Tuesday, October 30, 2012

TIFF 2012

Besides being scandalously behind on my film reviews (I saw The Master on September 22!), I have revealed very little about what I saw at the 2012 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Closer proximity and more financial freedom allowed me to see eight films about this year's festival (meager compared to some who see 40), and it turned out to be one of my most memorable TIFF experiences. I had mixed emotions when the list was released in August, but eventually there were quite a few titles that caught my eye. I was even prompted to buy a TIFF membership after the festival, which will make it easier to see my top choices next year!

In chronological order, a journey through my TIFF experience:

(Saturday, September 8 at Cineplex Younge & Dundas) - Netherlands
Jackie is a Dutch filmed directed by Antoinette Beumer. It is the story of twins (played by sisters Carice and Jelka van Houten) who travel to the American southwest from Amsterdam to help their injured birth mother travel to a rehabilitation centre. Holly Hunter, playing mother and titular Jackie, is a joy to watch, as always, but the film gets lost wanting to be a female road trip story and a story about children uniting with their mother. The story starts well, but eventually finds itself lost in its own mediocrity. Thankfully, however, the film does move well between Dutch and English.

Jackie is unlikely to be released in North American theatres.

Highlight of the screening: Famke Janssen, the sister of director Beumer, was sitting nearby in the audience.

Now, if only we can stop TIFF presenters from ruining the plot while introducing the film!

The Impossible
(Sunday, September 9 at Princess of Wales Theatre) - Spain/USA
The Impossible is exactly the kind of screening I try to avoid at TIFF. I am not interested in waiting in line for more than 2 hours outside a huge theatre (The Princess of Wales, or worse, Roy Thomson Hall) and then getting a terrible seat. I opted for The Impossible because I love the stars, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. The film is advertised as an amazing true story of one family's survival. We watch as parents (Watts and McGregor) struggle to reunite with each other and their children after the Boxing Day Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The film is engrossing and heart-wrenching, but the heart-pounding emotions that produced rivers of tears did not stay with me after the film was over. Watts screamed a lot, and McGregor was seen making foolish decisions. The Impossible is set to open in wide release in December, but the increasingly frequent trailers seen at the cinema are becoming tiresome.

Dans la maison (In The House)
(Monday, September 10 at Elgin Theatre (Visa Screening Room)) - France
Without a doubt, François Ozon's Dans la maison is the best film that I saw at TIFF this year. The film, about a teenage boy's fascination with a peer and his mother, wonderfully mixes voyeurism and melodrama. Claude (Ernst Umhauer) comes from a working-class family. He is obsessed with Rapha (Bastien Ughetto), and more importantly, Rapha's mother (Emmanuelle Seigner). Claude begins writing stories for his French teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), who believes that Claude is a gifted writer. Germain begins to give Claude private lessons, hooked on knowing more about his relationship with Rapha. Germain begins to share  these stories with his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is equally fascinated. Dans la maison oozes with melodrama, and the story and actors live up to its promise. The young teenage boys are clearly the stars of the film, but Kristin Scott Thomas does wonders with a potentially forgettable secondary role.

Highlight of the screening: KST's infectiously affable interview after the film.

Le Magasin des Suicides (The Suicide Shop)
(Wednesday, September 12 at Ryerson Theatre) - France/Belgium/Canada

Sometimes the best has to be followed by the worst. Patrice Leconte's Le Magasin des Suicides certainly fits the bill. It is an animated 3D musical about suicide. The story, based on Jean Teule's 2006 black comedy novel, works well, but it is the added musicality that ruins the entire experience. It certainly does not help that the 3D effects are limited (as proven by a particularly dim-witted comment during the post-film Q&A). There is nothing genius about the film, and even at 79 minutes it often felt torturous. Le Magasin des Suicides did nothing for me. I was nonplussed.

In Another Country
(Thursday, September 13 at TIFF Bell Lightbox) - South Korea
In Another Country is a South Korean film directed by Hong Sang-soo and starring French actress Isabelle Huppert. The film, in both Korean and English, involves three separate stories in which a woman named Anne (Huppert) visits a seaside town and interacts with the same group of people. Only one of those people, a lifeguard played by Yoo Jing-sang, seems to play the same character each time. Anne and the lifeguard have the exact same conversation, in somewhat different settings, during each of the three stories. The film, which is engrossing and thought provoking on the surface, delves too deep into some extraneous conversations and becomes tiring. Isabelle Huppert is an excellent actress and she turns In Another Country into a beautiful film, but it lacks a disturbing amount of content.

Twice Born (Venuto Al Mondo)
(Saturday, September 15 at TIFF Bell Lightbox) - Italy/Spain
Twice Born tells the story of the relationship between Gemma (Penélope Cruz), an Italian student, and Diego (Emile Hirsch), an American photographer. The story is told through flashbacks, as Gemma travels back to Sarajevo with her son, and we see how Gemma survived the horror of the Balkan Wars in Yugoslavia. Emile Hirsch is quickly becoming one of my least favourite actors, and in Twice Born he and Cruz has a disarming lack of chemistry. Cruz, speaking flawless Italian and English, is mesmerizing. The physical and emotional contrast between contemporary Gemma and Gemma of the past is striking. Twice Born is definitely far too ambitious and far too long (127 minutes). I think the fault is in the casting of Hirsch, who like Colin Farrell, often has trouble harnessing his energy.

(Sunday, September 16 at Ryerson Theatre) - USA

Kristen Wiig. Annette Bening. You would be sold, too. But you would have also been disappointed. Imogene has a cliched premise: a woman (Wiig) fakes her own suicide to get the attention of her ex-boyfriend and is forced to recover with her crazy mother (Bening). But lets add her mother's much younger CIA boyfriend (Matt Dillon), her simple-minded brother (Christopher Fitzgerald) and her mother's tenant currently occupying her former bedroom (Darren Criss). Imogene is entirely formulaic and not as funny as it should be (despite some people in the audience, shame on you!). It is far too predictable. I am not sure how a film like this, without a release date listed on IMDB or a Wikipedia entry, could be screened at TIFF.

(Sunday, September 16 at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema) - United Kingdom
I called Seven Psychopaths (a TIFF entry I strongly considered) bloody and funny, but Ben Wheatley's Sightseers is absolutely bloodier and darkly funnier. It features one of the most brutally and realistically violent scenes I have witnessed in quite some time. The story, co-written by stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, follows a simple couple as they travel the English countryside by caravan. Tina (Lowe) is a mild-tempered dog lover who lives at home with her co-dependent mother. Chris (Oram) is a wannabe writer whose calm demeanor belies a strong temper. Early on in their trip, Chris kills an innocent man, and soon Tina becomes just as blood-crazed as her boyfriend. Sightseers is a wickedly fun joyride full of blood and inappropriate laughs that was a perfect ending for my TIFF experience this year.

Let's just hope that next year brings us even more inspired selections and that I have the wherewithal to avoid the clunkers!

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