Monday, June 16, 2008

The Good Old-Fashioned TIFF 2007 Roundup - The Good

Here we go. It's my roundup of last year's TIFF, only nine months late. Woo hoo! I've split it into three parts, because it's easier and I like things that come in threes. And I'll do some larger write-ups of some of the more interesting films at a later date (if I remember, of course). Anyway, I'll shut up now.


You, the Living (Roy Andersson)

Not quite the revelation that Songs from the Second Floor was, but still a singular experience. Funny, but not quite a comedy; sad, but not quite a drama; strange, but grounded in real human behavior. It kind of stumbles on occasion, especially in a long stretch where Andersson trades out the offbeat humor for straight-up pathos, but it's worth it for the ingenious newlywed sequence, a bracing combination of deep sadness and "how'd-he-do-that" dazzle. Bonus points for the bleakly funny ending.

My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin) / Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog)

I'll review these soon. Short take: they're wonderful, two of the best of the fest.

Les Amours d'Astree et de Celadon (Eric Rohmer)

The 21st century interprets the 18th century interpreting the 16th century. As strange as that sounds, it plays even stranger. Deliberately wooden acting and lengthy speeches about love and virtue make it slightly off at first, but the film gradually wears you down with its exceedingly dry wit and sincerity. And the ending is terrific, the best of its kind in a romantic film since Before Sunset.

The Man from London (Bela Tarr)

I didn't finish the film, but the half I did see was mesmerizing. Agonizingly slow and methodical, yes, but mesmerizing too. Deep down, I know I should find Tarr's humorless, ponderous filmmaking to be pretentious wankery, but there's something about his style that I find deeply compelling. Perhaps its the attention to detail, best represented here by the ridiculously complicated opening scene of the film, depicting the incident that sets the plot in motion. Whatever it is, I can't resist it.

No Country for Old Men (Ethan and Joel Coen)

Ah, hell, everybody's seen this already. Nobody needs my review.

Nightwatching (Peter Greenaway)

Let's be honest: Greenaway can be a wee bit pompous. He's the only filmmaker at TIFF who would introduce his film with a mini-lecture on Rembrandt and the age he lived in, as though the assembled audience was a classroom of students. No matter--the man has an eye like no other. and a deep-seated wit that keeps his work from becoming too self-indulgent. This one's one of his best recent efforts, thanks mostly to Martin Freeman's terrific central performance. It's a little long and a little off at times, but I was pretty enthralled by the whole thing.

Jellyfish (Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret)

The post-festival reviews have been mixed to negative, but this was a nice breath of fresh air in the middle of a busy, loaded week. Lightly surreal, it follows several Israeli men and women, whose lives connect in unusual ways. Admittedly, that description makes it sound like the sort of arthouse film that has choked the cinemas in the last ten or so years, but this one finds a tone of sweet cynicism that elevates it above the rabble.

Dr. Plonk (Rolf de Heer)

A pitch-perfect recreation of silent cinema, fused with a dash of social satire. It shouldn't work, yet it often reaches giddy heights, especially in the wild, Keatonesque chase that closes the film.

Sad Vacation
(Shinji Aoyama)

I'm not quite sure about this one. For one thing, it has one of the most baffling endings I've seen in ages--a raspberry sent directly towards audience expectations. For another, it's a semi-sequel to earlier films Shinji Aoyama made, none of which I've even seen. And yet....the whole thing has a strange power, a weird sensibility that I've tried to parse since watching it and haven't gotten any closer to understanding. I know writing this makes no sense to anyone who hasn't seen the film, but I can't explain it any better right now. Maybe I'll write the thing up at a future date....

OK, that's it for now. Also good, but going in a later write-up, for reasons that will become apparent: Glory to the Filmmaker! and Eat, for This is My Body.

Next up: The Meh

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