Friday, September 13, 2013

Juliet Goodfriend: Toronto International Film Festival 2013

By Juliet Goodfriend, BMFI President

This year I had only four days at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and each one was packed with four to six full-length movies and a handful of twenty-minute samplings in some rare free moments. I had trouble with Twitter, so abandoned it. Below are my faux tweets.

Themes this year a bit harder to discern, but one theme I noticed was passion, in its many forms: alive, dead, dying, gone bad. These films are indicated below with a (P) at the end of the film blurb. There were at least four films on “Words”, of which I saw three, indicated with a (W). “No crime goes unpunished” or Aquinas’ “the ends never justify the means” was the final theme of the last two films I viewed, indicated with an (E) for “ends”.

Going to TIFF is work. I am in search of movies to show at BMFI and I look at all films through that filter. “Yes” means we would show it, “No” means we would not show it, and “Maybe” means just that.

Labor Day (d. Jason Reitman) – USA
Would we like to show this? –Yes
Kate Winslet is again wonderful in this absorbing “hostage-romance” film. Tension maintained with rewarding results. (P)

Tim’s Vermeer (d. Teller) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Wealth enables this obsessive inventor to work out the technology behind Vermeer’s art. Very interesting doc, though a bit too self-indulgent.

Le Week-end (d. Roger Michell) – UK
Would we like to show this? – Yes
If only the wife in this 30-year marriage weren’t so sadistic and mean… but that’s part of the uniqueness of this aging couple rom-com. Scenes of Paris sweeten the taste and soften some of the truthfulness of their conflicts. Must now watch Le Weekend of Goddard to appreciate its references.

I Am Yours (d. Iram Haq) – NOR
Would we like to show this? – No
While this exposes the multicultural picture of Norway to some extent, it is narratively weak.

Prisoners (d. Denis Villeneuve) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
A great director and wonderful cast, but a few loose ends in this remarkably tense and a bit too gruesome story mar its polish. (P)

This is Sanlitun (d. Róbert I. Douglas) – CHN/ISR/IRL
Would we like to show this? – No
Not a funny enough spoof on ex-pats in this stylish neighborhood of Beijing. The idea is there, but the execution did not have me laughing—and it was supposed to, I think. What does come through is the arrogance and naivete of westerners trying to make it in China. (W)

12 Years a Slave (d. Steve McQueen) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
A remarkable true story that we all wish were fiction, expertly executed with a superb cast. Should we wonder why an Englishman was the one to bring it to our attention on the screen? It is far better than the trailer, and will be a “must see” for everyone. (E)

Bad Words (d. Jason Bateman) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Light and funny, at last, this spelling-B farce is a good night’s entertainment! (W)

Love is the Perfect Crime (d. Arnaud Larrieu) – FRA/SUI
Would we like to show this? – Maybe
I am a sucker for Mathieu Amalric, architecture, and the alps in winter, but the peculiarities of this thriller don’t quite live up to the setting and the cinematography. (E/P)

Gravity (d. Alfonso Cuarón) – USA/UK
Would we like to show this? – Yes, but not without 3-D
Finally, a film that rationalizes 3-D. Neither the two characters nor the appreciative audience (will) have much to talk about. Here a picture wins out over words (see below movie of similar title). Total immersion in CGI and exhausting.

Enough Said (d. Nicole Holofcener) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Charming and poignant, given the recent death of the male star, James Gandolfini. The naturalness of the characters enrich this sweet, but not saccharine, romance.

Words and Pictures (d. Fred Schepisi) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Why is the part of the eccentric American English teacher given to Brit Clive Owen, who cannot quite hide his accent? Any number of great male actors could have done it. At least Juliette Binoche is playing an artist whose unexplained French accent may make a bit more sense. Am I picky? Yes. This film deals with a wonderful subject, yet it is a bit too predictable and fey. Can’t the battle between words and pictures, fought by newly energized students in a prep school, be enough in itself without throwing in the 12 Step program to save the drunken English teacher? (W)

Walesa. Man of Hope (d. Andrzej Wajda) – POL
Would we like to show this? – Maybe
Poland’s greatest filmmaker combines reenactment and archival footage to explore the motivation and methods of this simple man who did so much to change the world in the 1980s. Worth seeing to remember him and learn what happened (probably) behind the scenes.

When Jews Were Funny (d. Alan Zweig) – CAN
Would we like to show this? – Yes
I can’t believe it, but I got a bit tired of the question, “Are Jews funnier than others?” However, there are enough laughs to satisfy most Jewish audiences, even if the filmmaker can’t quite focus on what his real questions are. Did you hear the one about the thirsty guy…? (W)

Fading Gigolo (d. John Turturro) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Of course we all will go to a movie written, directed, and co-starring John Turturro and Woody Allen (who MUST have had a hand in the directing and writing, don’t you think?) Turturro is a believable novice prostitute. Woody as pimp is funny and slightly embarrassing. His living with a black family and supporting a Hasidic widow are both confusing plot features that may be his idea of a perfect NY story. Sure you’ll go see it.

Wonders (d. Avi Nesher) – ISR
Would we like to show this? – Maybe
Alice in Jerusalem might be its subtitle, and that city is as much the star of this film as the humans who are caught up in a religio-criminal-fraud tangle that provokes giggles if not laughs.

American Dreams in China (d. Peter Ho-sun Chan) – HKG/CHN
Would we like to show this? – Yes
China’s economic success is powered by creative entrepreneurs who, in the case of this movie, are funny and inventive. Their goal is an English language school to prepare millions of young Chinese with better TOFL scores for entry into US colleges. Their friendship survives partnership travails. The choppiness of the narrative is challenging, but the heart of this film is solid. And Christopher Doyle’s camerawork is as remarkable, as usual.

Enemy (d. Denis Villeneuve) – CAN/ESP
Would we like to show this? – No
A great director entirely off his mark. This is a slow moving doppleganger story that looks like a psychological thriller but one leaves without an inkling as to what is going on in the psychology of the character. The entire audience was in the dark, I sensed.

Night Moves (d. Kelly Reichardt) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
A very good tale that proves, as St. Thomas Aquinas argues, the ends do not justify the means. No matter that the environment (water, in this case) may be improved, be wary of your means. What’s wrong is wrong. OK, got the point. This movie brings it to life quietly and with some terrific acting and directing. (E)

Therese (d. Charlie Stratton) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Another case where the crime cannot be justified and the sinners get their just deserts. This is a close adaptation of Zola’s novella and beautiful and poignantly set. Jessica Lange is the strong centerpiece of this cast. It is a costume piece with finely carved characters, great atmosphere, and good pace. (E)

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