2006 Toronto International Film Festival Journal

Starting Thursday, September 7th (if all goes according to plan) I'll be doing a film festival journal with non-spoiler mini-reviews of the films from this year's Toronto International Film Festival. 

Monday, Sept. 4: 
I learned some valuable TIFF lessons today and had a blast.  Sunday night, I arrived in Toronto two hours late (the AMTRAK train from Buffalo survived the border inspection fine; but then we were held over in a siding three times, total of two hours, for "priority trains and work on the signals."  Hmmm.  Anyway, I got settled and logged into my e-mail and found a message from TIFF that I had received 46 of my 50 first or second choices.  After working late through the night tweaking the list, I came up with alternates for all my open spaces.
 Somehow I dawdled the morning away, and didn't get to the ticket office until about 11:30AM, on Monday, opening day.  There was hardly any line to pick up my festival pass ticket package.  But the separate line for exchanges and changes stretched for about a mile, literally, snaking around the grounds of College Park all the way to Gerrard Street.  It all seemed hopeless.  But I struck up conversations in line, especially with a friendly guy around my age named Cliff (thanks for holding my place a couple of times when I tried to sneak a sit-down on one of the benches, Cliff.)  Finally, about 2 1/2 hours later I reached the ticketing room...and of course I drew a novice teller who was learning the ropes on the computer.  But we had fun; and I exchanged a couple of tickets, tried to get some of the sold out films if they happened to be returns, tried to change some second choice winners with my first choices.  Mostly I won...ended up with 48 films, most of my first choices! 
 So I gathered myself together and walked next door to the sports bar Hoops and watched Andy Roddick demolish Benjamin Becker at the U.S. Open (rooting so loudly that some of the denizens hailed me for my spirit when I left.)  Since I was still in the neighborhood around 5PM (an hour before closing),  I decided to check in at the box office one last time to see if any of my rejects happened to come free.  Imagine my surprise.  No line at all, I was able to walk right up to a teller.  And the two films I wanted to check out had BOTH become available: 10 ITEMS OR LESS and, to my utter amazement, DEATH OF A PRESIDENT (where one recently returned ticket was now available and I snapped it up.)  That avoided the one situation where I was going to have to stand in a rush line before the screening, probably futilely.   Bottom line, I have tickets for 51 films in 50 slots...almost all are first choices (only two second choices).  And I'm stoked!

Thursday, 9/7
THE MAGIC FLUTE  (d. Kenneth Branagh)
Branagh has made a unique operatic film.  Unlike the 1975 Ingmar Bergman version of the same Mozart opera, this is one of those updates...in this case to a World War I fantasy analog, trench warfare combined with castles and magical realism.  He's using opera singers instead of dubbed actors (at least if they weren't actually singing it was remarkable lip-sync).  And most of the film, projected in astoundingly good digital format with fantastic sound at the huge Elgin Theater here in Toronto, combines live action and computer generated imagery to the point that it almost looks like a Pixar animated film at times.  The performances were varied; but the singer doing the Queen of the Night was particularly good, I thought.  I guess I'm just not a big fan of such high culture as opera brought to the screen.  I found parts of the film, well, boring.  But the visuals (which relied maybe too much on swooping long shots from an impossible overhead perspective) and special effects were pretty fantastic overall, and one has to give major props to Branagh for pulling off such an ambitious project (surely his most ambitious since HENRY V).   Still, for me, the film was only partially successful.  ** 3/4

HANA (d. Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan)
I think the Japanese are undergoing a major reappraisal of the Samurai period, noticeably starting with THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI and continuing with this film.  The era is circa 1700, when killing went out of fashion among the samurai class.  The hero of this film is a young man who never quite got the knack of fighting; but was good at writing and teaching children.  The film takes place in a small backwater village, and the sense of authenticity is quite strong.  It's an earthy, pastoral place with lots of outhouse humor and that sort of thing.  The plot centers around the hero's desire to revenge his father's killing - but he lacks the guts to pull it off.  I really wanted to love this film; but somehow it just went on too long with nothing much happening except for the feel-good atmosphere.   ** 3/4

SLUMMING (d. Michael Glawogger; Austria)
Finally a film that I could sink my teeth into.  This is a very unconventional road picture about a pair of rich amoral college students who love to go slumming among the Vienna lowlifes.  One of them pulls a mean spirited prank on a drunken schizophrenic poet that they find passed out on a bench.  The prank goes wildly wrong, and the film becomes an interesting examination of two sides of human nature at extremes.  I've always liked August Diehl, who plays one of the students as a more benign Patrick Bateman (AMERICAN PSYCHO) type.  But it is Paulus Manker as the crazed drunkard who shines here.  There's a scene where he passes out from ODing on alcohol where the light literally goes out of his eyes.  He's a riveting presence who goes from utterly disgusting to weirdly sympathetic over the course of the film.  In the Q&A after the film the director said that Manker was even crazier in real life than he came off in the film, which is just about impossible to believe.  In any case, this was a very involving film.  *** 1/4

I don't know if I'm going to be able to keep up this journal.  TIFF is an intense time of getting around town and standing in huge lines (but it is very efficiently run so far).   We'll see if I can find the time and energy to write these little squibs.

Friday, 9/8
BIG BANG LOVE, JUVENILE A (d. Takashi Miike; Japan)
I never know what to expect from Miike.  I've sworn never to watch another film of his; but it's not the kind of oath I'm likely to keep to.  Hope springs eternal since Miike is definitely a unique talent.  This one struck my interest because of the homoeroticism angle; and it delivered that, plus an intriguing prison murder mystery with several twists and turns.  Shot very stylishly, sometimes super-realistic, sometimes abstract figures against blank backgrounds, the film narrative was occasionally confusing.  It didn't help that I wasn't always able to differentiate the characters.  I wouldn't call it a gay film, exactly.  The story turns on an episode of homosexual panic and there's no graphic sex.  But there was plenty of eye candy on view, with no female presence at all.  Not great; but by far my favorite film from this director.  ***

TAXIDERMIA (d. György Pálfi; Hungary)
There's no doubt that Pálfi has the most unique eye of any director working in film today.   Unlike his previous film Huckle, which had no dialog at all, this film had a more traditional narrative:  three generations of grotesque men, each stranger than the last, in a Hungary set in WWII, the Communist regime and the present day.  The (putative) grandfather was a harelipped, sex-obsessed soldier; the father a grossly obese champion of Olympic class "speed-eating", the son a spindly, misanthropic taxidermist.  Pálfi has fun presenting a series of outrageous images in each of his stories...but as hard as he tried, I just found the excesses amusing rather than horrifying...which meant the film was not working for me on any deep level.  I liked the film; but...  ** 3/4

NOUVELLE CHANCE (d. Ann Fontaine; France)
Once again Ann Fontaine confounds.  Her film Dry Cleaning was just about my favorite film of the late '90s; but since then I've been  less enamored of her films.   This film, however, did it for me.  In some ways it's reminiscent of Mrs. Palphrey at the Claremont, being the story of an elderly lady (here, Danielle Darrieux, still luminous at 88, same age as my mother!) and a younger man, who strike up a mutually beneficial friendship.  It's a fun, feel-good, mature film about arty, theatrical folks.  I'm a sucker for this kind of film;  and Andy Gillet, in a minor role, is an actor to watch for making it big.  ***

KING AND CLOWN (d. Lee Jun-ik; South Korea)
This is an extremely well done Korean historical film in the vein of the Chinese film Farewell My Concubine.  Actually, I think it's a superior film.  It concerns an actual 16th century king, a tyrant who is ultimately deposed.  The king falls for a member of an itinerant troupe of clowns and acrobats whose act satirizes and scandalizes the aristocracy of the court.  The object of his affection is a beautiful boy with skin smoother than his own lady concubine.  The costumes and sets are superb and the film is a delight.  *** 1/4

CITIZEN DUANE (d. Michael Mabbott; Canada)
Another audience pleaser, this one about a high school senior in a small Canadian town who has been the victim of bullying by the mayor's son.  After losing the student body presidency to his enemy, he decides to run for mayor of the town.  It's a trifle predictable; but the kid, nicely played by Douglas Smith, Gregory's younger brother, is quite likable, as is the film.  It's good to see a modern teenager represented as smart, quirky and involved...even if it has to be a Canadian to make it to film.  ** 3/4

Saturday, 9/9
LA TOURNEUSE DE PAGES (d. Denis Dercourt; France)
This is a very French thriller about a young girl who holds a grudge.  Hollywood would have turned it into more of less of a blood bath.  But Dercourt has something else in mind...and I greatly admire the subtlety of his approach.  Déborah François, so amazing in L'Enfant,  is another in a long line of  French beauties who can act, sort of reminiscent of a young Deneuve.  Her interplay with Catherine Frot is chilling, to say the least.  *** 1/4

Loach delivers a near masterpiece, an epic of the Irish insurrection of 1920, a tragic story of two brothers fated to come in conflict.  It certainly is Cillian Murphy's best work since Disco Pigs.  What I especially liked about this film is that Loach has toned down his leftist politics, instead humanizing the power of politics over the hearts and minds of a people.  For my money the best film ever by this always interesting director (well, since Ladybird, Ladybird anyway).   *** 1/2

BELLA (d. Alejandro Monteverde; U.S.)
An American indie which tries to be a warm immigrant family story, but just doesn't cut it.  It's a family of middle class Puerto Rican/Mexicans who run a New York restaurant, and the central story is about the middle son's attempt to recover from a past tragedy which sent him to prison.  The film was shot mostly in tight closeups, as if the director knew all along that this was going to be a straight to video release.  **

LOVE AND OTHER DISASTERS (d. Alek Keshishian; U.S.)
Who can't respond with wild enthusiasm to a witty, wonderfully cast and acted romantic comedy with a totally realistic gay protagonist and a heroine in full Holly Golightly mode?  Certainly not I.  If ever there was a movie made specifically for me, this one is it.  First of all, it brings a true starmaking turn to one of my favorite lost actors (the wonderful Matthew Rhys whom I enthused over in 2001's Peaches and have never heard from since, though apparently he's finally about to make it on American TV in "Brothers & Sisters".)  Top that with the first film which really brings Brittany Murphy's quirky comic talents to the fore.  Then there's the script: warm, true-to-life, amusing, romantic.  Just wow!  And to top that off, it also is cleverly meta, with a knowing sense of film lore and conventions which engaged my cineaste brain.  OK, I give up.  I'm overselling the film...I can just see the movie snobs turning their noses up at such a populist film.  But damn it, Rhys's characterization of a gay romantic hero was the best I've ever seen put on film and I'm going with my heart.  *** 1/2

RESCUE DAWN (d. Werner Herzog; U.S.)
A great day of film was topped by Herzog's first dramatic film in too long, a gripping Viet Nam prisoner of war story based on his documentary (which I haven't seen) about Dieter Dengler.  Christian Bale loses weight again in a film (this boy is going to kill himself for his art)...but he's remarkable as Dieter, a downed pilot held prisoner in Laos early in the war.  Also superb was Steve Zahn who subdued his usual schtick and delivered an Oscar qualifying supporting role as a fellow prisoner.  Herzog's direction, the visceral feeling of suffocating jungleness, the depredations of prisoner of war existence...it all adds up to an outstanding, exhilaratingly film.  *** 3/4
I'm going to have trouble writing my journal for a couple of days.  Lots going on, so little time.

Sunday, 9/10
SUBURBAN MAYHEM (d. Paul Goldman; Australia)
Made as a mixture of mockumentary and satire, this film somehow turns amoral excess into fun.  There are elements of Chopper here, the innate evil personified in the lead character, in this case Katrina, young single mother living at home who is as evil a manipulative sociopathic bitch as ever has shown up on film.  And there's more than casual similarity to Natural Born Killers, except these are stay-at-home grotesques.  Katrina is played by Emily Barclay, who seems to be game for just about anything.  The film worked for me, despite its excesses.  Too arch and excessive to take seriously, it was just fun to watch. ***

CHRONICAL OF AN ESCAPE  (d. Israel Adrián Cactano; Argentina)
After the 1974 coup in Argentina, the repressive rightist government disappeared thousands of leftists.  This is the based-on-actual-testimony story of four young men who were held prisoner in a mansion in Buenos Aires, especially one - an innocent, apolitical soccer player.  The film has a familiar story arc of imprisonment and escape, which resembled last night's Rescue Dawn, although it somehow lacked the resonance of that film.  I had trouble separating the characters, who all looked alike after weeks of imprisonment...bearded and bedraggled.  The film was well directed and played...but it just went on too long in the middle section and failed to hold my interest.  ** 3/4

ORN AND BRED (d. Pablo Trapero; Argentina)
Yet another Argentine film, almost too bleak to take.  In this case the story of a man with everything, loving family, successful business, who, in an instant, loses everything and spends most of the rest of the movie exiling himself to the most harsh region of Patagonia as a form of expiation.  I really liked the main character, well played with touching anguish by Guillermo Pfening (a Ron Livingston lookalike).  But the film just went on too long (a familiar theme today), and bogged down to the point that the inevitable catharsis got lost in the end. ** 1/2

MONKEY WARFARE  (d. Reg Harkema; Canada)
I was turned off right from the start by the self-indulgent intro by the director, who managed to drop every big name in filmdom as his mentors.  It ought to have been a film I could relate to:  a couple of retired leftist revolutionaries living off of selling reclaimed garbage on E-Bay.  And in fact, the accumulated details of their past and current lives were absolutely right-on.  Also, it featured another excellent performance by Don McKellar as a guy running on empty, living in a pot haze.  But, like the director's intro, the film just came off for me as self-indulgent.  And it looked terrible, as if it had been shot on 16mm through gauze.  Maybe if I was as high on marijuana as the filmmaker probably was when he made the film, I would have enjoyed it more; but I couldn't achieve the proper contact high.   * 3/4

SHORTBUS  (d. John Cameron Mitchell; U.S.)
Apparently written Mike Leigh style over three years of workshops and collaboration with his wonderful cast, Shortbus is Mitchell's triumphant celebration of sexual liberation, the film that I've been waiting for my entire life.  It takes place in New York post-9/11; but as the film says, this is "the '60s only without hope" (and I lived through the '60s...I know exactly what this means).  The title refers to a sex club where anything and everything goes.  And let's not mince words, this is hard-core porn gloriously presented in a mainstream film...and even more daring, it is primarily gay porn (played by actual gay actors for a welcome change), though there's quite a lot of straight sex, too.  The film is too messy and unfocused for a total rave.  On the other hand, there are so many unique and wonderful touches that it is bound to become a cult classic midnight movie.  At the very least it is a must-have DVD.   I loved it for its truthfulness and bravery and entertaining sexuality.  But as a film I can only give it  *** 1/4

Monday, 9/11
TWILIGHT DANCER (d. Mel Chionglo; Philippines)
I had my doubts whether to spend an early morning with straight Filipino macho dancers dancing and selling themselves in gay clubs.  I'd seen at least 3 of the previous versions of this film; and only the first, by a different director, was actually special.  However the films have held my interest in the past, so I gave this one a try.  I'm sorry I did.  There was nothing original in this story of a young guy who, along with his older, over-the-hill mentor in the twilight of his dancer-prostitute career, got involved with a ruthless lady "business woman", whose business was drugs and corruption.  The previous macho dancer film was about AIDS; but this one was all about political corruption.  Unlike the previous films, it looked terrible:  shot with inferior digital camerawork.  And even the macho dancing was perfunctory and only used as throwaway sequences to separate the story sections.  Apparently the film has been rated X by the Manila authorities, which means it is banned for everyone.  Why is a good question.  Maybe because it steps on crooked local politician's toes; certainly not for any sexual titillation.  * 1/4

DIGGERS (d. Katherine Dieckmann; U.S.)
I was impressed by the cast of this American indie film.  Paul Rudd, Ron Eldard, Maura Tierney, Loren Ambrose, Josh Hamilton...how could it go wrong?  Well, it's actually a pretty good film which will probably go straight to video.  Set in the mid-70's, it's the story of four clam fishermen, i.e. diggers, and their families on the south shore of Long Island in a time when big business is pushing out the little guys.   Life happens, people are forced into change, but not without a struggle.  This is one those earnest, nice little films which just meander and have enough going on to enjoy; but make you wonder why all that talent bothered.  ** 1/2

DOG POUND  (d. Manuel Nieto Zas; Uraguai)
I hit a wall here, needed a nap badly after almost falling asleep in the previous film.  I promised myself that if this wasn't totally engaging, I'd walk out and head back to my friend's condo for a little snooze.  And damn it, the film was engaging enough to stick around; but after about 40 minutes I left.  A 25 year old slacker who spends most of his time jerking off is just up my alley...but I needed a little more going on.  W/O

DARKBLUEALMOSTBLACK  (d. Daniel Sánchez Arévalo; Spain)
A young man aspires to more than his dementia-afflicted father's position in life as a janitor.  His best friend struggles against gay urges, his brother is in prison having an oft-thwarted romance with a fellow (female) prisoner.  Typically for a Spanish film it isn't easy to pigeonhole thematically...its subject matter is serious, but the treatment is lighthearted.  It's a cockeyed romantic comedy and a serious social drama all at once.  And I really cared about these people.  Beautifully written, acted (especially Quim Gutiérrez, an actor with an innate likability factor) and directed, this is bound to be one of the highlights of my  festival.   *** 1/2

ON COLONEL (d. Laurent Herbiet; France)
A rightist ex-colonel is murdered in present day France, and the investigation leads to the disclosure of a journal written by a conscientious lieutenant during the Algerian rebellion who witnessed the "war on terrorism" which involved torturing prisoners and was a precursor to more recent events.  Costa-Gavras co-wrote the script, and in his intro he explained that the film is a metaphor for...well, no need to elaborate.  Mostly done in B&W flashbacks showing the events which transpired, the two central performances (Olivier Gourmet as the Colonel and Robinson Stévenin as the Lieutenant) are fine.  It's a spare, moving, resonant film which involved me intellectually rather than emotionally...probably a good thing; but I felt it was a little dry.  *** 1/4

I played in a no-limit hold-em poker tournmanet with a gang of cineaste friends Monday night until 4AM, not a great strategy for getting ready for an 8:45AM movie on Tuesday morning.  But all's well that ends well, since I won, proving that good luck in the end game beats skill every time.  I made it to the morning films, too.  Fortunately they were good enough to keep me awake.  I'm really loving this TIFF.  How can I even consider missing it next year?

Tuesday, 9/12
SUMMER '04  (d. Stefan Krohmer; Germany)
Sveh Lohde is the teen years Brooke Shields of Germany, a mature nymphet who is the fulcrum of this drama about five people on a sailing vacation who interact in this thought provoking film.  After less than three hours of sleep I needed a totally absorbing film to keep me awake; and fortunately this film fit the bill.  These were fully fleshed out characters, particularly the "other man" played by Canadian actor Robert Seeliger, a decent man torn by illicit attractions.  The film looked great, too, with some of the most exhilarating sailing footage ever. *** 1/4

I decided to try this Canadian comedy because Paulo Constanzo was in it...and I'm glad I did, because it probably won't get wide distribution.  Too bad, since it's a reasonably smart and occasionally funny film about a 29 year old slacker type surviving among a group of comically money obsessed friends and family.  Constanzo is an accomplished young actor-commedian, who was the best thing in the tv series "Joey" a couple of years back.  He usually plays the comic relief sidekick; but this film proves he could have a good career as leading man. ** 3/4

ASHBACK  (d. Sean Ellis; U.K.)
I watched the short film "Cashback" by the same director a couple of years ago, and was intrigued by the possibilities of expanding the premise of a young slacker type art student (jeez, is this a pattern in my TIFF this year?) bored with his night job as a stock-boy in a supermarket, who daydreams he can stop-motion reality with amusing consequences.  Also, it stars my beau ideal, Sean Biggerstaff, who has this pixyish, naive persona and dark good looks which really appeal to me.  All in all, I think the director successfully expanded this story to feature length.  The fantasy sequences still work their movie magic, and even though there are occasional lapses in the narrative drive, this was a fun film to watch.  ***

10 ITEMS OR LESS  (d. Brad Silberling; U.S.)
Morgan Freeman is the driving force in this American indie.  It's certainly no Driving Miss Daisy, though there is a slight thematic resemblance...only the lady in this case is stunning Spanish actress Paz Vega.  Freeman plays an over-the-hill action movie actor who is thinking of committing to playing a supermarket manager in a small indie film set in a run-down Mexican suburb of L.A.   Yes, 10 Items has some mildly amusing meta conceits; but the film is too talky.  And Freeman, usually reliably inventive as an actor, somehow manages to annoy with his one-note characterization.  But Vega is wonderful, and almost makes the film worth watching.  ** 1/2

This is a four hankey weeper (and I know because the women on both sides of me were sobbing audibly) which left me cold since I didn't believe any of it.  It's mostly a two-character romantic drama about two people dying in their prime (maybe that gives away too much; but there's not much original here to need to keep secret.)  OK, Dermot Mulroney is very good and Amanda Peet is ok...the problem is a sappy manipulative script.  **

Wednesday, 9/13
THE BUBBLE  (d. Eytan Fox; Israel)
Fox has made another excellent drama about modern day Israel from a gay perspective, in this case centering on a love affair between a Palestinian man and and Israeli soldier who lock eyes at a checkpoint starting a fateful series of events.  It's something of a Romeo and Romeo story, with the Israeli's extended leftist family of friends in Tel Aviv as one faction and the Hamas centered family of the Palestinian living in Nablus as the other.  The script seems a little contrived at times; but the sum total of characterizations and direction make for a powerful film.  *** 1/4

CONGORAMA  (d. Philippe Falardeau; Canada)
The "Congorama" was apparently an exhibit at the 1958 Brussels World Fair (what ever happened to World Fairs, anyway?...maybe that's something that the world needs to revive.)  I never was quite sure what the relationship between the Fair and the story of this film was, which is one reason why I guess I didn't respond all that positively to it.  Still, Olivier Gourmet gives his second extraordinary performance of the festival, as a failing French inventor who travels to Quebec to uncover the mystery of his birth.  Also outstanding was Paul Ahmerani as the Canadian who connects with him on his travels.  Actually, I this is one case where the script probably got too convoluted for its own good; but I did find myself totally absorbed and rooting for the characters to connect somehow.  ** 3/4

LEEPING DOGS LIE  (d. Bobcat Goldthwait; U.S.)
This is an amusing, clever, somewhat tasteless farce which in more ways than one turns on the premise that, as the saying goes, one should "let sleeping dogs lie."  It features a superb performance by Melinda Page Hamilton as a girl who disasterously lets the cat out of the bag about a shaggy dog story from her past to her fiancée (played by one of my favorite actors, Bryce Johnson who just doesn't get enough work for such an attractive and accomplished actor).  But enough of the animal clichés.  I've heard a lot of bad-mouthing about this film here; but for me it just worked.  ***

TARTER FOR 10  (d. Tom Vaughan; U.K.)
The director explained that "starter for 10" is the way that an English television quiz show similar to Jeopardy begins, with the host beginning the action with the first question for ten points.  Here we have another great performance, this time by James McAvoy who is coming into his own as one of the best (and certainly busiest) young actors around.  McAvoy plays a college freshman whose lifetime interest in trivia gets him on a College Bowl type of television show representing his college.  This is a romantic comedy with a cute premise which never lagged.  Nifty direction, inventive script,  it looked great, just a delight watch.  *** 1/2

THE HOTTEST STATE (d. Ethan Hawke; U.S.)
Ethan Hawke adapted this film from his ten year old novel.  He said in Q&A that it was like adapting another writer's novel, since he is so far removed from the Ethan Hawke of ten years ago.  He also directed and played the main character's father, a minor role.  That's one of the rare quadruple threats in movie history, as far as I can recall.  The story is about a young man born and raised in Texas, whose mother deserts her husband when the boy was 8, taking the two of them to New York.   Mark Webber, another of my favorite young actors (are there any that haven't showed up at TIFF?) plays the guy...and for a while I wasn't sure he was up to the role.  But he seemed to grow into it as the film progressed and his character became more and more unmoored.  Unfortunately, the film itself wasn't as good as the talents behind the screen.  Hawke's direction of the actors was fine; but his mis-en-scène seemed studied and mannered and the film could have used some paring.  ** 3/4

I played poker again Thursday night and managed to bust out early, before midnight.  From first to last in 2 days!   Anyway, I really would rather get a reasonable night's sleep since I have 6 films on Friday, five of them in French!  Other than that the festival is going great; but I'm falling further and further behind in my festival journal since every morning it seems I just barely get up in time to make a cup of coffee and run for the subway (which runs in a remarkably timely fashion, and I haven't been late to one film yet.

Thursday, 9/14
SUR LA TRACE D'IGOR RIZZI (d. Noël Mitrani; Canada)
Two petty thieves in Montreal do their thing in this rather silly black comedy.  Laurent Lucas is fine as a Frenchman who fallen on bad times...so bad that he tries to become a hit man to make some money (Igor Rizzi is his proposed victim), even though he has never used a gun in his life.  I guess the film was well enough made; but I found it tedious and unamusing. ** 1/4

ALATRISTE (d. Augustin Diaz Yanes; Spain)
This is an historical epic about the period of decadence of the Spanish empire from about 1623-1650 or so.  It centers on a common soldier played with intensity, if not emotional force, by Vigo Mortensen, speaking, as far as I could tell, good Spanish.  The period, which comprised wars in Flanders and France was not familiar to me; and I had a little trouble following the historical references.  But the tableaux vivants, representing mostly contemporary Valasquez paintings were striking, as were the cinematography and authentic sets and costumes.  All this realism didn't quite make up for a confusing script.  Eduardo Noriega and Enrico Lo Verso were highlights of the cast, especially Lo Verso who played Alatriste's mortal enemy.  And I've marked Unax Ugalde, who played Iñego, as an actor to watch.  ** 3/4

Paddy Considine is outstanding in this scary and original film about Russia during the Yeltsen era and the threat of unattended nuclear materials.  Suspenseful, niftily directed and paced, this was just a superior thriller.  Maybe the bad guys (the always reliable Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Steven Berkoff) were a tad unbelievable in their villainy...but who knows?  And the casts' Russian accented English sort of came and went during the film causing something of a distraction.  *** 1/4

INVISIBLE WAVES (d. Pen-ek Ratanaruang; Thailand)
This was the fourth film by this interesting director that I've watched, and unfortunately the worst.  Even Christopher Doyle's cinematography (which mostly featured dark foreground action against brighter backgrounds which just didn't work for me) couldn't rescue a ridiculous script about an inept chef running from Macao to Thailand to escape from his gangster boss's revenge for sleeping with his wife.  The film wound around itself too many times; and even the usually reliable actor Asano Tadanobu couldn't make me relate to or believe in the plot.  ** 1/2

THE MISSING STAR (d. Gianni Amelio; Italy)
Amelio has basically made the same film that Zhang Yimou made earlier this year (Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles), a travelogue through interior China in quest of something and accompanied by a native, this time an Italian engineer accompanied by a female translator.  Not that the current film isn't interesting or successful for all that.  Sergio Castellitto was excellent and the director has a unique eye which translated to an always visually fascinating travelogue, if a rather slender reed to base an entire film on.   ***

Friday, 9/15
L'INTOUCHABLE (d. Benôit Jacquot; France)
Jacquot is another master filmmaker in travelogue mode.  In this case, it's the story of Jeanne (played more or less passively by Jacquot regular Isild Le Besco) an actress who does a soft porn film to acquire money to fly to India in search of her father.  There's some amazing footage of funeral pyres on the banks of the Ganges in the holy city Benaris.  All that was missing were the smells...the footage of India was a feast for the eyes.   Jacquot is a good enough director that even his minor stuff is visually fascinating and engaging. ***

PRIVATE PROPERTY (Nue propriété) (d. Joachim Lafosse; France)
One of the best films of the festival.  Isabelle Huppert is marvelous as a divorcée, mother of twin 20 year old mamma's boys loathe to leave the nest, who would be a handful for any parent.  The fraternal twins were played by real life brothers Jérémie and Yannick Renier, and they were incendiary - burning up the screen with brotherly affection and competition.  The film is all about French male chauvinism and the way women are systematically deprived of property rights.  But it's more than that, being an extraordinarily involving family drama.  *** 1/2

ONE TO ANOTHER (Chacun sa nuit)  (d. Jean-Marc Barr, Pascal Arnold; France)
I have to be careful here.  This film was one of my favorite films of the festival, even though when it comes right down to it there's a serious lack of character development which made much of it objectively uninvolving.  Except that it was based on a true story: a young man's murder under mysterious and ultimately unfathomable circumstances.  And it featured a bisexual mix of four attractive guys in a punk rock band and the murdered boy's sister.  A lot of the action was unclothed and frankly sexual.  The eye-candy factor for me was sky high.  Sometimes I overreact to a story which involves me more than it should, a guilty pleasure.  This was probably one of those movies.  *** 1/4

DEATH OF A PRESIDENT  (d. Gabriel Range; U.K.)
The English are good at creating fake documentaries...and this is among the best I've ever seen, even though some of the special effects of inserting actors into news footage was pretty cheesy.  Purporting to be a documentary made in 2009 about the assassination of President Bush in Chicago on October 26, 2007, the film is eerily realistic and raises really uncomfortable feelings in an American who, frankly, hates George W.; but nevertheless suffered pangs of anxiety and discomfort watching this film unfold.  Strong, really well written stuff.  *** 1/2

THE MAN OF MY LIFE (L'homme de sa vie)  (d. Zabou Breitman; France)
For me, the revelation of the festival, by far the most interesting film both thematically and filmically.  Breitman, apparently a busy French actress that I can't quite visualize, has really learned her directing craft.  Calling to mind Renoir, Truffaut with a little Malle thrown in, this film about a large, bourgeois family's summer vacation in the south of France and how their lives were affected by befriending their neighbor, a buffed gay man (played brilliantly with amazing charisma by Charles Berling).  Equally amazing was Bernard Campan as the husband/father who falls under the spell of Berling's character.  Breitman uses every film device in the book, effectively, too, to cast an enthralling spell.  Maybe the non-linear plot structure was a little too tricky...and honestly the film went on a little too long; but I could have inhabited this world for hours more without complaint.  *** 3/4

Saturday, 9/16
WHITE PALMS (d. Szabolcs Hajdu; Hungary/Canada)
This is an involving film about a Hungarian gymnast who trained as a kid in 1980 under a cruel taskmaster, and who in 2001 is hired to train young Canadian gymnasts in Calgary.  The film simultaneously shows action from his youth (played by two brothers, 10 and 13 who are quite good, both as actors and gymnasts), and from the current day culminating in the World Championships in 2003 in Hungary.  It's pretty routine stuff; but all in all the film works as a document about gymnastics and an emotionally uplifting story of competition.  ***

GLUE  (d. Alexis Dos Santos; Argentina)
A film which wants to by Y Tu Mama Tambien but is too arty for its own good.  The main character, played by Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, is a teenage slacker, needing to get laid any way he can.  He and his friend entice a girl into a three-way, and then get loaded on a glue binge.  It's all rather aimless with way too much shaky hand-held cinematography.  ** 1/2

ELECTION (d. Johnny To; Hong Kong)
The election is for the two year head of the Hong Kong triads; and there's lots of bloodless killing (mostly smashing people).  Yet Johnny To is such a great director of action and his films are so slick and look so good that no matter what I find his films interesting and watchable.  ***

ELECTION 2 (d. Johnny To; Hong Kong)
Like the original, gangsters out for themselves...now with the Chinese government involved in a complex plot of money and power.  Both films add up to a good, not great gangster epic.  ***

OUTSOURCED  (d. John Jeffcoat; U.S.)
The audience ate up this reprehensible romantic comedy about a company man (nice turn by Josh Hamilton) sent to India to train his replacement in an outsourcing of his job as boiler room manager at a schlocky internet sales company.  The film trades on American's ignorance of anything foreign, making bad jokes at the expense of Indian culture.  I found the film offensive...but it obviously worked for this audience.  Not the best way to end a really fantastic festival experience.  But I was too fatigued to face up to the Tsai Ming-Liang film scheduled to follow this and I meekly headed back home, exhausted yet exhilarated. **

Bella won the audience award for most popular film here.  Very strange choice, in my opinion. I wasn't even aware that the audience was *loving* it. Maybe the fact that the family in the film was half Mexican, half Puerto Rican maximized the audience ethnic factor. Fact is, I've seen this exact film dozens of times: every 2nd generation immigrant warm and fuzzy family drama ever made.

I ended up watching 47 films and one undeserved walkout; and playing in 3 poker matches (I'm too old for this late hours shit). TIFF was
everything that I could have imagined or hoped for...an energy high like a first hit of crack cocaine, it's going to be very difficult to stop using next year...I suspect I'm hooked.

Thumbs up: the Toronto subway and streetcar system which somehow seemed to run once every minute and went close to everywhere; the
festival organizers and volunteers who kept things moving quite efficiently; the venues (except for the Ryerson which sort of sucks
and the Cumberland which didn't have enough leg room - all of them had fine screens and sound systems); the projectionists - I've never been to a festival before where 100% of the films were projected in focus, correctly centered and with all the reels in the right order; the people in line and sitting next to me - almost without exception I had great conversations with friendly, informed cineastes throughout the
festival; Toronto, period: thriving metropolis with an enormous number of good fast-food asian restaurants and sports bars plus an exciting street life. And finally, I managed to get my ideal seating at every screening (except two at the Ryerson) no matter how early or late I arrived at the theater. Now that's pretty darn amazing.

Thumbs down: well, except for the fact that all the venues had blow dryers in the washrooms rather than paper towels (a particular pet
peeve of mine), nothing comes to mind. Oh, a little more spare time to write my festival journal would have been nice.

I'd like to hail a particular thanks to the host of my stay, Chris A. whose 21st floor condo was in the heart of town quite near most of the festival venues (a short walk from the Wellesley subway station.)  His building has a hot tub, swimming pool and such amenities that kept me hale and hearty through the festival.  À bientôt!

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