Film Responses

History and Politics

These Girls is a difficult film to watch. Rached avoids over-sentimentalizing her subject, and, frankly, the girls have been hardened to the point that, at times, I found it difficult to muster the appropriate sympathy for them. (I say that with embarrassment.)

Three for Three

Perhaps it’s simply the inevitable result of paring down my schedule from 44 films in 2005 (only 35 of which I actually saw) to “only” 33 this year, but my sense while researching and planning over the past weeks was that TIFF’s lineup is stronger, top to bottom, this time around than in previous years.

Collins and Jost

What most interests me — and what I lack a vocabulary to properly describe — is the direct connection between the form and political content in both of these films. That brief frisson that occurs when the pose drops — when a person who lives in an image-marketed and -mediated culture suddenly finds herself set adrift in the semiological flux — that moment, I think, is an instance of political resistance.

Birth (2004)

Anna so quickly and so easily falls in love with the young Sean not because he’s a manifestation of her dead husband but because he so effortlessly performs a role that is wholly the work of Anna’s imagination. She has conjured an idealized version of Sean through the magical incantation of her love letters.

Code Unknown (2000)

“People’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway,” Evans tells us, but why should we believe him? I’m not sure that I do, and Haneke almost certainly doesn’t.

The Human Stain (2003)

But the adaptation of a written text to film also necessarily foregrounds the authority of images, imposing specificity on what an author might have chosen to describe more generally. I was surprised, for example, to find myself suddenly moved by an image of the small boxes in which Faunia stores the ashes of her dead children. In the novel, surprisingly little emphasis is placed on the ashes; Roth does not make of them an excuse for one of his patented ten-page diversions.

Showgirls (1995)

I can’t seem to find it now, but one of my all-time favorite Onion headlines is something like, “Area Man No Longer Able to Enjoy Ironically.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Having already proven his deftness with coming-of-age stories, Cuaron (along with screenwriter Steven Kloves) understands that all the sound and fury of big budget spectacle signifies little unless it’s in the service of character, and so, here, the novel’s 400+ pages are neatly trimmed to show a single but significant stage of Harry’s development.

Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)

When I was aware of Winterbottom’s mise-en-scene at all, I was frustrated by its haphazardness — odd cuts are scotchtaped together by forced music cues, the camera jumps too often into the subjective perspective of unimportant characters (an after-the-fact narrative justification for Winterbottom’s use of a hand-held, I suspect), and the central story gets lost in the noise of several side-plots.

Beau Travail and Britten’s Billy Budd

But the emotional effect of the music — on me, at least — is anything but ironic. In true Melvillian fashion, this is an epic battle of Drama and Meaning, the most epic battle, in fact, if we recall our fuzzy memories of the Christian symbolism that permeates Billy Budd. Granted, Denis strips away most of those symbols, but the central conflict of the film remains mostly unchanged.

You’re Tearing Me Apart!

Or, a few words about Nicholas Ray’s Born to be Bad (1950) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

In a Lonely Place (1950)

What she whispers to him is less important than the unexpected moment of silent intimacy shared between these two lovers in a crowded, noisy room. The whole film is in that image — Dix bowing his head to her as a gesture of trust; Laurel closing her eyes in hope of love, then opening them to the sight of a detective entering the room.

I Am a Sex Addict (2005)

In the opening shot, Zahedi addresses the camera directly, introduces himself as Caveh, and tells us that for many years he was a sex addict. His film is a frank, neatly-plotted, and curiously moving recreation of those years. It’s also incredibly transgressive and very, very funny. Quite a balancing act.

Le Temps qui reste (2005)

I hadn’t planned to write about Le Temps qui reste, but then, while typing up notes this morning, I tripped over this line from E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel: “My sister and I can never inflict total damage — that is the saving grace. The right to offend irreparably is a blood right.”

Un Couple parfait (2005)

Look closely at the image above. It’s Un Couple parfait in miniature — a story told in body language.

And Then There Were None

A friend’s line last year was, “Thank God there are no more movies. I wish there were more movies.” That about sums it up, I’d say. A last batch of first impressions.

Movies, They’re Everywhere, Man. EVERYWHERE!

Last Thursday, Girish introduced me to a friend of his, a Toronto native who had just returned from Montreal, where he had seen 54 films at that festival. He had another 45 tickets in hand for TIFF. I don’t get it. I just left my 31st film (I think), and I’m exhausted. Completely.

Losing Touch with Reality

I haven’t decided if the quality of films is improving or if I’m simply developing calluses to sentimentality and failed ambitions, but I’ve seen several good films (though few great ones) since my last update — and not a dud in the lot.

The Very Best Intentions

After three days, 14 films, a brilliant Sufjan Stevens concert, several fantastic meals, and too little sleep, I’ve abandoned my ambitions of blogging a brief capsule review of everything I see. There’s too little time, and I don’t want my TIFF experience to be hampered by blog guilt. Instead, here are some brief comments — first impressions and unsupported opinions, mostly.

A Few Words on . . .

Week in Review: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, John Vanderslice, DeLillo, Hornby, Jarmusch, and The Battle of Algiers

Week in Review

With apologies to Nick Hornby. While reading The Polysyllabic Spree, a collection of his “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns from The Believer, two things occurred to me.

Dreaming of Movies

I had my first TIFF-related dream last night. It was kind of like that dream where you show up for a final exam after skipping class all semester, except that, instead of sliding into a strange classroom, I was wandering around Toronto with no tickets because I’d forgotten to submit my out-of-town form. I woke up feeling anxious.

The Great Films, Part 1

In a deliberate effort to beef up my cinephile cred, lately I’ve been loading my GreenCine queue with selections from the list of 1,000 Greatest Films compiled by the folks at They Shoot Pictures.

Short Takes

Some recent viewings: Notre Musique, The Best Years of Our Lives, Sunrise, Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)

How would the tone of the film change, for example, had she included reports from the crime scene or interviews with his wife’s surviving family? Instead, we are offered only one quick glance at a photo of the woman who later would be brutally murdered, and a few fond remembrances of her from Harvey’s friends.

Slacker (1991)

Linklater, perhaps more than any other contemporary filmmaker, is alive to the potential and the basic human value of the men and women who walk in and out of his films. And he seems to have a particular fondness for the folks who live on the margins, whether by choice or necessity.

Chocolat (1988)

Reviewers who have deemed “unnecessary” the framing device involving the adult France have completely misread Chocolat, I think. While there is much to recommend in the film—Agnes Godard’s cinematography, the many fine performances, and Denis’s typically seductive pacing, to name just a few—Denis’s handling of the film’s subjective perspective is what differentiates this film from other earnest and well-intentioned examinations of racism and/or colonialism.

The Skywalk is Gone (2002)

The Skywalk is Gone is like a little gift to all of us who have followed Tsai’s career, and I’m thrilled that Wellspring included it on the DVD release of Goodbye, Dragon Inn.

Tarnation (2004)

Look closely at the image I’ve posted above. Mother and son. Finally at rest. Finally at peace. It’s one of Tarnation’s closing images and also one of its most poignant. A glimmer of hope. Love among the ruins. But here’s the thing: the scene is staged.

Friday Night (2002)

Joanna tells me — and she’s told me this many times over the years — that she fell in love the first time we held hands. I couldn’t imagine what she meant. Men, in my experience at least, seldom consider hands. Or, we consider them only when they’re noticeable — scarred, chewed, ornamented by loudly painted nails. Even then, though, we offer only a passing glance and a quick, rarely-conscious judgment. To really consider a hand demands a certain intimacy, I think. We’re allowed to stare at faces, encouraged even to maintain eye contact during public conversations, but to really look at a hand (or the place where a neck meets a shoulder or the back of a knee) is taboo outside of a bedroom (metaphorically speaking).

9 Songs (2004)

“It’s claustrophobia and agoraphobia in the same place, like two people in a bed.” Matt (Kieran O’Brien) delivers this line in voice-over after the fact — after his ex-girlfriend Lisa (Margot Stilley) has returned home to America and after he has returned to Antarctica, where he is researching glaciers.

Little Sky (2004)

Like a Frank Norris or Theodore Dreiser novel, Little Sky drives steadily toward its inevitable, and inevitably dark, conclusion.

Moolaade (2004)

Sembene introduced his film by reminding his mostly white, mostly Western audience that Africa — the entire continent, its nations, its governments, and its people — is experiencing a period of unprecedented transition. There was no moralizing or condemnation in his tone, not even a suggestion of the catastrophic crises and genocides that fill the back pages of our newspapers. Africa is in transition, he told us, and this film is about that transition.

Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow (2004)

Angelopoulos introduced his latest with very few words. It is to be the first of three films about the life of a Greek woman who manages to survive the 20th century, and its concern is “the human condition.”

Schizo (2004)

Omarova’s debut takes its title from a nickname given to the main character. Schizo (Olzhas Nusuppaev) is 15 years old and a bit slow; his classmates abuse him and exploit his gullibility. He is soon hired by his mother’s thug boyfriend (Eduard Tabyschev) to recruit unemployed laborers for illegal boxing matches.

Tell Them Who You Are (2004)

Tell Them Who You Are has the best opening scene of any film I saw at this year’s festival. Haskell Wexler is standing in his camera equipment room, taking stock of his inventory for an upcoming sale.

Earth and Ashes (2004)

Days after his village is destroyed in a bombing raid, Dastaguir (Abdul Ghani) and his five-year-old grandson Yacine (Jawan Mard Homayoun) jump from the back of a pickup truck and take their seats at a desert crossroads, where they wait and wait for a ride to a nearby mine.

10e Chambre, instants d’audiences (2004)

During the screening of 10e Chambre, instants d’audiences, I was quite disappointed by the film, but even then I knew that my disappointment was with the audience rather than with the film itself.

3-Iron (2004)

Jae Hee plays Tae-suk, a young man who breaks into homes, prepares meals, bathes and naps, then repays the homeowner’s generosity by performing small acts of kindness: washing clothes, repairing broken electronics, and the like.

Childstar (2004)

I decided to see Childstar mostly for the opportunity to hear McKellar introduce it — I’ve been a big fan since first seeing him in Atom Egoyan’s Exotica — and his introduction set up the best laugh of the morning.

My Summer of Love

My Summer of Love received a lot of “buzz,” as they say, in Toronto, and I would guess that most of it was generated by Press’s performance, which is a lot of fun to watch.

Nobody Knows (2004)

After Life is one of my favorite films of the past five years, so for that reason alone, I was very much looking forward to Kore-eda’s latest, Nobody Knows, the story of four young siblings whose mother abandons them to find work in another city.

Random Musings . . .

On some recent viewings . . . Shame (Bergman, 1968) — Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow star as Eva and Jan Rosenberg, cultured musicians who escape to a rural island when their orchestra is shut down during a war. Their new, more simple life as farmers is soon interrupted when their home is invaded, […]

Hour of the Wolf (1968)

Hour of the Wolf is Ingmar Bergman’s vampire film. Let me repeat that: Hour of the Wolf (1968) is Ingmar Bergman’s vampire film.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Like millions of others, I lined up this weekend to see Fahrenheit 9/11.

Damnation (1988)

Would Tarkovsky’s style, siphoned through another imagination, produce a similar effect? Would any of that strange poetic logic survive the translation? Béla Tarr’s Damnation makes for an interesting case study.

Late August, Early September (1998)

Like, one of Rohmer’s late comedies, the charm of Late August is found almost entirely in its characters (all of whom are likeable enough and three-dimensional enough) and in the smart things they say to one another. They twist themselves in existential knots, struggling to balance their idealized visions of integrity with the muddy necessity: compromise.

Dogville (2003)

There’s little sense in writing about Dogville without discussing its final sequence, and there’s little sense in watching Dogville if you know how it ends.

Calendar (1993)

Made for German television and with a budget of only $100,000, Calendar is one of the most compelling and stylistically inventive films I’ve seen this year.

Lost in Translation (2003)

I really enjoyed Lost in Translation — enjoyed it as much as any film I’ve seen this year. As I watched Lost in Translation, I kept thinking of two other films, and it suffered for the (admittedly unfair) comparison.