Toronto, Day 1
Our correspondent at the Toronto International Film Festival unearths promising new work from Germany and Korea.
By ANDREA GRONVALL
I used to love school and always associated September with new beginnings.
The kickoff of the fall film season is what does it for me now as a grownup.
Looking across the throngs of moviegoers at the 28th Toronto International
Film Festival, another comparison struck me. Those movie junkies lucky
enough to be here are annual migrants, driven northward by some deep-seated
impulse for a shared experience that delights and challenges, and that is
also a stressful survival test of the fittest: 336 films from 55 countries
unspool here within a week and a half. You either really have to dig
learning, or you're a marathoner.
So it starts, the ten days where I hope to see at least four entire movies
daily, catch bits of others, pick up with folks I last saw a year ago, and
grab most meals running on ever-fewer hours of sleep. It's all
about pacing, and until you find your rhythm, it's equal parts anxiety and
fun. As much as you manage to shoehorn in, you feel like a slacker for what
you've missed. Here's what I've seen so far.
|TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL, DAY 1|
|Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto, Ontario, Sept. 4-13, 2003.|
Related links: Official site | "Gun-Shy" | "Alexandra's Project"
| RELATED ARTICLES|
Toronto Film Festival, Day 2|
A pair of gorgeously clinical works from Peter Greenaway are balanced by a music groupie-mentary from L.A. and a knockout martial-arts picture from Thailand.
Toronto Film Festival, Day 3|
Another beautiful film from Korea, Kim Ki-duk's "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter .. and Spring," shares a bill with Errol Morris's timely examination of the Vietnam War and the latest from actress of the moment Scarlett Johansson.
Toronto Film Festival, Day 4|
Substantial female roles for adult actresses are among the highlights at the festival, including Cate Blanchett in "Veronica Guerin" and Anne Reid in "The Mother."
Toronto Film Festival, Days 5&6|
A documentary that uses the movies to trace the architectural history of Los Angeles is a highlight among the out-of-the-way offerings at the Toronto Film Festival.
Thursday, Sept. 4:
Serendipity. My first screening a good omen, a German drama surprising in
its interplay of oddball humor, lyricism, and dark intimations of corruption
and death. "Gun-Shy" ("Schussangst") is directed by Georgian filmmaker Dito
Tsintsadze, and based on the novel of the same name by Dirk Kurbjuweit, who
co-wrote the screenplay with Tsintsadze. It follows Lukas (Fabian
Hinrichs), an amiable but borderline-depressed loner, a conscientious
objector who's fulfilling his military service obligation by delivering
meals on wheels in a town where the only person he knows is his estranged
father whom the young man hasn't even contacted since his arrival. Lukas'
days are spent among the elderly, infirm and semi-deranged; his nights,
alone in a tenement flat invaded by bugs and the relentless blare of his
downstairs neighbor's dissonant ethnic music.
When he's not being scammed by those who don't really need the free grub,
Lukas is beset by other cons. One day an invitation from a beautiful girl
on the bus drops literally right into his lap. He pursues Isabella (Lavinia
Wilson), and a romance of sorts ensues. His attraction is clear, but she
holds back is she a tease, or wounded in some unspeakable way? He doesn't
push her, either because he's a gentleman or else merely passive, and the
relationship remains chaste. Lukas continues to work off his frustrations,
now much greater, by rowing on a nearby river. His eventual meeting with
the scene-stealing, music-loving neighbor below a German Korea-phile, who
acts out the meaning of Asian folk songs with ersatz Gilbert & Sullivan
brio will trouble those waters, and set the stage for further encounters
with a virus-prone cop, an immigrant arms dealer, and a former Nazi
sharpshooter. All does not end well, but not predictably. "Gun-Shy" is
cleverly realized, with a few shots so graceful and poetic in their
composition you almost gasp.
|Alexandra's Project|| |
Less handsome, but equally clever, is the psycho-thriller from Australia,
"Alexandra's Project." It, too, explores the subterranean depths of human
sexuality, but in this case it's about too much of a good thing for the
man, that is, which is why his wife thinks it's a bad thing. Written and
directed by Rolf de Heer ("The Quiet Room," "Dance Me to My Song"), the film
is taut and menacing from its opening title sequence, as the camera swiftly
veers through the streets and gardens of an unnamed city, to rest finally in
a townhouse bedroom. This agitated movement presages the havoc the
aggressive and highly virile family breadwinner Steve (Gary Sweet) will
suffer later that day at the hands of his seriously troubled wife Alexandra
(Helen Buday). She plans a birthday for him that he will not soon forget,
nor will audiences. "Alexandra's Project" is about rage on a scale rarely
seen in contemporary domestic dramas, and about revenge so lethal it rings
of Greek tragedy. And while the ending may not be cathartic, it's not
Sadly, wit is nowhere to be found in the latest film from France's Jean-Paul
Rappeneau. I feel churlish disliking "Bon Voyage," especially after reading
the director's remarks about how personal this work is for him, how infused
it is with his childhood memories of the chaotic years of France's
occupation by the Nazis. Knowing he witnessed his country's surrender
makes it all the more inexplicable that he chose romantic farce as his
genre, using the style and generic elements of American screwball comedies
to frame the story of a vain and ruthless film actress who has as many
self-serving ruses as she has saps to fall for them. Isabelle Adjani plays
the aging star; Gregori Derangere, Peter Coyote and a much trimmer Gerard
Depardieu are her swains. Throughout the length of this tedious exercise,
which is far too beautifully photographed for a film of such little
consequence, only Virginie Ledoyen as a brainy young physicist and Yvan
Attal as a patriotic ex-convict get it right. They alone seemed to have
internalized an important lesson of comedy: if the laughs are to work, you
have to play it straight. Otherwise, what should have been soufflÄ winds up
Sony Pictures Classics has a March 2004 domestic release planned for "Bon
Voyage," and I asked veteran film buyer Tom Brueggemann what he thought its
prospects were. His take on this film is more generous; he feels SPC will
know how to market it and exploit its arthouse potential, especially if
France submits it as their nominee for the Foreign Language Film Oscar. Me,
I was just counting the listless sighs at the close.
| ||Memories of Murder|
The best was saved for last, although that may just have been the luck of
the draw on a light screening day. The true-crime thriller "Memories of
Murder" once again demonstrates that lately Korean filmmakers are getting
better at American genre movies than Hollywood. This movie has all the
ingredients of a rousing entertainment, which might sound callous given that
it's based on the crimes of South Korea's first serial killer, a brutal
rapist and strangler who is still at large. But the script is ingenious,
the cast, from leads to supporting players, first-rate, and the camera work,
nimble and fluid. The mounting tension is so skillfully orchestrated by
director Bong Joon-ho that his movie has the kind of rush "The French
Connection" did when it first hit screens. Acquisitions folks from Film
Movement and IFC were sitting nearby; here's hoping that this festival screening will not be my only recollection of "Memories of Murder."
On the sked for Toronto, Day 2: a double dose of Peter Greenaway, George
Hickenlooper's documentary, "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" plus a Buddhist
kicks butt in "Ong-Bak Muay: Thai Warrior."
|| Mayor of the Sunset Strip
Diminutive Rodney Bingenheimer hangs out with a lot of big-time musical icons in "Mayor of the Sunset Strip," a documentary that overrelies on his pixie-ish proximity to fame and his quizzical personality.
|| Memories of Murder
A constantly deceptive detective story in which bad cops who think they're doing good work look for a serial killer in all the wrong places.
|SEPTEMBER 6, 2003|
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