Between gorging on films and finding scant time for food or sleep, here are some initial reflections on the films at the Toronto International Film Festival 2012.
Stories We Tell is Canadian director/actor Sarah Polley’s (Take This Waltz) tender exploration of her dead mother and her relationship with both the man who raised her as her father and her recent discovery of her true biological father. Its a hugely compassionate love-letter to her family and a hugely accomplished documentary which spoke in a multitude of different ways to a hardened industry audience who gave the films a rousing applause. I noticed not a single phone or walk-out squeak from the audience during the films whole running time. Magic!
Carlos Reygada’s (Battle in Heaven, Silent Light) gorgeous allusive masterpiece examining marriage, poverty, class, gender, our place in nature and how evil lives daily by our side lying in the most intimate of places. Its been re-ordered considerably after its Cannes debut in May but still seems peculiarly to mystify its many critics. For me it was the stand-out film in Cannes and the new cut here in Toronto doesn’t alter it that radically. Which for me at least, is a good thing. Its a wonder.
Canadian documentarist Peter Mettler may be familiar to some UK audiences from his fascinating, if slightly New Age, doc Gambling, Gods & LSD and his amazing photography on the doc Manufactured Landscapes. Like all his other work this is visually stunning. An interesting exploration of the role, and perception, of time across multiple cultures and places around the globe from a man witnessing the slow volcanic eruption around his North American home to the role of time in Buddhism.
Olivier Assaya’s (Irma Vep, Carlos) delivers a strangely patchy coming of age film set against the background of Paris May 68’s student radicalism with large doses of spot-on teen angst. He follows a young painter interested in becoming a filmmaker as he comes to terms with his own ambitions for the future, his on-off love affair and a state in crisis. Its undeniably ambitious, great looking with a magnificent rock soundtrack and palpable feel for place and time, yet there are sections which drag by as he sketches in the social details as if his audience wont be familiar with what is such a well documented time in recent French history. But overall its a success which surely will have UK distribution before long.
What begins in the shadow of Drive, with Ryan Gosling as a stunt-rider moonlighting as a bank robber, complete with throbbing sound track, builds in structural audacity and character complexity to an examination of corruption and the sins of the father visiting their children in a satisfying thriller and character study with Bradley Cooper stepping up to a meaty emotionally potent political crime thriller with a strong emotional base. Rarely missing a beat, this compelling thriller has ‘awards’ written all over it for Derek Cianfrance, the director of Blue Valentine.
Frances Ha is a witty featherlight vehicle for co-writer and star Greta Gerwig as a her trademark, and perhaps approaching typecast, kookier feisty dreamer trying to make it in New York – or at least pay her rent in the least humiliating manner she can manage as he dream career as a dancer slowly falls apart and she ends up waiting on tables. Easily Noah Baumbach’s most effective and, on its own unambitious terms, successful film since his never bettered The Squid and the Whale, it’s a small perfectly formed and very enjoyable confection – mumblecore growing up – or at least hitting its late 20’s.
Kitano’s first sequel (to Outrage) is an improvement on its predecessor with a less brutal and more elegiac take on his patented Yakuza flick. Shakespeare meets Leone (in the shadow of Kurosawa) as Kitano leaves prison and is drawn back into a vicious duplicitous turf war. A little too much gruff suited-and-booted yakuza barking at each other in slick offices before the stylised action kicks in with a familiar deadpan humour glossing over the depiction of a master gangster returning from the cold to assert his position as a one man maestro of violent strategy. Hmmm sound like a once great filmmaker making a comeback on familiar turf anyone? It’s one for Kitano die-hards who will be pleasantly surprised after a string of miss-fires. But it’s not enough to place him back at the forefront of international filmmaking he once occupied.
Hmmm… where to begin. On paper, and judging by the 6 minute trailer I watched before arriving at TIFF, this promised to be a bloated grand folly equalled only by the Wachowski’s earlier mega-budget effort Speed Racer (which felt for me like being locked in a spin dryer with a face full of E numbers). But instead we got a reasonably faithful adaptation of David Mitchell’s hugely ambitious sci-fi novel taking place across multiple times and space from Cambridge in the 30’s to interplanetary settlers far in future along the way taking in fascist Neo-Seoul, a very funny and British take on a League of Gentlemen inspired Evil nursing home and Americas 70’s nuclear programme. A kind of high octane sci-fi action, rumination on reincarnation and Solzhenitsyn. Its hard to imagine how much this cost to make, how it ever got off the ground, but in its almost 3 hour running time it maintained a momentum and coherence I never would have imagined it could pull off. If Tom Hanks seemed to be in a kind of re-hash of Castaway in his sections, the rest of the film was crazily inventive with an at times dizzying sense of fun. The stand-out performances among many for me came from Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw in what kept reminding me of a psychotronic Any Human Heart. Endearingly bonkers.
What promised from the TIFF catalogue to be Dr. Frankenstein’s Queer lovechild equal parts Broken Glass and Liquid Sky was something of a disappointment. Instead of what I hoped would be a scabrous melee of crazed queer politics and edgy electronica held aloft by the spirit of John Waters, we got a half-baked grindingly dull parade of vagina cliches fused with a lo-rent Rocky Horror Show pastiche. Although while it could be said I wasn’t the core audience for this… I did spot a steady stream of North American queer programmers making for a bid for freedom and the exit.