The Stories We Tell - Featured

TIFF 2012 Reviews: Part 3

Day three of our coverage of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival brings us at last to opening day! Here are some more films debuting at the festival in the coming days, but for more coverage be sure to check out our first (which includes a look at opening night films Looper, Dredd, and Rust and Bone) and second entries if you haven’t already! And for more information on films and how to get tickets, visit tiff.net.

Stories We Tell

Special Presentation

Director: Sarah Polley

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Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell is an extremely personal documentary that artfully avoids the pitfalls that come along with this kind of filmmaking. The film’s pre-screening publicity purposely downplayed its autobiographical elements by poising it as a documentary examining memory, storytelling and the “varying narratives of a single family as they look back on decades-old events.”  This is all accurate, except it’s not just a family, it’s her family. Shortly following last week’s premiere at the Venice film festival, Polley posted a blog addressing why she had previously decided to omit particulars and in doing so revealed the film’s dramatic crux which many considered to be a spoiler, so in the interest of remaining prudent I will say no more in regards to the film’s specific content.

Despite the serious subject matter, we never get the sense that Polley wants us to feel sorry for her as she maintains a generally positive malaise throughout. As the initial description implies, the story is piecemealed through the recollections of various family members and acquaintances.  One would expect the stories to at least have some contradictions, and perhaps they did, but the edited accounts coupled with stills and super 8 footage come together to create a cohesive narrative built around a portrait of Polley’s late mother.

One criticism would be that the film attempts to do too much. Along with the narrative of her family and the examination of memory, Polley also tries to deconstruct her own film within the film by letting her subjects turn the interview process around on her. Having already answered the most obvious questions, this self-reflection contained within the film now serves as a good excuse for Polley to forgo the press process, a decision she elaborates on in her aforementioned blog post (possible spoilers). (Noah Taylor)

Screens

Friday, September 7th, 6:00pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Saturday, September 8th, 11:45am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

On the Road

Special Presentation

Director: Walter Salles

Jack Kerouac’s era defining, self catalog On the Road has reshaped many a young wanderer, sparking their trotting quest for “it.” Motorcycle Diaries’ director Walter Salles star smothered adaptation of the time weathering tome likely won’t help those male dreamers find “it” but they will find “something” even if it’s “different” than that “thing” they “came to see in a movie theater.”

Sal Paradise/Jack Kerouac (Sam Riley) has a friend named Dean/Neal (Gerret Hedlund), who is a bit of an eccentric and moreso a womanizer. Starving for inspiration, Sal, Dean, and a rotation of confidants hit the road time after time, refusing to be restless in one spot.

There are performances to speak of, like Hedlund as the unruly Dean and Viggo Mortensen’s bizarre spin in the Burroughs-bumper-car. There are others that remain unilaterally flat, like Riley, who’s got a decent weathered voice for the words but sounds corny going beat, and Kirsten Stewart as Marylou, who mostly dances or showers sexual favours without much to say. Most of the creative action comes from Salles himself, addressing a question most people knew the answer to: you probably can’t adapt this book properly into film.

Without the prose, which is skimped, On the Road is about two young fellas who sleep around a lot. To pad the sides, Salles delivers a feature length set of postcards, warm, brotherly bonding moments that flatter the idea of travelling. That may not be the reason you came to see On the Road: the movie, but it’s the most you’d get from anyone. (Zack Kotzer)

Screens

Thursday, September 6th, 9:00m, Ryerson Theatre PREMIUM

Friday, September 7th, 11:30am, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

The Hunt

Special Presentation

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

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The Hunt could be the feel-bad movie of this year’s festival. Director Thomas Vinterberg brings back the nasty ferocity of his breakout feature The Celebration (minus the sick comedy) for a tale of misinterpreted child abuse and outrage. Mads Mikkelsen stars as Lucas, a daycare worker and pillar of his community. He has a special bond with one child Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), who often visits him when her parents are fighting. One day Klara tries to kiss Lucas on the lips and after he explains that’s only for mommies and daddies, the confused young girl whips up a story about witnessing some inappropriate behavior from Lucas. Immediately everyone in the town panics, put words in the girl’s mouth, and Lucas is ostracized and abused without trial.

It’s another one of the filmmaker’s deeply cynical portrayals of how easily the pleasant smiles of society can fade. Every family on screen is broken. Children are devious with only the façade of innocence. Told entirely from Lucas’ perspective, the righteous indignation felt in the town is self-serving, wrong, and disturbing. There’s very little that represents good in the film beyond Lucas and he’s punished severely. Simple, raw, realistic and powerful, The Hunt is easily Vinterberg’s finest achievement since The Celebration, harmed only by two closing scenes that dip somewhat awkwardly into symbolism and even those misguided moments are forgivable. Mikkelsen won Best Actor at Cannes and should expect further awards recognition for his subtle, yet searing portrayal. It’s a vicious and effective little drama that will hopefully never be sanitized by a Hollywood remake. (Phil Brown)

Screens

Monday, September 10, 9:15pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Wednesday, September 12, 3:00PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

 

Peddlers

City to City

Director: Vasan Bala

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An interweaving trio of characters from different backgrounds of status and legality come violently together in this intriguing Bombay set crime saga that’s evocative stylistically of the works of Michael Mann and Wong Kar Wai rather than what one might expect from Indian cinema.

Writer and director Bala follows the lives of a low level weed dealer with grand aspirations, a former chemistry teacher turned drug mule looking for a way to pay for her cancer treatment, and a two faced elite squad officer prone to fits of horrific and unjustified violence brought on by his own impotency and childhood sexual trauma. When an underground meth ring and a botched robbery force the two criminals to deal with the cop, they begin a fight for survival as their pursuer loses even more of his humanity.

Peddlers could stand to lose a few minutes with a couple of scenes that go over facts all the characters already know for a second time, but great performances from Kriti Malhotra (as the wholly sympathetic runner) and Gulshan Devaiah (as the deranged rookie cop) bring a human element to what could be a very cold story. It’s never an in-your-face action film, but Bala balances stylistic flash within a slow burning character piece for a seriously exciting genre effort. (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Wednesday, September 12th, 9:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Thursday, September 13th, 9:00pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas 3

Sunday, September 16th, 3:15pm, Scotiabank 11

Tower

Discovery

Director: Kazik Radwanski

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Toronto based short filmmaker Kazik Radwanski and his producing partner Dan Montgomery deliver their first feature length film, Tower, a subtle and deeply observational look at one man’s inability to commit to anything in his life and how it has led to him becoming a 34 year old that still lives at home with his parents. Radwanski deftly toes the line between comedy and outright tragedy in this tale of a man who could snap at any moment, but would probably even grow bored by his own anger. It’s also nowhere near as boring as that last sentence made it sound.

Derek (Derek Bogart) works construction jobs during the day for little pay while attempting to find time to forward his fledgling career as an animator. His parents are almost too supportive and when it comes to romantic relationships, Derek falls somewhere between being a club dwelling creeper and a dumb ass who can’t see that he already has a perfectly nice girlfriend. Derek tries way too hard to impress people with even the most menial of conversation starters and in private he has an almost bizarre inability to focus.

Tower works nicely thanks to Radwanski’s controlled direction, loose script that allows room for improvisation, and Bogart’s performance where one can always see that his wheels are spinning, but his mind is somewhere else entirely. Anyone familiar with Radwanski’s pervious work will see this as a perfectly logical next step in the young filmmaker’s career. (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Tuesday, September 11th, 10:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Wednesday, September 12th, 6:15pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas

 

Lore

Special Presentation

Director: Cate Shortland

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While not following in the bombast and melodrama of the typical World War II epic, Australian director Shortland delivers a deliberately paced coming of age tale told from the German point of view. It’s a gamble that pays off, even if the film feels subdued by comparison to its contemporaries.

The eldest of five children of former SS soldiers (which includes an infant), Lore (a very talented Saskia Rosendahl) has to help her siblings cross the entirety of Germany to get to their grandmothers house after her parents are arrested. With little to no help during the post war American occupation and not realizing that the entire country hates their ideology, Lore reluctantly begins travelling with a slightly older Jew with hopes of surviving.

Filled with some quiet, but striking imagery and great performances all around from the mostly younger cast, Shortland makes known just how much parents can corrupt their children without resorting to clichés and overwrought sentimentality and manipulation. The biggest attraction has to be Rosendahl, however, as she wonderfully conveys naivety, strength, and the fear of maturing too quickly with grace and the ability to make herself seem vulnerable even when the character isn’t entirely likable. She and the movie hit mostly all the right notes. (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Monday, September 10th, 4:30pm, Winter Garden Theatre

Wednesday, September 12th, 3:00pm, Ryerson Theatre

Sunday, September 16th, 9:15am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

90 Minutes

Vanguard

Director: Eva Sorhaug

Senseless domestic violence is the subject of Eva Sorhaug’s sophomore feature and wisely the filmmaker makes no attempt to moralize or rationalize her subject. Taking on three characters and following them for 90 minutes before a murder, the project is reminiscent of films like either Alan Clarke or Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. There’s no social or psychological context for given to contextualize the crimes. They just play out in a chillingly matter of fact manner, the horrific actions allowed to speak for themselves while the audience is left numbly in shock.

The stories themselves are not linked beyond their sadly inevitable, bloody conclusions. There’s a Jonah (Bjorn Floberg), a middle-aged business man who lovingly prepares a meal for his wife with a mysteriously desolate expression on his face; Fred (Mads Oudal) and his wife Elin (Pia Tjelta) who host a children’s party while the demons of their failed marriage bubble to the surface; and finally Trond (Aksel Hennie) a man in his late 20s who wanders absently mindedly around a boxed up apartment before entering a bedroom with a woman bound to the bed and an infant crying in the corner. It’s instantly clear none of these segments will end well and that sense of dread hangs over every second of the running time. The goal is to force viewers to experience these gruesome events in the chillingly mundane and unexpected way they would naturally occur, robbing the violence of any sense of genre movie thrill. Sorhaug and her collaborators succeed admirably, crafting a deeply unsettling experience that should appropriately alienate and fascinate in equal measure. (Phil Brown)

Screens

Saturday, September 8, 9:00pm, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 2

Sunday, September 9, 9:00am, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 10

Sunday, September 16, 11:45am, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 2

Blackbird

Discovery

Director: Jason Buxton

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Despite an intriguing and timely plot set-up, it’s a shame that Blackbird ends up being more of a standard prison melodrama than the topical subject matter would suggest. It speeds through the most interesting part of the film (returning briefly to it later), but the film gets bogged down by a bland middle section.

After a viral video goes misunderstood, the only goth in a small Canadian town (Connor Jessup, who helped produce last year’s TIFF entry Amy George) goes on trial under the pretense that he threatened to kill a great deal of his classmates. With more evidence against him than for him despite his true intentions, he goes in and out of juvenile prison twice where his life becomes a nightmare.

The opening trial in our post-Columbine and Aurora world had some great potential and Buxton does a phenomenal job with it, but it only lasts for about 45 minutes of the film, with the rest of it dealing with the main character adjusting to prison life. The scenes of incarceration feels disconnect from then rest of the film. They aren’t bad, but it seems like two different films that never achieved their full potential put into one. Having Jessup in the lead helps, and there’s some great supporting work from Michael Buie as his dazed and hurting father. (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Sunday, September 9th, 9:45pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Monday, September 10th, 1:00pm, Jackman Hall (AGO)


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