VIS D: Lisandro Alonso w/ Argentino Vargas, Misael Saavedra. Argentina/ France/Netherlands. 63 min. Wednesday, September 13, 3:30 PM PARAMOUNT 4; Friday, September 15, 9 PM CUMBERLAND 2 Rating: NNN
Meditative minimalism from the director of Los Muertos and La Libertad, Fantasma is both a wry comment on Alonso's previous work and a way of freeing himself from it.
Vargas turns up in a nondescript office building in Buenos Aires that houses a basement cinema where his movie is showing. After a series of virtually dialogue-free encounters with a few people, he watches the film along with a cleaning woman. Saavedra, the star of La Libertad, is also in the house, though he manages to miss both Vargas and Los Muertos.
The unassuming though graceful visuals are punctuated by some of the most dramatic sound design elements since Gaspar Noé's Irreversible, adding a layer of heightened reality to this philosophically bedraggled cinematic onion. For Alonso aficionados only.
MY LIFE AS A TERRORIST: THE STORY OF HANS-JOACHIM KLEIN
RTR D: Alexander Oey. Netherlands. 70 min. Wednesday, September 13, 5:15 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM; Friday, September 15, 1:45 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM Rating: NNN
Hans-Joachim Klein is a rarity, a terrorist who walked away from his comrades and lived to tell his tale. Mixing archival footage with bucolic scenes of Klein's current home in France, Oey's documentary traces Klein's life from foster child in Frankfurt to hostage-taker in Vienna.
Klein articulates his reasons for leaving the movement, but the film never pinpoints why he joined in the first place. Clues abound: dead mother, abusive father, finding "family" in the student left movement, general outrage directed at the state. But lots of people share these experiences and don't storm buildings armed to the teeth.
The story's compelling, but the aftertaste is that of questions left unasked.
VAN D: Johnnie To w/ Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka-fai. Hong Kong/China. 101 min. Wednesday, September 13, 6 PM AL GREEN; Saturday, September 16, 3:45 PM VASITY 2 Rating: NNN
A complex crime drama about the process by which Hong Kong's largest Triad clan installs its chairman, Election lays bare the machinations behind the city's contemporary gang culture. We see the elders (called uncles) speak out about their choices, and the candidates lobby and/or bribe the voters.
What works best here is the depiction of how Yam's character consolidates power after he's elected. His sophistication, conciliatory style and calm exterior hide a ruthless brutality that explodes more than once when you least expect it.
A fascinating piece of entertainment. Election 2 works with a larger canvas. Business has never been so good and the bosses' tentacles are reaching beyond Hong Kong into China. Election 2 is brutal, bloody and slick, just what we believe Triad gang warfare is like. Like Michael Corleone in Godfather II, the leading contender for chairman is reluctantly drawn into the "business" when what he really wants to do is pursue legitimate market expansion. The old-fashioned warfare that results gives this sequel a genre sheen that makes it a charming entertainment in its own right.
SPEC D: Emanuele Crialese w/ Charlotte Gainsbourg, Vincenzo Amato. Italy/France. 112 min. Wednesday, September 13, 6 PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN); Friday, September 15, 9:30 AM VARSITY 8 Rating: NNN
Exquisite period recreation marks this tale about the journey of Sicilian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century to Ellis Island in steerage class. The early portions set in Sicily have the sort of deadly serious compositional balance you see in the Taviani brothers' Sicilian films like Chaos, and the shipboard sections give a sense of the claustrophobia that must have driven some passengers mad.
On the other hand, the pacing is very slow. The Italian title is Nuovomundo (New World), but for the first third of the film we're in Sicily, and at the 85-minute mark we're still on the boat. And I wish that Crialese, best known here for Respiro, had the epic sensibility demanded by the subject. I'm thinking of the kind of sweep Visconti or Coppola in his prime might have brought to this film. In Crialese's hands, you never sense that anything exists beyond the frame.
CWC D: Lou Ye w/ Hao Lei, Guo Xiaodong. China/France. 140 min. Wednesday, September 13, 6 PM VARSITY 8; Friday, September 15, 2:30 PM CUMBERLAND 2 Rating: NNN
Or Girls Gone Wild: Tiananmen Square Edition. Small-town girl Yu Hong gets into Beijing University and has a lot of badly lit sex with her new boyfriend. Then, since it's 1989, everybody goes to Tiananmen Square.
Yu Hong then goes back to her hometown and the film devolves into three other soap operas and a lot of title cards. Lou is best known for Souzhou River, which was a mystery that turned into a pocket version of Vertigo. This is more diffuse and less interesting, though it does present an unexpected view of Chinese student life. I remember the logistical challenges of dorm sex with one roommate in the picture. Imagine the problems with five or six.
ACTS OF IMAGINATION
CF D: Carolyn Combs w/ Stephanie Hayes, Billy Marchenski. 88 min. Wednesday, September 13, 6:15 PM CUMBERLAND 1; Friday, September 15, 3:15 PM VARSITY 3 Rating: NN
If only this debut feature lived up to that lofty title. Recent Ukrainian immigrants Katya (Hayes) and Jaroslaw (Marchenski) are barely scraping by in Vancouver. She works part-time and is haunted by the mysterious death of her mother, while he (for some reason his English is much better than hers) has just been fired and wants a more comfy life with his single-mom Korean-Canadian girlfriend.
As the siblings attempt to pay the rent, director Combs sluggishly tries to tell a story about survival, hope and family ties. But the underwritten script is less suggestive about their past than vague and annoying.
BREAKING AND ENTERING
GALA D: Anthony Minghella w/ Jude Law, Juliette Binoche. UK. 120 min. Wednesday, September 13, 6:30 PM ROY THOMSON HALL; Thursday, September 14, noon VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN) Rating: NNNN
See review, page 76.
DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT
VIS D: Julia Loktev w/ Luisa Williams, Josh P. Weinstein. U.S. 94 min. Wednesday, September 13, 6:30 PM PARAMOUNT 4; Friday, September 15, 9:15 AM CUMBERLAND 2; Saturday, September 16, noon VARSITY 4 Rating: NNN
Tracking 48 hours in the life of an anonymous suicide bomber, this first feature graphically sets forth the minutiae such an act entails. In a banal out-of-the-way hotel, masked men instruct a young woman in everything from how to memorize a cover story to how to wear the bomb itself.
The film's clinical style, chilling in the beginning, turns suspenseful when the bomber enters Times Square. Loktev's hand-held camera and her subject's purposeful walking keep us on edge, since we don't know her target. Even the act of buying something to eat summons up all sorts of nightmare scenarios for the viewer. Yet without an identifiable context or motive, it's all just an admirable show of technique.
CF D: Mazdak Taebi w/ Sadegh Maleki, Shapoor Gharib. Canada/Iran. 75 min. Wednesday, September 13, 7 PM CUMBERLAND 3; Friday, September 15, 11:45 AM CUMBERLAND 3 Rating: NNN
If the premise - a giant fairy is sent to Tehran with the power to grant a single wish, but falls in love with a mannequin - sounds like the flimsiest whimsy, the movie itself is far from it. A simple plot twist sends him on a hunt for someone to give the wish to. What he finds are people still heavily burdened by the long-past Iran/Iraq war.
Taebi's use of surveillance-camera-style high-angle fixed shots makes for a tedious pace but effectively conveys the mood and life of the city and provides fuel for his musings on the media-mediated life.
A STONES THROW
CF D: Camelia Frieberg w/ Kris Holden-Ried, Lisa Ray. 98 min. Wednesday, September 13, 8:15 PM VARSITY 3; Friday, September 15, 12:30 PM VARSITY 3 Rating: NN
An eco activist and photojournalist (Holden-Ried) returns home to his tiny Nova Scotia mining town, where he shakes up his sister's (Kathryn MacLellan) family life and gets a bit of lovin' on the side with the local kindergarten teacher (Ray).
Director Frieberg, better known as a producer, won't be leaving her day job soon. This dreadfully earnest pic drips with portentous symbols - especially a continuing bit about kids performing Bible stories - and the script contains howlers like "I'm going to go in and set up the beeswax for you."
AS THE SHADOW
DISC D: Marina Spada w/ Anita Kravos, Karolina Dafne Porcari. Italy. 87 min. Wednesday, September 13, 8:30 PM CUMBERLAND 2; Friday, September 15, noon CUMBERLAND 2 Rating: NNN
Milan has never looked as sterile as it does in this moody psychological drama about isolated women in a changed Europe. Claudia (Kravos) is a lonely, restless travel agent who befriends her Russian teacher, Boris (Stefano Breda). When she grudgingly agrees to put up his cousin Olga (Porcari) from Kiev, the two women form an unusual connection that leads to some mysterious developments.
Director Spada obviously knows her Haneke films. She quietly draws us into the drama, suggesting much while revealing little. A wide shot involving Olga should provoke debates, as should the existential conclusion.
CF D: Jean Châteauvert w/ Valerie Cantin, Marc Marans. 80 min. Wednesday, September 13, 8:45 PM CUMBERLAND 1; Friday, September 15, 3:15 PM CUMBERLAND 1 Rating: N
Quebecois lovers Christine (Cantin) and Christophe (Marans) can't keep their hands off each other. The only problem is they're siblings, and Christine has a daft husband (Michael Kelly) and two bratty kids, one of whom is also smitten with the smouldering Christophe.
Not as funny or odd as its Jerry Springer premise might suggest, this one-note film plays the incest for tragedy, which means hand-wringing speeches and pained looks. If only we cared.
RTR D: Paul Rachman. U.S. 100 min. Wednesday, September 13, 9 PM PARAMOUNT 4; Friday, September 15, 12:15 PM PARAMOUNT 3 Rating: NNN
Your reaction to American Hardcore depends on your feelings about the fast, hard and vaguely psychotic musical movement that arose in southern California in the late 70s and early 80s featuring bands like Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Fear, Bad Brains and Hüsker Dü. (Yes, I know the last two bands weren't from L.A.)
It's mostly a piece of oral history. Because an astonishing number of the principals are still with us, notably Henry Rollins of Black Flag, we discover that middle-aged ex-punk-rockers with tattoos from wrist to elbow look even more embarrassing than middle-aged rock stars with grey hair to their shoulders.
Aside from the interviews, there's a lot of rare live film, often fan-shot with handicams. Amazing Bad Brains footage.
SPEC D: Ray Lawrence w/ Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne. Australia. 123 min. Wednesday, September 13, 9 PM RYERSON; Friday, September 15, 3 PM RYERSON Rating: NN
Four men do not immediately curtail their fishing trip when they find the body of a young Aboriginal woman floating in the river, an act of callousness that haunts the rest of their lives and those of everyone else in their small Australian town.
Despite sensitive performances (by Linney in particular), Lawrence's ambitious reach exceeds his grasp. There's something superficial in the men's moral struggle, and the idea that we're all powerless in a world of fear and regret is just not sustainable, especially since it's explored without much complexity and Robert Altman mined the same material to better effect in Short Cuts.
MM D: J.T. Petty. U.S. 84 min. Wednesday, September 13, midnight RYERSON; Friday, September 15, 3:45 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM Rating: NN
They're called underground horror - backyard movies that focus on the graphic murder, rape and torture of mostly female victims.
Filmmaker Petty goes looking for the psychology behind these movies and their makers. Two of the three filmmakers he interviews are ordinary people making a buck and having a gruesome laugh. The third is the classic lonely, desperate nerdboy still living in his mother's basement and filming the same brutal scenario over and over again.
A sexologist, a forensic psychologist and horror film scholar Carol J. Clover offer pithy sound bites on voyeurism, the sad state of American culture and the tendency of rapist/killers to start mild and escalate. If you're new to all this, you may be disgusted. If you already know the field, you likely won't learn anything new.