TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2009 PREVIEW: PART II

christopher funderburg & john cribbs

 

christopher:

Wait, what the heck: I just re-read something you wrote in Part I of this TIFF 2009 preview - you don't really like Uncommon Valor do you?

 

john:

Let's address something right off the bat: when your choice of favorite Fred Ward ragtag team on a mission movie is limited to one, you've got to appreciate it somewhat. Uncommon Valor is far from great, but it's a much better Vietnam revenge flick than First Blood Part II, and you can't tell me it isn't heartwrenching when Gene Hackman learns his son is long dead and for him there's no happy ending. Randall Tex Cobb took that grenade for nothing! I need Paul Cooney to validate me on this one...

Did I ever have a crush on Samantha Morton? If so, I fell out of love my first year at Toronto thanks to a little movie called River Queen. That movie's so bad I don't think it's ever been released. I guess I'm giving more credit to actors-turned-directors - something that used to impress me as much as plumbers-turned-politicians - ever since Ben Affleck made a case for the transition with 2007's exceptional Gone Baby Gone. I can't help but think that Yakusho, having spent years being directed by genuises like Imamura and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, might have picked up some good tricks and techniques. I suppose it's more likely he's using his international cred accquired by appearing in fucking Babel to make a bland, pretentious fantasy film that's all character and no innovation, thus creating a new negative cine-lingo verb (ie "man this director's really toad oilin' his way through this one"). Yes, that is entirely possible. But maybe - just maybe - some of that magic toad oil from great directors has rubbed off on him. And Rachel Ward has worked with James Foley, Bruce Robinson...Taylor Hackford. Ok I admit it, i just have a GIGANTIC CRUSH ON RACHEL WARD...CIRCA 1990! Any girl who can fend off masked kidnappers in Australia AND net Bryan Brown, you know she's got something going on...

I loved that "WWII was my favorite war" transition so much it really pains me to point out that the new Haneke is actually set just before WW One, not Two. But you're right that the Epic War Movie does seem to be what every auteur stacks all his chips to get a chance to direct, up to and including Tarantino with Inglorious Basterds [sic]. And usually when a film is ten years in the works it's not because the director is taking more time to insure high quality - he just can't get it working. But I have faith in Haneke, who's accrued a ton of credit over the decade. I guess I have the same concern as you: not that the movie will be "cold" and "inhuman," an argument I never really understood. Is the audience not meant to sympathize with the family of Funny Games, even when Haneke makes us implicit in their suffering? Do we not feel a planetary amount of pity for Huppert's Erika Kohut despite her perfervid proclivities? Does the dead world of Time of the Wolf make it somehow impossible to sympathize with Huppert and her kids? Even the self-destructive family of The Seventh Continent are deserving of the audience's empathy if not their affinity, aren't they? In fact give me the name and number of anyone willing to defend the stance that Haneke's work is nothing but cynicism and condescension* and I'll put a bag over their head and drop them in a lake. Anyway, I'm not too worried about that - rather, I'm concerned that White Ribbon will be kind of slow and distant like his adaptation of The Castle I was so excited about seeing until I finally sat down to watch it. But he's come a long way since then - this is his return to Austria, and I'd like to think the film's earned its accolades.

But I'm not going to hold my breath - I'm actually fairly confident that I don't have my hopes set too high for any one film. Both The Hole and the Herzog-that-has-an-actual-chance-of-being-good are ones I'm insanely curious about, but I'm not predicting either of them to be anywhere near their director's best output. Soul Kitchen...the title make me think of one of those Chicken Soup for the Soul-type books, or that it must be Jessy Terrero's followup to Soul Plane. Literally half a dozen times this last week I've forgotten the name of Fatih Akin's movie, looked it up and thought 'Oh yeah...yikes.' I've heard no advance buzz on the film whatsoever, and have asked myself over and over whether the reputations of Head On and Edge of Heaven could be in any way marred by a misstep on the Turkish-German master's part. I have to weigh that possibility with the probability of this new one being any good. Should I risk not seeing it at all? That seems ridiculous. I think my strategy with this, with the new Kore-eda, with the Campion and Resnais and Bellocchio is simply NOT to get my hopes up. Keep my expectations low.

That said, is there any doubt White Material won't be awesome? I actually didn't mention it at all since I'm waiting for the New York Festival premiere! I suppose if there's an open space in the schedule I wouldn't mind seeing it both places, but I'd rather fill time with another random weird film I wouldn't see normally. And that's the beauty of TIFF: I may get absolutely nothing out of River Queen, Parc, Vinyon, The Devil's Chair and the countless other forgotten titles I've slipped into for a peek over the years but I love browsing the festival searching for that one film I never would have seen otherwise but end up absoutely adoring (the best example I can think of is Wassup Rockers, which doesn't seem like a good example - but that was one of the best experiences I've ever had at a screening. Dear Wendy also turned out to be a notable discovery).

Funny that you mention The Host in relation to The Descent: I absolutely agree, they both fall short of their potential greatness while also having enough amazing moments that it's impossible to write them off entirely. On the other hand, Bong has Memories of Murder, a movie that just gets better every time I see it. So the fact that he's seemingly returning to the same kind of thriller-family drama is a plus for me: I don't think this will be his Doomsday. And if the worst I can expect is that the movie will fall somewhere between excellent and nearly-excellent, then I'll gladly split that difference.

Film I most dread getting sucked into by scheduling quirks: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's new movie. I have absolutely no interest in seeing it, but like his previous efforts I'm going to feel pressure to give it a look-see so I can officially acknowledge what I already know: this filmmaker just ain't for me. I guess I'm also sadly resigned to seeing the Tsai Ming-liang film...I've caught a couple of his movies in Toronto, and they're usually an uneven wavering between skillfully-crafted vignettes and interminable downtime. He's a geographical filmmaker, but what he's most interested in is banality in ordinary locations turned other-wordly by the way he films them. His movies are therefore always interesting to watch but not very engaging to follow. So I see myself being drawn to Face while simultaneously dreading having to actually sit through it.

Most anticipated film that will disappoint people: I'm guessing either The Time That Remains or, if non-French folks are actually looking forward to it, A Prophet. Suleiman is an exceptional balancer of moments, but my main problem with Divine Intervention was that it had no weight whatsoever: it was light as the balloon with the face on it in that movie, constantly in danger of floating away. This one sounds a little more grounded, but his interconnected sketch-approach to plot - especially when applied to the kind of Big Themes he tackles - is going to lose some people, unless he's seriously changed his aesthetic. And Audiard has always seemed to me like a self-created premiere artiste invented to make French cinema seem bold and edgy again. If that's true then grow up France, you've got Arnaud Desplechin working for you guys - you don't have to impress anybody. At any rate, he's been getting by for years on being merely capable; this feels like a make-or-break film where either everyone will celebrate his apparent genius or denounce him for a fraud. And I strongly suspect it will be the latter. But I could be wrong.  

Biggest long-shot I'm hoping delivers: Le Refuge. Francois Ozon has become as much a Toronto staple for me as Tsai Ming-liang: I've seen three of his movies at TIFF now, and they have ranged from brilliant to weirdly interesting to all-out suckage. But although he's had his ups (See the Sea, 5x2), his downs (8 Women, Time to Leave) and his movies worth seeing for naked Ludivine Sagnier (Water Drops on Burning Rocks, Swimming Pool) he's clearly intelligent and not boring - even last year's Angel [that was actually 2 years ago! - chris] was as weirdly interesting as it was inarguably unsuccessful. His failures are certainly more interesting than Audiard's lukewarm efforts. I guess this one isn't the same film as Ricky, Ozon's movie about a baby with angel wings also due out this year. That one sounds like it has a better chance of being so odd and ostentatious that it's fun to watch despite its extreme shortcomings, but I'd be happy if Le Refuge turned out to be entertaining (I'm not even sure what this one is, it's not listed on his imdb page or anything).

Another film I don't expect anything from but I'd love to be a surprise hit is Fish Tank. Red Road is a primo example of a great film that sinks itself into a terrible one in its last 30 minutes. I'd like to believe Andrea Arnold has it in her to redeem the horrible ending of her feature debut, which showed lots of promise in its first hour. Speaking of Red Road, whatever happened to the rest of the "Advance Party" trilogy anyway? Rounding Up Donkeys (terrible title!) was supposed to come out this year but I haven't heard anything about it. And speaking of things related to Lars von Trier, Lars von Trier seems to be headed down Ken Russell territory with his latest, and not in a good way. Seriously, is there any way to demolish any remaining credibility as a serious filmmaker than to try and make an f 'ed up horror film? Or does Lars exist in a world where Freaks, Martyrs, and Takashi Miike don't exist? Given a choice between this and Enter the Void, I'd go with Noe any day of the week.

The Herzog "fake weirdness" factor is upsetting, and I want to believe your "minstrel show" comment is unjustified, but I don't know. I remember Harmony Korine saying that Herzog told him he'd like to make a movie "with Tom Hanks in blackface." I immediately hoped that this was just another dumb thing the stinky auteur made up and blurted out in a drug-induced stupor because I'd like to think of Herzog as a man who creates truth from fake craziness, but would never pull fake craziness out of truth (like, say, Harmony Korine - am I in any danger of sitting through Trash Humpers after last year's brutal first half hour of Mister Lonely? There's another instance of me falling out of any love I ever had for Samantha Morton while at Toronto). I really hope My Son will be the first Herzog-in-Hollywood film that feels like real Herzog, exiling all memories of Rescue Dawn, his appearance in The Grand and this friggin' Bad Lieutenant thing: I want him to do for San Diego what he did for Antarctica last year.

I've decided the only disappointment for me coming into this year's festival is that the new Claude Chabrol and Marina de Van films aren't being featured. While I'm understandably nervous, I don't hold any of these films to any sort of standard.** I'll try to give them a blank state to impress or depress me on their own power...

* I think people are confusing him with Bruno Dumont - after Flanders, I have zero interest in seeing anything new by him.

** If anything, History of Violence taught me a lesson about seriously - almost dangerously - getting my hopes up.

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