Saturday, October 13, 2012

2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) - Update One

[Note: An original version of this post appeared on]

The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is off to a great start. The usual cinema venues, the usual running from one screening to the next, the usual sprints along the familiar blocks of Yonge Street and King Street with stops for caffeine on the way, the usual enthused audience members eager to tell others about what amazing films they have just seen - is what makes TIFF what it has always been: one of the most accessible and well programmed film festivals. In a perfect world, TIFF would be on every day of the year. But while being in Toronto for the few days that I am, I am determined to make the most of it.

TIFF 2012 still, Frances Ha
The first film I saw, Frances Ha, is delight manifest on the cinema screen. The movie is written and directed by Noah Baumbach, he of the dark, aching 'comedies' Greenberg, Margot at the Wedding, and The Squid and The Whale. His latest effort carries an entirely different blueprint. For one thing the movie is shot in gorgeous black and white, which renders Brooklyn and Paris that much more romantic. An audience member at the Q and A after the film asked Baumbach as to what besides The French New Wave and Woody Allen were his inspirations for this film. "Those two pretty much sum it up", he replied. The movie is also co-written by the gamine Greta Gerwig who plays the lead role. Maybe its because of her greater investment in this film with her contribution to the script, but Gerwig is the most delightful she has ever been on camera - and this means something considering that here is an actor who has made a name for herself by being delightful in films. It would be reductive to call this simply a coming of age film. As Gerwig mentioned during her response to a question, this film interested her because it is based on something seldom seen in movies: unrequited love between two people who have a relationship that is not sexual. The film is of course nothing if not a showcase for exceptional writing. The dialog here is pitch-perfect. Laugh too loud at a line and you will miss the next piece of dialog. The completely spontaneous feeling of the movie, we learn from the director and cast, came from tedious repetition of takes based on a tightly scripted story. You will also have to see this film to find out the explanation for the title of the movie in the last scene. This is an immeasurably witty and wise film.

TIFF 2012 still, Everybody Has A Plan
Everybody Has A Plan (Todos Tenemos Un Plan), is an Argentine film that takes film noir and carries it through its fullest possibilities. Viggo Mortensen demonstrates that he is just as compelling an actor when he is speaking in another language. He plays the dual roles of Agustin, a well to do Buenos Aires pediatrician coming undone from his wife, and Pedro, his far less fortunate twin brother who lives in the impoverished water-logged islands (El Tigre delta) away from the city and who has his hands dirty with involvement with the local crime leader. The poverty-stricken islands in the movie bear a strong resemblance to the setting of the recent Beasts Of The Southern Wild. Throw in a younger lover, hard-scrabble criminals who will stop at nothing to recover their money, switched identities, and bee-keeping as a metaphor for the perils of getting too close to something dangerous. And you have a sticky, steaming brew of noir set in South America. What is surprising is to find that this accomplished film is made by a first time director, the young Ana Piterbarg.

TIFF 2012 still, 90 Minutes
The last film I saw in the day was the Scandinavian production 90 Minutes. It came advertised as a movie that tries to understand the possible pathology behind the 2011 mass shootings in Norway. The film toggles between three seemingly unrelated fictional stories, which start off from a place of the abjectly mundane, but only gradually reveal the undercurrent of impending malefic forces: a wealthy businessman who is having to make some major adjustments in his life, a police officer spending an evening with his family and starting to sense the displeasure from the mother of his children, and finally a third man watching television in a empty apartment before we are suddenly exposed to the unthinkable horror around his existence. The movie depicts literally, the last 90 minutes in the lives of three individuals. And makes a case for the often very unremarkable basis for the genesis of terrible violence. This is technically an accomplished film, with masterful shot compositions. And heightened, crystalline sound that effortlessly makes the amplification of everyday noises (a dishwasher being loaded, a baby crying) summon anxiety and impending doom. For all its merits, the movie was ultimately, for me, impossible to watch. And there were steady walkouts during the screening, starting from almost the first half hour. I recognize the choice of a filmmaker to take a brutal, in your face, approach to depicting the horrific. But at what point does the end stop justifying the means? In its effort to drive home its (what seemed to me, somewhat oversimplified) tenet about what leads individuals into doing the unthinkable, the movie is willing to cross any line. As inured as we are to seeing the shocking and the violent in cinema, I still could not stomach this film. Perhaps the very fact that this film has engendered this much discussion within my head may speak to its potency. I need to continue to consider this film in the coming days.

Another three films on the schedule for tomorrow; other movies to revel in. Until the next update, then.

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