Review: Sarah’s Key

Transcending two different eras ““ World War II France and its modern day counterpart ““ along with a host of global locations,   Sarah’s Key  is a gripping tale of one little girl and the desire of a journalist to connect her to her present-day bloodline. Continue reading Review: Sarah’s Key

Review: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Leading up to this year’s TIFF, one of the titles that garnered the most buzz was Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary   Cave of Forgotten Dreams . Walking an obviously precarious line between genius and madness, Herzog has managed to craft a piece that transcends the documentary to become elegy for humanity’s first artists. Continue reading Review: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Breathless – There is no other

Breathless . The name alone evokes at least a dozen images to those familiar with cinema. And now, as scholars, both of the true academic or weekend variety, move beyond to discuss emerging cinema in far-flung corners of the world or recall small movements, such as the Yugoslav “Black Wave,” it strikes me that many have forgotten a little film by Jean-Luc Godard entitled Breathless . Continue reading Breathless – There is no other

Review: Wavelengths 1, 2, & 5 – TIFF 2010

One of the most interesting, yet least talked about programs part of TIFF every year is the Wavelengths series which features avant-garde and experimental films from around the world. Every year programmers typically create a theme for each series so as to have a point of reference for each piece, similar to the way a curator would in an art gallery.

Below are my thoughts on each of the films in the three separate series that I viewed. I would like to preface these “reviews”, however, as highly precarious. Many different people have many different ideas regarding the criteria in which to judge an experimental film and I am no different. As an admirer of experimental work I am basing my brief assessments on technique and implied meaning as it relates to the theme of the series it is a part of, and of course comments are gladly welcomed.

WAVELENGTHS 1 ““ SOUL OF THE CITY

The first Wavelengths series, entitled “Soul of the City” was by far the most enjoyable of the three I viewed. The camera of the artists in this series is turned on to the urban landscape to showcase the sheer velocity of change and modernity as it ravages these hubs.

Tokyo-Ebisu (Tomonari Nishikawa)

Tokyo-Ebisu is an interesting examination of the hustle and bustle of a tram line in Tokyo. The employment of patchwork (different shots placed within the same shot) creates a mosaic and ultimately offers the theory that these subway systems too are among the non-places that are found within the city.

The Soul of Things (Dominic Angerame)

Angerame’s The Soul of Things relies heavily upon chiaroscuro “” the contrast between light and dark “” to weave a portrait of urban landscapes. What is especially interesting here is the examination of the industrial areas of a city that many regard as not a part of a city at all. Unfortunately the aforementioned chiaroscuro does impede any sense of relating to the piece.

Get Out Of The Car (Thom Andersen)

This was by far a personal favourite of this series and all the Wavelength films I viewed this year. An ode to old Los Angeles by way of montage, Andersen peels back the layers of L.A. to reveal a period of different advertising now long abandoned. The examination of what was once successful areas calls for all urban inhabitants to slow down and actually take in their surroundings to properly understand their small space within the city.

Victoria, George, Edward & Thatcher (Callum Cooper)

Cooper’s frenetic iPhone created film of stills of different facades of homes is an interesting take on the similarity of place. Despite transcending economic barriers most places are still very much the same, some play with the speed of the shots would have been welcomed to break-up the break-neck pace of the short.

Landscapes, semi-surround (Eriko Sonoda)

Sonoda’s piece, which involves a train ride being projected multiple times against a white wall explores the limitation of place. By filming a train ride that has barely left the city, Sonoda reminds audiences that even though a sense of “freedom” may be had by leaving the city, we are merely entering into new places with the same restrictive borders. I can’t say if this was effective as a film, however as an art installation on a much larger scale would certainly convey the artist’s thesis.

Everywhere Was The Same (Basma Al Sharif)

Al Sharif’s slideshow of Gaza after the 2006 massacre of the city frames the artist’s filmmaking debut. Sadly the overall effect in conveying the destruction of the city is lost by way of its pessimism and the employment of a pastoral poem. The poem would have been effective if it achieved in creating the sense of montage Eisenstein wrote about decades ago.

Leona Alone (Oliver Husain)

Leona Alone is the Canadian contribution to this series. Husain uses a series of stained glass panels carefully placed in suburban neighbourhoods to frame his shots. As the suburbs of cities typically faces the brunt of criticism, the positive outlook as the suburban as community and as such beautiful was refreshing, if only leaving something to be desired by a more drawn out exploration.

WAVELENGTHS 2: PLEIN-AIR

Wavelengths 2 takes on a painterly motif exploring the play of colour and light as meditative pieces. The overall viewing experience of these films was not under ideal circumstances for me and as such lead this to being the least favourite of the three series I viewed. There is however one winner within.

Burning Bush (Vincent Grenier)

Grenier’s newest work relies on paint directly applied to the lens to accentuate the colour found in nature. Here a play on focus draws the viewer’s eyes to contemplate the colour presented and how it resonates within. An interesting piece that is best viewed in complete isolation.

Portrait, Teetrinken, Roter Vorhang (Helga Fanderl)

Fanderl’s slow moving examination of of the subtleties of the face recounts a love affair, however one between viewer and the viewed. The reliance upon some emotional connection to the faces presented however leaves something to be desired as frantic editing certainly keeps audiences at arm’s length.

Anne Truitt, Working (Jem Cohen)

The examination into the creation process of Minimalist painter and sculptor Anne Truitt is the focus of Cohen’s work. The 12 minute discussion on the function of art, the purpose of tools and material and a discourse into inspiration makes for a gorgeous viewing experience. Cohen’s desire to not focus on Truitt’s work and instead her personality adds a level of humanity which is sometimes lost in films in this series. A sublime film that anyone can enjoy.

Ouverture (Christopher Becks)

The use of widescreen in Becks’ film Ouverture is fitting in the exploration of an abandoned barn in Normandy. The black and white, low-key lighting of the piece aids in exploring the barn and adding a sense of nature to a fabricated place. Of course Becks’ antithesis of quick panning at the close of the film reminds the audience that human hands have in fact crafted the barn and emphasize our impact on nature as intrusive.

Cinematographie (Philipp Fleischmann)

Fleischmann’s Cinematographie is a reinvention of the camera obscura that allows the viewer to witness the shapes in nature that are typically not seen at the speed of our lives. By speeding up the film these hidden shapes are coaxed out. The film itself was a rather dull addition to this series and could have been done without.

WAVELENGTHS 5: BLUE MANTLE

The mysterious Wavelengths 5, entitled Blue Mantle is not entirely clear in its purpose. While programmers refer off-handedly at an oceanic theme, more appropriate is the motif of death in these ghostly works.

One (Eve Heller)

Heller’s One is a film shot on 8 mm blown up to 35 mm for this piece. This distortion, which originally captured light traveling through a gateway takes on a different form in the new scale. Heller seems to suggest that light can fool us by way of it’s morphing nature. Much like earlier pieces this should be one that is projected as part of a much larger installation.

753 McPherson St. (Kevin Jerome Everson)

In Everson’s film archival footage of tragedy, namely murder scenes, is matched against the artist’s own filming of a morgue setting at the location mentioned within the title. The close-up portion of the autopsy adds a clinical nature to death, but ultimately the film fails in connecting to the viewer.

Slaveship (T. Marie)

Marie’s pixel painting of the famous 19th century work of the same name poses an examination into colour that comprises the piece. The juxtaposition of non-complementary colours is jarring and suggests a a comment about social relations. Any appreciation was lost within this piece which was far too short.

Hell Roaring Creek (Lucien Castaing-Taylor)

The strongest piece of this series, Castaing-Taylor’s work provides a single camera capturing a shepherdess leading her flock across a creek. This film, which is more anthropological (lending to the artist’s background) than experimental is asolutely sublime and refreshing on the palette. The subdued nature of the film moves much like the creek that is its subject and serves as a reminder for audiences to reconsider the pace in which they set their life.

Review: The Solitude of Prime Numbers – TIFF 2010

The Solitude of Prime Numbers might be one of the brainiest dramas regarding human nature to ever exist. Based on the book by Paulo Giordano, Solitude paints an interesting look at human relationships.

The story of Solitude follows three children, Alice, Mattia and Mattia’s mentally handicapped brother, Michela, from 1984 to present day as they move from youth to high school to higher studies. Since director Saverio Constanzo and his editing team chose the alternative to linear story-telling, the narrative shifts time and place quite often to give the audience the sense that despite aging, both Alice and Mattia barely mature from their earlier years. As the separate plots for both Alice and Mattia unfold we learn of crucial moments in their lives which shaped their character and echo the other’s experience.

The approach taken by Constanzo would typically be welcomed, since the plot is simplistic and thin, however, the technique which sets the film apart from others is its major downfall. Stringing together sequences from different portions of Mattia and Alice’s lives is highly jarring and difficult to adjust to as there is no real rhythm to these changes. Ultimately, this off-kilter beat makes the film’s resolution feel lackluster. In fact, it was a relief to get to the conclusion of this film as it provided an anchor for one to properly gauge it.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers is an interesting idea that doesn’t completely work in practice. This seems to be more of a reflection of Constanzo’s methodology for conveying the narrative, rather than that of the source material. This otherwise unique film could have been made easier to connect with by some constraied editing, however, it is a reasonable film with some interesting ideas.

Review: The Debt – TIFF 2010

The Debt was one of a few surprises at TIFF this year. That is not to short the directorial skill of John Madden ( Shakespeare in Love ), or the acting skills of Helen Mirren or Sam Worthington, but there was some expectation that the story of three Mossad agents reflecting on a mission 30 years prior would feel a bit stale.

That said, Madden and company deliver what is one of the most thrilling films of TIFF. The Debt is the story of three Mossad agents who reflect upon a mission 30 years ago to arrest Vogel, a Nazi war criminal. A decent portion of the film is the story of the agents’ mission to capture Vogel. As their plot unfolds the film shifts to the present with Mirren, a now retired agent, who’s story is being retold through her daughter by way of a book.

What has been crafted here, is a film that borders on taking itself too seriously, but given the nature of the material it functions well. Madden avoids the temptation to create a straight-forward action film and instead remains rooted in reality which makes pleasantly surprising. Mirren’s acting, as usual, is strong, but even more wonderful was Jessica Chastain as Mirren’s character 30 years prior. Chastain’s attention to detail in Mirren’s style is quite evident and makes for one of the smoothest transitions seen in quite some time.

Ultimately this film is a smart ride for adults that does not pander to audiences. The sober work is wrapped up quite satisfyingly and does not offend in any way. This is one film that audiences will find their expectations met, if not surpassed. It’s strongly recommended viewing on wide release.

Review: Sarah’s Key – TIFF 2010

Transcending two different eras ““ World War II France and its modern day counterpart ““ along with a host of global locations, Sarah’s Key is a gripping tale of one little girl and the desire of a journalist to connect her to her present-day bloodline.

Based on the novel of the same name by Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah’s Key details one of the blackest periods in French history when the government rounded up thousands of of Jews living in the country to be sent to Nazi concentration camps. The story of Sara Starzynski is fiction against this quite real historical backdrop, but that does not detract from the emotional power it evokes. Again in fine form for the second time in the festival, Kristin Scott Thomas plays Julia, a journalist covering the roundup of Jews that Sarah was a part of sixty years after the fact. As her research goes deeper Julia learns that her soon-to-be new home was actually Sarah’s home prior to the events in 1942 which changed her life. This takes Julia on a journey of personal discovery which brings the American ex-patriate to question France as her adopted home, her family life, and her goals completely.

The acting in Sarah’s Key is top notch, which should come as no surprise . Not only is Scott Thomas especially strong, shifting beautifully between English and French, but Frederic Pierrot’s turn as Julia’s husband is wonderful, as a man who can no longer control his future. The real star, however, is Melusine Mayance who plays the younger Sarah in the film. For such difficult subject material, Mayance portrays the agony of being separated from one’s family so convincingly, that she must be the envy of actors twice her age. Finally, a mention must be given to Niels Arestrup, who despite the minor role he has in the film, is an absolute on-screen force as Jules Dufaure, who along with his wife raise the young Sarah after her escape from the camp.

While this is all fine and well there is a glaring problem with Sarah’s Key . Being unfamiliar with the source material, the ending of the film is faily insufferable. Here the acting and narrative takes a nosedive as Aidan Quinn, playing Sarah’s son offers a resolution with emotional appeal but is dreadful to watch. As a film about a rarely-mentioned era in France’s history, Sarah’s Key is powerful as a whole, however, and worth some consideration upon its wider release.

Review: Little White Lies – TIFF 2010

When tragedy strikes a group of French bourgeois friends prior to their annual summer vacation, they decide to go on with the trip regardless. The nature of these friendships is exposed during their stay, as their personal lives begin to unfold in Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies .

The film opens with the near-fatal crash of Ludo, the loose canon of this well put together group of friends, after a night of drinking and drug use. Rushing to Ludo’s side are humanitarian Marie (Marion Cotillard), hotel mogul and overall stressed man Max (Francois Cluzet),Vincent (Benoit Magimel), a closet homosexual who is secretly attracted to Max, and Eric (Gilled Lellouche) and Antoine (Laurent Lafitte), who are both so wrapped in their personal problems that they cannot see past themselves. Deciding that Ludo requires an extended hospital stay, the group decide to commence their annual summer vacation at Max’s residence with family in tow. Through their day to day lives of rest and relaxation comes an examination into manners, motivation, and what truly matters in one’s life.

Prior to viewing the film, one could have supposed that Little White Lies would be a solid film given the A-list French talent. Each cast member delivers a strong performance, espeically Cluzet as the workaholic Max and Magimel as Vincent, the friend romantically attracted to Max despite claiming he is not gay. The crisp panoramic views of the southern France serve to juxtapose the beauty of the area against the sheer blackness that exists in the souls of these self-involved characters. What makes Little White Lies especially strong, however, is the honesty in which these flaws are revealed within the entire film. If this was a typical American drama about a group of friends, the resolution would have involved sweeping promises to change their being, but Canet’s film merely offers a reconciliation for one’s problems. Viewers may be turned off by this, but the reality is that people rarely stick to their sweeping promises to change.

Little White Lies does not profess to be as deep as I have made it out to be, in fact the issues I have pointed out could be glossed over by many viewers and they could in fact see the film about loss within a group of friends. The chameleon-like ability of the film to suggest different meanings is a testament to the strength of the work. Little White Lies is one of the most enjoyable films of this year’s TIFF.

Review: Even The Rain – TIFF 2010

There is something quite enjoyable about the premise of a film within a film. This form of narrative framing another narrative typically heightens the overall appeal, and in the case of Iciar Bollain’s Even The Rain this certainly applies.

The film is based on the real events occurring in Bolivia in 2000, as citizens protested the privatization of water in the country which saw costs reach astronomical proportions. The underlying narrative then is about a filmmaker named Sebastian (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) who arrives in the country to make a film about the treatment of indigenous people by Christopher Columbus’ crew who voyaged to the New World. Sebastian’s producers have chosen Bolivia due to its cheap labour and as the fictionalized retelling begins the parallels to the state of events in Bolivia becomes increasingly obvious.

Even The Rain is a smart film that raises quite a few issues about South American governments and their disregard of their citizens. By blending together Sebastian’s struggle to create the film along with actual footage from the 2000 riots, it’s clear the injustice that occurred hundreds of years ago has barely changed. Bernal’s turn as Sebastian is a smart performance in this film. Unfortunately, the narrative offers an overly optimistic view of the human issues it presents, making it unsatisfying for the audience.

Review: Confessions – TIFF 2010

Going into this year’s TIFF Confessions was already riding a wave of success as one of the highest grossing films in its native Japan, and one of the most talked about foreign films. Both accolades are greatly deserved for Tetsuya Nakashima’s film which is haunting, captivating and an absolute winner.

The film stars Takako Matsu as Yugo, a seventh grade teacher who opens the film with a startling monologue laying out her plans for revenge on the students who murdered her 4-year-old daughter. From here, the film shifts between the perspectives a number of the students of Yugo’s class, their parents and the two students responsible, known as “˜A’ and “˜B’ as Yugo’s plans unfold.

The fragmented approach of Nakashima’s film may not appeal to a wide audience, as at times it loses focus and confuses audiences; however, the gripping nature of the overall narrative completely makes up for a fragmented telling. Confessions’ dark tone is chilling as many of the parties involved seem indifferent to their role in the crime or the crime to be committed. Nakashima is very careful to take his time to let his characters propel the story and get at the heart of many issues surrounding Japanese public schools as a landscape plagued by prejudice. Confessions should be regarded as one of the most essential films of this year, as a haunting blend of reality and fiction in a uniquely styled piece.

Review: Cave Of Forgotten Dreams – TIFF 2010

Leading up to this year’s TIFF, one of the titles that garnered the most buzz was Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams . Walking an obviously precarious line between genius and madness, Herzog has managed to craft a piece that transcends the documentary to become elegy for humanity’s first artists.

Located in southern France, the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave, one open and accessible by early Homo sapiens contains the earliest form of art by means of cave paintings dating back 30,000 years. Due to a rock slide however the cave became shut off prior to our ancestors being capable of having the means to record the location or any sense of history. In 1994 a team of explorers discovered a small entry way into the cave and since then it has proven to be one of the treasures of human history. Access to the cave is extremely limited due to the toxic nature of the human breath which can erode the paintings which makes Herzog’s brief opportunity to view the caves such a unique experience.

What should be addressed first off is the use of 3D by Herzog for the film. Some might argue that this was gimmicky, however, the director addresses naysayers with a sly reference to the dimension and shape of the walls which contain these paintings as crucial to the design of each piece. The texture provides depth, and as Herzog notes allows for a type of “proto-movie” to be created, referring to the sense of motion that these early artists achieved in their work. It is for this reason that the 3D of the film becomes absolutely essential, Herzog’s camera is not a selfish one, in fact he recognizes the duty he is charged with by having access to Chauvet and intends to make the most of it.

The technical side of the film itself was extremely constrained due to the nature of the filming and as such cannot be faulted on behalf of the crew. Given the layout of Chauvet, visitors are limited to walking or crawling on a small two foot wide gangway with no exterior lighting. As such Herzog was limited to a crew of four who each had to perform a number of duties while filming and this can be seen in the final product as their inability to maneuver means the crew is in most shots. When the paintings are framed on their own however the images are startling and beautiful, especially on such a large screen and in 3D. The high degree of skill of these artists is astounding and it is difficult to believe that these paintings date back as far as 30,000 years, however, radiocarbon dating has in fact confirmed this.

It is understandable that many would regard Cave of Forgotten Dreams as an educational piece and little more than that. Granted it does educate, and as someone familiar with the Chauvet caves due to bland lectures in anthropology classes the film was a breath of fresh air. However given the nature of Herzog he does not craft a mere educational film fit for a museum. Instead he moves beyond the mode of documentary to craft an elegy for these artists from long ago in addition to lamenting over humanity itself. Rather than approaching these artists scientifically with recreations of what they look like, Herzog questions the scientists researching the cave about the souls of these artists and attempts to enter their conscience to properly understand their motivations. Even the postscript that accompanies the film is a poignant piece that might be lost on many. Instead of merely discussing albino alligators that now inhabit the area near the Chauvet cave, Herzog suggests that human evolution is approaching a critical juncture where the collision of different worlds and ecosystems is destroying the unique sense of place only a location such as Chauvet can create.

Overall the technical aspects and material in which Werner Herzog utilized for his film Cave of Forgotten Dreams is utterly perfect. Truly one of the most moving and relevant films of our time it is not to be missed.

Review: The Trip – TIFF 2010

The Trip is a film that could not have failed. With a killer cast composed of the reunited Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and director Michael Winterbottom and working off roles established in 2005″²s Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story , the newest feature from the group is an absolute winner.

Working on an assignment by newspaper The Observer , The Trip is a road movie which takes the audience through Coogan and Brydon’s hilarious encounters in the English countryside as they bicker back and forth. Not surprisingly, a good portion of The Trip is improvised which allows the dynamic between the two veterans to shine and showcases their chemistry which has clearly been fine tuned off screen. Coogan’s portrayal of the jealous counterpart to Brydon’s success (which centers around an iPhone application) is riotous and this is matched by the duo’s attempt to one up each other’s Michael Cain impressions, during which I honestly shed tears of laughter.

Even if Winterbottom’s comments on the importance of friendship are mired in the sheer skill of the two stars, it is not a slight against it, it is merely difficult to get a word in edgewise. That said, in terms of the comedies available at this year’s TIFF The Trip is the clear winner.

Review: Aftershock – TIFF 2010

The separation of a family in after the Tangshan earthquake of 1976 begins a journey that takes place over 30 years, as a the lives of a brother and sister develop without each other to depend upon.

The film begins with a mother’s difficult choice of deciding which of her two children to save after the devastating effects of the Tangshan quake. Opting to save her son, the family reconciles with the loss of a daughter and sister, and proceeds on with a heavy heart that is conveyed in the strong acting turn by the cast. The drama of Aftershock certainly transcends cultural boundaries, and as such it is understandable why this is the highest grossing film in Chinese cinema history.

Director Feng Xiaogang crafts an expansive world that does not detract from the level of personal struggle which fuels the plot. The writing in this adaptation of the novel of the same name is smart and sparse, where facial expression is much more effective. The overall restraint of obvious techniques to express the grief that both the family and orphaned girl experience jumps off the screen. As Chinese cinema begins to take hold, Aftershock is worth investigating to follow the development of its national cinema.

Review: The Call (La Llamada) – TIFF 2010

I’ve said it before, Italian cinema is certainly hitting its stride once again. Writer and director Stefano Pasetto has offered another contribution in the love story genre with The Call which transcends countries and gender in this tale of two women who decide to transform their lives.

The Call is centered around two women, their relationships with men, and, eventually, their relationship with each other. Lea (Francesca Inaudi) is the younger, carefree spirit who is also a factory worker and lives with her boyfriend, but desires something much grander. Much Lea’s opposite is Lucia (Sandra Ceccarelli), an uptight middle-aged stewardess whose husband is bland, but with whom she’s trying to have a baby. Responding to Lucia’s offer of piano lessons, Lea enters her life like a hurricane that is funny, yet awkward to watch. Eventually, however, Lea explains that she has a job offer in Patagonia which would leave Lucia with a growing hole in her soul and Lucia she decides to travel with Lea. As their relationship flourishes in Patagonia, the lives they left back at home begin to dissolve, offering hope on one hand, yet despair in another.

The key to Pasetto’s film is not the story, rather it is the strong acting capabilities of both Inaudi and Ceccarelli in this film. There is something to be said about actors taking their work seriously and that is felt in waves with The Call , as each actress conveys the root of their character, and even more beautifully develops a relationship with the other that feels utterly natural. Granted, the meandering way of telling this story is a slight misstep, but the acting certainly makes up for it.

Considering the wealth of films that attempt to blow-up seemingly small stories about life, Pasetto plays it safe and chose to craft a small film about a small story. Luckily this saves him and the production which allows the two female leads to shine. Certainly one of the better films at this year’s TIFF.

Review: Blame – TIFF 2010

Kudos to Michael Henry’s newest film, Blame , showing at this year’s festival for being a lesson in magic. Pulling the old “switcheroo” on audiences, the Australian director has created equal moments of pure ecstasy and pure disappointment in only a matter of minutes.

Blame is the story of the perfect crime in Australian outback, or what five criminals were led to believe was the perfect crime. Five friends stage a local piano teacher’s suicide attempt as a form of retribution for the teacher’s involvement with the death of a friend. After the event, the world of the friends begins to unravel as their motives for the crime start to surface. With a narrative cloaked in so much mystery, coupled with an opening sequence of breakneck intensity, Blame screamed of potential before audiences had the opportunity to settle in to their seats.

As mentioned, Henry   showcases his ability as a magician by presenting a completely different film once the opening sequence ends. Reducing the pace of the narrative down, dialogue begins to take over which is, unfortunately, one of the weakest points of the film. The influence of a director such as Quentin Tarantino is easily felt in Blame, but not executed anywhere near the level of ability of the accomplished director. This is due in part to a cast that feels unprepared for the vast type of film Henry was aiming for. A film such as this calls for a level of bravado that this cast was not prepared to deliver and the film suffers for this.

Blame is a film that had a lot of potential, but a weak cast and dialogue issues prevented it from being a great thriller.

Review: Barney’s Version

Going into this year’s Toronto International Film Festival the film adaptation of one of my favourite Canadian novels of all time, Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version, was the film I was most excited about. Starring Paul Giamatti as the lovable (to me at least) Barney Panofsky and Dustin Hoffman as Izzy it was impossible to think this film could fail. Continue reading Review: Barney’s Version

Review: Norwegian Wood (Noruwei No Mori) – TIFF 2010

Norwegian Wood is not only the title of the Beatles the White Album cut, but also the name of one of the most celebrated contemporary novels in Japan by writer Hariuki Murakami. Often called the “Japanese Catcher In The Rye “ by critics, the source material is very difficult to adapt to a feature-length film and it shows in director Tran Anh Hung’s work.

It is difficult to imagine why anyone who has not read Murakami’s novel would be interested in the filmic version. Norwegian Wood is the tale of 19-year-old Watanabe who must cope with the suicide of his best friend Kizuki. Two years after Kizuki’s death, Watanabe meets up by chance with Naoko, Kizuki’s former love, in Tokyo. Along the way Watanabe encounters new friends in the playboy Nagasawa and the closeted Midori, all of whom shape the young man’s life. In the film version, however, the treatment of the narrative of Norwegian Wood is handled so superficially that any and all unfamiliarity with the novel would leave audiences confused. Too often the film adaptation skims along the surface of the narrative, while carefully selecting potions of the novel to plunge into with great accuracy, which is a disservice to the original work.

Director Hung has managed to remain to the poetic nature of the work by way of gorgeous cinematography. As a master of words Murakami perfectly captured the essence of a setting and this is matched by fluid camera work and extensive reliance on long shots to display vastness in each character’s surroundings. Another strong element of the film is the smart use of montage to accent flourishes in the narrative. In fact, if Hung’s adaptation had been a dialogue-free film told through montage and music this film would have been a winner. Too often, however, the viewer was dropped into moments of awkward acting that lacked any depth. Performances are uneven and the portrayal of characters fails to do justice to their literary counterparts. This is especially true for Midori, who in the novel read much more outspoken and edgy, while her film counterpart is subdued and and subservient, something that is truly a shame.

Considering the label that is applied to the novel it is easy to see how Norwegian Wood is unfilmable. To judge it based completely on its own merits would result in this being one of the worst films of the festival, but when considered a companion piece to one of the finest novels of the last years of the 20th century it is merely an acceptable work.

Review: Roses On Credit (Roses à crédit) – TIFF 2010

Masterful Israeli director Amos Gitaï’s newest film, Roses On Credit is a film that hearkens back to one of the rarely cited (anymore at least) eras of film, with a relevant tale of the pitfalls of credit while exuding a level of confidence not often seen.

Exploring the post-World War II world of middle-class France, Roses on Credit is the story of newly-weds Marjoline, a beautician, and Daniel, who is attempting to create new strains of roses. As the two attempt to forge a united life with very different goals, Marjoline begins to rack up massive amounts of debt, all in the name of crafting a world that is ultimately a fraud, and the couple’s relationship begins to dissolve.

Gitaï, a graduate in the field of architecture certainly conveys his passion for place and how it is crafted by way of the cinematographic vision of the film. Many times actors seem to be afterthoughts of a sequence which is dominated by following the lines of buildings or having the actors completely out of frame. Additionally, Gitaï offers the reminder of context as an important factor in creating place with many wartime radio reports and radio ads of the period ““ and all at once Marjoline’s materialistic nature feels foolish with the echoes of radio reports on the war from not long ago. Gitaï’s film actually evokes French New Wave of the “˜60s, which is now typically left to film students and scholars to exploit, however the style feels quite natural for this film and is done with a level of confidence that forces one to take notice.

With the nods to the highly influential era, Roses On Credit feels highly refreshing as most, if not all, directors have left this “antiquated” style. This of course works thanks, in part, to the absolutely ravishing Lea Seydoux stealing every scene with both her looks and depth of acting skill. Certainly a classic by a modern-day master, Roses On Credit is not to be missed.

Review: Amigo – TIFF 2010

John Sayles has chosen to focus on the infrequently mentioned American occupation of the Philippines to serve as the backdrop of the turn of the century war drama, Amigo . The narrative of the film itself delves into the psychological war American soldiers wage within a small village where their mission is “to win their hearts and minds.”

The dimensions of war within Amigo are many ““ the village itself has strong ties to Philipino resistance fighters while attempting to maintain peace with its American occupants and a villainous pastor who offers no real allegiance to his “flock.” At the center of the village is its leader, known to the Yankees as “Amigo,” he himself becomes a prisoner to his country, people, and invaders which involves a high level of personal strife throughout the film.

Given the lack of war within this war drama, it would be fair for one to suppose that personal drama would rule by way of strong performances. However this is the weakest aspect of a film that suggested a great deal of potential. Starring Garret Dillahunt as the lieutenant responsible for the village, Dillahunt’s performance is far from being capable of lead roles. His one-dimensional delivery with a strained southern drawl is painful. Similarly the lack of more screen time for the true talent in the film, Chris Cooper as a military colonel, detracts from the enjoyability in the film.

While it should be mentioned that Sayles’ dedication to maintaining a strong level of historical accuracy, it is certainly far from redeeming enough to save this picture. More often than not Sayles style felt too forced in its desire to attain greatness. As a result, what could have been a sleeper hit of the festival has just turned into a sleeper.

Review: 127 Hours – TIFF 2010

Prior to reviewing Danny Boyle’s newest film, 127 Hours , I would like to first off apologize for the personalized nature of the writing which is typically not my style. That said, I feel it is necessary since I am in the minority who did actually enjoy Boyle’s follow-up to the widely successful Slumdog Millionaire .

127 Hours is the story of Aron Ralston (portrayed here by a personal favourite, James Franco), a free spirit mountain climber who encounters two women traipsing across the picturesque Blue John Canyon in Utah. The story, which by now is well-known, is Ralston’s tale of survival and the desperation one undergoes to survive, as he remains trapped in a crevice with his arm pinned under a boulder.

My problems with 127 Hours are not with the story, in fact it is difficult to have problems with a true story. From my understanding, Boyle and writer Simon Beaufoy remained quite true to the story, taking the obvious liberties of much needed exaggeration to heighten the filmic experience. It is this heightening, which translates into a frantic style of filmmaking that is nauseating and jarring, which in my opinion does not do this film justice. Boyle switched viewpoints many times and this detracts from Franco’s capable performance. More often than not I found myself longing for a slowed pace to draw me in, long takes to connect with the gravity of the situation at hand.

Overall I found myself wanting something much more from this film. Yes it does attempt to touch upon the visceral nature of survival especially with the amputation scene, however many directors have done it better, Von Trier’s Antichrist comes to mind in terms of creating a raw image of human suffering due to bodily harm. As such Boyle’s film just left me feeling vacant, but as reviews have shown, I am clearly in the minority.