Posts Tagged ‘Toronto International Film Festival’

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (UK, Sophie Fiennes) I loved The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, a guided tour by Slavoj Zizek of the psychoanalytic dimensions of cinema. Zizek is an entertaining lecturer, and the concept of having him appear within what seem to be the sets of the film clips upon which he is commenting works brilliantly to cause us to reimagine our experience of the films and of cinema in general. I felt myself literally psychoanalyzed by the film. This followup is pretty much a continuation, using the same methodology to talk about how ideology functions. I stayed only for the first hour. The film was becoming a bit repetitive, and I was feeling less patience for the fact that, although Zizek’s insightful readings open up new perceptions, his relentlessly materialist view also closes down others that I find extremely important. Nevertheless I will definitely be seeking the film out to watch the whole thing (and now I also want to watch the first one again).


Zizek in Pervert’s Guide

Stories we Tell (Canada, Sarah Polley) A personal documentary which investigates a well-buried secret about the director’s relationship with her parents. Polley’s off-the-charts emotional intelligence is on full display here, as she gets her four siblings and her father and family friends talking and weaves together their occasionally contradictory stories. She makes extensive use of both real and re-enacted home movie footage, and if I have one quibble it’s that these visuals much too consistently provide literal illustration of what is being said. But this is a thoughtful, moving and courageous look at both a particular family and the stories that all families tell about themselves.


Stories We Tell

The End of Time (Canada, Peter Mettler) Peter Mettler’s perennial quest is the use of cinema to investigate the nature of perception. As with his Gambling, Gods and LSD, which dealt with “transcendence,” he is here nominally tackling a vast theme, in this case “time.” But I find Mettler’s films less interesting on a conceptual level than on an experiential one. He’s a brilliant image-maker, and The End of Time  showcases his most ravishing images yet — indeed you won’t find a more beautiful documentary anywhere – and the editing is so rigorous that every shot shines like a jewel. While the filmmaker’s spare narration is effective, I could have done without the many voice-over comments from others musing on the subject of time, generally with banalities that seemed crushingly obvious next to the poetry and delicacy of the images. Perhaps that was the point. Mettler is less interested in getting us to think than to see.

Blackbird(Canada, Jason Buxton) I contributed to this film peripherally, as a story editor – one of five, according to the credits. So I won’t review it.

Berberian Sound Studio (UK, Peter Strickland ) This starts off promisingly, with atmosphere and style, something I was definitely craving after a day of highly earnest stuff. It takes about twenty minutes to realize that the director has absolutely nothing up his sleeve but style, which would be okay but he runs out of even that pretty quickly and begins to repeat himself to diminishing effect. The wonderful Toby Jones plays a meek, British sound designer working on his first horror film, in 1970’s Italy. The film’s rather clever conceit is that, though it all takes place in the foley studio/mixing theatre, we never actually see the actual film being worked on, we only hear it. The subject of Berberian Sound Studio is apparently intended to be Jones’ gradual mental breakdown. The problem, though, is that you can’t show someone losing their grip on reality if you never establish reality. Worse, the film is virtually plotless – it seems like maybe they only shot half the film, out of sequence, and then had to patch something together with what they had. Perhaps most unforgivably, for a film buff film, it gets many of the details wrong. The actual technical and creative processes depicted make no sense in terms of the way audio post-production took place in the 70’s (or now). (A more trivial point: the film in question seems to be a mixture of Argento’s Suspiria and the very different German Mark of the Devil, a combination that makes little sense.) This was one of those screenings where you could hear the whole audience heave a collective sigh of dashed expectations when the end credits started.



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Every once in a while they let me away from the University long enough that I can immerse myself in the Toronto International Film Festival, which takes place at a time of year that is otherwise academically disruptive. Because I help out the TIFF organization during the year with this and that, I am usually given a pass, but most years it just sits there and laughs at me (plus, it’s not transferable!).

By the time an opportunity rolls around to do a proper immersion, I’m never sure if I’ll get into it. Many years as a festival programmer, and attending a great many festivals as a filmmaker, in some ways eroded the magic. But when I actually have the opportunity to do nothing but attend films, the magic comes back!

Day Zero was a work-in-progress screening of Wiebke von Carolsfeld’s film Stay. I worked on this as a story editor. It was nice to kick off the festival with a film from next year. Not surprisingly to anyone who saw Wiebke’s debut Marion Bridge, her new film is delicate and true, beautifully directed with terrific performances from Aidan Quinn and Taylor Schilling. I will say no more.

After the Battle (Baad el Mawkeea; Egypt, Yousi Nasrallah) This film promised sociological fascination, and delivered more than that. Set in present-day Egypt, it explores the social contradictions exposed but not resolved by the Tahrir Square revolution. The subject is the unlikely friendship between an affluent young female advertising executive who has been radicalized by the revolution, and a horse/camel jockey/tour guide whose business has been destroyed with the collapse of tourism, and who was humiliated on Youtube when he was beat up by the Tahrir Square crowd after riding into them on his horse. The filmmaking is polished, and if the tone is a touch earnestly soapy, this is more than redeemed by winning performances from professionals and non-actors alike. There’s a convincing sense of life filling both characters’ worlds, as the film’s ponders how the chasms of class and values that characterize its society can be bridged.

After the Battle

Kinshasa Kids (Belgium, Marc-Henri Wajnberg) Make this into a TV series – now! The plot is almost non-existent, but the setting – the slums of Kinshasa, which have the post-apocalyptic grit that will probably be missing from Dredd 3D – is stunning. The frame overflows with life, and the eponymous kids, street urchins abandoned by their families as witches, who form a band called “The Devil Does not Exist,” are charming and utterly real. At one level the film hits all the predictable clichés about overcoming adversity, except that the conviction and skill of the performers (including  a range neighbourhood characters in addition to the kids), and the filmmakers’ natural style and genuine and heartfelt engagement with everything in front of the camera, make it convincing, pleasurable, even revelatory.

Kinshasa Kids

The Hunt  (Jagten; Denmark) Thomas Vinterberg is back! He kind of lost his way with a some big international flops, but now The Hunt provides a brilliant matched pair with his debut film The Celebration. Where that emotionally brutal masterwork ripped the lid off a family deformed by hidden sexual abuse, The Hunt goes in the opposite direction, looking at the moral panic of a (similarly enclosed) society ready to believe false accusations of abuse. What’s amazing is how the opposite situations come round to the same ugly shadow projections (in one case on the victims, in the other on the supposed perpetrator – rather like the first and second half of Night of the Hunter: in the first half the community refuses to see what the Preacher is; in the second they form a lynching party). Both films take startling looks at male power and male vulnerability. The Hunt explores these themes with, if anything more nuance and depth, and just as much savagery; though the filmmaking is more conventional, and the film doesn’t convey the same sense of revelation.

Mads Mikkelson gives a quietly explosive performance as a dedicated kindergarten teacher falsely accused of abusing one of his charges. For a while the film skirts with misanthropy, a sense that the plotting is being guided by having all characters make the worst possible decision at any given moment, but ultimately its look into the heart of darkness gains complexity and is utterly convincing.  The combination of themes (primal masculine issues of bonding and initiation, the emotional vulnerability of men as nurturers and the particular nature of male emotional pain, as well as the broader collective issues of scapegoating) with the film’s nominal subject (an accusation of abuse) is startling. And the final note is brilliantly disturbing and true.

The Hunt (Jagten)

Pieta Middling Kim Ki-Duk with his characteristic mix of tenderness and cruelty; the purity of a fable; the poetry of the extreme. A pitiless enforcer for loan sharks is gradually humanized by the intrusion in his life of a woman who claims to be his mother.  The intriguing situation and story are hampered by a weak central performance, and a lack of rigour in details and cinematography, which undersell the richly textured location. (Digital artifacts on the output projected didn’t help.) The story takes on a compelling gravity, and the film has interesting things to say about the nature of revenge, but falls well short of the impact it might have had (in spite of the “tsk”ing of the industry audience at Kim’s more extreme moments).


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