…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “TIFF10

Les Amours Imaginaires


Xavier Dolan‘s Les Amours Imaginaires, or Heartbeats is about Francis (Dolan) and Maria Callas lookalike Marie. While writing the previous sentence, I just realized why Dolan named his character ‘Francis.’ Marie, however, is the kind of girl who asks ‘Do you think of movie stars when you make love.’ [ETA: Nobody thinks about movie stars during 90 seconds of lovemaking, stop asking. If you find someone who does think of movie stars while making love, shank them. Sex is like a conversation, you think about yourself and the person in front of you. Nobody’s ADD is that bad. Just because movie stars arouse you and sex arouses you doesn’t mean. Worst syllogism ever. And you know what, Angelina Jolie thinks about movie stars while lovemaking because she’s in a civil union with one. I call a fatwa on this question.] Anyway, these socially awkward young adults find a hot Adonis-like guy in their social circle. The latter’s name is Nicolas, seducer yet seemingly wholesome. By including him in Francis and Marie’s friendship, he should be the third wheel, but he manages to make them feel like said third wheel. Francis changes his description of his ideal to fit Nicolas, and tells this in front of another lover. That this is Francis’s first ‘is he gay’ guy makes me wonder how he never went through this in high school. Or buys Nicolas a plain-looking $500 ‘tangerine’ sweater for a birthday present after knowing him for two months, which oh brother. [ETA: I’ll punch my child in the mouth if he ever makes an expensive mistake like this, which tells a lot about how I was raised.]

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Nicolas talks about holding a 91 hours a week seismograph job that he looks too twinky to handle, kisses both Francis and Marie in the cheek, kisses a girl’s hand the first time he meets her. Everyone’s nerdy best friend will tell you that this guy’s bad news, but no such character exists in the film. The nerdy best friend within us keeps thinking of the other times when we got rejected and hoping we weren’t this shattered at 20 or 21. Marie does notice something fishy about him in his drunken birthday party but does nothing about it.

An hour or so after watching the film I realize that Nicolas as a character is deliberately posited with a mysterious, impressionistic sheen in trying to make him more complex and less villainous. He’s the ‘other’ compared to the needy kids that dominate the film. He charms and runs. This cycle might say more about his character than anything Francis thankfully didn’t narrate about him. Making him mysterious, however, doesn’t make him any more sympathetic.

There are also interviews of three Montreal hipsters. Girl 1 will live a life of rejection because her patrician nose and glasses come with a perma-scowl. Boy talks about Kinsey. Girl 2 thinks it’s cute that her beau is 39 minutes late for everything. We come back to these people two more times into the film.

So that’s a total of four bitter girls and boy out of six characters keeping a torch for an undeserved love. The film shows both broken hearts and trying to hide the broken hearts underneath a ‘cool’ exterior – the latter done way awkwardly, by the way. There is interestingly more focus on the former, the interior these characters, than the latter. It’s also mean to negate characters’ hurt feelings. But that Dolan’s worldview suggest that 67% of us are sensitive puppy dogs inside, or that if this state of mind is more accurate than we’d like to admit, or that these people aren’t shown doing other things to distract themselves and have little or no intention to move on. They look like they have had lives before this guy has come along. And where are their parents?


TIFF Hangover: Attenberg


Two themes support Attenberg, the first is its portrayal of awkward human interactions. We see protagonist Marina, a 23 year-old girl with an extremely low sex drive, learning how to French kiss from her sexually experienced Charlotte Gainsbourg lookalike of a best friend, Bella. She can talk to her architect father about taboo sexual issues in their native Greek, French and animal. She’s a chauffeur for a little company, driving around a visitor who she’s going sleep with. She describes every little thing she does to try to arouse him. I’m serious.

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All of this happens in decay, in a small Greek city with ample infrastructure – hospitals and tennis courts. Yet there only seems to be a handful of people enjoying these things. The movie spends most of its time capturing Marina and Bella’s walks together, showing that boredom is quirky’s workshop. It’s only until their third or fourth walk together that the film shows people other than the main characters. They sing a Brigitte Bardot song ironically, the sidewalk near the tennis court isn’t ripe with the men or women of their sexual fantasies.

Attenberg doesn’t have a good start pacing-wise but it has a lot of good ideas. It keeps the audience laughing and thinking and has a different approach in human behaviour in an isolated and limited world. Labed perfectly captures the boredom, confusion and pain so subtly in a role that won a best actress award in Venice. And a good indie rock soundtrack always helps.


TIFF: Route Irish


Ken Loach‘s film Route Irish seems meditative for its 110 minute run. Every detail of Fergus’ own investigation of his best friend and coworker Frank’s so-called accidental death in Iraq is treated as a cold fact. There’s minimal non-diagetic music in the film, and Fergus’ eyes don’t light up when he sees a video or hears a statement that helps him piece the events together. He doesn’t ponder over any paper clippings posted on his minimal apartment walls. And scenes that accelerate his knowledge of the Frankie’s death is carefully paired with other scenes that show that he has a life outside of it. He goes to pubs, has interactions with Frankie’s widow, Rachel and takes his blind friend out to his ‘football’ games.

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Fergus’ reactions in the days after Frank’s death is interesting as well. Generally, however, he’s more wrathful – one little thing can tap back into his raw emotions and he snaps at someone. The film tries to be an examination of someone getting personally affected with a friend’s death. There could be different reason and enemies for someone to have a fate like Frankie’s. Fergus tends to yell, an interesting knee-jerk reaction that I can’t get used to. He eventually stops listening to other people’s explanations of the events when someone misguides him to a different version of the truth. There’s a sensitive scene where he tortures his suspect and forces his to admit crimes, making one of the memorable frames within this mediocre film. 3/5.


TIFF: Machete Maidens Unleashed!


The Marcoses have supported the arts including, shockingly, subversive B-films that put his dictatorship in question. One of the first voices we hear in Mark Hartley’s documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed! is director John Landis, poking light fun at the taglines that got people in the drive-ins screening those B films. The film is the story of American B film-making in the Philippines. B directors, American and Filipino ones mostly under Roger Corman reminisce about the golden age of the B film, talking about large breasts as selling points for these films. Touchy, off-putting conversation, but hang in there.

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The film also paints Corman as someone who goes through phases of genres lasting a year. It’s hard to find differences between genres because the cast looks the same, but there are war films to horror to jungle prison films where the Stanislavsky trained Pam Grier got her start.The female leads feel ambivalent towards their work, from Grier’s humourous take on it to others shocked at how DVD’s will put their past into permanence to one who points out how these films gave more decent work to black actresses in the 70’s.

I also wanna point out how little interference Hartley has with the tone, keeping it groovy even if the subject is exploitation or violent conditions in the Philippines. He doesn’t force a bleeding heart over the death of a stuntman. The ones interviewed have honest reactions of maturity about the films’ accident prone shooting conditions. I call it refreshingly educational. 4/5.


TIFF: Confessions


Confessions starts like a ‘taut,’ elegiac film about the eventual loss of innocence, with images of milk cartons and Japanese school children being rambunctious while their teacher meekly prattles on. She announces her resignation for being an ineffective teacher, writes on the chalkboard a huge calligraphic symbol denoting ‘life.’ She eventually gets their attention on a sad, dreadful, unforgettable lesson.

Director Tetsuya Nakashima sometimes uses traffic reflector mirrors to show the kids walking and meeting, or slows down to watch a softball hitting someone’s head. Muted colours dominate the film, only giving breaks of warm red and yellows when characters flashback into happy moments. The music balances out the children’s chaos and eventually is in tune with the teacher’s dread-filled lesson.

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Confessions can be also read as a genre film, a revenge horror, comparable to the Noh-inspired examples within the Japanese canon. By revealing that her child’s murderers are two of her students, her calm demeanour turns her into a ghostly figure. She’s a woman both victimized by men and out for revenge, her little victims eventually depicted as incorporating abject elements into their lives.

In revealing that genre spin we can talk about the performances, any of the leads can arguably be best in show, whether it’s the teacher’s slow burning vindication or the students’ evil facades and psychological pain. The transformation and genre-crossing of the film isn’t a smooth transition and the film’s long scenes makes it drag and tonally imperfect, but Confessions is both artistic and engaging. 5/5.


TIFF: The Christening


In The Christening, immature army boy Janek bunks with his best friend, burgeoning businessman Michal and the latter’s wife, Magda, coincidentally a week before their son’s baptism. His stay complicates the latter’s marriage and reveal each other’s differences as well as the men’s violent past and the people from it.

There are many close-ups of Janek’s face, who lacks conventional handsomeness with his bug-like blue eyes and a scar in his forehead, but looks able-bodied, sinister, childlike. Watching him smoke, or looking at the cross – many images that are read as Christian symbolism, by the way – feels iconic. There’s also the cold greens, blues and blinding whites used in the film. Magda’s hair gets flushed out into the stark Warsaw this movie depicts.

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And in Magda lies the film’s flaw. Director Marcin Wrona regards her as an innocent angel, Michal’s relief from the underworld he comes from. She’s not completely one-dimensional, with her defiant reaction against Janek’s stay. Yet I feel as if she doesn’t have a life outside her marriage – Michal sometimes makes his demands known to her in terrible ways.

Despite of that flaw, The Christening is a thrilling drama that shows how the underworld can psychologically control those who find themselves belonging to it. The emotions and evolution of Janek and Michal make this a worthwhile discovery. The film has scenes of violence and sexual aggression. If Ben Affleck runs out of material, someone should show him this movie, although Affleck’s women are stronger. 4/5.

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TIFF: Modra


Shot in digital and under natural light, Ingrid Veringer makes her directorial debut with MODRA. Protagonist Lina breaks up with her boyfriend Tyler. Her classmate Laco calls to invite her to a movie and she instead ends up inviting him to Modra, Slovakia, her family’s home town. It’s not the most original film in visual terms – a shot of the Toronto skyline indicating that the film begins in…Toronto, low angle shots looking up a tree indicating an idyllic summer afternoon. Yes, I’m nitpicking. What also distracts me are the portrait close-ups of Lina’s family members with sound from the scene they cut away from, taking away from the scenes’ continuity. I do like the way the film photographs Modra, a clump of red roofs in between a green field, in many scenes in the point of view of the summer couple.

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The impressionistic performances of the characters redeems this film greatly, focusing on the two North American teenagers, nonchalant yet have envy-inducing independence. Lina’s a girl who wears unflattering empire waist dresses yet sings like Feist, Laco’s agile, awkward, not loquacious but a gentle soul. Like teenagers, the couple have unassuming exteriors and hidden anger and sadness that only comes out in economical taps. I also like how Lina is mature enough to deal with family secrets that involves her separation from her home country. Lina and Laco also accept that permanence can’t exist, and whatever happens, they see the trip as the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 3/5.