Safar e Ghandehar **/**** starring Niloufar Pazira, Hassan Tantai, Sadou Teymouri written and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
by Walter ChawKandahar is a science-fiction film about a terrifying and unknowable alien culture and the human anthropologist who must disguise herself to gain entry into its Byzantine infrastructure (thus often reminding me of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow), and it is the recipient of perhaps the most serendipitous release in film history. Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar is either a stunningly incompetent film or an amazingly evocative one. Perhaps best described as both, the piece alternates between sledgehammer images and awful didactic exposition. An argument can be made, and a good one, that the plight of Afghani women under the medieval rule of The Taliban deserves to be treated as a medieval passion play, with all the implied attendant allegorical characters (the pilgrim, the fallen child, the doctor, the thief) and mannered execution.
Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages ****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B+ starring Juliette Binoche, Thierry Neuvic, Sepp Bierbichler, Ona Lu Yenke written and directed by Michael Haneke
by Bryant Frazer In the vignette that opens Code Unknown, a young girl in pigtails, maybe 9 or 10 years old, cowers against a plain wall, trembling before director Michael Haneke's static camera. If you know Haneke's work--his previous film at the time, Funny Games, had depicted the torture and murder of a bourgeois French mom and dad plus their fair-haired moppet--the image is more than a little disturbing. But Haneke immediately pulls the rug out. Rather than cry, the girl suddenly stands and smiles, looking expectantly towards the camera. Haneke then cuts to reverse angles on different children, in close-up, also looking towards the camera. The girl has an audience, and so we understand that she was giving a performance. In this case, it's a game of charades among deaf children, with the spectators attempting to guess, using sign language, what the girl was trying to convey. "Alone?" one girl signs. The girl in pigtails shakes her head. Another signs, "Hiding place?" No. Nor is she trying to convey "guilty conscience," "gangster," "sad," or even "locked up." In the face of so many impassive classmates, the girl in pigtails finally looks weary and maybe on the verge of tears for real. With that, the screen goes black, and the title appears: Code Unknown.
½*/**** Image A Sound A starring F. Murray Abraham, Gabriel Byrne, Geraldine Chaplin, Robert De Niro screenplay by Mary McGuckian, based on the novel by Thornton Wilder directed by Mary McGuckian
by Walter Chaw Given its cast as well as its presumption to chart the hazy intersection between predestination and circumstance, Mary McGuckian's excruciatingly dull The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the third adaptation of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, might be the biggest miscalculation of the year. Start with Robert De Niro as the corrupt Archbishop of Lima, presiding over the inquisition of Brother Juniper (Gabriel Byrne). Six years previous Juniper witnessed the unceremonious snapping of the titular bridge, which sent five random people to their howling doom. Had they known how boring our good brown-robed pilgrim would make them out to be, I wouldn't wonder why they didn't try to float. No, Brother Juniper has decided that he's going to write the world's dullest book about this quintet of unfortunates so as to perhaps accidentally ken the mysterious workings of the Almighty in the small lives of small people.
***½/**** starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis screenplay by Todd Louiso & Jacob Kokoff and Michael Leslie directed by Justin Kurzel
by Walter Chaw In a season awash in Terrence Malick shrines, Justin Kurzel's Macbeth has the temerity to evoke Andrei Tarkovsky instead. Maybe certain moments from Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha, married to the saturated minimalism of Tarkovsky's Stalker. It's beautiful, in other words. Stunning enough that its self-consciousness is just another approach to centuries-old material, and a comfortable part of the whole. There are two approaches left to Shakespeare, I think: to acknowledge the centuries of intense scholarship around the canon that has uncovered the archetype (mostly Jungian, sometimes Freudian) mooring the tales, or to ignore them. This Macbeth understands that the Scottish Play is splashed red--all passion and portent and looming storms flashing low on the horizon. Every incident is portent. I mumbled along with the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech that I memorized for extra credit in eighth grade and marvelled at how Kurzel rolled it into a greater thematic conversation about the lust between these two people, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and his Lady (Marion Cotillard). It's as interesting an interpretation as Ethan Hawke's Melancholy Dane pondering choices in the aisles of Blockbuster Video. Muting the dialogue, swallowing it as Fassbender does here (or burying it, as in the various battleground sequences--Banquo (Paddy Considine) calls out his warning choking on blood and dirt), has the effect of placing the words of the story as secondary to its indelible images. It's Macbeth as mythology, seeking to explain how eternity metastasizes in the space between a couple who have lost a child.
THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY **½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Nick Nolte, Tim Roth, Bai Ling, Temeura Morisson screenplay by Sabina Murray directed by Hans Petter Moland
ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW *½/**** starring John Hawkes, Miranda July, Miles Thompson, Brandon Ratcliff written and directed by Miranda July
Shijie ****/**** starring Zhao Tao, Chen Taisheng, Jing Jue, Jiang Zhong-wei written and directed by Jia Zhang-ke
by Walter Chaw Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland makes films about isolated individuals trapped in simulacra of motion, and his best work is savage and melancholic: a trip taken by broken people to the bedside of a dying mother in Aberdeen; a pilgrimage made by a poet to locate his masculinity in the company of a maniac in Zero Kelvin. Even his first film, the quiet Secondløitnanten, touches on men oppressed by the caprice of nature--of other men driven to their natural state and the situations that melt away the lies that keep our lives liveable. Moland's films are beautifully framed (picaresque, it's not too much to say), capturing in their sprawling, austere landscapes the plight of individuals dwarfed by the mad, engulfing entropy of existence. He's a good fit with American auteur Terrence Malick, in other words--so it's without much surprise that Malick approached Moland to direct The Beautiful Country, a project he'd worked on, on and off, for a period of years before deciding that the producer's role would better suit him in this instance. The result is a picture that looks, sounds, often feels like a Malick film--even more so, it goes without saying, than Moland's early output does, leaving the project something that feels uncomfortably like ventriloquism. And though I'm a fan of both puppet and master, I find that I prefer the one drawing a line to the other rather than pulled around by the master's strings.
ATTACK THE BLOCK ***/**** starring Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh written and directed by Joe Cornish
SUPER 8 ***/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras A- starring Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso written and directed by J.J. Abrams
by Walter Chaw Joe Cornish's low-budget creature-feature Attack the Block is a charmer, a delight, the kind of rare film--like Jack Sholder's The Hidden, Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator, or Steve De Jarnatt's Miracle Mile--that devotees will latch onto, and for good reason, with the fervour afforded genuine cult classics. It has energy to burn, a strange affinity with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and a super-cool monster that looks like a cross between Ira from the "Moonshadow" comic and a grizzly bear. That most of it was carried off with practical effects is a shot in the arm for practical effects and a bearer of the nostalgia banner that seems to be popular lately, what with our dreams and memories fodder again for the celluloid couch. Better still, it introduces a new star into the future pantheon in John Boyega, who has charisma to burn as gang leader-cum-saviour Moses. The movie's tale of a group of street toughs has drawn comparisons to The Warriors, but I think the better analogy is Spielberg's E.T., not just in that alchemy between the fantastic and the absolutely mundane (South England's Lambeth neighbourhood), but also in the crafting of a living youth subculture alive with its own language, ritual, and custom. It's not too much to say that, at its best, Attack the Block makes you feel the way you did when the guys took things into their own hands to deliver the flying, omniscient, omnipotent E.T. to his landing site. It taps into the irrational cool. Which doesn't happen very often.
***½/**** Image C+ Sound B starring Vanessa Paradis, Daniel Auteuil, Frédéric Pfluger, Demetre Georgalas screenplay by Serge Frydman directed by Patrice Leconte
by Walter Chaw Patrice Leconte's immaculately-constructed Girl on the Bridge is a lovely, hopelessly romantic little bauble that catches the light no matter how you turn it. The picture stars gamine Vanessa Paradis as Adèle, a suicide girl broken by the lack of a soul mate and a flurry of Parisian bedsheets contemplating a George Bailey-style leap off the edge of a bridge. Her Clarence is Gabor (Daniel Auteuil), a professional knife-thrower who trolls for winsome targets looking to ride the eternity express; and together they paint the world a Fellini shade of red. The similarity is more than cosmetic: in its carnival-of-life (or better, life-as-carnival) atmosphere, the romance that develops between Gabor and Adèle is sublimated into the act of extended, trembling foreplay--lots of knives hurled at naked thighs and only a few nicks here and there to show for it. The act of actual sex is seen as something less than penetrating (Adèle pillow-hops like an adrenalized bunny), but when the pair rushes off to an abandoned train car to be alone, true intimacy only comes once Gabor starts in with the cutlery. Breathless in love like P.T. Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love or Fellini's Nights in Cabiria (which likewise sports a woman of loose morals looking for love in Rome), Girl on the Bridge, Leconte's lightest confection, manages still to convey the director's themes of the mystery of luck as it governs chance meetings and meaningful hits and misses.
MARIE ANTOINETTE **½/**** starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Judy Davis, Rip Torn screenplay by Sofia Coppola, based on the novel Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser directed by Sofia Coppola
TIDELAND ***½/**** starring Jodelle Ferland, Jeff Bridges, Brendan Fletcher, Jennifer Tilly screenplay by Terry Gilliam & Tony Grisoni, based on the novel by Mitch Cullin directed by Terry Gilliam
by Walter Chaw In going from The Virgin Suicides to Lost in Translation to Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola appears to be charting the arc of her own soft, unstructured dive into the morass of melancholia and regret, discovering her voice along the way in the bell tones of Kirsten Dunst, who plays a fourteen-year-old in The Virgin Suicides and, at the start of Coppola's latest film, a fourteen-year-old again, the Austrian Archduchess Marie Antoinette. Coppola's "Fast Times at Palais Versailles" opens with Marie loping through her Austrian palace, just another sleepy, stupid girl with a tiny dog, one poised to have the fate of two countries riding on her ability to produce a male offspring. Betrothed to nebbish French King Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman), she's put into a French court ruled by gossip and bloodline (in one of the film's few literal moments, Marie offers that her waking ritual attended by what seems the entire family plot is "ridiculous") and, while crowned with the mantle of governance, thrust into the role of most popular girl in school, sprung fully-grown as the captain of the football team's best girl. It's impossible for me to not see something of Coppola's own premature coronation as the emotional centre of her father's own royal court, the third Godfather film--and to see in the intense media scrutiny afforded her in the wake of that fiasco the source of all these films about lost youth and the pain of hard choices made on her behalf. Marie Antoinette isn't a historical film so much as it's a dress-up picture; and like most any work of honesty, it's autobiographical (as indicated by its selection of '80s punk-influenced pop) and intensely vulnerable--at least for most of its first hour.
A la recherche de l'Ultra-Sex ½*/**** directed by Nicolas Charlet & Bruno Lavaine
by Walter Chaw I saw a hacked anime once--pre-Adult Swim and projects of that ilk--that took place on a flying aircraft carrier and had been re-dubbed so that all the characters were offering different euphemisms for flatulence. My favourite was, "I can't seem to take a step without introducing Mr. Wetty." It lasted about four minutes and I enjoyed a good three-and-a-half of it. Nicholas Charlet and Bruno Lavaine's In Search of the Ultra-Sex is a full hour of R-rated excerpts from classic porn, dubbed to be a Plan 9 from Outer Space thing involving alien plots and the contagion that's made everyone on Earth randy as shit and humping helplessly. It's a way to address the arbitrary madness of porn set-ups, I guess--or it could be, but all the filmmakers do is act silly and hope that we'll want to indulge in that silliness with them. Even if it successfully skewered the arbitrary inanity of porn plots, I mean...to what end? There aren't a lot of fish more sluggish nor barrels much smaller. I went into it hoping for a "How's the Night Life on Cissalda?" and was disappointed but managed to enjoy a portion of it from a purely nostalgic perspective--the same nostalgia I could indulge with the right Google search, as it happens. To its credit, it isn't long. To its detriment, it's longer than three-and-a-half minutes.
***/**** starring Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Vincent Rottiers, Claudine Vinasithamby screenplay by Noé Debré, Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard directed Jacques Audiard
by Bill Chambers "Well, not exactly," a critic acquaintance gently scoffed after I shrugged that Dheepan was "y'know, Taxi Driver." ("So Dheepan is basically the second time Taxi Driver's won the Palme d'or," I snarked on the Twitter.) He's a grinder, and I respect the hell out of grinders--the ones who see everything and interview everybody and indefatigably churn out coverage: They are the heavyweight champions of the film-festival circuit. But they are a literalminded bunch (they have to be, for efficiency's sake), and the Taxi Driver parallels are admittedly by no means 1:1. In Dheepan, three refugees of a Sri Lankan military conflict form a makeshift family out of stolen identities in order to start a new life abroad. They land in France, where "Dheepan" (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) scores a job as the caretaker of an apartment complex, finds "wife" Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) work as a housekeeper to one of the building's tenants, and enrols 9-year-old "daughter" Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) in public school. Yalini, still in the prime of her youth, bristles at having to maintain the charade, particularly the fact that she's become an insta-mom, with Dheepan direly overestimating her maternal instincts and capacity for sentiment. Of all the women he could've been paired with, he got Kelly Kapoor.
BLACK */**** directed by Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah
Wir Monster, a.k.a. Cold Days **/**** directed by Sebastian Ko
KEEPER (pictured) ***/**** directed by Guillaume Senez
by Bill Chambers My random sampling of #TIFF15's Discovery programme yielded a loose trilogy of bildungsromane. The most 'problematic' of these, as the kids say, is Black, a West Side Story redux set on the surprisingly mean streets of Brussels, where rival gangs of Moroccan and (I think) Congolese immigrants antagonize the locals and each other. Marwan (charming Aboubakr Bensaihi) and Mavela (gorgeous Martha Canga Antonio) meet-cute in police custody. He's Moroccan, she hangs with "the Black Bronx," whose name very purposely evokes American ghettos for that soupçon of danger. When he hits on her, she asks him how he'd feel if his sister brought a black man home; Marwan admits there's a double standard, then reassuringly points out they're both African. Within days they're a couple on the DL, whispering dreams of an honest future together. Alas, Mavela becomes inextricably tethered to the Black Bronx when she baits a female member of Marwan's posse to their clubhouse to be gangraped, then endures the same torment herself after they find out about her affair with Marwan. Note that the first rape happens offscreen while Mavela's does not, and though I don't condone any rape scene, there is something ultra-nauseating about graphically violating the Maria/Juliet figure, like when Edith Bunker endured a rape attempt: It breaks some socio-artistic contract we have with our most wholesome archetypes. It didn't make me hate her attackers so much as it made me hate the filmmakers.
Confidences trop intimes **/**** starring Sandrine Bonnaire, Fabrice Luchini, Michel Duchaussoy, Anne Brochet screenplay by Jérôme Tonnerre directed by Patrice Leconte
by Walter Chaw Loony Anna (Embeth Davidtz doppelgänger Sandrine Bonnaire) opens the wrong literal/metaphorical door and ends up spilling her guts to befuddled tax attorney William (Fabrice Luchini), who, as the mistaken identity crisis prolongs, seeks council of his own in the form of Dr. Bonnier (Michel Duchaussoy). William pretends to be something he's not, then, aping the words and insights of Dr. Bonnier--and Anna may not be who she seems, potentially fabricating for her "therapist" a control-freak husband and his various sexual demands. Leconte plays with the idea that talking about things is sexier than doing them, at once recalling Bibi Andersson's erotic monologue in Ingmar Bergman's Persona and playing with the thought that film is better at suggesting than showing.
De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté ***/**** starring Romain Duris, Niels Arestrup, Jonathan Zaccaï, Gilles Cohen screenplay by Jacques Audiard, Tonino Benacquista, based on the screenplay for Fingers by James Toback directed by Jacques Audiard
HUSTLE & FLOW */**** starring Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson written and directed by Craig Brewer
LAST DAYS ****/**** starring Michael Pitt, Lukas Haas, Asia Argento, Scott Green written and directed by Gus Van Sant
by Walter Chaw On my better days, I still think of film as the quintessential artform of the last century--a medium for expression uniquely suited to our Modernist Yeatsian decomposition, what with its malleability beneath the knife, as it were, cut and spliced back together again as the un-spooling literalization of some patchwork Prometheus. Likewise, in its 24 flickers a second, it's an illusion of life, teased from the amber of still photography, drawing, painting; mixed with symphonies; blended with dance and movement; enslaved to the syncopation of words and imaginary drum beats. It's a miracle, a golem, capable of illuminating the rawest humanity in one stroke and of exhuming the most abject failure of human impulse in the very next. Its tractability is astonishing--protean, not too much to say magical; in describing his first film experience as a visit to "the kingdom of shadows," Maxim Gorky brushes up against the ineffable sublimity of a medium that mimics the eye, stimulates the ear, and has as one of the key elements of its academic study a concept that suggests the moment a viewer finds himself "sutured" into the text. Like all fine art, then, when it's right, its "rightness" is indescribable--Frank Zappa's "dancing about architecture." And like the stratification of art imposed by some in varying orders to describe the proximity of each to the inexpressibility of their souls (prose to dance to painting to poesy to music, for me), when film aspires to combine the more abstract elements of human expression in its mélange, the results, always mixed, at least have the potential to be grand.
September 15, 2003|Gallic ingenue Virginie Ledoyen strides confidently into the room, and the second she spots me we say a grinny "Hi!" in unison. Alas, the communication breakdown commences shortly thereafter: I was diagnosed with a swollen eardrum a few days before, and I lead our interview with a pre-emptive apology for any struggle I might encounter trying to hear her, which I think--combined with my being her last in a morning brimming over with interviews and the usual language-barrier issues--caused her to be a tad...brusque in her responses.
*½/**** Image A Sound A starring Sean Penn, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone, Javier Bardem screenplay by Don McPherson, Pete Travis, Sean Penn, based on the novel The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette directed by Pierre Morel
by Bill Chambers Sean Penn seems like the last guy who would walk into his agent's office and say, "Give me the Liam Neeson™," because his work doesn't operate on that kind of cynicism. Even I Am Sam, in which he courts an Oscar by playing mentally-challenged, fits neatly into a career whose primary auteurist concern has been the sanctity and fragility of daughters' lives (see also: The Crossing Guard, The Pledge, 21 Grams, and Mystic River). So it's reassuring, sort of, to see him use The Gunman as a pulpit for his humanitarian concerns (presuming I've correctly extrapolated the political firebrand's credited contribution to the screenplay), but there is a disappointing transparency to the character, as if he's afraid that reinventing himself too much in the Neeson mold will reveal, God forbid, a desire to stay popular in a profession he has threatened to quit numerous times. In The Gunman, one of our most transformative actors--a guy who as recently as 2011 turned himself into the spitting image of The Cure's Robert Smith and affected a childlike drawl for the length of a feature--comports himself with a tedious self-seriousness, makes time to surf, and smokes way too much to be a credible action hero. He's Sean Penn in all but name, and he's kind of a drag.