Friday, August 22, 2008


At last year's Toronto International Film Festival, my favorite tennis match was between the Discovery and Masters programs, which I wrote up for Greencine. I'm tempted to replicate the sport this year.

As indieWIRE noted when they recently interviewed Cameron Bailey, the Discovery program has doubled this year—26 titles up from 13—and there's a noticeable increase in American fare—7 films up from 2—but, notwithstanding, it's still an eclectic mix of regions, with 18 countries being represented overall. When asked the reasoning for the increase in slots, and what Bailey's general thoughts were regarding what emerging filmmakers are up to, he responded: "Well this one is by design. Discovery was one of the sections I wanted to work on this year and I'm really proud of how it's turned out. I wanted Discovery to be the place that people go to discover new talent at our festival where we show what we consider to be some of the most exciting new voices in cinema from all over the world. To do that I took off some of the restrictions we had on the program in the past in terms of the premiere status and distribution status. We had quite a number of limitations on what was eligible for our Discovery section in the past. That's changed and as a result I think this is really just a great showcase for new talent in the movies."

It's certainly where I intend to catch some of the festival darlings from Cannes08: Better Things, Hunger, Snow, Tony Manero and Tulpan. And, of course, I couldn't be prouder of SF homeboy Barry Jenkins' Medicine for Melancholy for being included in the line-up. If removing some of the program's previous restrictions accounted for that, I'm all for it because it puts Barry in the running with the other 25 feature-length Discovery titles to be eligible for the Diesel Discovery Award chosen by the Festival press corps, which consists of over 1000 accredited media from around the world. I can honestly say, however, that I doubt I'll catch much of the U.S. fare, presuming these indies will travel Bayside in due course. I'm more prone to take a chance with Zift from Bulgaria, or The Paranoids from Argentina, or the Israeli/Australian animation. Or maybe I'll just let myself be creeped out by Tale 52 from Greece? Ultimately, it comes down to the calendar.

* * *

$9.99—Tatia Rosenthal, Israel/Australia. Unemployed and still living at home at 28 years old, Dave Peck discovers a booklet claiming to answer the meaning of life for the low price of only $9.99. In his struggle to share his amazing find with the world, Dave's surreal path crosses with those of his unusual neighbors, including an old man and his disgruntled guardian angel, a magician in debt and a bewitching woman who likes her men extra smooth. A stop-motion animated film, $9.99 features the voices of Geoffrey Rush and Anthony LaPaglia. Todd Brown offered the first glimpse at Twitch earlier this year. At The Australian, Sandy George has detailed how a chance encounter led to the first Australian-Israeli co-production: an animated adult feature. World Premiere.

Apron Strings—Sima Urale, New Zealand. Food and love are intertwined in this tale of two mothers who must find the courage to confront the secrets and misunderstandings of the past, in order to set their sons free. Apron Strings is a parallel story of two families and two cultures set in suburban Otahuhu in South Auckland, New Zealand. Joe Sheppard dispatches to The Lumière Reader from the New Zealand Film Festival. Flicks.Co.NZ interviews Urale. North American Premiere.

Better Things—Duane Hopkins, United Kingdom. Deeply inflected by the UK's visual arts scene, Duane Hopkins's feature debut focuses on three groups of characters: Gail, who must overcome agoraphobia and an addiction to romance novels; Rob, coming to terms with the loss of his girlfriend; and the Gladwins, who, following years of unspoken truths that have built a barrier between them, are going through a shift in their 60-year relationship. The BBC has a video visit to the set of Better Things. Via The Greencine Daily, Hopkins blogs at The Guardian why screening Better Things in the Critics Week at the Cannes08 meant so much to him. Also at The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the reviews from Cannes08. Nick James contextualizes Better Things and Steve McQueen's Hunger for Sight and Sound. Ryan Gilbey interviews Hopkins for The Guardian. James Mottram does the honors for Channel 4 Film. In his Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, p. 60), Gavin Smith says Better Things is as much a prison movie as Steve McQueen's Hunger, but that "its great achievement is to envisage the possibility of escape for its inarticulate and emotionally isolated characters." Better Things, he writes, "ultimately transcends the dead-end miserabilism that's de rigueur when detailing the spectral lives of the addicted, the old, and the infirm. But said boldness is also due to the way the film's elliptical and unusually spare rhythms, stark compositions, and quiet sense of time passing break so decisively with the grammatical norms of English cinema." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Cold Lunch (Lønsj)—Eva Sørhaug, Norway. The paths of five people intersect in the Oslo district of Majorstua. After Christer disconnects a main fuse in his building in an attempt to save the rent money he mistakenly placed into the laundry, he sets off a chain reaction of consequential events that will change the lives of a caretaker and his daughter, and a new mother and her child. Cineuropa offers an alternate synopsis and a review by Camillo de Marco dispatching from the 2008 Venice International: "Seemingly harsh (no director has ever dared inflict such a horrible end on a newborn baby, attacked by fierce Hitchcock-like gulls) but tinged with human empathy, Cold Lunch closes with a final chapter entitled 'Paradise regained'. Perhaps it's possible to emerge from Hell but it's difficult to escape from loneliness. Northern European films thus continue to tackle social issues with flashes of paradox." TIFF08 Program Capsule. International Premiere.

Daytime Drinking (Natsul)—Young-seok Noh, South Korea. In a drunken attempt to mend his broken heart, Hyuk-jin and his friends decide to take a trip to the small town of Jeongseon in the Gangwon province. But as the only one to actually make it on the bus, Hyuk-jin embarks on a strange journey that finds him in the middle of a snowy highway without his mobile phone, wallet or pants. At Variety, Derek Elley writes that this "Ultra-Korean tale, anchored by the social courtesies of soju consumption, is a mildly black comedy of escalating misadventure" and "is proof that a good script and simpatico direction and performances can overcome budgetary restrictions." At The Hollywood Reporter, Ray Bennet says the film is "a spirited concoction full of surprises and dry rewards." Bae Ju-Yeon reviews the film from the Jeonju International Film Festival where it won the Korean Cinema on the Move award. North American Premiere.

Delta—Kornél Mundruczó, Hungary/Germany. Having been away since childhood, a young man returns to the wild, isolated landscape of the Danube Delta. Introduced to a sister he never knew he had, he and his newfound sibling build a house on stilts in the middle of the river, far away from everyone else. But when they invite the villagers over to share a meal together, it becomes apparent that the coarse locals do not accept their "unnatural" relationship. Cineuropa offers an alternate synopsis and the trailer. At Hungarian Film Week, Delta won the Best Film Award and the Gene Moskovitz prize offered by the foreign press. Lead actor Félix Lajkó was likewise awarded for his film soundtrack. At The Greencine Daily Dave Hudson gathers the reviews from Cannes 08, where it won the FIPRESCI Competition prize. At Undercurrent, João Antunes writes: "Delta, in its full geographical and metaphorical sense, is a movie about difference and its acceptance—or not" whose "non-political message [is] surpassed by the psychological portrait of a community that felt menaced by the presence of the strange."

Gigantic—Matt Aselton, USA. Smart and well-educated, Brian (Paul Dano) feels adrift in his life and his job at an upscale mattress store. The one thing he knows is that he wants to adopt a Chinese baby, and is on a wait list to do so. When he meets Happy (Zooey Deschanel), an odd and feisty rich girl sent to pick up a mattress for her father (John Goodman), he falls head over heels. But Happy has deep reservations about dating a guy who could become a dad at any time. As they negotiate their increasing intimacy, Brian awaits the call from the adoption agency. Earlier this summer, Jason Guerrasio filed a production report for indieWIRE. World Premiere.

Hooked (aka Angling, Pescuit sportive)—Adrian Sitaru, Romania/France. A Sunday picnic seemed like the best way for Mihai and Sweetie to spend some quality time together and take their relationship to a new level. But a series of odd and unexpected events quickly turn this idyllic weekend getaway into the strangest day of their lives. North American Premiere.

Hunger—Steve McQueen, United Kingdom. Hunger follows Bobby Sands and the other political inmates of Northern Ireland's Maze Prison in 1981 as they seek to gain special category status for republican prisoners. At The Guardian, Ryan Gilbey interviews McQueen after his Caméra d'Or win. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers together the critical response from Cannes08 and—more recently—a fascinating monograph by Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith for Frieze Magazine, wherein Léith explores "the strange complicity between starvation and loquacity" and the "nexus between flesh and word, between corporeality and textuality" frequent in McQueen's museum films, up into Hunger. At Undercurrent, Mohammed Rouda says the film "is, among other things, an observing eye itself." He concludes that Hunger "is a film about souls who are considered by some as unworthy, and about the dignity of the victims. It's only when we watch the film carefully, we understand that life is still so highly valued by the prisoner despite the surroundings." In his Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, p. 60), Gavin Smith writes: "More interested in the ethos of resistance than in ideology, but with an approach that's meticulous, disapassionate and, in terms of both tone and camera work, reminiscent of the work of touchstone English TV director Alan Clarke, McQueen has taken an important piece of recent British history and brought it back to life with harrowing conviction." Matt Riviera writes up Hunger's win at the Sydney Film Festival. Picked up by IFC for distribution. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Kabuli Kid—Barmak Akram, France/Afghanistan. Kabul taxi driver Khaled picks up a woman and, after settling on a price, takes her to her destination. The woman gets out and a new passenger climbs in, only to find a baby in the backseat. Khaled leaps out after the woman, whose face had been obscured by her burqa, but she has vanished. He's left holding the baby—a six-month-old boy. Who was this woman and how will Khaled find her? North American Premiere.

Lovely, Still—Nik Fackler, USA. With the approach of Christmas causing him to feel lonely in life and love, Robert Malone (Martin Landau) returns home from his job at a grocery store to find a stranger (Ellen Burstyn) in his house. What begins as an odd encounter quickly blossoms into a full-blown love affair, leaving the two struggling with the baggage attached to their late-in-life romance. Also starring Elizabeth Banks (Zack and Miri Make a Porno) and Adam Scott, Lovely, Still features original music by Conor Oberst and a score by members of Bright Eyes. Since locally it's big news that the film is being shot in Omaha, The Nebraska Independent Film Projects website profiles Nik Fackler and offers production backstory. World Premiere.

Lymelife—Derick Martini, USA. From the filmmaking team behind Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire (TIFF 1999) comes an examination of first love, family dynamics and the American Dream in late 1970s Long Island, as seen through the innocent eyes of a 15-year-old. Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin) is a gentle boy—a direct contrast to his blustery father, Mickey (Alec Baldwin). After an outbreak of Lyme disease hits their suburban community, the lives of the Bartletts and their neighbors begin to crumble in the wake of illness, confrontation and paranoia. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, Lymelife co-stars Jill Hennessy, Timothy Hutton, Kieran Culkin, Emma Roberts and Cynthia Nixon. World Premiere.

Medicine for Melancholy—Barry Jenkins, USA. Two African-American 20-somethings wake up in bed together having no recollection of how they arrived there. Wandering the streets of SF, the pair meditate on issues of race, class, identity and gentrification. I was one of the first to write this one up back in February for The Evening Class and then it played at SFIFF08, where through the skilled art of eavesdropping I learned early on that IFC picked it up for distribution and that TIFF included it in their Discovery Program. My interview with Barry and cinematographer James Laxton will be published by Greencine in the near future. Preceded by the Johannesburg-set short film Jesus and the Giant (South Africa) by Akin Omotoso.

The Paranoids (Los paranoicos)—Gabriel Medina, Argentina. At once an unmotivated procrastinator, fearsome hypochondriac and unenthused children's party entertainer, Luciano (Daniel Hendler) is on a fast track to nowhere. When his successful friend arrives from Spain, he is forced to face his own uninspired existence. At Variety, Robert Koehler kindly admits that "Daniel Hendler's dry and underplayed perf as paranoid numero uno keeps pic afloat and helps its international profile" but ultimately dismisses the film as slack.

Parc—Arnaud des Pallières, France. Georges Nail (Sergi López) lives in a new suburb. He's married, loves his wife, son and dog. Paul Hammer (Jean-Marc Barr) is goodlooking, rich and intelligent, but torn between his severe judgment of the world and his desire to be part of it. When their paths cross, Nail sees an opportunity for new friendship. But Hammer sees a new reason for living—to crucify the perfect image of the happy western man and his incarnation in the person of Georges Nail. North American Premiere.

Rain—Maria Govan, Bahamas. In hopes of reconciling with the mother who abandoned her, Rain leaves her simple, sheltered life on rural Ragged Island for the big city of Nassau. But her dream of a loving reunion is quickly shattered when she meets Glory, a scarred, angry woman who bears no resemblance to the mother she had hoped for. Driven by a passion for running and the support of a caring track coach, Rain must find the inner strength to build a new life. Jason Buchanan offers an alternate synopsis for All Movie Guide via The New York Times. World Premiere.

Snow (Snijeg)—Aida Begic, Bosnia and Herzegovina/Germany/ France/Iran. Eastern Bosnia, 1997. Headed by the young and stubborn Alma (Zana Marjanovic), the residents of the war-ravaged and isolated village of Slavno face a dilemma. Should they accept an offer from two visiting businessmen willing to pay them to pick up and leave their homes for good, or do they stay, following their hearts but risking life-threatening poverty? Winner of the 2008 Cannes Critics' Week Grand Prize. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers together the critical response from Cannes08. Emanuel Levy has published Begic's directorial statement. My only regret is that TIFF didn't program two films called Hail and Sleet so that I could carry on with the postman's oath. North American Premiere.

The Stoning of Soraya M.—Cyrus Nowrasteh, USA. In a remote Iranian village, a woman stands falsely accused of adultery—a moral crime for which the punishment is death by stoning. Voiceless women, armed with only their innocence and dignity, are no match for the overwhelming primal forces that overrun their town. Based on the book by Freidoune Sahebjam, The Stoning of Soraya M. stars Academy Award™ nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo. Darius Kadviar interviews Cyrus Nowrasteh. World Premiere.

Tale 52 (Istoria 52)—Alexis Alexiou, Greece. After Iasonas and Penelope meet at a dinner party, the flirtatiousness between them quickly blossoms into a relationship. But awaking one morning to find that Penelope has mysteriously disappeared, Iasonas is unable to reconstruct what happened. The disappearance of his new girlfriend drives the rather shy Iasonas to despair, prompting confusing delusions on top of his already fragile mental state. Dispatching from the Rotterdam International Film Festival, Todd Brown reviewed this "elliptical reality bender" for Twitch. "Alexiou," he concludes, "has aimed high with his feature debut and hits his mark square on, the end result a truly potent work on the relationship between perception, reality and our own minds." At Variety, Jay Weissberg defines Tale 52 as "a meticulously crafted thriller." Several other reviews are listed at IMdb External Reviews. North American Premiere.

Three Blind Mice—Matthew Newton, Australia. Tension mounts between three young Australian naval officers as they hit the streets of Sydney before being shipped out to Iraq. Dispatching from the Sydney Film Festival, Matt Riviera found this "tightly scripted semi-improvisational drama to be engrossing and ultimately quite moving." At The Hollywood Reporter, Megan Lehmann wrote the bottom line is that the film's "rat-a-tat-tat dialogue drives this smart and funny drama about a trio of sailors on shore-leave." Mark Lavercombe "comfortably recommended" the film for

Tony Manero—Pablo Larraín (Fuga), Chile/Brazil. Santiago de Chile, 1978. Dancer Raúl Peralta is obsessed with imitating Travolta's character in Saturday Night Fever. His quest for stardom seems within his grasp when a TV station announces a Manero impersonation contest. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson gathers the critical response from Cannes08 where Tony Manero—"the buzzed-to-death, stylistically intriguing Chilean psycho-comedy" (Senses of Cinema)—was featured in the Directors Fortnight. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Tulpan—Sergey Dvortsevoy, Germany/Switzerland/Kazakhstan/ Russia/Poland. Before he can realize his ambition of becoming a shepherd, Asa must first get married. Tulpan, his sole prospect for a future bride, rejects Asa due to his big ears. But Asa refuses to give up. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson has gathered the reviews from Tulpan's Un Certain Regard win, Cannes08. In her Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, p. 54), Amy Taubin writes: "Tulpan brought tears of joy to demoralized festival viewers with a shot lasting several minutes that witnessed the birth of a lamb. …Whirling sandstorms and generational conflicts give the film its brink-of-chaos energy, but its most memorable images are of animals." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Vacation (Kyûka)—Hajime Kadoi, Japan. A middle-aged prison guard, Hirai follows an alienated work routine of strict rules and arduous duties, attending to death row's model inmate, Kaneda. When Kaneda's execution order is signed by the minister of justice, Hirai has the unexpected opportunity for a week of vacation. But there is a price to pay for this well-deserved break, as Hirai must assist Kaneda during his final moments. International Premiere.

What Doesn't Kill You (aka Real Men Cry)—Brian Goodman, USA. Childhood friends Paulie (Ethan Hawke) and Brian (Mark Ruffalo) grew up looking out for each other in their Irish-Catholic neighborhood in South Boston. Trapped in a cycle of gangs, gangsters and shady crime, they are constantly dodging local turf wars and the watchful eye of an encroaching police detective (Donnie Wahlberg). But with Brian's wife (Amanda Peet) growing increasingly distraught by her husband's lifestyle, will the tried and tested friendship between these two Southies crumble once and for all? World Premiere.

Winds of September—Tom Shu-Yu Lin, Taiwan. Yen, Tang and their gang of baseball-loving friends are in their last year of high school when a scandal involving their beloved sport takes the nation by storm. With one fatal misstep, they will learn how fragile life can be, how delicate their friendship really is and how much courage they'll need to face the adult world. After embracing Best Film of Asia New Talent of the 11th Shanghai International Film Festival, Tom Shu-yu Lin's first feature Winds of September also heralded 4 awards at the 10th Taipei Film Festival. Ho Yi interviews Tom Shu-Yu Lin for Tapei Times. At The Hollywood Reporter, Maggie Lee says Winds of September is a "melancholy yet sweetly nostalgic male coming-of-age film." North American Premiere.

Zift—Javor Gardev, Bulgaria. The Moth is freed on parole after spending time in prison on wrongful conviction of murder. Jailed shortly before the Bulgarian communist coup of 1944, he now finds himself in a new and alien world—the totalitarian Sofia of the 60s. His first night of freedom draws the map of a diabolical city full of decaying neighborhoods, gloomy streets and a bizarre parade of characters. Gardev won Best Director at the Moscow International Film Festival. As Todd Brown has commented at Twitch, the trailer for Zift (which can be found at the Twitch TIFF08 Trailer Park) also "opens with one of the most politically incorrect tattoos ever dreamt up." North American Premiere.

Cross-published on Twitch.


milenkos said...

I wanna see that Tony Manero!

Darren said...

Perfect timing, Michael. After a crazy week at work, I have two hours to kill this afternoon, and I'm way behind on my TIFF research.

Michael Guillen said...

Thanks for stopping by to comment, guys. Darren, you've been doing a great job at First Thursday. I love the recent map.

Miljenko, how did your screening go?