TIFF 2012: Midweek Malaise

By: Daniel Reynolds

It should come as no surprise that film festival time moves pretty quickly in Toronto. We are past the midway point already and it feels like just yesterday we were fawning over Johnny Depp being in town. In any case, TIFF 2012 marches on towards its conclusion this Sunday and I decided to let loose with some thoughts on the films I’ve seen so far. Remember, as I said in my opening piece, TIFF can be a safe place to watch tent pole movies early or it can be a roulette wheel gamble. So far, it has been all gamble with one solid experience, one challenging puzzle, one stock documentary and one solid block of schmaltz. Read on to get the full details:

Out in the Dark

Out in the Dark: After a struggle to get the film running properly (the subtitles were running on a delay causing a near riot of old people), this Israeli film tells a very succinct story about two men living in limbo in the Middle East. The first young man, Nimr, is a Palestinian attending school in Tel Aviv who has grand ambitions of going to a school in Europe or the United States. The second, Roy, is an Israeli lawyer of the upper-class persuasion. The catch? The two men are in love with each other, which causes some terrific friction on both sides of the ethnic divide. For his first full-length film, director Michael Mayer shows a solid grasp of modern film making techniques with lots of digital, hand-held camera work and a dark palette. While this style is nothing remarkable, the story, involving a terrorist brother, an evil cop and some unfortunate friends, unfolds with the requisite gravitas. While some of the characters of the film are a tad thinly sketched, the end result is a modern romance that is both emotionally engaging and, somehow, politically relevant.

State 194 and Salam Fayyad

State 194: More Israel! I’ll avoid talking politics here and just comment on the construction of this Israeli-made largely pro-Palestinian documentary from director Dan Setton. For the most part, it is a fairly rote doc, with the requisite talking heads, unobtrusive music and rougher footage capturing some of the unseemly sides of the political clashes witnessed in the West Bank. The film is at its best, however, when shadowing Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as he attempts to build Palestine into a land worthy of statehood. I could not help but be swept up in his optimism and while I can’t really recommend this doc (too much time spent interviewing bloggers and other protesters, some drifts into slideshow-like presentation), it was interesting to get a different perspective on the seemingly everlasting conflict

Like Someone in Love

Like Someone in Love: Let me get this out of the way: “Like Someone in Love” is the new film from Abbas Kiarostami, acknowledged master filmmaker. It takes place in Japan, with Japanese actors in the Japanese language. Now, I have only seen one other Kiarostami film (A Taste of Cherry) and while it came with a tsunami of critical blessings, I was left awash mostly in confusion. This latest film involves the careful interplay of people in different stages of their lives in the urban sprawl of Tokyo. To that end, Kiarostami’s compositional acuity is rightly regarded as masterful. He settles shots in such a way as to make you aware of the urban landscape in which they exist; the little touches of light, reflection and artifice that anchor you in a city. His characters, meanwhile, are evoked obliquely through circuitous dialogue. An obscure tension gradually develops. There is a aged academic, a young woman (who appears to be some sort of escort), and others moving into the picture. The tenor of the film is so subtle so as to require immense scrutiny and focus but I am not entirely sold that the film rewards the demands it places on the audience.

Song for Marion

Song for Marion: Of course, the flip side to an intellectual exercise such as “Like Someone in Love” is a film like “Song for Marion”. As a closing night TIFF gala, you can expect a couple of things: the film has a decent selection of star actors (see: Terrance Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Chris Eccleston and Gemma Arterton) and it strains to be as crowd pleasing as possible. So, here is a movie that features a cranky old man, his wife dying from cancer, a distant son and a sweet woman who just loves old people. The plot involves a seniors choir group (would you believe that they sing creaky 90s songs like “Let’s Talk about Sex” and are more ribald than you’d think? Scandal!), a singing competition and of course, the emergence of Arthur, the old man played by Stamp, and his vocal talent. Listen, I’m not spoiling anything here. If you can’t see where this film is going within the first 10 minutes, well, then this film is perfect for you! The whole affair is very light weight at best, but let me tell you, no one can lean against a building while having a smoke quite like Terrence Stamp.

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This is hopefully to be just my first round of TIFF reviews. Check back next week after the festival for more.

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