Edgy and juiced up with genre, this year's Vanguard Program at TIFF strikes me as especially strong over years past. "I'm calling it now," Twitch teammate Todd Brown asserts. "Vanguard is the best program of the Toronto International Film festival 2010" and "the program to beat."
At Ellen's Age / Im Alter von Ellen (Pia Marais, Germany)—A German flight attendant falls into increasingly bizarre adventures when she leaves her husband, quits her job and joins a radical group of animal activists. Official site. IMDb. Facebook. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
Facebook synopsis: "This is the tragic-comic story of Ellen, a 43-year-old flight attendant whose life takes a shattering turn into the unknown. In her charming but occasionally over-strung way, she is inclined to compensate in an adventurous fashion her fear of intimacy and commitment to relationships. Driven by a sense of alienation so characteristic of city dwellers today, Ellen seeks a place to belong and in doing so, becomes a tourist in the lives of the people and groups she encounters, which leads her towards a surprising catharsis…"
At MUBI, David Hudson singles out David Jenkins' dispatch from Locarno to Time Out London: "A cryptic, almost Haneke-like study of alienation and indecision which sees Jeanne Balibar as a crisis-stricken air stewardess who goes in search of her true vocation. It's a difficult movie, one that treads a thin line between the playfully enigmatic and the incomprehensible, but its intelligence, precision and intent to provoke were palpable."
The Christening / Chrzest (Marcin Wrona, Poland)—Michal (Wojciech Zielinski) hopes to change his luck and escape his criminal past. But when he's pursued by a violent gang, he desperately tries to find a way to save his family. Official site [Polish]. IMDb. TOFilmFest. International Premiere.
TOFilmFest synopsis: "Michal has what he always dreamed of: a beautiful wife named Magda, a newborn son, his own firm. He chooses an old friend, Janek, to be the godfather of his child. This is just the beginning of Michal's plan, who asks his friend to take an interest in his wife... At the beginning the plan works out, but it becomes increasingly difficult for Michal to come to terms with it. Michal knows his deeply hidden past will inevitably come back to him, and Janek will have to make a decision, of which he will never forget the consequences."
At Twitch, Todd Brown writes that The Christening is "the sort of artful, relationship-based spin on a crime thriller that drive[s] voters wild come award time. In fact, the film already has been awarded, picking up multiple nods at Poland's Gdynia Film Festival. The first person I showed this to described it as equal parts Brothers and A History of Violence, which seems fair enough."
Cold Fish / Tsumetai Nettaigyo (Sion Sono, Japan)—Equal parts black humor and bloody dementia, and based on a true story, this film is a portrait of a Japanese tropical fish dealer responsible for more than 40 murders. Screening in Venice. Jason Gray has the scoop. Official site. IMDb. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
Twitch teammate Mack has put up a gallery and the Cannes chirashi (sales flyer) with its expanded synopsis. Tomblands features an interview with Sion Sono.
Confessions / Kokuhaku (Tetsuya Nakashima, Japan)—Tetsuya Nakashima's Confessions, based on the six-part serial novel by Kanae Minato, is one of Japan's most important films of the year. A stylized mixture of cruelty and compassion, the film spins the dark tale of vengeance of a teacher whose little daughter has been killed by two of her students. IMDb. TOFilmFest. Canadian Premiere.
At MUBI, David Hudson has rounded up reviews from the New York Asian Film Festival. Aside from those, Ronnie Schieb at Variety describes Confessions as a "coldly stylized symphony of cruelty. Pic builds inexorably from one shocking revelation to the next amid the austere, regimented symmetry of a Japanese middle school where two student sociopaths receive their comeuppance at the hands of a teacher." Schieb regards Confessions as a "high-concept exercise" that showcases "extreme fragmentation, rhythmic intensity and stylistic pyrotechnics" and concludes that "the formal beauty of Nakashima's imagery ... serves less to aestheticize horror than to visualize a state of mind where instant gratification trumps human connection." At The Hollywood Reporter, Maggie Lee writes: "Cynical, anarchic and impeccably crafted, this revenge thriller with a socially caustic twist on the image of the mater dolorosa offers no respite in tension, no redemption for any character and an ending that is as merciless as it is a satisfying payoff."
Easy Money / Snabba Cash (Daniel Espinosa, Sweden)—The worlds of a mob enforcer, an escaped convict and an ambitious young business student collide in an explosive and white-knuckled thriller based on the 2006 bestselling Swedish novel by Jens Lapidus. Peter Ericson dubs it "Stockholm noir." Official MySpace page. IMDb. Facebook. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
A Horrible Way to Die (Adam Wingard, USA)—When a serial killer escapes from prison, he pursues his ex-girlfriend, who has fled to start a new life in a small town. IMDb. Facebook. TOFilmFest. World Premiere.
Kaboom (Gregg Araki, USA/France)—Smith's everyday life in the dorm—hanging out with his arty, sarcastic best friend Stella, hooking up with a beautiful free spirit named London, lusting for his gorgeous but dim surfer roommate Thor—all gets turned upside-down after one fateful, terrifying night. At MUBI, David Hudson has rounded up reviews from Cannes. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
L.A. Zombie (Bruce LaBruce, Germany / USA / France)—Corpse-eating meets poverty politics in this pornographic art film set on the streets of Los Angeles, where an alien zombie brings dead men back to life. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. TOFilmFest. North American Premiere.
From Locarno, David Jenkins dispatches to Time Out London: "Rather than a torrent of extreme bad taste, the film turns out to be a tender study of otherness in the big city and a cunning reversal of genre conventions." At Eye Weekly, Adam Nayman concurs: "Bruce LaBruce's already-notorious film is more melancholy than confrontational. Porn star François Sagat plays the zombie, Los Angeles plays itself and assorted corpses are tenderly sexed back to life." At Xtra, Matthew Hayes spoke with an upbeat LaBruce after L.A. Zombie was yanked from the Melbourne International.
Microphone (Ahmad Abdalla, Egypt)—A bold example of new North African cinema, Microphone mixes and remixes fiction and cinema verité as it follows an Egyptian expatriate's return to Alexandria, where he dives into a thriving underground music and arts scene. Official site. IMDb. TOFilmFest. World Premiere.
Monsters (Gareth Edwards, United Kingdom)—Six years after a probe carrying alien life samples crashes in Mexico, a photojournalist must escort his boss' daughter through the "Infected Zone" back to the safety of her home in the U.S. Official site. IMDb (where there's a whole queue of reviews at External Reviews). Wikipedia. Facebook. TOFilmFest. Canadian Premiere.
Our Day Will Come / Notre jour viendra (Romain Gavras, France)—The highly anticipated debut by French director Romain Gavras (director of M.I.A.'s video Born Free) focuses on two outcast redheads—a bullied teen (Olivier Barthelemy) and a psychologist (Vincent Cassel)—who embark on a hallucinatory journey to Ireland in a quest for freedom. Official site. IMDb. TOFilmFest. World Premiere.