Film selection is a function of desire and availability and scheduling. Sometimes, films have to eliminated even though there are two that you really want to see. I may have mentioned some of these before and forgot. That only means they have attracted my eye. Twice.

  • Billy Bishop Goes to War ~ Barbara Willis-Sweete directed this filming of the long running two man show. If it came it, I wouldn’t mind seeing this at all.
    • Bonsái ~ Cristián Jiménez directed this Chilean film that “celebrates love, literature and botany”. Nice combo
    • Death for Sale ~ Faouzi Bensaidi. Set in Morocco, this is a noir jewelry heist film.
    • Extraterrestrial ~ Nacho Vigalondo directed this film from Spain. Waking up to an alien invasion? I’m in. The Spanish really know how to do these types of films.
    • Future Lasts Forever ~ Gelecek Uzun Surer. From Turkey. I rarely go wrong with a film from Turkey
    • Gypsy ~ Martin Šulík. This one comes from Slovakia about a young Romani boy. The prospect of Gypsy music reels me in to this one.
    • Heleno ~ José Henrique Fonseca directed this Brazilian film about a real life footballer in the 40’s. T tale of the rise and fall of a sports star. Who knew?
    • Hotel Swooni ~ Kaat Beels in a directorial debut from Belgium. “Living a lie” and “lurking beneath the surface”. I’m just a bit intrigued.
    • Juan of the Dead ~ Alejandro Brugués unveils his second feature film. Zombiese in Cuba? Check out this blurb: “Fast, fun and hilarious, Alexander Brugués’s 2nd feature film, Juan of the Dead, gives a decidedly Cuban touch to the zombie genre when an outbreak hits the island on the anniversary of the revolution. Juan and his friends are determined to conquer the un-dead, reported by the government as being unruly Americans continuing their quest of undermining the regime. Brugués’s fresh take on the genre is both hilarious, and politically acute.”
    • Two years ago I had the great pleasure to see two films by a young Chinese writer/director by the name of Xiaolu Guo. These were brilliant films and I’ve been looking for more by her since. Finally. UFO in her Eyes. The executive producer is Fatih Akin by the way. Really looking forward to seeing this at all costs. So far this would be my #1 priority.
    • Coriolanus ~ Ralph Fiennes directs and acts in the first ever screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.
    • Countdown ~ Huh Jong-ho. This film from Korea looks to be highly entertaining.
    • The First Man ~ Gianni Amelio. Based on a novel that Albert Camus was working on when he died suddenly.
    • Sleeping Beauty ~ Julia Leigh. Not only is there a film based on one of Julia Leigh’s novels (The Hunter), but here she has written and directed a film that is “bold take on the Sleeping Beauty fable”
    • Intruders ~ Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Another Spanish psychological horror thriller. This one with Clive Owen.
    • Mausam~ Pankaj Kapur. One Bollywood film at the fest is always a good thing.
    • Melancholia ~ Lars von Trier. So should I see this after the Bollywood or before? Quite a cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling
    • The Moth Diaries ~ Mary Harron. Vampires at an all-girls school. Whoo-hoo.
    • The Skin I Live In ~ Pedro Almodóvar.  Can it really have been 21 years since Antonio Banderas teamed up with Pedro Almodovar? Yep! Here it is. On my must

13 August, 2011

Surfing through films in the various TIFF programs, these caught my eye.

  1. David Cronenberg has adapted a Christopher Hampton stage play (A Dangerous Method) and cast Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, and Keira Knightley as one of their mutual patients. Viggo is always fun to watch (and Knightley ain’t hard on the eyes either)
  2. I don’t think I’ll see this one at the Festival, but they made a film of Moneyball. With Brad Pitt as Billy Beane.
  3. I’ve always respected Jane Fonda (not a particularly popular opinion). In only her third film since 1989, she’s the principal in Bruce Beresford’s Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding. Like the Billy Beane pic, I won’t see this at the festival, but I put films like this in my future DVD queue.
  4. Madonna will be bringing her 2d directorial effort to the festival. Her first film, 2008’s Filth and Wisdom was mercilessly bashed in the press (I never saw it). I (again) won’t be going, but W.E. certainly has an interesting premise: a woman is obsessed with the 1930s marriage of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. It’ll at least be interesting to see the critical reaction to her latest.
  5. I’ve already mention the Thai film Headshot. But the more I see of it, the more sure I am that I have to see this one.
  6. Having just finished The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock, this one caught my eye. It’s a maybe. Here’s the blurb from TIFF: A young teen is taken under the wing his mother’s alpha male boyfriend and in a mix of misdirected hero worship and terror, becomes an accomplice to a spree of torture and murder in this brutal and grim dramatization of a real life serial killing spree in Australia.
  7. The great Wim Wenders is bringing a documentary on choreographer Pina Bausch (Pina) that looks to be a breathtaking visual treat. I just might……

Twenty-five days………..

3 August, 2011

TIFF ’11 announced some of the films in its Vanguard lineup today. Films in the Vanguard tend to be more cutting edge, typically from younger film makers. Some of the ones of particular interest:

  • Headshot Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand/France (World Premiere)
    • Tul, a straight-laced cop, is blackmailed by a powerful politician and framed for a crime he did not commit. Disillusioned and vengeful, he is soon recruited to become a hitman for a shadowy group aimed at eliminating those who are above the law. But one day, Tul is shot in the head during an assignment. He wakes up after a three-month coma to find that he sees everything upside down, literally. Tul begins to have second thoughts about his profession. But when he tries to quit, roles are reversed and the hunter becomes the hunted. Can Tul find redemption from the violence that continues to haunt him?”
  • Snowtown Justin Kurzel, Australia (North American Premiere)
    • A 16-year-old is befriended a man named John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer.
  • The Year of the Tiger Sebastián Lelio, Chile (North American Premiere)
    • “Manuel is imprisoned in a jail in the south of Chile, which collapses on the night of the violent earthquake of February 27, 2010. Manuel escapes and becomes a fugitive, lost in the middle of the catastrophe. He returns to his home only to find out that it has been ravaged by a tsunami, which has also taken the lives of his wife and daughter. As Manuel travels through completely destroyed landscapes, he enters deeper and deeper into his own devastated areas. This strange freedom will bring him to face nature’s cruelty and take his own human existence to its limit. Starring Luis Dubó, Sergio Hernández, Viviana Herrera.”

Also announced was the 10-film line-up in the City to City program. Which I enjoyed last year (Istanbul).It gives you a chance to immerse yourself in one city: as seen through the eyes of its filmmakers. This year it’s Buenos Aires.

  • Caprichosos de San Telmo  Alison Murray, Argentina/Canada (World Premiere)
    • A portrait of the working-class musicians and dancers of Buenos Aires’s San Telmo neighbourhood, who have channeled the city’s many cultural influences into the street performance called Murga.” My feet are popping already, my head filling with la musica.
  • The Cat Vanishes  Carlos Sorin, Argentina (International Premiere)
    • A woman picks her husband up from the sanatorium. Is he cured? Her husband seems happier, friendlier, Can it be? Then the cat disappears.
  • Crane World  Pablo Trapero, Argentina (from 1999)
    • Said to be a seminal work in the Argentine New Wave of the 2000s
  • Fatherland  Nicolás Prividera, Argentina (World Premiere)
    • This one intrigues me. A film which “explores Argentina’s fractious modern history through the words of writers – both founding fathers and oppositional voices – who lay buried in Buenos Aires’s famed Recoleta Cemetery.”
  • Pompeya  Tamae Garateguy, Argentina (North American Premiere.
    • This one seems like a bit of genre busting where a new filmmaker in her first feature takes on the Buenos Aires filmmaking scene and the gangster film. I’ve seen some great new women filmmakers at  TIFF. Maybe this is another.

Midnight Madness films were also announced. It almost more fun listening to the audience reactions, and watching the viewers after in the  Q&A’s. Most attendees are real  schlock-gore-horror aficionados and arguably know more about the genre they love than most of the film-goers at the festival. It’s always a hoot.

  • The Raid Gareth Evans, Indonesia (World Premiere)
    • A  SWAT team, a drug lord, stranded on the 6th floor, sounds like a martial arts kicker
  • Sleepless Night Frederic Jardin, France/Belgium/Luxembourg (World Premiere)
    • Sounds like it could be fun. A cocaine heist, a double kidnapping, the packed dance floors and dark corridors of the labyrinth-like club.
  • Smuggler Katsuhito Ishii, Japan (World Premiere}
    • “After his dreams of becoming an actor go nowhere, 25-year-old Kinuta does nothing but gamble every day. Broke, framed and now neck-deep in debt, he is recruited as a smuggler – an underground mover of everything from dead bodies to illegal goods – but one cargo triggers the rage of a psychotic gangster hell-bent on revenge. By acclaimed cult director Katsuhito Ishii of Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl and Funky Forest fame”. This will be a tough ticket. Ishii is a fave at MM.

Several documentaries were also announced in the Reel to Reel and Masters programs.  A big day for announcements.

28 July, 2011

After viewing a clip of the new Nicolas Winding Refn film Drive, USA (Canadian Premiere) (it looks very suspenseful) I’m adding this one hopefully. Although Refn is without Mads Mikkelsen this time around, there is Ryan Gosling fresh off his wonderful Blue Valentine performance. Gosling has another here, The Ides of March directed by George Clooney (yes, he’s in it), USA (North American Premiere). Also starring Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Great cast, but I’ll await stateside release on this one.

27 July, 2011

The first 53 films were announced today. Here are some highlights:

  • The Ides of March George Clooney,USA (North American Premiere). The Ides of March takes place during the frantic last days before a heavily contested Ohio presidential primary, when an up-and-coming campaign press secretary (Ryan Gosling) finds himself involved in a political scandal that threatens to upend his candidate’s shot at the presidency. Also starring George Clooney, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I want to see this, but I tend to wait for US films to come stateside. And a Clooney one won’t belong in coming. You know how that goes.

  • The Lady Luc Besson, France/United Kingdom (World Premiere). This is the story of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband, Michael Aris. Could be good. Seems like something of a departure for Besson.
  • Take this Waltz Sarah Polley, Canada (World Premiere). Written and Directed by Sarah Polley. We love her here and they REALLY love her in Canada. Could be a tough ticket.
  • 11 Flowers Wang Xiaoshuai, China/France (World Premiere). “Wang Han, an 11-year-old boy in the province of Ghizhou, is confronted by a runaway murderer hiding in the woods. The wounded man persuades Wang Han to help him out. Both frightened and fascinated, Wang Han and his friends promise to keep the man’s whereabouts secret from the police even when strange things begin happening at school.” This one sounds interesting, yeah?
  • 360 Fernando Meirelles UK/Austria/France/Brazil (World Premiere). I like the sound of this one and a good cast to boot. “Inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s classic La Ronde, in 360, director Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Peter Morgan combine a modern and dynamic roundelay of original stories into one, linking characters: from different cities and countries in a vivid, suspenseful and deeply moving tale of love in the 21st century. Stars Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Rachel Weisz and Ben Foster.
  • Americano Mathieu Demy, France (World Premiere). The synopsis didn’t grab me, but the pairing of Selma Hayek and Geraldine Chaplin intrigues me. I’ve often thought of GC  as underappreciated.
  • Anonymous Roland Emmerich, Germany (World Premiere). Anonymous speculates on an issue that has for centuries intrigued academics and brilliant minds, namely:  who actually created the body of work credited to William Shakespeare?  With Vanessa (as in Redgrave).
  • The Hunter Daniel Nettheim, Australia (World Premiere). From the book by Julia Leigh
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene Sean Durkin, USA (Canadian Premiere)
  • The Skin I Live In Pedro Almodóvar, Spain (North American Premiere). A new Almodovar  is always a must see, and with Banderas, I’m all in.
  • Twixt Francis Ford Coppola, USA (World Premiere). “A writer with a career in decline arrives in a small town as part of his book tour and gets caught up in a murder mystery involving a young girl.” Stars Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning and Ben Chaplin. Who knows what happens to Coppola films these days. I might give this a look see.
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin Lynne Ramsay, United Kingdom (North American Premiere). “A suspenseful and psychologically gripping exploration into a parent dealing with her child doing the unthinkable, We Need to Talk About Kevin is the highly-anticipated third feature from director Lynne Ramsay and features a tour-de-force performance by Tilda Swinton.” You didn’t have me at “a suspenseful”, but you did have me at T-I-L-D-A!!
  • Woman in the Fifth Pawel Pawlikowski, France/Poland/United Kingdom (World Premiere). “American writer Tom Ricks comes to Paris desperate to put his life together again and win back the love of his estranged wife and daughter. When things don’t go according to plan, he ends up in a shady hotel in the suburbs, having to work as a night guard to make ends meet. Then Margit, a beautiful, mysterious stranger walks into his life and things start looking up. Their passionate and intense relationship triggers a string of inexplicable events… as if an obscure power is taking control of his life. Stars Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas.” Rule # 1: Get tickets to all KST films.

4 July, 2011:

Purchased my packages today (no films announced yet). I’ll be viewing 30 films over the course of my time at the fest (and 1 baseball game!!). 66 Days to the opening.

16 June, 2011

The Festival announced their ticket package sale dates on Tuesday (no films announced yet). July 4th is the date that I can make my purchase. I’ve noted the date. Festival starts in 84 Days.

7 May, 2011:

Still coming down from this years Tribeca Film Festival, after hemming and hawing about not going this year (maybe San Sebastian?), I decided to lock myself in. Hotel, flight. Everything. I even purchased a Red Sox-Blue Jays ticket for the 8th of September. Both teams will probably be fighting it out for last place at this rate. Oh, well. Tribeca was a little pricey this year as compared to Toronto, but partly that was because I waited a bit too long to make my accommodations. I’ve avoided that with this year’s TIFF. 124 days and counting, baby!

28 responses to “TIFF ’11

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  3. Anonymous

    This year’s fare looks uncommonly good. Can’t wait to read your posts.

  4. Ooops. Sorry. Forgot to log in.(Pat)

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  7. Pingback: Must see TV, uh I mean films | Chazz W

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  18. Wow. That sounded like an embarrassing (for the fest committee) start. Hope things get better. I’ll be checking in and following you vicariously and daily. Are you posting from your iPad?

  19. Hey, Pat. I make notes on my i-Pad but I’m not comfortable enough typing long posts on it. I use my netbook for that. I lost internet access yesterday, but have it back this morning. See ‘ya!

  20. Pingback: TIFF 2011 Day 2 | Chazz W

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  25. Thanks, Charlie. I enjoyed this. Have some new titles to put in the Netflix queue now.

  26. Pingback: TIFF 2011: TIFF Awards and my TOP FIVE | Chazz W

  27. Pingback: Tiff 2011: Notes on Six more Films | Chazz W

  28. It’s great that you are getting ideas from this post as well as from our discussion made here.|

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