Sunday, August 24, 2008

TIFF08—VISIONS

24 City (Er shi si cheng ji)—Jia Zhang-ke (Still Life), China. A state-owned munitions factory in Southwest China shuts down to be replaced by a gargantuan luxury housing complex called 24 City. Through reflections on the life of work that binds them all, old workers, factory executives and yuppies assemble a history of China. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson has gathered the critical response from Cannes08. A couple of days later, Dave spotlighted Manohla Dargis calibrating her initial impressions of 24 City for The New York Times, which include points of convergence and divergence with—of all things—Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull! "Without nostalgia but with sensitivity and depth of feeling," she praises, "Mr. Jia is documenting a country and several generations that are disappearing before the world's eyes." IMdb reports that during the Cannes press conference, Jia Zhang-ke, Joan Chen and Tao Zhao observed a minute of silence in memory of the victims of the 2008 devastating earthquake in China. The film was shot in Chengdu, in Sichuan province where the earthquake struck. In her Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, p. 52), Amy Taubin writes: "More problematic in its hybridity, Jia's 24 City, like his great Still Life, bears witness to China's economic miracles and the wreckage it leaves in its wake." As if catching 24 City at TIFF08 isn't exciting enough, I'll return from Toronto just in time to appreciate the Pacific Film Archive's Jia Zhang-ke's retrospective! TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Birdsong (El Cant dels Ocells)—Albert Serra, Spain. Stunningly shot using only natural light, El Cant dels Ocells is a contemplative reinterpretation of the Biblical journey of the Three Wise Men in search of the newborn Messiah. With a cast of non-professionals performing an improvised script, Albert Serra's second feature builds on his ongoing interest to cinematically express real time through the exquisite exploration of earth and sky. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the critical response from Cannes08, where El Cant dels Ocells screened in the Directors' Fortnight. Robert Koehler reviews El Cant dels Ocells for Cinema Scope and—though not available online—in the same issue Mark Peranson (who portrays Joseph in the film) diaries on his participation with the project. At l'Humanité, Jean Roy declares "this contemplative, sensitive film takes us on a quest for the essence of cinema." Duane Byrge drivels alliterative disdain at The Hollywood Reporter, describing the film as "tiresome twaddle" and "pretentious piffle." Dispatching to Senses of Cinema, Markus Keuschnigg admits El Cant dels Ocells is "a mixed package", which is "at times transcendental and enlightening … at times harrowingly slow and pointless." One thing remains certain, Keuschnigg asserts despite reservations: "Albert Serra is one of the most innovative and daring artists in world cinema." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Je veux voir (I Want to See)—Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Lebanon. Their first film since the 2005 critically acclaimed A Perfect Day, filmmakers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige ask the question "what can cinema do?" and translate that into a version of reality in Je veux voir. Catherine Deneuve and Rabih Mroué star as themselves, traveling to Beirut and driving through the regions devastated by the 2006 war in Lebanon. This unpredictable adventure aims to reveal the beauty in an area ravaged by war. Cineuropa offers an alternate synopsis. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the critical response from Cannes08. "Seeing means traveling to the most hard-hit parts of Lebanon to witness the aftermath of the recent war, the pockmarked buildings and caved-in brick walls," Ali Naderzad dispatches to Screen Comment, though he adds that "the film's intentions are a bit hazy." In Joumane Chahine's Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, p. 64), Chahine complains that the potential of this film's intriguing conceit "makes the resulting 75 minutes of utter insignificance all the more unforgiveable." Preceded by the short film Expectations (South Korea/France). Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's follow-up to the 2006 award-winning Daratt (Dry Season) charts the journey of a man fleeing his debts by attempting an arduous desert crossing. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Liverpool—Lisandro Alonso, Argentina/France/Netherlands/ Spain/Germany. During an Atlantic crossing, Farrel asks the captain of the freighter he is sailing for permission to go ashore at the next port. He wants to visit the place where he was born to find out if his mother is still alive. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the critical response from Cannes08. At Senses of Cinema, Markus Keuschnigg writes that Alonso's Liverpool "basically continues the corporality of his previous films" but that—though "satisfying enough" as a film—"it lacks the profound coherence of his 'trilogy'—La Libertad (2001), Los Muertos (2004), Fantasma (2006)." At Film Comment, Kent Jones is eloquent in his appreciation of Alonso's aesthetic. "Alonso is a fascinating figure," Jones explains, "who probably thinks more about form than any other narrative filmmaker his age. His attempts at overall unity are impressive if not fearsome, even when he miscalculates. At his finest, Alonso settles on journeys that accumulate observation (of landscapes and ways of life) that expand along the way into collectively internalized visions of existence and their horizon lines." These are qualities that fans of Alonso have come to expect. What is unexpected in Liverpool "is the unforced grandeur of the narrative/formal/thematic arc: out at sea one longs for land, and stuck on land one dreams of sailing over the horizon." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Salamandra—Pablo Agüero, Argentina/France/Germany. In the valley of El Bolson in Patagonia—a haven for renegades from all over the world—Alba and Inti try to build a normal life as mother and son. indieWIRE interviewed Agüero at Cannes07 when the project was in development via the Atelier de la Cinefondation. At Cannes08 Milos Stehlik—dispatching to Facets Features—found Salamandra to be a "wonderfully exciting surprise" and added he would go see the film again if it were showing anywhere. Harry Tuttle practices a more distanced critique at Screenville. At Variety, Justin Chang admits that Salamandra marks Agüero as "a talent to watch", praises rising Argentine actress Dolores Fonzi as "beautiful" in her "chain-smoking, vanity-free abandon" and draws comparisons to the work of Lucrecia Martel. At The Hollywood Reporter, Duane Byrge observes that Salamandra is "a horror-of-personality story, carved and gutted from a mother-son relationship." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

The Sky Crawlers (Sukai kurora)—Mamoru Oshii, Japan. Celebrated animated film director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) delves into a world that is eradicated by war, where private contractors enlist fighter pilots known as Kildren to perform in an endless war that people watch on TV. Kildren do not age, living in a state of eternal adolescence until they die in action. Embracing the reality with which they are faced, the Kildren are conscious that each new day could very well be their last. AsianBeat has an informative profile on Oshii with an anticipatory focus on The Sky Crawlers. Jason Gray weighs in with an appreciative review. At Japan Times, Mark Schilling writes that "the film's air battles, which put the audience in the passenger's seat for each meticulously rendered climb, roll and plunge, [and] are thrilling in a primal, adrenaline-pumping way" but disclaims that Oshii is trying to make a typical fighter-pilot film. "Instead," Schilling asserts, "he is conducting an investigation into the consequences of messing with the core definition of humanity. What happens when you wipe out a person's past? Make him ageless? Enlist him in a war that never ends—and a life that has no future?" Underscoring that the film's true tragedy lies "not [in] an aborted future, but [in] the lack of a past." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Süt (Milk)—Semih Kaplanoğlu, Turkey/France/Germany. Young Yusuf is upset when he learns that his mother Fatma is having a secret affair with the town's railroad stationmaster. He must decide whether to behave in accordance with the traditional male-dominated culture of the town, or to develop a newly open perspective that is more modern. indieWIRE interviewed Kaplanoğlu at Cannes07 when the project was in development via the Atelier de la Cinefondation. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Uncertainty—Scott McGehee and David Siegel, USA. Starring up and comers Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick, The Lookout), Olivia Thirlby (The Wackness, Juno) and Lynn Collins (The Merchant of Venice), this film offers two stories about the same young couple in love who find out that they are pregnant and are not sure what to do. The man flips a coin and there follows two versions of what happens next—but both stories end up with the same consequences. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

The Unspoken—Fien Troch, Belgium. Five years ago, 14-year-old Lisa disappeared from the lives of her parents Lukas and Grace, with no clear reason, no goodbye. Her parents have managed to get their lives back to some semblance of normality, until Benjamin, a former friend of Lisa's, pays them a visit and a series of strange occurrences ensue. Gradually, Lisa's presence begins to seep back into her parents' lives, whether they like it or not. This film marks the second feature for director Fien Troch, whose previous film, Someone Else's Happiness, was at TIFF05. TIFF08 Program Capsule. World Premiere.

Vinyan—Fabrice du Welz, France/United Kingdom/Belgium. Eastern spiritual themes of despair are paired with maternal concerns in du Welz's second film after his 2004 Midnight Madness debut, Calvaire. Starring Emmanuelle Béart and Rufus Sewell, Vinyan concerns a couple who are torn after the loss of their son Joshua. Glimpsing a boy who resembles Joshua in video footage from a village of orphaned children on the Thai-Burmese border, Jeanne (Béart) becomes consumed by the belief her son was kidnapped by traffickers in the chaos that followed the 2004 tsunami. The Gomorrahizer offers an alternate synopsis at Gomorrahy.Com. Bloody Disgusting scores an interview with du Welz. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Cross-published on Twitch, where trailers for Birdsong, Serbis, Sky Crawlers, Unspoken and Vinyan can be found at the Twitch TIFF Trailer Park.

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