Friday, October 2, 2009

Toronto International Film Festival 2009 + Fall Rumblings

A few weeks have passed since the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival came to a close, meaning it’s high time I posted some reviews of the films I saw. Now, as I have mentioned before, I only made it out to a few of the many films that were featured (a mere six), but I enjoyed each one and, overall, was not disappointed. At the very least, I can safely say that while my picks for this year were small in quantity, I was certainly compensated by both their variety and quality. Proceed below to read more about the grab-bag of flicks I sampled this year.

Micmacs à tire-larigot (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2009)

A fuzzy but still-decipherable pic of Jean-Pierre Jeunet at the Q&A after Micmacs

As some can fairly guess from the trailers that are popping up online these days, and as my buddy Bob Turnbull states on his own blog, Jean-Pierre Jeunet delivers in his latest film, Micmacs à tire-larigot, everything you’d expect from his wonderfully unique vision. With Dany Boon leading the way as Bazil, a man who decides to take on the two weapons manufacturers that robbed him of his father and life as he once knew it (the latter via a bullet lodged in his brain), the film is packed with a checklist of classic Jeunet ingredients: quirky characters, screwball situations, mesmerizing visuals, creative cleverness and splashes of stylistic glee. I’d say those anticipating a mix of Delicatessen and Amélie will be fairly satisfied, as Micmacs channels the weirdness, wackiness and dark humor of the earlier Marc Caro-assisted work along with the vibrant color palette (from cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata, admirably meeting the high level of quality set by Bruno Delbonnel and Darius Khondji) and whirlwind tour of Paris of the Audrey Tautou-starring phenomenon. Propelling the film along with boundless energy and crowd-pleasing appeal is a fantastic ensemble cast, most of which comprising the makeshift family of inventors and misfits who help Bazil carry out his payback plan. Each of the actors is a joy to watch, some of them familiar faces from previous Jeunet outings like André Dussollier, Yolande Moreau and, of course, Dominique Pinon; others new faces like Boon, Julie Ferrier as a spunky contortionist and Omar Sy as the perpetually enthusiastic, proverb-spouting Remington. Micmacs sees Jeunet returning to his comedic roots with a vengeance while keeping his recognizable brand of magic flowing strong. It is yet another slam dunk for the filmmaker, and is easily the most satisfying one of the six films reviewed here.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (Werner Herzog, 2009)

Michael Shannon and Willem Dafoe

One of the two Werner Herzog films shown this year at TIFF (the other being his already much talked-about reimagining of Bad Lieutenant), My Son, My Son was executive produced by David Lynch, and it somewhat shows, as if he was on the set whispering ideas to everyone’s favorite German wild man. While Michael Shannon’s impressive portrayal of the haunted, obsessive Brad McCullum fits neatly within the gallery of mad men that populate Herzog’s films, there are also several strange Lynchian touches like the many moments of agonizing awkwardness (hello, Grace Zabriskie), Brad Dourif as the foul-mouthed, ostrich-farming Uncle Ted and such memorable lines as “Razzle them. Dazzle them. Razzle dazzle them!” – inspired by the words on McCullum’s special coffee cup, no less. While it’ll most likely be remembered as a minor work in Herzog’s filmography, My Son, My Son is still an interesting, if ambiguous, character study wrapped in a suitably off-kilter vision of America.

Visage (Face) (Tsai Ming-liang, 2009)

Model and actress Laetitia Casta with Lee Kang-sheng

Not a love letter to the French New Wave so much as a solemn prayer, Tsai Ming-liang’s latest is a bizarre but constantly fascinating work of art – and this is certainly a case where Art with a capital “a” would be warranted. Face seems to tell a story about a (skeleton) film crew struggling to realize a project about the Salomé myth, but its actors play characters that very closely resemble their real-life personae, and there is no doubt that the presence of such legends as Fanny Ardant, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Jeanne Moreau and Nathalie Baye is meant to contribute to the film’s post-modern motif. Sure enough, the shadow of François Truffaut looms over much of the film, and the time that has passed since his death (and the glorious days when the New Wave was still in full swing) is all too strongly felt as Ardant, Léaud and others wander through mazes of mirrors and dark, subterranean passages, playing out a Day for Night relocated to Hades. The assortment of coldly beautiful images and reoccurring elements (reflections, animals, ghosts, water, sexual desire and, of course, faces) certainly give the viewer plenty to savor and ponder in equal measure. Face is definitely not for everyone, but those brave enough to seek it out just may become ensnared by all the enigmas contained within this spellbinding fever dream of a film. I myself am curious to see how it will hold up on a second viewing. Also, it has inspired me to check out another Taiwanese director’s ode to French cinema – Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flight of the Red Balloon. Had Edward Yang lived long enough to make one of his own, I wonder which French filmmaker he might have tipped his hat to.

Les derniers jours du monde (Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, 2009)

Mathieu Amalric and Sergi López

Based on a novel by Dominique Noguez, this film by brothers Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu follows Mathieu Amalric’s Robinson as he searches for Lae (Omahyra Mota), the woman he loves, amidst the end of the world. Through flashbacks, we learn how he met her while on vacation, became estranged from his wife and lost his arm while the “present day” sequences detail one episode (and erotic encounter) after another as Robinson calmly journeys through a world falling apart at the seams. Unlike most movie apocalypses, some traces of normalcy stubbornly remain: people still go to nightclubs, operas and restaurants as resources become scarcer, mass evacuations are carried out and armed troops become more prominent in the streets. The exact cause of the meltdown is never quite determined; instead, we are shown several of its effects such as disease outbreaks, air bombings and, at one point, a perpetually dark Parisian sky. The hysterical behavior that soon overtakes people (suicides, betrayals, anarchy) is truly disturbing to behold, and like Robinson, we can only watch helplessly before moving on to a fresh horror. This unique take on “the end,” captivating story and superb performances by Amalric, Catherine Frot, Karin Viard and Sergi López (who played the contemptible Captain Vidal in Pan’s Labyrinth) are all thoroughly fascinating to watch.

The Last Days of Emma Blank (Alex van Warmerdam, 2009)

Gene Bervoets and Marlies Heuer

This Netherlandish dark comedy has some of the same quirky vibes that run rampant through Napoleon Dynamite, only here they are thankfully put to far, far better use. The Last Days of Emma Blank is centered on a family seemingly trapped in their own micro-universe – a quality emphasized by their house’s situation amid a desolate landscape made up of shrubs, sand and a nearby beach. The titular character (Marlies Heuer) is a merciless tyrant suffering the final stages of a terminal illness. She enforces her will over the rest of the household with an iron fist and the promise of an inheritance, seeing that her every wish is carried out. This makes for an unbearable existence for her designated minions, which include her husband Haneveld (Gene Bervoets) and daughter Gonnie (Eva van de Wijdeven). A prominent subplot involves Gonnie’s cousin Meijer (Gijs Naber), who is romantically attracted to her while she seeks more realistic means of distraction and escape. The rest of the small cast is filled out by Annet Malherbe as Bella, Meijer’s mother and the family cook, Marwan Kenzari as a stranger pulled into the family’s madness and the director Alex van Warmerdam himself as the hilariously deadpan Uncle Theo, who spends the majority of the film acting like a dog. Smoothly adapted from van Warmerdam's own play Adel Blank, Emma Blank is made a great delight by the actors’ chemistry with each other as they make their way through the twisted story scene by barbed, terrifically hilarious scene. This is one well worth keeping an eye open (and praying, if need be,) for a wider North American release in the future.

Toad’s Oil (Kôji Yakusho, 2009)

Eita and Kôji Yakusho

My full review for well-known Japanese actor Kôji Yakusho’s directorial debut can be found at the Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow; here, I’ll simply say that it’s a whimsically concocted tale that dances between over-the-top humor and thoughtful seriousness while packing in everything in-between from heartfelt tributes to childhood to an impromptu road trip across Japan to a showdown with a black bear.

Well, that was TIFF for me this year – and it seems as soon as the fest ended, things shifted into autumn mode in one big hurry over here in the Greater Toronto Area. But even though I’m not a big fan of the cold, I’m digging fall so far this year – the leaves turning and falling, Halloween drawing steadily closer, the yearning for season-appropriate drinks like cider and dark specialty beers (like Hobgoblin, a delicious favorite of mine). Of course, that means my film tastes are also being affected, as I anticipate revisiting Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata and dig the fall color scheme of the trailers for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, which looks, well, fantastic. I’ll also be delving into some horror films before the 31st, including Let the Right One In – a film I know I’m late in getting to, but now that one of my sisters has given it to me for my birthday, I can finally see if it compliments the excellent novel by John Ajivide Lindqvist. Plus, the growing rumblings about Lars von Trier’s latest film Antichrist (which will apparently be coming out in the GTA a little after Halloween – boo) have inspired me to check out Dogville, which I’m very excited about finally seeing and should keep me in the dark, brooding, European and autumn season spirit I seem to have entered. I’ll get to the next entry in my Classic French Cinema Triple Bill series of ramblings soon, but I figure I should venture into some other areas of world cinema first, unless I want to re-name this site Marc’s Big French Film Blog. So, something else – and not French, for a change – will be featured here before too long. As always, stay tuned.

1 comment:

Drewbacca said...

The only film I've seen in this list is My Son My Son - which I disliked right away. Herzog is always hit or miss for me and this one felt like it was trying too hard to be Lynchian.

Shannon was awesome (as per usual), but the rest of the movie was being weird just to be weird. There was nothing to the story and it didn't have anything to say (that I could see). Ultimately pretty boring.