Wednesday, August 20, 2008

TIFF08—CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA

With yesterday's official announcement of the full line-up for the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, I can finally begin to effectively obsess. And with 312 films from 64 countries screening at TIFF08, including 249 feature-length films, 76 per cent of which are world, international or North American premieres, and 61 of which are feature directorial debuts … well, needless to say, there's a lot to obsess about.

Never let it be said, however, that I am not methodical in my obsessions. I begin with a preliminary review of the Contemporary World Cinema sidebar, with special thanks to Bay Area filmbud Carole Rutherford whose raids on IMdb and Wikipedia got me motivated. I also shout out to my Evening Class cohort Michael Hawley, the Twitch and Row Three teams, Dave Hudson at The Greencine Daily, Darren Hughes at 1st Thursday, the crew around Girish Shambu's water cooler, and Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE for their welcome recommendations. This will be a slightly amoebic entry that gains mass as recommendations pour in. That being said, recommendations welcome!

Off the cuff—being an avid supporter of Spanish cinema—I'm intrigued by José Luis Cuerda's Blind Sunflowers (Los Girasoles ciegos), primarily because it features one of my favorite Spanish actresses and spooky Simón from The Orphanage (Maribel Verdú, Roger Príncep). Also, I found Juan Carlos Tabío's Strawberry and Chocolate both sexy and hilarious so I'm primed for more sensuous laughs with Horn of Plenty. And after the visually stunning Bonbon El Perro, I'll look through any cinematic window with Carlos Sorin.

Having seen both Ramin Bahrani's Man Push Cart and Chop Shop, I'm keen to his compassionate observations of marginalized lives and anticipate that Goodbye Solo will not disappoint. With a cast that includes Juliette Binoche, Jérémie Rénier and the incomparable Edith Scob, I'm curious what kind of B-movie vibe might be present in Olivier Assayas's most recent L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours). Impressed with last year's Jar City, and appreciative of his production credits on The Amazing Truth of Queen Raquela, I'm inclined to check out Baltasar Kormakur's Brúðguminn (White Night Wedding). As a board member on The Global Film Initiative, I'm steeped in Indonesian auteur Garin Nugroho (Of Love & Eggs, Opera Jawa) and am anxious to follow through with Under the Tree to monitor his strengthening creativity. Upon Anthony Kauffman's recommendations, I've become interested in Two-Legged Horse and Treeless Mountain; the latter especially because Girish Shambu introduced me to So Yong Kim's In Between Days, which I very much enjoyed.

I could roost fully in the World Cinema selection and will have to make some difficult decisions to sample TIFF08's multiple sidebars.

* * *

33 Scenes from Life (33 chwile z życia)—Malgoska Szumowska, Germany/Poland. Szumowska's debut film, likewise written by the director, is set in Cologne and stars German actress Julia Jentsch (Sophie Scholl). Though her performance required dubbing, Szumowska earnestly defends her casting of Jentsch in an interview granted Gazeta Wyborcza (translated by Euro/topics via The Greencine Daily). At its world premiere at the 2008 Locarno Film Festival 33 Scenes won the Grand Prix-Silver Leopard (Special Jury Prize) and the Youth Jury Second Prize. Synopsis: Julia is a beloved daughter and wife, and a successful photographer. But the pieces of her happy life begin to fall apart all around her, beginning with the death of the family dog. When Julia's mother is diagnosed with cancer, her husband—a famous composer—is of no help, spending most of his time abroad, while her father seems to need help even more than she does. Sickness and death from a close perspective are much more absurd, nonsensical and ridiculous than Julia expected. Cineuropa offers an alternate synopsis. Dispatching to FIPRESCI and taking the film straight into her heart despite some noted flaws, Emma Gray Munthe praises how Szumowska makes creating real life look easy, capturing "life as it is."

$5 a Day—Nigel Cole, USA. When Nat (Christopher Walken)—a free-spirited hustler who boasts he can live on $5 a day—calls to say he's dying and needs a drive to New Mexico for a dubious cure, his son Flynn (Alessandro Nivola) reluctantly agrees. Also starring Amanda Peet and Sharon Stone. Cinematical profiles the casting of Christopher Walken in the lead role. Bad jokes abound about how he's lowered his rates. World Premiere.

Acne—Federico Veiroj, Uruguay/ Argentina/Spain/ Mexico. At age 13, Rafael loses his virginity thanks to arrangements made by his older brother. His first kiss, however, proves harder to get. Featured in the Directors Fortnight at Cannes 08. "Familiar themes get a fresh spin in well-crafted coming-of-ager Acne, an assured feature debut from Uruguayan writer-helmer Federico Veiroj," writes Alissa Simon in Variety. "Low-key serio-comic drama about a 13-year-old Jewish boy adjusting to bad skin, raging hormones and dysfunctional family builds on his prizewinning short As Follows. It also displays influence of the Control Z production team responsible for 2004 charmer Whisky." In the Hollywood Reporter, Peter Brunette finds Acne "modest to the point of invisibility, but not without its small charms."

AdelaAdolfo Alix Jr. (Donsol), Philippines. Adela is celebrating her 80th birthday. She tries to treat it like any other day, going out on her normal daily routines. But, desperately longing for her family, Adela cannot hide her loneliness. A deeply compassionate portrait of the plight of the elderly in the Philippines, anchored by a bravura lead performance by veteran actress Anita Linda. Notes Francis Cruz: "Ever since Alix debuted his first feature film Donsol in the 2006 edition of Cinemalaya, he has never stopped working, directing at least nine feature films during the span of three years. The screening of Alix's Adela coincides with the festival's tribute to Anita Linda, an actress who works just as hard as Alix, having appeared in more than a hundred movies since before the early 40's up to the present."

All Around Us—Ryosuke Hashiguchi, Japan. At work, Kanao, a courtroom portrait artist, silently observes the highest-profile crimes and scandals of the 1990s. At home, amid the joys of marriage, he quietly observes his wife's first pregnancy. But when their child dies, Kanao must support his ailing spouse as she sinks into depression, guiding her toward recovery in the face of tragedy. Jason Gray blogs on the film from Tokyo.

Blind Sunflowers (Los Girasoles ciegos)—José Luis Cuerda, Spain. A year after Spanish Civil War, a family is forced to lie and keep up appearances as they become divided by internal struggles and external pressure. Explores the darkness of the post-civil war era, the effects of repression and the terrible consequences of the abuse of power.

Cloud 9 (Wolke 9)—Andreas Dresen (Summer in Berlin), Germany. Inge, a happily married woman in her 60s, finds herself one day tumbling into the arms of another man. Rejuvenated by a passion she has not felt in years, Inge informs both her husband and her daughter of the affair, but does not know how to handle their appalled response to the shocking news. At The Greencine Daily Dave Hudson gathers reviews from Cannes where Cloud 9 screened as part of the Critics Week. North American Premiere.

The Country Teacher—Bohdan Sláma (Something Like Happiness, Wild Bees), Czech Republic/Germany/France. When a gifted young teacher takes a job at a grammar school in the country, he quickly forms a strong bond with Marie, a local farm owner. But their friendship is challenged by the arrival of the teacher's jealous ex-lover from the city, who, upon discovering that the teacher is harboring a secret affection for Marie's 17-year-old son, plots to expose him.

Country Wedding (Sveitabrúðkaup)—Valdís Óskarsdóttir, Iceland. A motley crew of wedding guests is loaded onto two buses bound for a remote church one hour outside of Reykjavík. But no one actually knows where the chapel is, and everyone is either too proud or too embarrassed to ask for directions. International Premiere.

Dernier Maquis—Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, France/Algeria. Dubbed "Mao" for his crafty management strategy of feigned benevolence, a truck yard owner (director Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche) decides to build an on-site mosque for his mostly Muslim employees. When debate and division begins to spread among the workers, their varying personality quirks and competing philosophies begin to emerge. Screened in the Directors Fortnight, Cannes 08, where it was reviewed for Screen Daily by Howard Feinstein and The Hollywood Reporter by Duane Byrge. North American Premiere.

L'Empreinte de l'ange (Mark of an Angel)—Safy Nebbou, France. While picking up her son at a birthday party, Elsa (Catherine Frot) finds her entire world turned upside down. Believing Lola, a little girl at the party, to be her daughter, Elsa ends up in a head-to-head confrontation with the girl's mother (Sandrine Bonnaire). Reviewing the film for Screen Daily, Lisa Nesselson states this psychological duel "packs a punch." International Premiere.

Un Été sans point ni coup sûr—Francis Leclerc, QC. Montreal's got a new baseball club. A 12-year-old boy dreams of making the neighborhood team. When he gets cut, his dad steps in, sets up a team, and they spend a summer to remember—for both of them. Reviewed by Simon Laperriere for Twitch.

Fear Me Not (Den du frygter)—Kristian Levring (King Is Alive), Denmark. Desperate to change his life, 42-year-old Michael (Ulrich Thomsen) signs up for clinical trials for a new anti-depressant. But when tests are abandoned due to discovery of serious side effects, he decides to continue the experiment on his own. Intoxicated by a new sense of self control, he feels an urge to take control of other people's lives as well. Slowly, his minor psychological games grow more drastic and frequent, until Michael makes a discovery that forces him to view his actions in a terrifying new light. World Premiere.

A Film with Me in It—Ian Fitzgibbon, Ireland. Mark, a struggling actor, has just been through the ordeal of yet another fruitless audition. With his girlfriend about to walk out and his landlord ready to evict him, Mark has only his friend Pierce and their joint ambition of writing a career-breaking film to keep him going. Leslie Felperin reviews this "gleefully cruel Irish black comedy" for Variety; Genevieve Savage for Picture Show Pundits; Scott Morris for The Oneliner. North American Premiere.

Firaaq—Nandita Das (Before the Rains), India. Directorial debut of actress, traces emotional journey of those caught up in the religious clashes that took place in early 2002. Set one month after the violent events came to an end, story unfolds over 24 hours, exploring the impact of violence on the human psyche, on relationships, and on one's ability to remain hopeful in the face of tragedy. World Premiere.

Flame & Citron (Flammen & Citronen)—Ole Christian Madsen (Kira's Reason—A Love Story), Denmark/Germany. The true story of two resistance fighters—code-named Flame and Citron—in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen, charged with the task of killing informers. But any sense of just cause is challenged when Flame is ordered to execute his girlfriend, Ketty. Highly anticipated by Todd Brown at Twitch. International Premiere.

The Ghost (Domovoy)—Karen Oganesyan, Russia. Hatching a most unusual plan to overcome his writer's block, successful writer Anton hires "Ghost," an assassin whose exploits Anton hopes will reinvigorate his moribund imagination. But little does he know, Ghost is setting him up to take the fall for a murder. Todd Brown at Twitch is impressed by the initial teasers. International Premiere.

Goodbye Solo—Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop), USA. Dramatizes the friendship between a Senegalese cab driver named Solo and an ornery 70-year-old man named William, who will be played by Elvis Presley "Memphis Mafia" member Red West in his first starring role. The cab driver tries to convince the elderly man not to go through with his plans to jump off a mountain. Kauffman recommendation. North American Premiere.

El Greco—Iannis Smaragdis, Greece/Spain/Hungary. Epic tale of an uncompromising artist and fighter for freedom, known to the world as El Greco in 16th-century search for liberty and love across Europe. Never backing down, led on a quest to confront his greatest adversary: the Holy Inquisition. Story of unusual heroism, betrayal, love and the power of one man to battle barbarity and ignorance. Dispatching to The Greencine Daily from the 48th Thessaloniki International Film Festival, Ronald Bergan describes El Greco as "monumentally bad." "The variety of Greek, Spanish and British actors struggle manfully against unspeakable dialogue in English and a dreadful screenplay, in which the narrator tells you throughout what you can see. It never for a moment suggests what made El Greco a great painter, and an upbeat ending is one that even Hollywood at its most puerile would have turned down." Variety's Derek Elley says this "16th-century potboiler emerges as a mash of Greek patriotism, Spanish Inquisition nastiness and painting-by-numbers dialogue." North American Premiere.

L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours)—Olivier Assayas (Clean, Boarding Gate), France. After siblings Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), Frédéric (Charles Berling) and Jérémie (Jérémie Rénier) return home to the countryside for their mother's (Edith Scob) 75th birthday, an unexpected event threatens family unity and forces them to face up to their past. As Michael Hawley mentioned in his recent "tabulation of deprivation", along with Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon, L'Heure d'été was commissioned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Musée d'Orsay. North American Premiere.

Horn of PlentyJuan Carlos Tabío (Strawberry and Chocolate), Spain/Cuba. In 18th cent., a group of Castiñeiras nuns deposited treasure in a British bank. Buoyed by the promise of wealth, Castiñeiras descendents throughout Cuba band together to try to prove their eligibility as legitimate heirs. A wonderfully crafted comedy that reflects on the socio-economic difficulties of contemporary Cuba with corrosive wit. World Premiere.

In the Shadow of the Naga (Nak Prok)—Phawat Panangkasiri, Thailand. After hiding a large sum of money on temple grounds, three robbers return to find that a monastery has been built on top of their stash. To retrieve their booty, they have no choice but to become ordained as monks. But can Buddha's teachings free them from their dark impulses, or will their violent nature force them into drastic measures? With tense action and charismatic leads, this film arrives at an answer that is as unexpected as it is thrilling. Wisekwai has written twice about the film, first regarding its controversial portrayal of "monks with guns" and secondly highlighting an interview with the director where he justifies his intentions.World Premiere.

Jerichow—Christian Petzold, Germany. Tension and intrigue unfold between three characters caught in a love triangle: Ali, a Turkish entrepreneur who is preoccupied with his business; his wife Laura, who shelters secrets from her past, and Thomas, a young man dishonorably discharged from the army. Inspired by Vincent Minnelli's 1958 film Some Came Running, starring Frank Sinatra, Shirley Maclaine and Dean Martin, Jerichow is a story of love, honesty, deception and betrayal. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the critical response at the 2008 Venice International. Also at the Daily, Ronald Bergan dispatches: "Up to now, the selection [in competition] has been slightly redeemed by Christian Petzold's Jerichow, though the plot is rather too reminiscent of The Postman Always Rings Twice and its variations." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Katia's Sister (Het Zusje van Katia)—Mijke de Jong, The Netherlands. After emigrating from Russia to Amsterdam with her mother and older sister, a thirteen-year-old girl plunges into a harsh adult world. With no opportunity to develop her own sense of identity, she even resigns herself to the name everyone uses for her—"Katia's sister." North American Premiere.

KhamsaKarim Dridi, France. Thirteen-year-old Khamsa flees his foster family for the Marseilles gypsy camp where he was born. Embraced by his old friends, Khamsa's innocence begins to vanish when he and his friends become involved in a series of increasingly serious crimes. North American Premiere.

Knitting (Niu Lang Zhi Nu)—Yin Lichuan, China. Daping hates Haili, who strode out of nowhere into her apartment, her life, and her blossoming relationship with Chen Jin. Though Daping tries to be a kind and honest person, Haili bullies her mercilessly. Then Chen Jin disappears, leaving Daping pregnant and alone. Having experienced many hardships in her life, Haili might be just the person to help Daping during these troubled times. Harry Tuttle at Screenville: "We find reminiscence of early Hou Hsiao-hsien (The Boys of Feng-Kwei) or early Jia Zhang-ke (Xiao Wu, Unknown Pleasures) without reaching a comparable plot development. It tells us about the broken lives of our contemporaries in China, the issues of having to seek work away from your home, to leave behind your family, to overcome uncomfortable situations and disappointing dreams." At Variety, Derek Elley complains: "The promise and freshness Mainland writer-director Yin Lichuan showed in her debut feature, The Park, including an ear for natural dialogue and a feel for subtle emotions, are nowhere to be found in sophomore outing Knitting, which ties itself up in arty affectations from the get-go." Maggie Lee concurs at The Hollywood Reporter. Yin Lichuan was the first Chinese woman director to break into Cannes when Knitting screened during the "Director's Fortnight" at Cannes08, making these disappointments all the more noteworthy.

Laila's BirthdayRashid Masharawi, Palestine/Tunisia/The Netherlands. A Ramala cab driver is intent on getting home in time to bring a gift and cake for his daughter's tenth birthday. But the challenges of day-to-day life in this conflicted region will become formidable obstacles to his mission. World Premiere.

Linha de Passe—Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, Brazil. In the heart of São Paulo, four fatherless brothers try to find a way out from their preordained paths. Best Actress (Sandra Corveloni) at Cannes 2008. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the reviews from Cannes 08. At Film Comment, Richard Peña complains: "Well produced and certainly watchable, the film is also too schematic—it simply never comes to life, as the burden of each character to represent some stratum of Brazilian society deflates any dramatic tension."

Lion's Den (Leonera)—Pablo Trapero (Born & Bred, Rolling Family, El Bonarese, Crane World), Argentina/South Korea/Brazil. Co-prod: Walter Salles. A pregnant woman, Julia (Martina Gusman), wakes up one morning to find the dead body of her boyfriend and the wounded body of his boyfriend. In an instant, her life becomes that of a single mother in prison. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers reviews from Cannes 08. "It is in this particularly harrowing environment of dirty cells, barbed-wire and promiscuity inhabited by women and children that the somehow helpless and abused university student slowly reappropriates her own life," Barbara Lorey writes for FIPRESCI, "When her mother tries to take her baby away, she fights like a lion for her son and finally finds a way to escape." This presiding image of a "trapped lioness" and "animalistic maternity" is explored by Miguel Ángel Farfán in his brief interview with Trapero, conducted for FIPRESCI at the Lima International Film Festival.

Lost Song—Rodrigue Jean (Yellowknife), QC. Couple and their newborn move to a cottage in a remote area north of Montreal. Isolation and difficulty coping with her new situation/surroundings send Elisabeth into a spiral of depression. Beautifully and sensitively rendered. World Premiere.

Machan—Uberto Pasolini, United Kingdom/Italy/Germany/Sri Lanka. Convinced that submitting a bogus application to the German Embassy is not the worst thing one can do, a group of young Sri Lankans set out to assemble the Sri Lanka National Handball Team from a mismatched collection of friends, colleagues, creditors, policemen—anyone willing to stretch the truth in exchange for a one way ticket to the West. Based on a true story, Machan is the first film from The Full Monty producer Uberto Pasolini.

Maman est chez le coiffeur—Léa Pool, QC. Infused with Léa Pool's celebrated personal vision, a heart-warming and heart-wrenching family drama that chronicles a separation seen through the eyes of 12-year-old Élise (Marianne Fortier). After the sudden departure of her mother (Céline Bonnier), Élise is left to deal with her despondent dad and troubled younger brothers.

Middle of Nowhere—John Stockwell, USA. New friends Dorian (Anton Yelchin, Charlie Bartlett) and Grace (Eva Amurri) begin selling pot as a way of reconciling their very different financial situations and freeing themselves of their disagreeable parents. Also starring Susan Sarandon and Willa Holland (Genova). World Premiere.

Mothers & Daughters—Carl Bessai, BC. Touching and often hilarious look at the strained relationships three women have with their daughters. Stems from a collaborative and mostly improvised script. World Premiere.

My Mother, My Bride and IHans Steinbichler (Winter Journey), Germany/Romania. Going to Bucharest to meet prospective wives from a catalogue. Erwin is a mama's boy, and mama isn't into sharing. This becomes distressingly clear to Irina, the shy young woman Erwin brings back from the city. While Mother sharpens her claws and Irina transforms from meek to manic, he must decide if this truly is his idea of "happily ever after."

The Narrows—François A. Velle, USA. Brooklyn-born Mike (Kevin Zegers) lives with his dad Vinny (Vincent D'Onofrio), a sanitation worker w/low-level ties to local mob boss Tony. A talented photographer, Mike secretly applies to college, taking a job from Tony in order to pay his tuition. Torn between two worlds that threaten to collide, Mike learns the far-reaching consequences of personal choices. World Premiere.

Native Dancer (Baksy)—Guka Omarova, Kazakhstan/Russia/France/Germany. When a petrol station is burned to the ground, the developers blame the land owner, Batir, and kidnap his son. Batir has no choice but to seek out the one person who can help him find his missing boy: Aiday, an old shaman whose house once stood on his land. International Premiere.

O'Horten—Bent Hamer (Kitchen Stories, Factotum), Norway/ Germany/France. In the driver's cab of a train journeying through the Norwegian countryside, Odd Horten is on his penultimate journey from Oslo to Bergen. Tomorrow he'll make his last trip. But, for the first time in almost 40 years, he will arrive too late and miss his last departure. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the reviews from Cannes 08. Add to that batch Michael Sicinski's assessment that "although [O'Horten] exhibits a relaxed, uncluttered pace and a typically clean visual atmosphere (not nearly as fussy as Kitchen Stories, but then again not nearly as precise), there's nothing at all unique or distinguished about it. It's basically another 'pensioner's progress' film", which he then dismisses as "completely forgettable." As the film has already picked up Sony as a distributor, I'll most likely wait until it arrives Bayside and not forfeit a valuable TIFF slot.

Once Upon a Time in Rio—Breno Silveira, Brazil. Falling in love on Ipanema's beach, Dé—a hot dog vendor and slum dweller struggling to maintain his dignity—and Nina—the only child of a wealthy family—must stake their romance against deeply entrenched attitudes of prejudice and intolerance. International Premiere.

Pandora's BoxYesim Ustaoglu, Turkey/France/Belgium/ Germany. When three 40-something siblings in Istanbul receive a call that their aging mother has disappeared from her home along the Eastern Black Sea Coast, they put aside their problems and set out to find her. As the siblings come together, the tension between them becomes apparent, they are forced to reflect on own shortcomings and ignorance of each other's lives. World Premiere.

Patrik, Age 1.5—Ella Lemhagen, Sweden. Goran and Sven have been approved for adoption. Patrik, age 1.5, is on his way! But, because of a misplaced decimal point, they'll be forced to re-examine their dreams of the perfect family when a homophobic 15-year-old and his criminal past arrive at their door. World Premiere.

Pedro—Nicholas Oceano, USA. Diagnosed as HIV-positive at a young age, Pedro Zamora gained attention in 1994 as a cast member on The Real World. Following the true-life story of Zamora and his family, Pedro aims to honor their heritage, fight for equality, and love for life. World Premiere.

Radio Love—Leonardo de Armas, Spain. At 36, Carolina leads glamorous life as creator/host of successful fashion program "Radio Love". The discovery of her first wrinkles and appearance of a beautiful young woman ready to take her place at work drive her into a profound existential crisis. Hilarious reflection on Western society's obsession with self-realization and the constant search for happiness. World Premiere.

Restless—Amos Kollek, Israel/Germany/Canada/ France/Belgium. Recently discharged from the Israeli army, Tzach travels to New York to confront his father Moshe, a struggling artist who left his family behind some twenty years ago. Dispatching to The Greencine Daily from the 2008 Berlinale, Dave Hudson writes: "Amos Kollek's Restless semaphores its dramatic climax right from the beginning…. Moshe (Moshe Ivgy) is a disaffected Israeli who's been bumming around New York City since leaving his wife and young son back home umpteen years ago. The son (Ran Danker) is a soldier in the Israeli army, well-regarded for his sniping skills. Which is to say, he's a professional assassin. Just as Moshe's life starts coming together (his bawdy political poems, laced with bile, are a big hit in a local bar), his son's starts falling apart. The army's noticed he's pretty tightly wound—father issues, don't you know—and then there's a fatal accident. Once he's discharged, guess where the son goes. New York City! I'm sure you can take it from there." BERLINALE.

The Rest of the Night (Il Resto della notte)—Francesco Munzi, Italy. After being accused of stealing from a wealthy Italian couple, a young Romanian maid is forced to return to her ex-boyfriend, recently released from jail and living in squalor with his younger brother. Joined by a cocaine addict who is making inroads on a life of petty crime, this desperate group of outcasts plots a brazen robbery of the Italian couple's villa. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the reviews from Cannes 08 where The Rest of the Night screened as part of the Directors' Fortnight. North American Premiere.

Return to Hansala (Retorno a Hansala)—Chus Gutiérrez (El Calentito), Spain. In 2001, an inflatable dinghy with Moroccan migrants shipwrecked off the Spanish town of Rota. 37 drowned, 13 of whom were from Hansala. Inspired by this tragedy, a touching road movie follows Martín, manager of a struggling funeral home, and Leila, the sister of one of the drowned boys, in their journey to bring the bodies back to Hansala. World Premiere.

Revanche—Götz Spielmann (Antares), Austria. Alex is an errand boy; Tamara, a prostitute. Entwined in a forbidden love affair, both are determined to escape the Viennese brothel where they work. But carrying out their plan proves fateful once police officer walks into their lives. "A meandering first half gives way to a spectacular psychological portrait of the deafening silence of pain and loneliness in Austrian writer-director Götz Spielmann's Revanche," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. At indieWIRE, Shane Danielsen writes: "Revanche starts out in Ulrich Seidl territory, among a group of Russian and Ukrainian prostitutes, held prisoner in a Viennese brothel, but soon shifts gear, becoming something else entirely—first a doomed love story, then a drama of revenge and redemption, one whose stifling provincialism and inexorable sense of fate recalled nothing so much as Fassbinder's The Merchant of Four Seasons." At Auteur's Notebook, Daniel Kasman: "[Revanche] shows just how successfully one can transpose the plot and character based drama of Hollywood to the refined style of European art-house cinema without hampering it with a sense self-importance." BERLINALE.

Skin—Anthony Fabian, United Kingdom/South Africa. Based on true events, Skin tells the remarkable story of Sandra Laing (Sophie Okonedo), a black woman struggling with unique issues of discrimination and identity upon being born to white parents (Alice Krige and Sam Neill) in 1955 apartheid South Africa. World Premiere.

Sugar—Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden, USA. Dominican baseball player Miguel Santos struggles to make it big in order to escape poverty and create a better life for his family. But after making it to the U.S. minor leagues, he must pit his calling against his loneliness as a displaced immigrant in small-town Iowa. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the reviews from Sundance. International Premiere.

TezaHaile Gerima, Germany/Ethiopia/France. Germany Univ. grad returns to Ethiopia during 1990s. Hoping to put his knowledge to good use, eager to strengthen and rebuild his homeland, impoverished under junta, he both inspires hope and faces disillusionment, feeling estranged from his own people.

Three Wise MenMika Kaurismäki (LA Without A Map), Finland. Acclaimed Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki offers a raw and often hilarious drama about a trio of antiheroes—an expectant father, a ladies' man and a failed actor—who escape their family woes for a karaoke bar on Christmas Eve. World Premiere.

Toronto Stories—Sook-Yin Lee, Sudz Sutherland, David Weaver and Aaron Woodley, ON. A tribute to the city, a passionate collection of four stories witnessed by a nameless boy in the course of a single day. (Sook-Yin Lee acted in Shortbus, Hedwig, 3 Needles; Sudz D: Love, Sex & Eating the Bone). World Premiere.

Treeless Mountain—So Yong Kim (In Between Days), South Korea. Inspired by her own life, the story of Jin, a feisty six-year-old who lives with her mom and little sister in a cramped apartment in Pusan. When mother decides to leave in search of estranged father, girls are forced to spend the summer living with their alcoholic aunt in the rural countryside. indieWIRE interview. Kauffman recommendation. World Premiere.

Two-Legged Horse—Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran. In exchange for one dollar a day, Mirvais must carry a disabled boy on his back—like a horse—to and from school every day. But his rider is unhappy. His wish for Mirvais to turn into a real horse has not yet come true. Kauffman recommendation. World Premiere.

Under the TreeGarin Nugroho (Of Love & Eggs, Opera Jawa), Indonesia. Three women coming to terms with issues of paternity: Maharani, an adopted child, who seeks true meaning of motherhood; Nian, who is in search of a new father figure; expectant mother Dewi, who faces a tough choice regarding her unborn baby. Set entirely on the mystical island of Bali, intercut with mesmerizing dances from five choreographers. World Premiere.

Wendy and Lucy—Kelly Reichardt, USA. Wendy (Michelle Williams) is driving with her dog Lucy to Alaska, in hopes of a summer of lucrative work at the fish cannery. When her car breaks down in Oregon, the thin fabric of her financial security comes apart, and she faces a series of increasingly dire challenges. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the reviews from Cannes 08. In her Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August, 2008), Amy Taubin calls Wendy and Lucy "the loveliest of these perhaps small films" and affirms that "Michelle Williams gives what may emerge as best female performance of the year." In that selfsame issue (p. 62), Larry Gross reports that Wendy and Lucy "establishes Reichardt, beyond question, as one of the few masters now working in American independent film." Why so? "Reichardt's predilection for observing [Michelle Williams as Wendy] in motion and from a distance, intensified by an intriguingly asynchronous soundtrack, gives the film a certain controlled abstractness, placing it closer to the spiritual atmosphere of Kiarostami than, say, the socially conscious humanism of the Dardennes." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

White Night Wedding (Brúðguminn)—Baltasar Kormakur (101 Reykjavík, Jar City), Iceland. A middle-aged professor, is about to embark on marriage number two. His bride-to-be? A former student half his age. Not everyone thinks that this "blessed union" is a good idea, among them the parents of his future wife. As the guests flock to the island where the marriage is to be held, the groom begins to get cold feet.

The Window (La Ventana)Carlos Sorin (Historias Minimas, Bonbon: EL Perro, Road to San Diego), Spain/Argentina. The last day in the life of Antonio, an 80-year-old writer awaiting the visit of his estranged son on his hacienda in northern Patagonia. As he takes stock and reminisces, he looks out the window at his fields, the sun, the buzzing life that beckons him even as it fades before his eyes. Distinguished Argentine filmmaker Carlos Sorin once again trains his camera on the small stories written by life, on the humanity behind human beings. By casting the great Uruguayan writer and scriptwriter Antonio Larreta in the lead role, Sorin establishes a link between fiction and reality that makes the protagonist's fears, hopes and wishes even more palpable. Larreta won the Premio Planeta (the second most valuable literary award in the world after the Nobel Prize) for his 1980 novel Volavérunt. World Premiere.

Cross-published on Twitch.

5 comments:

Paul Martin said...

For what it's worth, Michael

Recommendations:

O' Horten
Thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying black comedy/drama. Very original and observational, employing irony and understated humour. An excellent festival film.

24 City
If you've seen Jia Zhang-Ke's Still Life, you'll appreciate the common themes and aesthetics in this documentary about workers in a military factory that is being relocated. A quietly satisfying film, not quite up to the level of Still Life, and one that slowly builds up an emotional resonance.

A Christmans Tale
Several people told me this was must-see, but I couldn't fit it in at MIFF. So word-of-mouth is strong.

Happy-Go-Lucky
A thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking film by Mike Leigh. It's already had a theatrical release here and was well-received. Should appeal to both Leigh's fans and a more mainstream crowd just as much.

Not Quite Hollywood
If you're into exploitation films, this documentary about Australian 'Ozploitation' films of the 70s and 80s is fun more than revelatory. Very entertaining.

Lorna's Silence
Another gutsy film by the Dardenne brothers in the vein of The child. Must-see cinema if you're into social realism, and one of my favourite films at MIFF.

Three Monkeys
A sensational film by Ceylan, on a par with Climates. Another one of my MIFF favourites. Visually stunning, quiet and slow-burn. It's about how small lies become big problems when they're not dealt with.

Three Blind Mice
I haven't seen it, but soon will do, due to good word-of-mouth.


Don't see:

Lion's Den (Leonora)
Contrived, tries too hard to be cool, treats the audience's intelligence with, if not contempt, then indifference. The film tries hard to wring our emotions, but at every point where I felt I should be crying or feeling some gut-wrenching emotion, I felt nothing. Everything looked staged. I could have walked out of this film at any point from two minutes into it.

Ashes of Time Redux
Not only did I hate this film, but everyone I've spoken to agreed with me. Boring, pretentious, confusing, style over substance.

Maya said...

I love it!! I haven't even finalized the entry and the recommendations start coming in. How wonderful! Thank you for taking the time, Paul.

Paul Martin said...

;)

Anonymous said...

Goodbye Solo sounds a lot like Taste of Cherry.

Maya said...

Well, yeah, I guess there is a certain archetypal quality to the vehicular dialogue of a cab fare.