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    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring. in Toronto Film Festival, Day 3
    "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring."

    Toronto, 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.


    Over its 28 years, the Toronto International Film Festival has become increasingly toploaded in its first four days. By Day 3, the number of movie screenings on the printed press schedule had nearly tripled, not to mention the extras that had been added around town as distributors and sales agents compete for the attention of critics, junket press, programmers and buyers. Wading through the congestion, you revise plans as you prioritize. It becomes harder to justify devoting precious hours to a film that already has distribution, knowing it'll be in commercial release sooner or later.

    Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto, Ontario, Sept. 4-13, 2003.

    Related links: Official site | "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring" | "Bright Young Things" | "The Fog of War" review

      Festival: Toronto Film Festival, Day 1
    Our correspondent at the Toronto International Film Festival unearths promising new work from Germany and Korea.

      Festival: 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.

      Festival: 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."

      Festival: 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.

    On the other hand, so much product has arrived here with major studio or indie backing that seeking out only the unattached is, well, perverse. No way was I going to pass up Sony Pictures Classics' new documentary from Errol Morris, chronicler of the brilliant ("A Brief History of Time"), the quirky ("Fast, Cheap & Out of Control"), and the notorious ("Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.>"). It seems somehow particularly fitting that in his latest work, Morris turns his patented device, the Interrotron — a two-way camera/monitor that locks the direct gaze of the subject with that of his interviewer — on one of the chief architects of the war in Vietnam. "The Fog of War" is subtitled "11 Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara," and that's how the film is structured and derives its considerable power. (Click for full review.)

    At the age of 85, the former secretary of defense for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, can look back over his life and admit mistakes. Which is not to say he is taking blame. As Morris himself declares, "It is much more difficult to analyze the causes of error than apologize for it." From the very first lesson, "Empathize with your enemy," we're reminded that McNamara's career has to be evaluated against the background of the Cold War and the containment of nuclear weapons. JFK's ability to identify and understand the motives behind Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro's behavior was what averted war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the end of the film, when McNamara has journeyed to Vietnam to confer with retired General Vo Nguyen Giap, we are given the enemy's perspective that the U.S. never correctly read Hanoi's leaders. Our government saw our troop commitment as battling the influence and ambitions of communist China; the Vietnamese, who had been fighting China for a thousand years, regarded this latest war as yet another struggle against colonial oppressors.

    Errol Morris and Robert McNamara in The Fog of War. in Toronto Film Festival, Day 3  
    Errol Morris and Robert McNamara in "The Fog of War."
    McNamara's earliest childhood memory is of 1918, of fireworks marking the Armistice. From Woodrow Wilson's misplaced belief that World War I was "the war to end all wars," to horrific new disclosures about the firebombing of Japanese civilians during World War II, to the false interpretation of data that led to the erroneous conclusion U.S. destroyers were attacked in the Tonkin Gulf on August 4, 1964 — "The Fog of War" is replete with lessons about human fallibility and the failure of reason. Whether you believe McNamara is being truthful about history or mainly protecting his own legacy, it is clear that he has learned from the past. The question is, have we?

    Another movie with distribution (Lions Gate) and a big push behind it is "Girl with a Pearl Earring," the second Toronto entry starring this year's Festival "It" girl, Scarlett Johansson (also enjoying delirious buzz for "Lost in Translation"). Having admired the painterly visuals of "The Tulse Luper Suitcases" the day before, I wanted to see how director Peter Webber would handle Johannes Vermeer and the subject of one of his most celebrated portraits. Based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier, the film opens with a well-mannered but poor and illiterate young Protestant named Griet (Johansson) being readied for service in the master artist's household. Griet's mother warns her to close her ears to the family's Catholic prayers — the least of her worries, as it turns out.

    Many hazards await the lovely Griet, including Vermeer's wife, pregnant and resentful (she was to bear him 15 children). A spiteful, thieving daughter, a sharp-eyed mother-in-law, gossiping servants and a lecherous patron add to the hothouse atmosphere, which gets steamier when Vermeer (Colin Firth) becomes enamored of the virginal maid. Struggling with her feelings for him, Griet agrees to be his model, but in the process finds something more fulfilling than romantic love. In his efforts to involve her more in his life, Vermeer teaches her about painting, and it is here that the movie — which otherwise wouldn't be more than a Dutch "Upstairs, Downstairs" — finds its way. Through the skill of cinematographer Eduardo Serra the cramped, darkened rooms of the townhouse below recede behind the pale yellow light suffusing Vermeer's studio. Chunks of raw minerals glitter like jewels; ground and mixed with oil, their luminosity will capture the soul of a girl evolving into a person. Vermeer was a slow and methodical painter; the pace of "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is quicker, but not by much.

      Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth in Girl with a Pearl Earring. in Toronto Film Festival, Day 3
      Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth in "Girl with a Pearl Earring."
    Stephen Fry is a multitalent, a gifted actor, comedian and writer. He makes his directorial debut with "Bright Young Things," and also wrote the screenplay, based on Evelyn Waugh's novel "Vile Bodies." The BYTs are London's smart set of vivacious aristocrats, circa the late 1920s-30s. Like struggling author Adam Symes (newcomer Stephen Campbell Moore), some of them may be broke but are no less hedonistic than their well-connected chums who spirit them to one fabulous party after another. Adam's poverty and his misadventures overcoming it — so that he may marry his beloved Nina (Emily Mortimer) — provide the plot's through-line, but the antics of this giddy bunch do not generate sufficient momentum to engage our sympathy when their world comes crashing down around them. Like a champagne cocktail, "Bright Young Things" should effervesce for a while before it falls flat, but alas, there isn't a bubbly moment in it.

    The best Fest movie so far is one I hadn't planned to see, but a ticket to a public screening came my way, so off I went to take in Kim Ki-duk's "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring." The South Korean director is perhaps best known in the West for his intense psychosexual drama "The Isle" (think, fishhooks and hookers). "Spring, Summer . . ." is not as graphic, and the violence mostly takes place off-screen. It is a marvel, an exquisite contemplation of natural beauty and the Buddhist cycle of life, death and rebirth. What's astonishing, at least to these Western eyes, is how kinetic and funny these ruminations can be. Through the changing of the seasons, the life of a man is traced from his childhood as the apprentice of a hermit monk, to his own maturity and evolution as a holy man.

    The story unfolds entirely in a house in the middle of a lake, and in the surrounding hills. Supporting characters include a languorous, fetching young woman who will spell big trouble, two city cops who find their Buddhist within, and an assortment of pets — dog, cat, rooster, even a snake. The presence of the animal actors illustrates that violence toward lower life forms is also violence toward ourselves, whether or not you believe in reincarnation. In the first segment, after maltreating some tiny creatures, the young boy must carry around a rock strapped to his back in an effort toward achieving insight and harmony. Later, still struggling to internalize the lessons of his mentor, the monk will haul a much heavier stone all the way to the top of a nearby summit. After the movie ended, the friendly young Torontonian next to me remarked how much he liked it, "although it did take a while to get up that hill." Oh yes, I thought: it can take a lifetime.

    On tap for Toronto, Day 4: Manoel de Oliviera's "A Talking Picture," Amos Gitai's "Alila," Joel Schumacher's "Veronica Guerin," and Roger Michell's "The Mother."

    Festival articles



    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 14, 2003

    Reader comments on Toronto Film Festival, Day 3:

  • Andrea Gronvall's review   from Rich Harris, Sep 15, 2003
  • Andrea Gronvall articles   from Linda Silber, Sep 18, 2003

  • Post a comment on "Toronto Film Festival, Day 3"