2007 Toronto International Film Festival
George Romero’s Diary of the Dead premiered as a sold-out midnight show at TIFF. It doesn’t disappoint, keeping up the gore and fun of the series. The framing context of this particular undead episode is a bunch of film students and making a mummy film in the woods when the dead come walking home. They decide to flee to their family homes as they struggle to come to grips with the reality of the situation, somehow (against demographic) apparently not having seen any of the previous “… of the Dead” movies and not immediately grasping the seriousness of the situation and so making those wonderful horror movie mistakes.
As they go on, one of the gang becomes obsessed with capturing the disaster on film and the story is told from the perspective of his UGC (user generated content). In the end it isn’t clear whether the meta-comment is that UGC is valuable (“mainstream media is lying”) or detrimental (“with so many voices, nobody knows what to believe”).
Either way, it’s a fun movie with plenty of blood and gore.
“My Enemy’s Enemy” is a reference to the support given Klaus Barbie by the CIA (at least) following WWII by which the “Butcher of Lyon” evaded capture and avoided prosecution for his war crimes for almost 40 years.
The movie is a powerful testament to Barbie’s life-long commitment to torture and abuse, skills he learned as a Nazi, brutal methods he taught the CIA and various South American governments, successful programs of sadistic torture and abuse some of which (“the submarine” whereby victims are held underwater until they believe they are drowning, now known as “waterboarding”) are still known to be in use by the CIA today.
The movie also makes a case for Barbie’s defense argument, that it is hypocritical to prosecute him only when his utility to, particularly, the US has run out and not before, a long-held policy that continues with Hussein and Noriega and certainly many others.
Don’t Touch the Axe is a fairly slow movie of a very stoic general who falls in love with a duchess and ultimately vice versa. The story plays as a costume drama full of meaningful glances and rebuffed advances. Ultimately the mismatched timing, first one being forward while the other is being reticent and vice versa becomes tiresome and by the end it is hard to really care about the ultimate consequences of their monumental, but unsurprising failure to communicate.
Guillaume Depardieu is good as the general, and looks a lot like his father. Jeanne Balibar is very pretty and easy to watch. Both give flawless, if very restrained performances.
Chacun son cinéma ou Ce petit coup au coeur quand la lumière s’éteint et que le film commence is a series of 33 shorts about movies, each about 2 minutes long, each by a different and significant director. Some are a bit tedious or somewhat incomprehensible, but a few really stand out: a joke about moaning in pain (rather than orgasm) during a screening of Emanuele and another about a man who takes makes the ultimate response to a noisy, self-centered movie patron with an ice pick to the head, a fantasy to which we could all relate after dozens of movies.
The Banishment is the story of mistrust and misunderstanding with disastrous consequences. The movie starts with a dramatic drive by a man (Aleksandr Baluyev as Mark) who appears to be bleeding to death from a bullet in his arm. His brother (Konstantin Lavronenko as Alex) dramatically removes the bullet with highly confident and seemingly practiced field surgery. Why, we have no idea and never learn.
Alex’s wife, Vera (Maria Bonnevie), also has a secret which comes out when Alex and family move out to his father’s house in the country (again, for reasons that are not explained). Ultimately the secret brings disaster and then regrets. It is a sad story of regret and insanity. But very compelling.
Obscene is the story of Barney Rosset’s efforts to publish Evergreen and works like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Tropic of Cancer, Naked Lunch, and I Am Curious (yellow) in the face of the essentially absurdist repression of the 1950s.
The story is very well told, and extremely interesting. The best moments come from the insights of some of his contemporaries like Jim Carroll and particularly the always charming and insightful Gore Vidal and John Waters (either of whom would be captivating on their own for 90 minutes).
Barney is, in the end and despite his flaws, a hero of contemporary literature and the right of free expression and all the more inspirational that his motivation was at least substantially prurient and all the more touching that he was ultimately successfully attacked by conservative forces. It is a compelling battle cry for the extraordinary social merit of the erotic and perverse.
Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg was narrated live (by Guy) in the theater at our screening. It is, at times, howling funny even for a non-winnipegger, though the Toronto audience seemed very amused by some Canadian and Winnipeg specific jokes that I didn’t really get. The live performance added a lot, I thought, to the experience of the movie, the two working together very well to foreshadow and set up some of the jokes.
For a movie entirely about something as personal as Guy’s childhood and as place as specific (and as unlikely to be on most people’s must visit list) as Winnipeg, the movie touched a lot of universal truths while being quirky and colloquial.
Mongol tells the early life of Ghengis Kahn from choosing his charming bride at 10 to unifying the Mongol people’s in a final, climactic battle.
It is an extremely well produced movie by Sergei Bodrov, entirely up to Hollywood blockbuster standards, though the language is Mongolian (of course, since all the world will someday speak Mongol, the most beautiful language in the world).
Though the film is brutal and violent, it is so in the normal mode of Hollywood films: stylized and sanitized with sprays of computer-animated looking blood marking the (frequent) satisfying deaths of opponents and the tragic deaths of allies alike.
Is is the Gladiator of the Steppe, a strong, compelling film that should appeal broadly, despite subtitles.
Ulzan is a movie about a man named Charles (Philippe Torreton) struggling with a difficult and unnamed event in his past that has led him on a reckless journey into Kazakhstan’s interior. Sort of Leaving Las Vegas on the Steppe. In the opening scene, he tells a border guard on entering Kazakhstan asking, after looking dubiously at the bottles littering the passenger side of his car, “are you a vagabond?” “No, French.”
Two interesting characters join him as generally unwelcome compatriots on his journey: the gorgeous Ayanat Ksenbai as the title role, a woman who perhaps leads Charles to salvation; David Bennent as Saukuni, a travelling vendor who sells rare words.
It is a moving and charming film that just might be about redemption, but is absolutely about finding life where you are. As the film progresses, it becomes more and more interesting, the characters more and more compelling. I very much enjoyed it.
The Romance of Astrea and Celadon is a pastoral play in a classical style about shepherds and nymphs falling in love with each other. The production is stylized to fit the period, which is perhaps academically interesting, but ultimately rather boring. The dialog and production values feel more like a lightly rehearsed high school production, though I have no doubt that achieving that effect took considerable skill and dedication.
The nymphs wear revealing outfits and there is some pleasing partial nudity, but overall the result is not particularly erotic, despite the attractive bodies. Most of the laughs seem unintentional, over absurdly too sincere or painfully stilted dialog; even so those moments would be less funny if they were intended to be funny. If they were intended to be unintentionally funny, then the movie is fairly successful.