Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Super-Spectacular, Super-Belated Round-up of TIFF 2008

Do you remember 2008? If you're like me, recalling this distant past is an arduous process. We were so young and innocent then, weren't we? A crazy old man ran for president with a mentally-ill woman--and scared the hell out of the world for a few months. Feral children rode aligators like horses through our city streets. And Keyboard Cat had yet to soothe us with his haunting melodies.

In that glorious past, there was a film festival--a glorious, glimmering film festival, which shone like a beacon in the night. And I forgot to write about it, like I do every damn year. Oops. Well, it doesn't matter now, so here's a bunch of stuff about last year's TIFF, so I can get this over with. Enjoy.

First off, I won't actually discuss any of the big films, since those films have been talked to death in the last year. You really don't care about that stuff, and I don't really want to write about it. So there.

As for the rest, my thoughts on many of these films have changed in retrospect. 35 Rhums was a lightly intriguing puzzle at the fest, but has blossomed into a fascinating film as I've mulled it over in the months since. I also need to re-watch Vinyan. The first viewing was a dazzling, disorienting experience, so I'm curious to see if the film holds up. On the opposite side, while I still respect Tony Manero's commitment to its grim perspective, all I remember is the toad-like performance of and how much it infects the film. It's a good film, but not quite up to the praise I gave it at the time. And there are many films I'd love to catch a second time, to see if they hold up or improve: Genova, which seemed so light at the festival it simply floated away from me; or Birdsong, which might improve when one can appreciate its delicate ambient soundscape, which was overwhelmed by the theater's own ambient sounds (namely chewing and coughing); or perhaps Pontypool, a film I probably misjudged because of my own preconceptions.

And then there's Parc, which might have been the most entertaining film I saw at last year's festival, for all the wrong reasons. Austere, sincere, and seemingly devoid of intentional humor, it was nonetheless hysterical, the sort of boondoggle that inspires cults. Inspired by Lynch, Haneke and any number of suburban malaise films, it's so misguided it's virtually a parody of that genre, missing only a cameo from Leslie Nielson for the process to be complete. My wife and I chuckle heartily when we discuss it, especially its highlights: the world's worst dinner party (where one characters sexual kinks are discussed in agonizing detail); the moment where the film's antagonist sneaks around a trendy house, attempting to evade two bodybuilders; and the finale, which ups the silliness to near operatic heights. It's not remotely successful as a serious film, but there's still something about it that has stuck with me since watching it.

Not every bad film was as memorable. Plastic City aimed for greatness, but missed it by a wide margin, coming across as terribly amateurish. Detroit Metal City was a huge disappointment, taking a potentially killer premise (sensitive singer fronts grotesque heavy metal band), then never finding anything remotely funny to do with it. And then there was Deadgirl, also known in my house as "That Film We're Never Talking About Again, Because I Want to Strangle Everyone Who Made The Film With My Bare Hands" (my wife's name, not necessarily mine). I think it's an occasionally interesting and honest look at the mindset of far, far too many men, undone by the filmmakers' inability to understand the tricky material they're working with. My wife disagrees, often vehemently. Seriously, it genuinely angers her, more than anything we've seen.

Other decent to good films from 2008: Edison and Leo, an uneasy mix of kids film banality and Guy Maddin-esque strangeness; The Sky Crawlers, which is never as profound as it wants to be; Sauna, a potent and often transfixing horror film with an interesting moral edge; A Film with Me In It, a seriously dark black comedy with an entertaining performance from comic Dylan Moran; Gomorrah, a film I wanted to like considerably more than I did; the heartbreaking Wendy & Lucy; the gorgeous but disappointing Ashes of Time Redux; the ridiculous but super-fun adult fantasy Tears for Sale; Of Time and the City, which failed to engage me for some reason; its twin, the equally personal Les Plages D'agnes, which was considerably more engaging than Davies' film; The Brothers Bloom, the best Wes Anderson film not directed by Wes Anderson; the frustrating Tokyo Sonata, which squanders its expertly established first half by devolving into downright wacky comedy in its latter stages; the Dardenne brothers' devastating Le Silence de Lorna; and the amusing JCVD, which nears (but never reaches) greatness.

Whew. That's it, I'm done with 2008, apart from an occasional thing about it from here on in. On with 2009!

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