12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST
CWC D: Corneliu Porumboiu w/ Mircea Andreescu, Teodor Corban. Romania. 89 min. Friday, September 8, 9 AM PARAMOUNT 2; Saturday, September 16, 10 AM VARSITY 1 Rating: NNNN
Most of the action in this deadpan comedy takes place on the set of a local TV phone-in show in a small town somewhere in the Romanian sticks. The topic: were the people who gathered in the town square the day dictator Ceausescu left office there to celebrate his departure or to prod him to leave? The ambitious, smug host is joined by an alcoholic history teacher and a good-natured pensioner, the town Santa Claus.
The cinematic limitations imposed on the film by its simple set and static camera are more than overcome by the brilliance of the script and the comic timing of the three actors. Winner of the Camera d'Or as best first film at Cannes.
CWC D: Andrei Kravchuk w/ Kolya Spiridonov, Maria Kuznetsova. Russia. 99 min. Friday, September 8, 9:45 AM PARAMOUNT 3; Sunday, September 10, 7:30 PM VARSITY 3 Rating: NNN
Six-year-old Vanya (Spiridonov) lives in a Russian orphanage stuck beside a slushy, muddy highway that glasnost forgot. This Dickensian bleak house is ruled by two factions, a corrupt headmaster who sells his younger charges to childless foreigners, and a gang of older orphans with its fingers in petty thievery and prostitution. Given a chance at a life with new Italian parents, Vanya instead sets out to find his birth mother, pursued by a Klebbish orphan broker (Kuznetsova) and her henchman.
Filmed at a real orphanage with real orphans in key roles, this is a dreary yet heartening (although hardly heart-warming) film, with an amazingly natural performance by Spiridonov.
VIS D: György Pálfi w/ Csaba Czene, Gergo Trócsányi. Hungary/Austria/ France. 91 min. Friday, September 8, 11:15 AM PARAMOUNT 2; Saturday, September 16, 5:45 PM VARSITY 1 Rating: NNNN
Transgressive and transfixing, this high-concept, lowbrow lumpen saga begins with the imaginative masturbatory life of a Hungarian soldier in the second world war, moves into the Soviet era when eating contests are the national sport and finishes with a contemporary section in which a slightly built taxidermist decides to create a perfect piece of art. The massive, finely tuned athlete of the second part is the illegitimate son of the dim-witted soldier, while the shy artist is his unlikely grandchild.
To build his surreal satire, Pálfi takes the gastric inventiveness of Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life and extends some of Caro and Jeunet's more outlandish techniques from Delicatessen to create an outrageous ode to flesh that is uniquely his own.
MVC D: Paz Encina w/ Ramon Del Rio, Georgina Genes. Paraguay/Argentina. 78 min. Friday, September 8, 12:30 PM PARAMOUNT 4; Tuesday, September 12, 7:30 PM CUMBERLAND 1; Saturday, September 16, 9:15 AM VARSITY 3 Rating: NNN
In this minimalist examination of a pivotal moment in Paraguay's political and social history, an elderly couple set up their hammock in the jungle and talk about whether they can hear birds pass by and when their son might return from fighting in the war with Bolivia.
It's 1935, it's hot and the camera doesn't move. The film is like an understated Beckett memory play in four acts, with Encina's consistently delicate touch showing off her poetic sensibility. Patient and intrepid festivalgoers may find the experience similar to a bite of sorbet between more traditional movie courses.
Part of the group of films curated by Peter Sellars in honour of Mozart's 250th anniversary, Hamaca Paraguaya riffs on his Requiem.
LIGHTS IN THE DUSK
MAST D: Aki Kaurismäki w/ Janne Hyytiäinen, Maria Järvenhelmi. Finland. 77 min. Friday, September 8, 12:30 PM RYERSON; Saturday, September 16, 9 PM RYERSON Rating: NNN
In this deadpan, noirish tale, elegantly told though it may be, it's survival of the bleakest. A security guard, so closed-in emotionally that he barely speaks to his co-workers, is transfixed by a pretty blond who uses him to pull off a big burglary. Stoic doesn't begin to describe his misguided romantic intransigence. The things we do for love, indeed.
This is the third "fairy tale" in Kaurismäki's recent trilogy of stories set among the Finnish working class. And a grim one it is. 2:37
D: Murali K. Thalluri w/ Teresa Palmer, Frank Sweet. Australia. 91 min. Friday, September 8, 2:30 PM PARAMOUNT 1; Sunday, September 10, 8 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM; Friday, September 15, 9:45 AM CUMBERLAND 1 Rating: NNN
Thalluri's debut film is a reasonably involving story about a suicide in an Australian high school. What's impressive isn't the cast's dramatic prowess or the wit of the screenplay. It's that Thalluri, who everyone says is 20, has a startling formal control seldom seen in college-age directors. He's plainly working under a certain "anxiety of influence" (the notes name-check Gus Van Sant, and Thalluri's fondness for flowing steadicam shots indicates that he's seen Elephant), but he's plainly a talented young director, and his film is worth seeing.
CWC D: Anne Fontaine w/ Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc, Danielle Darrieux. France. 90 min. Friday, September 8, 4 PM PARAMOUNT 2; Sunday, September 10, 9:45 PM PARAMOUNT 1; Friday, September 15, 4:15 PM VARSITY 7 Rating: NNN
Sibertin-Blanc's deadpan comic alter ego Augustin Dos Santos returns in this light bonbon about art, life and the passing of time. Here, the sad-faced Augustin is an aspiring theatre director who convinces a retired operetta singer (Darrieux), a TV star (Arielle Dombasle) and a couple of contrasting hunks to share the stage.
It's an amusing backstage comedy (you can tell director Fontaine loves actors) marred by a cloying ending. The film gets a comic jolt whenever Sibertin-Blanc's Augustin needs something; he pursues it with complete determination and he's a joy to watch.
THE BEST OF NORMAN McLAREN
SPEC D: Norman McLaren w/ Canada. 80 min. Friday, September 8, 4:45 PM ISABEL BADER Rating: NNNNN
See review, page 37.
CWC D: Cate Shortland w/ Richard Roxburgh, Essie Davis. Australia. 104 min. Friday, September 8, 5:45 PM VARSITY 8; Sunday, September 10, 2:45 PM VARSITY 8; Friday, September 15, 6 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM Rating: NNN
Veteran Australian actor Roxburgh, familiar to North American audiences from prominent appearances in awful movies (he was Dracula in Van Helsing, the Duke in Moulin Rouge and had a role in Stealth), plays a traumatized Australian cop who, on assignment to the Police Museum, becomes obsessed with a cold case he discovers while curating a show of crime scene photos. A complex psychological mystery, The Silence was made for Australian TV but holds up on the big screen (as long as one pays attention). It also offers an array of first-rate performances, with special praise to Emily Barclay as Roxburgh's slightly ditzy assistant.
VIS D: Abderrahmane Sissako w/ Aïssa Maïga, Tiécoura Traoré. France/Mali/U.S. 115 min. Friday, September 8, 6 PM PARAMOUNT 4; Saturday, September 9, 12:30 PM AL GREEN THEATRE; Friday, September 15, 2 PM VARSITY 1 Rating: NNN
Using real lawyers, judges and Malians, Sissako sets up a "trial" in a courtyard in Bamako, Mali's capital city, in which the case is African society v. globalization.
To Sissako's credit, both sides are ably defended. As the trial unfolds, its scenes are juxtaposed with shots of the ill or unemployed - the defendant's victims - many of whom grow bored or depressed listening to the testimony. Although the judicial construct begins to feel false after a while, the anger expressed is anything but phony.
But all the lawyers' verbiage is put to shame by the eloquent silence of one witness who gives his profession as "former schoolteacher" - and walks away.
VIS D: Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth w/ Batzul Khayankhyarvaa, Dugarsuren Dagvadorj. Belgium/Germany/Netherlands. 104 min. Friday, September 8, 6:30 PM CUMBERLAND 3; Monday, September 11, 12:30 PM VARSITY 8; Friday, September 15, 8:30 PM CUMBERLAND 1 Rating: NN
Documentarians Brosens and Woodworth turn to fiction, and the result is a piece of ethnographic hoo-hah about Mongol plainsmen adapting to life in mines and urban tower blocks. This would be interesting, but the filmmakers have employed Modernist narrative strategies so oblique that the audience can only wonder, "What just happened?" and "Where the hell did that guy come from?" and "How did she get under the coal?"
Best thing about movies set in Mongolia? They allow us to use the word "yurt" in reviews. This one has a scene with a flaming yurt.
RTR D: Bradley Beesley, Sarah Price. U.S. 85 min. Friday, September 8, 6:30 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM; Sunday, September 10, 10:30 AM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM; Saturday, September 16, 10:45 AM PARAMOUNT 3 Rating: NNN
This charming little film celebrates the insights and innocence of children while documenting the temporary community life of overnight camps. Anyone who has ever gone to camp can relate to the highs and lows of the experience: first crushes, losing a race, making new friends, missing family, being the cabin geek. And those who haven't can experience it vicariously.
The film lacks some focus and does get repetitive, but it's funny (love the interviews with the exhausted counsellors), sweet and well worth a look.
LE VOYAGE EN ARMENIE
MAST D: Robert Guédiguian w/ Ariane Ascaride, Gérard Meylan. France. 125 min. Friday, September 8, 7 PM ISABEL BADER THEATRE; Sunday, September 10, 11:30 AM VARSITY 8; Saturday, September 16, 8:30 PM VARSITY 1 Rating: NNN
Ostensibly the story of Anna (Ascaride), a French cardiologist travelling to Armenia to find her ailing father (Marcel Blüwal), Le Voyage is really a history/travelogue of the small and beleaguered nation. Anna is imperious and hard to like, and there's a bizarre subplot in which she's momentarily sucked into organized crime. The dialogue is exposition-heavy - particularly that delivered by Yervanth (Meylan), a kind of local godfather. Feature films whose characters discuss Communism, capitalism and other isms are fairly rare in North America (except maybe in Quebec), and Ascaride, who also co-wrote the script, deserves credit for taking on an unsympathetic role, the better to show off this gorgeous land and its equally beautiful people.
CWC D: Slawomir Fabicki w/ Antoni Pawlicki, Nataliya Vdovina. Poland. 103 min. Friday, September 8, 8 PM VARSITY 3; Sunday, September 10, 2 PM CUMBERLAND 1; Thursday, September 14, 6:15 PM VARSITY 5 Rating: NNN
Strong lead performers, nicely directed and bathed in typical Lodz chiaroscuro, make this oft-told tale of doomed young thuggery worth seeing.
Pawlicki plays a naive boxer whose fists are the muscle behind a Warsaw loan shark. He gains favour with his boss, but as his lifestyle improves and he loses his innocence, his relationship with his illegal Ukrainian girlfriend and her son deteriorates. Their efforts to deal with what they've become are played out on the actors' lovely, expressive faces.
CWC D: Michael Mabbott w/ Douglas Smith, Alberta Watson. Canada. 90 min. Friday, September 8, 8:45 PM PARAMOUNT 3; Sunday, September 10, 3:30 PM PARAMOUNT 3 Rating: NN
A cocky teen (Smith) in a small town tries to restore his family's soiled reputation (eccentric dead dad, loser uncle) by running for mayor. Director Mabbott (The Life And Hard Times Of Guy Terrifico) and the screenwriters can't decide if they're making a high school comedy parody or a satire about spunky underdogs. The result mashes up the worst aspects of Rushmore, Napoleon Dynamite and Election. The laughs - and Smith's goofy charm - are completely forced.
Look for some cute turns by local actors (Rosemary Dunsmore, Jessica Holmes), but what the hell is American Vivica A. Fox doing playing a high school teacher? Trying to draw in another demographic?
LONDON TO BRIGHTON
DISC D: Paul Andrew Williams w/ Lorraine Stanley, Johnny Harris. UK. 86 min. Friday, September 8, 8:45 PM CUMBERLAND 2; Sunday, September 10, 3 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM; Saturday, September 16, 8 PM VARSITY 6 Rating: NNN
The innate problem with gutter-level British crime films is that what you get in exchange for a realistic slice of crime is the experience of being stuck dealing with a lot of stupid people.
London To Brighton is the story of a street whore being pursued by her pimp because of a very bad thing that happened with an important client. Strong performances and a very nasty view of humanity prevail, but you can predict that almost any character, when presented with a choice, will make the wrong one. It's a weird kind of predictability, but it's there.
And I saw the twist coming, which I almost never do.
LHOMME DE SA VIE
SPEC D: Zabou Breitman w/ Charles Berling, Bernard Campan. France/ Italy. 114 min. Friday, September 8, 9 PM PARAMOUNT 1; Sunday, September 10, 1 PM PARAMOUNT 2; Friday, September 15, 9:45 PM ISABEL BADER THEATRE Rating: NNNN
Oddly, the English title is The Man Of My Life, which isn't quite the way the title reads in French. Campan plays an upper-middle-class Frenchman vacationing at his family's country house. He meets his next door neighbour, played by Berling, an aloof, bitter, gay aesthete, and becomes fascinated by his new pal.
The characters are clichés, but Berling and Campan play them so well that you don't really notice. Breitman is an excellent actors' director and takes full advantage of the Cezanne landscapes that surround the characters.
The ending's kind of a mess, though.
CHRONICLE OF AN ESCAPE
CWC D: Israel Adrián Caetano w/ Rodrigo De la Serna, Nazareno Casero. Argentina. 102 min. Friday, September 8, 9:15 PM PARAMOUNT 4; Sunday, September 10, 12:30 PM PARAMOUNT 4 Rating: NN
Based on the true story of a rare quartet of survivors from the 30,000 who "disappeared" during Argentina's military dictatorship in the 1970s, Caetano's overbearing but heartfelt film works best as a historical reminder of a brutal regime. It takes the plucky prisoners 120 days of torture - presented in graphic detail - before they even think of trying to escape.
We know at the outset that their terrified naked leap to freedom, though suspenseful, will be successful, so we're left with the admirable but obvious lesson: torture is reprehensible and inhuman; overcoming it is difficult but not impossible.
GALA D: Pedro Almodóvar w/ Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura. Spain. 120 min. Friday, September 8, 9:30 PM ROY THOMSON HALL; Saturday, September 9, 9:30 AM RYERSON Rating: NNNNN
See cover story review, page 6 of the INSIDERS GUIDE PULLOUT.
VAN D: Paul Goldman w/ Emily Barclay, Robert Morgan. Australia. 95 min. Friday, September 8, 10 PM ISABEL BADER THEATRE; Sunday, September 10, 10:45 AM PARAMOUNT 3; Friday, September 15, 11:45 AM VARSITY 6 Rating: NNNN
This is an Australian movie about murder, possible incest and other questionable behaviours, all wrapped in a jaw-dropping bad-girl package named Katrina (Barclay). She's a spoiled sociopath with a kid, an alleged husband who may or may not have fathered her child and a father who won't give his all to help her brother, who's in jail for life after beheading a convenience store clerk with a samurai sword during a robbery.
Director Goldman can't decide if he loves Katrina or pities her. He's both fascinated and appalled, and he shouldn't be. Someone who can systematically destroy this many lives with such indifference should be worshipped as a goddess, like Kali. She deserves a murderous cult.