2007 Toronto International Film Festival Journal

Well, here I am at my second TIFF.  This time I've arrived a week early to do the film picking process in person.  The date is August 28, 2007.  I left the apartment 9:17AM.  Back with goodie bag by 9:59 (includes picking up lunch at the market in the College Park building). Contents of goodie bag:  1 36g bar Lindt milk chocolate; 1 booklet "Passport to Canadian Cinema"; 1 Catalog (all 480 pages of it); Advance order book + envelope; 1 bottle Dole Orange-Tangerine Sparkler; 2 Official Film Schedule books; 1 copy of "Playback: Special Report"; 1 copy "Canada Locations Guide 2007"; 2 Stella Artois postcards; 1 Jackson-Triggs complimentary winery tour ticket; 1 promo card for the new Bell Lightbox theatre; 1 Starbucks card worth $5.00; 1 offer festival rental rate at Discount Car & Truck Rentals;  1 menu for Matignon; 1 "mystery gift" card from Pizza Nova; 4 complimentary entries to Uniq Lifestyle venues; 1 September calendar from the Fairmont Royal York Hotel; 1 plastic device from FedEx which seems to be a fold up pen with no ink; 1 two-color marker for marking advance orders.

That seems to be it.  For this I came to Toronto a week early?

August 30:  Turned in my booklet at about 10AM today, 27 hours early.  I was put into box #14, so I have my fingers crossed that I have a good lottery number.  If so, that would be the first lottery I've every had success with in my entire life!

Anyway, here are the 50 films I've tentatively chosen to try for tickets  (I'll revise this list when I receive my tickets).  Actually, as of Monday, September 3rd it seems I got all 50 of the films I chose.  35 minutes in line to get my tickets (at 2PM).  The line was down to about 10 minutes by 3PM.  Maybe next time I'll learn that later is better.

September 6, opening evening of the festival.  My friend Susan laid on me a ticket to the opening gala, which I couldn't refuse.  It turned out to be not such a hot ticket after all, the Elgin theatre had a lot of empty seats.  But all in all I'm glad I had a chance to watch an official gala with all the serious speechifying (although nothing quite as lengthy or light hearted as they do it in Seattle.)  It meant I had to change my second film, too...and the only one available was a Hollywood film which is getting a release next week...ordinarily I would rather watch obscure films which have little chance of getting released in the near future.   In any case, I'm starting this festival already deep in a sleep debt due to over-stimulation or over-caffeination (whatever); so I'm probably going to have to make these pod reviews pretty short and try to get some sleep before the real festival work starts first thing tomorrow morning.

FUGITIVE PIECES  (d. Jeremy Podeswa)
The opening film turned out to be a powerful, emotionally resonant film about the effects of the Holocaust on the survivors and the children of survivors (I've known a few of the latter, and this film rang quite true).  It had a complex script which followed four separate time lines, a device which works better in novels (this was an adaptation from a novel, of course); but here at least the editing was skillful enough so that the separate time lines were never confusing.   I will admit to being moved; but I also felt manipulated to an extent...a few too many obvious symbols and clumsy foreshadowing.  It was beautifully acted and photographed, however.  Stephen Dillane has the most soulful eyes in cinema; and this film made quite effective use of that inherent advantage.   A film of obvious "quality"; but for all its good features it just missed the mark for me.  ***

THE BRAVE ONE  (d. Neil Jordan)
Neil Jordan is a really fine director who seems to effortlessly conquer any genre of film he attempts.  Here he's working in policier/revenge territory; and the film works wonderfully in both worlds...at least until the final 10 minutes when it goes in a dubious direction, both morally and in terms of script logic.  Much will probably be made about the chemistry of the central relationship...unsurprisingly great performances by Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard.  But I'd like to submit Nicky Katt's wryly amusing side-kick performance as the hit of the show for me.  The film looks fantastic:  the seedy streets of New York glisten, the action shots are immaculately composed.   I'd rate this film higher, if only I didn't have the sick feeling that it is just pandering to the baser instincts of the audience.  *** 1/4

THE DUCHESS OF LANGEAIS (Ne toucher pas la hache) (d. Jacques Rivette)
Rivette's version of the Balzac story is formally beautiful; but stilted and crushingly mannered.  Ostensibly about thwarted passions among the aristocracy late in the 1st Empire, the film is curriously passionless.   Part of this must be attributable to the original story and adaptation; but I was disappointed by the acting, too.   Guillaume Depardieu's plays the General with one pained, pent-up expression; and Jeanne Balabar seems miscast as the femme fatale Parisian courtier who chooses to leave her life of ease and enter a Majorcan convent of total abasement over a scandalous, but apparently unconsummated, affair.  However, no Rivette is without the saving grace of exquisite formal filmmaking.  ** 1/2

THE BANISHMENT (Izgnamie) (d. Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Zvyagintsev's follow up to the remarkable The Return, is simply gorgeous to look at, if a trifle long and maddeningly short on explanatory details (although maybe it was just me being obtuse.)  Still, one has to admire this sophomore effort.  The film is the powerful and totally absorbing story of a married couple with two children whose relationship has the fatal flaw of the inability of the pair to communicate.  The director has a remarkable eye for beautiful, even painterly compositions.  *** 1/4

ONE HUNDRED NAILS (Centochiodi) (d. Ermanno Olmi)
Unfortunately, Olmi's story of a professor who commits an act of artistic terrorism and then escapes into an idyllic, if endangered, Po River community failed to involve me.  Too bad, because Olmi is definitely a master of the medium; but here his canvas is too diffuse.  ** 1/4

MY BROTHER IS AN ONLY CHILD (Mio fratello è figlio unico) (d. Daniele Luchetti)
I go to film festivals to find films like this.  Directed by the man who wrote my favorite film of the decade so far, The Best of Youth, here is another example of a coming-of-age story which encompasses an entire era  effortlessly mixing the macro-politics of the '60s and '70s in Italy with the absorbing story of the second son of a working class family who progresses in his development from seminary to fascist to communist to humanist all convincingly.  Superb script, superb acting, my kinda film...and I don't expect to see a film here that I like better.  *** 1/2

CONTROL (d. Anton Corbijn)
I never knew much about the English proto-emo group Joy Division and its lead singer, Ian Curtis, when they performed in the early '70s.  I was into Bowie (went to his Aladdin Sane concert, which was referenced in this film as a crucial influence on Ian Curtis's development).  But I was unaware of Curtis and his music at the time.  This is a beautifully realized biopic about the doomed singer, Curtis, shot in stark, realistic black and white.  The film  could use a little pruning; but I guess life is like that, often messy.  Certainly one can admire the performances, especially the remarkable Sam Riley who seemed to be born for this role.  ***

JAR CITY (Mýrin) (d. Baltasar Kormákur) 
Kormakur has delivered a fascinating policier about a brutal murder whose rationale and solution are based on the political hot potato of genetic screening.  It's too easy to spoil the plot by divulging more.  Timely, extremely well done, with a unique portrayal of the Icelandic landscape, this film should hopefully find an appreciative audience.  *** 1/4

ULZHAN (d. Volker Schlöndorff)
Schlöndorff made the outstanding film of this year's SIFF, Strike.  And his classic The Tin Drum is one of my favorite films of all time.  Here he is playing in an entirely different genre:  the road picture to self-discovery.  And he delivers a beautiful, rich film.  It's helped that his main actor is Philipe Torriton, who is always fine.  But the surprise of the film is the appearance as quirky side-kick of David Bennent, who was so amazing as the dwarf kid in Tin Drum.  Honestly, I thought the film was a little too predictable (until the fantastically perfect ending).   The stark cinematography of the Kazakhstani steppes and mountains was outstanding.  Just as a travelogue the film works.  But it is also the convincing story of a tortured soul.  *** 1/4

MONGOL  (d. Sergei Bodrov)
Bodrov has delivered, with his usual assured style, a pretty fair epic of the 12th century ascension to power of Ghengis Khan.  Nothing here stands out as unique (I actually enjoyed more last year's inferior, but similar Kazakhstan epic, Nomad.)  Even the battle scenes, done mostly with thousands of real extras, had an aura of familiarity.  Most of the ones in this film seemed to have the same close-ups of blood spattering swordplay interspersed with different establishing shots of the forces and terrain.   Beautifully shot, but nothing distinctive enough to break this film out of its genre.  ** 3/4
JUNO (d. Jason Reitman)
Every festival I seem to choose at least one pop romantic comedy because of my admiration for the lead actor.  Last year it was Love and Other Disasters because of Matthew Rhys, and I wasn't disappointed.  This year it's the teenage version of Knocked Up, and I can't say I was all that happy with my choice, even though my reason for going, Michael Cera and his unlikely pomo romantic hero persona, was spot on perfect, as usual.  Caveat:  the film was wildly received by the Ryerson Theater audience who gave it the longest sustained standing applause I've heard at a festival in a while.  The film has an interesting premise:  a sympathetic look at teenage pregnancy focusing on the relationship between the young girl and the couple she chooses for the adoptive parents.  The girl actress is crucial; and here is where the film felt flawed.  I may be a minority of one; but I find Ellen Page's smart-assed readings of the overwritten, precocious dialog (by otherwise interesting young woman screenwriter Diablo Cody, as quirky a writer as her name) to be nearly insufferable.  And Jason Reitman is no Judd Apitow when it comes to constructing a scene for comedic effect.  Yet the rest of the cast is wonderful delivering this impossible dialog, especially Justin Bateman as the father presumptive and Michael Cera as the nerdy actual father.  Equally amazing are J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as the understanding, wise-cracking parents of the 15 year old girl...no surprises with those actors.  All in all, I think this film is destined for popular success...but for me it failed the crucial believability test at its very center.  ** 1/4

BOY A (d. John Crowley)
This is as close to a perfect film as I expect to see at this festival.  Jack is a media monster, convicted as a young boy along with his sociopathic best friend for a brutal murder, released with a new identity at age 21...but still a hot item in the English popular press, with a price on his head on the internet.  Its a fictionalized version of a famous English case with all the details changed.  But like the excellent The Woodsman, it's basically the story of how such a person adapts to life out of prison.  In this case there is the implication that Jack was mostly a good boy who fell under the sway of his really bad friend.  Of course the actor is crucial, and here the film really delivers.  Andrew Garfield is breathtakingly good...an actor whose inherent likability is off the charts (watch his gawky dancing on Ecstasy for a lesson in how to portray likability in a totally cinematic fashion).  Director Crowley's eye for detail and ear for realistic line delivery is amazing:  Ken Loach without the political baggage.  All I can say is wow!  *** 3/4

XXY (d. Lucia Puenzo)
This Argentine film tackles the tough subject of a teenage hermaphrodite, brought up as a girl, whose parents rejected early sexual assignment surgery in favor of waiting to let their (daughter?  son?  offspring?) choose.  The film focuses on the girl (a sensitive, nuanced performance by Inés Efron) and her relationship with a visiting teenage boy with sex issues of his own (Martin Piroyansky).  The script somehow misses sensationalism and manages to express some novel emotional truths.  ***

EX DRUMMER (d. Koen Mortier)
I don't know why I even tried...except I've admired anarcho Flemish films before.  This one was about a punk rock band made out of people who had to have some disability.  It's an equal opportunity offensive film; but I found it boring.  Except for the really daring mis-en-scène which often worked (scenes played upside down or in reverse etc.) giving the film an experimental look, there was nothing here for me to admire.  * 1/4

LOVE SONGS (Les chansons d'amours) (d. Christophe Honoré)
I must have missed out on the "musical" gene.  There's definitely a trend in French cinema to do this genre.  Sometimes it works.  Here the songs represented the emotional background of the scenes.  But I still found them rather obtrusive.  Maybe if they had been better songs (a friend made the comment of how one misses Michel Legrand as we left the theatre)...Still, I rather liked the film, which centers on a guy (the current "it" guy of French cinema, Louis Garrel) and his sexually liberated relationships.  Notable in support: Ludivine Sagnier, who is in full young Catherine Deneuve mode (I don't think this is an accident).   And another breathtakingly attractive turn by Grégoire Leprince-Languet, whom I previously noted as a promising up-and-comer in Téchiné's Strayed a few years ago, playing a sympathetic gay young man.  ***

A child leads a grownup to a better understanding of life kinda film.  In this case, a flamboyantly gay 11 year old boy, suddenly foist upon a straighter than straight gay male couple in Toronto.  It's an interesting set-up, and the actors are all quite good:  the kid Noah Bernett is even better than that, a natural ham who lights up the screen with his gap toothed smile.  The men are played by Tom Cavanaugh, who almost pulls off the task of being both a feisty pro hockey player and a gay dad type.   And Ben Shenkman in a less showy, but steady role.  This is a likable trifle of a film, pretty slickly made and it might even become a commercial success.  ** 3/4

CHAOTIC ANA (Caótica Ana) (d. Julio Medem) 
My personal feeling is that Julio Medem is one of the few real cinematic geniuses making films today.  Certainly every one of his passionate, always challenging films are examples of cinema at its most exciting.  I watched much of this film in mouth agape amazement at Medem's daring.  I'm not getting into the plot, a complex pastiche of hypnotic regressions and a young woman's current and past lives...but I have to mention the incredible performance by Manuela Vellés, certainly the most incendiary peformance by a woman this year.  The final story of this girl's life sort of falls apart...too confrontationally political for my tastes.  But other than that this is about as close to a masterpiece as I expect to see this year.  *** 3/4

I've been having major sleep issues this festival.  So much so that, unlike last year, I felt I had to forego a late night poker session with my cineast buds last night in order to try to get an extra hour of sleep.   Five to six films per day from 8:30-midnight are turning out to be more of a physical ordeal than I recall from last year.  At least, for now, I'm eating well and staying healthy (knock on wood).

KING OF THE HILL (El Rey de la Montaña) (d. Gonzalo López-Gallego)
Leonardo Sbaraglia was the draw to this gripping Spanish thriller, a fearless actor who was so good in such films as Burnt Money and Intacto.  This film resembles the latter in some stylistic ways.  A man's attraction to a woman he picks up in a gas station washroom leads him to follow her onto a deserted mountain road and into some fatal game being played by unseen gunmen.  Taut, psychologically truthful, authentically terrifying, even surprising...not the easiest of ways to wake up on a Monday morning, but at least no chance of dozing off! *** 1/4

CHRYSALIS (d. Julien Leclercq)
This is a stylish sci-fi thriller/policier (yes, they still have crime in the future) about a machine which steals memories and the consequences thereof.  It's memorable mostly for some gritty fight scenes between the policeman-hero, played by Albert Dupontel, and his criminal nemesis.  Too many of those, perhaps.  The film sort of wore out before its surprises were over.  ** 1/2

SAD VACATION (d. Shinji Aoyama)
Aoyama made Eureka, one of my favorite Japanese films, so I was expecting something fine which wasn't delivered.  The current film is a rambling soapy melodrama about an extended family whose relationships with each other are complex...and frankly not worth the time it takes to get the story told.  The screening was marred by a terrible soundtrack transfer, either on the print or in the projection booth:  muddy sound potted way too low so much of it is barely audible.  That doesn't affect understanding so much in a sub-titled film; but it does make it hard to concentrate on the film, being too aware of the audience around oneself.  A number of people I know walked out; but I was glad I stayed since, despite dozing through much of the first third of the film, it does actually develop a faintly interesting story in the third act.  * 3/4

THE LAST MISTRESS (Une vieille maîtress) (d. Catherine Breillat)
Breillat is working in historic costume romantic drama territory, a very similar film to Rivette's previously seen Duchess of Languais, only to my sensibility an infinitely better effort both formally and in terms of story impact.  It's the story of a young man's ten year affair with a tempestuous Spanish courtisan told on the eve of his marriage to a respectable heiress.   Asia Argento is fine as the Spanish woman; but the real find here is the young man, played by Fu'ad Aït  Aattou, a non-actor whom Breillat told the audience pre-film that she discovered Lana Turner style in a restaurant and knew immediately that he was her Ryno.  He's perfect for the role, with a face straight out of paintings from the period.  Plus he can act, selling the role completely to my eye.  Breillat turns out to have a real feeling for the period drama; her settings and costumes, even the acting styles, fit the period convincingly.  I was impressed.  *** 1/2

NORMAL (d. Carl Bessai)
Three interconnected stories of the affect of a past tragedy on different families in an upper middle class suburb.  The stories seemed familiar, we've seen this sort of film before.  But the execution, writing, ensemble acting, especially the editing were first class.  Nothing exceptional here; but I did find myself interested in these people and moved.  ***

JUST BURIED (d. Chaz Thorne)
In my neverending quest to find films to watch here that I would be unlikely to see in L.A. or at the Academy, I seem to have chosen a number of Canadian films based on actors I like.  This is an example:  a funeral home black comedy with a little Macbeth mixed in, featuring nice performances by Jay Baruchel doing his nerdy schtick flawlessly and a game Rose Byrne.  Pure fluff; but well written (if you ignore the many plot contrivences).  Is Graham Greene in every Canadian film?  Seems to be.  ** 3/4

THE GIRL IN THE PARK (d. David Auburn)
Auburn is a director who comes from the theater, and his first film shows that provenence by being a dramatic acting tour de force.  Sigourney Weaver plays a woman who loses her 3 year old child in a New York park to a predator; and the film is about the consequences of this occurrance to her and her family.  The plot seems familiar, somehow, and not a little melodramatic; but the admirable thing about this film is watching a fine ensemble (including Kate Bosworth and the always reliable Alessandro Nivola) develop their characters, which in turn grow emotionally during the film.  *** 1/4

NIGHTWATCHING  (d. Peter Greenaway)
The good thing is that the film eventually ends.  No, there are other good things:  Greenaway's usual incredible eye aided by shooting in gorgeous wide screen film.  Also Martin Freeman's bold turn as Rembrandt is wonderful...he looks remarkably like the middle age self-portraits and brings a real authenticity to the role somehow.  But two and a half hours of art history pageant about one painting (admittedly a great one, the Night Watch, in front of which I spent much time in Amsterdam several years ago) is somewhat excessive.  I did learn something about the painting which I'll try to carry with me when I return to view it again.  ** 1/2

ALL HAT (d. Leonard Farlinger)
Another Canadian film, this time the draw was Luke Kirby, a really fine Canadian actor who deserves to be a lot more well known.  This film is a comic take on the modern western (although it is Western Ontario we're talking about.)  It's also a story about a horse racing caper which occasionally gets silly, but also occasionally rises to a high level of clever dialog.  The cast includes Keith Carradine and Rachael Leigh Cook, the latter convincingly playing a jockey (she is a petite thing, after all).  The best part was in the Q&A after the film when Luke Kirby told a story about his first horse riding lesson.  He'd make a great talk-show guest.  A trifling entertainment; but an enjoyable one.  ** 3/4

BLIND (d. Tamar van den Dop) 
This is a fine, rather Gothic period drama about a 20 year old blind boy (who lost his sight relatively recently to cataracts) which takes place in a bleak, wintry Dutch rural mansion.  The crux of the drama is the introduction of an albino, critically self-loathing woman who is hired by the boy's elderly and infirm mother to care for the boy, and their relationship as he is gradually brought out of his rage.  The boy is played by the astonishingly attractive Joren Seldeslachts, who completely sells his blindness and the developments of the plot.  Equally effective is the woman, played by Halina Reijn...perhaps a smidgen too attractive for the role.  The film could have dissolved into maudlin melodrama; but instead it is handled assuredly by the director who gets the most from her camera set-ups and memorable performances from her actors.  *** 1/4

As a Californian, I'm not as wary of weather as I probably should be.  Ignoring nearby thunder and lightning, feeling safe with my fold up umbrella, experiencing only a light sprinkle, I dithered in front of Queen Street's East! restaurant, deciding instead to go for something quicker further up the street.  My mistake.  Within ten seconds I was drenched to the bone by a sudden cloudburst.  I managed to return to the refuge of the restaurant, ate an excellent pad Thai and still got to the theatre in time to half dry out under the hot air hand dryer in one of the men's rooms. 

BILL (d. Melisa Wallack, Bernie Goldmann)
Aaron Eckhart is somewhat miscast as the eponymous Bill, the shlubby son-in-law of a bank president where he's unhappily employed as a supernumerary executive.  He's a sugar addict, out of shape, and his wife his having an affair with a sleazy tv newsman (played with an overdose of smarm by the also miscast Timothy Olyphant.)  He becomes mentor to a feisty prep school junior straight out of the  Alex Keaton box, a characterization by Logan Lerman (who was future President Bobby in the late, lamented tv series "Jack & Bobby") which is the only saving grace of this silly, derivative film.  **

THE PAST (El Pasado) (d. Héctor Babenco)
Gael Garcia Bernal has pulled off a rare feat:  introducing his powerful, adult performance as Rimini in Babenco's excellent relationship drama to a sold-out audience in the morning; and presenting his almost as amazing directorial debut to a sold out audience later in the evening.  In Babenco's film he ages (perhaps not totally convincingly, but that's irrelevant) 20 years in a story of his tempestuous relationships with three women.  The film was adapted from a complex, recent Argentinian novel...and the screenplay is equally complex, absorbing and illuminating.  *** 1/2

WEIRDSVILLE (d. Allan Moyle)
A film about two druggie slackers (played by the usually interesting Scott Speedman and Wes Bentley) who get involved in a silly chase  film with a Russian gangster they owe money to and a satanic cult that  for some reason is chasing them (but I dozed through some of the exposition, so I'm not sure why.)  I suppose Moyle was trying for a hip Dumb and Dumber, but he didn't make it.  *

AND ALONG CAME TOURISTS (Am Ende Kommen Touristen) (d. Robert Thalheim)
This is a German film with a lot of resonance.  Alexander Fehling is quite good playing a 20-something German guy who given the choice of doing his national service in the army or in civil service, chooses the latter...doing his service in present day Auschwitz in Poland.  His main job is helping an 80 year old survivor of the camps who gives occasional testimony to tourist groups.  The story is of the bond that develops between these two mismatched men...and also a subtle view into the way that young Germans are coping with the memory of the Holocaust.  It's a different take on an important issue; and I found it moving and quite well played.  ***

DÉFICIT (d. Gael García Bernal)
Bernal's directorial debut is an assured, entertaining view into the lives of a group of young, dissolute kids gathered to party in the South Mexican country mansion of a rich kid whose parents are away coping with the influential father's criminal involvements.  Bernal himself plays the lead, spoiled rich young man at a crisis point of what he's going to do with his life.  He's great, as usual; but his film is also fine, with a large cast and multiple story tracks all of which cohere with some great editing.  The film is reminiscent of another actor's film:  The Anniversary Party in that it is using a wild party to illuminate the lives of its characters.  But Bernal does it better. *** 1/4

I'll be late with my next five film squibs because I played poker until god knows when Thursday night.  I ran into a pair of Aces buzzsaw with my Ace-King, went all-in before the flop;/ and that was all she wrote for 3rd place.  It seems like I come to TIFF mostly for the late night poker sessions with my cineaste buds; but I guess the films have something to do with it too.

THE SUN ALSO RISES (Tai Yang Zhao Chang Sheng Qi) (d. Jiang Wen) 
Sometimes pretty cinematography just isn't enough.  This story of a rural Chinese relocation settlement during the mid-'70s features a young man and his very young and somewhat crazed mother.  I think the story was about why and how the girl got pregnant so young; but the film was steeped in politics and stuff that I didn't have the background to understand (plus a whiff of magical realism which almost always turns me off).  I never could get straight which characters were which...and a middle section which featured Joan Chen seemed like a non-sequitur, not relating to the rest of the film as far as I could discern.  The film looked great, however, with strikingly beautiful mountain vistas and dense period cityscapes.  ** 1/4

JUST LIKE HOME (Hjemve) (d. Lone Scherfig)
A talky, complicated narrative centered around the people running a call-in hot line in a small Danish town where everybody knows everybody else.  The town is set abuzz by a mysterious midnight streaker.  I suppose the film's flawless presentation of a large cast of characters ought to have worked in its favor.  But my brain was just too addled to follow the silly contrivances.  ** 1/2

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (d. Craig Gillespie)
Ryan Gosling is, well, fantastic in a departure for him:  playing a gentle, quiet, likable man psychologically crippled by growing up motherless.  He compensates with a strange delusion; and the film is how his brother and sister-in-law (nice turns from Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer), a small town doctor (the always reliable Patricia Clarkson) and the entire community they live in cope with this delusion.  This is an original, heartening comic drama which weaves a spell of good feeling out of a possibly weird and distasteful situation.  *** 1/4

NEW YORK SERENADE (d. Frank Whaley)
Freddie Prinze, Jr. has committed career suicide-by-fluff over the years, and Chris Klein has had trouble breaking out from his handsome but dumb youth mold.  But in this film Frank Whaley, for me a reliable director of quirky, interesting indie films, has given the two actors a couple of meaty roles where we literally see them break out of their normal arrested development personas.  It's about a life-long friendship between two loser New York dudes, one of whom might have a future, while the other is probably destined for a life of fuckups.  The writing is clever, and the acting and direction near flawless.  This is a small film, probably destined for straight to video; but it is a really enjoyable buddy flick with enough of an edge to deserve to find an audience.  ***

HIDDEN LOVE (L'amour caché) (d. Alessandro Capone)
What a disappointment.  The usually reliable Isabelle Hupert is defeated by a ridiculously maladroit psychological melodrama about a woman who is suffering from a 23 year long post-partum depression, the result of which is a pathological dislike of her daughter (the feeling may or may not be mutual, the film is rather ambiguous about that).  The quicker I forget this film the better off I'll be.  * 3/4

GARAGE (d. Lenny Abrahamson)
This is one of those quiet slice-of-life Irish films.  Fortunately it had subtitles, since a lot of the dialog was in a difficult to understand brogue.  It's the story of a gentle, possibly mildly retarded 30-something gas station attendant in a rural town, and his innocent beer swigging  relationship with his new 15 year old assistant/trainee.  It's a nice role for Pat Shortt, an actor I've never seen before who manages to project a tragic naivety while still involving the audience's sympathy.  ***

A STRAY GIRLFRIEND (Una novia errante) (d. Ana Katz)
Argentinian actor Daniel Hendler was the draw here, he was even present at the screening despite maybe only 5 minutes of screen time.  The set up is that an engaged couple are arguing on the bus to a beachside resort vacation, when the girl (played by the director herself) gets deserted by her fiancé.  How she copes is a slender reed to base a film upon, and in truth, the film didn't interest me much.  Still, it had a quirky script; and the naturalistic acting made for a film which didn't put me to sleep (an achievement since I was up all night playing poker).  ** 1/4

I decided to miss a couple of films of marginal interest and go back to the condo to take a nap.  I feel a lot better, ready to face one more film tonight and six tomorrow!  (note from the next day:  I didn't make it to six, choosing instead to partake of a nice, leisurely sit-down meal at a good Portuguese restaurant instead of attending one of the planned films.) 

INTIMATE ENEMIES (L'ennemi intime) (d. Florent-Emilio Siri)
Siri has been on my to-watch list of promising directors ever since his creepy, bloody debut with The Nest.  His next film, the unfairly overlooked Bruce Willis thriller, Hostage, did nothing to dissuade me from my conviction that he's a major talent.  Here he's back in France, making a film bound to exasperate his compatriots:  an expose of French atrocities during the late '50s "police action" (only recently did the French government admit that this was a war) of suppressing the rebellion in Algeria.  The film focuses on two French soldiers, the insanely brave sergeant, played by Albert Dupontel (still quite buffed from his role in the earlier seen Chrysalis);  and Benoît Magimel (fast becoming this generation's monstre sacrée, a versatile French movie star like Depardieu, Belmondo or Gabin) as the lieutenant with a conscience.  OK, this film repeats many of the clichés of the war film genre; but it is incredibly well acted and directed for all that, with an important anti-war message.  *** 1/4

A GIRL CUT IN TWO (La fille coupée en deux) (d. Claude Chabrol)
Nobody does upper-crust decadence quite as stylishly as the prolific ex-new wave master, Claude Chabrol.  Here he tells the story of the rivalry for the affections of a smart, alluring, young tv weathergirl (convincingly played by adorable Ludivine Sagnier) of two men:  one a successful 50-ish author, debonair and very married (played with old-world charm by François Berléand);  the other, an unstable, spoiled, filthy rich playboy (another fascinating, transformative characterization by Benoît Magimel).  The film gets its Lyonaise literati milieu absolutely flawlessly; but I'm not sure it is totally psychologically convincing...certainly the enigmatic ending is exasperating.  But I have to say I greatly enjoyed this film, despite its little flaws.  ***

SMILEY FACE (d. Gregg Araki)
Anna Faris showed me a heretofore hidden acting mastery, playing a pothead having one really bad day in this occasionally riotously funny comedy.  Araki is another director whose ascending career I've been watching with admiration from the beginning (disclaimer:  I was involved with two of his early films, shooting the titles; but I have never actually met the director).  Here he has made a stoned comedy that is as assured as his last film, the masterful Mysterious Skin.  He's on a roll.  *** 1/4

L'ORA DI PUNTA (d. Vincenzo Marra)
This is the story of the rise of an Italian magnate from low level functionary in the financial police (apparently something like an IRS auditor with police power) to corrupt real estate baron.  It's also an effective cautionary tale of official corruption at all levels of modern Italian society.  Michele Lastella is convincingly stone-faced in his role as the man on the make who uses an older, wealthy woman (a luminous, if worn looking Fanny Ardent) in his rise to the top.  For me, the film just didn't manage to be novel enough to break out of the pack.  ** 3/4

Wow!  This film is destined to be quite controversial.  It's the story of a sexualized 13-year old girl and how she's abused by almost all the older men in her 1990's Houston suburban milieu.  I have to admit to feeling creeped out by a lot of what happens in this film; but I think that was Ball's objective:  to present a satire with the sting of shock.  The acting was flawless.  Summer Bishil is amazingly convincing as the young girl (she's 19 in real life, so despite appearances this isn't actually kiddie porn).  Also notable:  Peter Macdissi, who was so interesting as the bisexual teacher in Ball's Six Feet Under, playing the girl's prissy, Lebanese father; and the third variegated performance of this festival by the always reliable Aaron Eckhart.  I haven't a clue whether or not this film is commercially viable; but it is certainly the success d'scandale of this festival among those I talked to who saw the film.  ***

RECLAIM YOUR BRAIN (Free Rainer -- Dein Fernseher Lügt) (d. Hans Weingartner)
 By the time I sat down for the last festival film at 10:45PM, I was unsurprisingly sort of out of it.  Still, this film had enough energy to keep me awake.  Moritz Bleibtreu exhibits lots of energy as a coked up television executive, who tires of the ratings race with its lowest common denominator programming, and who fabricates an illegal plot to bring culture to the reality tv sodden masses.   It's all rather silly and unlikely.  Weingartner made the excellent The Edukators from a couple of years ago.  This film has more production values, but is a step down in class.  ** 1/2

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