FEST REPORT Because I'm psychotic, I jammed 22 movies into six and a half days at the Toronto International Film Festival — and was actually pissed at myself for not seeing more. Out of curiosity, I sprinkled in a few prestige pictures: Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley, about the early days of the Irish Republican Army; and Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver, starring a Penélope Cruz so va-va-voomy that it’s almost a relief when another character asks her if her chest was always that enormous.
I knew it’d be tough to top my two early favorites, both detailed in last week’s Guardian: from Korea, monster movie The Host; and from Hong Kong, Johnnie To’s stellar, Sergio Leone–infused gangster story Exiled. Several came mighty close though, including Andrea Arnold’s Red Road — about a woman whose numb existence spent watching surveillance camera footage is rocked when a man with ties to her tragic past happens to stroll into her line of vision. Not only is Red Road exquisitely directed, it features the best acting (particularly from lead Kate Dickie) of any film I saw at TIFF. That’s not a slight against the always-excellent Christian Bale, star of Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn, whose Fear Factor–influenced portrayal of a jungle-bound prisoner of war erases all memories of Batman (but not, perhaps, freaky foodie Patrick Bateman).
Fellow Bollywood fans know a Shah Rukh Khan performance is not to be missed under any circumstances, though committing to the 192-minute Never Say Goodbye meant missing out on a few other screenings in the process. (It was worth it.) The fangirl mentality also drew me to Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, a polarizing work I heard variously described as “Aronofsky’s 2001” and “Aronofsky does Soderbergh doing Solaris.” Yep, it’s a bit baffling — but in a weirdly spellbinding way. Hugh Jackman, you are almost forgiven for Van Helsing.
TIFF’s documentaries were an overall strong bunch. Prickly American History X director Tony Kaye takes on America’s pro-choice–pro-life debate in the nearly three-hour Lake of Fire. Though the film’s most graphic images are (barely) muted by Kaye’s decision to shoot in black and white, the content — especially the interviews with right-wing extremists — is just as shocking. Other top docs: Macky Alston’s The Killer Within, about a nice, normal family grappling with the knowledge that 50 years prior, its patriarch shot and killed a college classmate for the murkiest of reasons; AJ Schnack’s Kurt Cobain about a Son, which takes the experimental approach of layering audio interviews with the late musician under newly shot footage of Cobain’s Northwest stomping grounds; and the more conventional punk celebration American Hardcore.
The fest’s lightning-rod film was Death of a President, a made-for-British-TV faux doc that imagines what would happen if George W. Bush were assassinated. (Before you start cheering, feel the terror of these words: President Dick Cheney.) JFK remains my favorite dead-prez whodunnit, but Death of a President manages to maneuver its scandalous concept into a perceptive take on post-9/11 civil liberties.
One last thing: do I have to give back my film critic’s wings if I say Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhs was my favorite TIFF movie? Because if loving Borat is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. (Cheryl Eddy)
FEST REPORT Navigating TIFF’s public screenings often leads to a heavy bout of queue fatigue. You line up to purchase tickets, to pick up tickets, to get into the theater, and invariably to get into the exclusive confines of the ladies’ room. And then there’s the peculiar indignity of the absurdly named “rush” line: the film is already sold out, so if you want in, you have to take the chance that there’ll be a no-show ticket holder you can replace. And that requires waiting forever.
But being the first to discover little gems makes it all seem worth it: Agustín Díaz Yanes’s Alatriste (starring an español-speaking Viggo Mortensen) plays like Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean if Uncle Walt had done a tour of duty in Gallipoli; the Canadian National Film Board doc Manufactured Landscapes follows photographer Edward Burtynsky on a fascinatingly meditative trip through the industrial wastelands of China; and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century, the perfect companion piece, offers a brilliant, surreal slow boil on urban alienation in an increasingly modernized Thailand.
Of course, there were disappointments too, like Catch a Fire, Phillip Noyce’s well-acted yet underwhelming biopic of South African freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso. And let’s not forget the schlock, like the silly slasher film from Montreal’s Maurice Devereaux. I squinted when the director credit came onscreen, pretending for a moment that I had made it to the TIFF big time but winced at the sight of the movie’s irony-soaked title: End of the Line. (Michelle Devereaux)