Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bare Essence of Life

The first feature from director Satoko Yokohama, Bare Essence of Life finds at its centre Yojin (Kenichi Matsuyama), a young man who lives in a small town in the north of Japan and helps his grandmother grow and sell vegetables. Somewhat mentally disabled, Yojin is a free spirit, only partially independent and prone to flights of fantasy. One day, young kindergarten teacher Machiko (Kumiko Aso) moves to the town from Tokyo to escape the memories of her dead boyfriend. She catches Yojin's eye, and through an odd event, he finds a way to control his impulses and forge a connection to her. But his choice may have surprising results.

Kenichi Matsuyama, who is also at the festival this year in Kamui, and who I saw last year in Detroit Metal City, is a versatile actor who brings both comedy and drama to the role of Yojin. It's always difficult playing a character that is mentally challenged without resorting to a series of tics or over-the-top antics, but Matusyama does a good job of it. While the story can be somewhat surreal in places, it never strays far from the core story of a young man who can't help but affect those around him and who helps Machiko to move past the tragedies in her life. Bare Essence of Life is a quite competent feature directorial and writing debut by Satoko Yokohama.

Yokohama did a Q&A after the screening:

  • Yokohama was born and raised in the Aomori prefecture where the film is set. Aomori is the northernmost prefecture on the island of Honshu.
  • One of the houses in the film is actually Yokohama's grandmother's house.
  • She doesn't think it's just Japanese people, but maybe many people around the world struggle with holding themselves in, and having to endure the social repression they live in. She wanted to create a film where people were completely freed from that, that they were liberated from having to hold anything in, where they could be free and open.
  • She was aware of the fact that we're all different in form and shape and that you don't agree with or deny the difference, it's about holding it or acknowledging it and there can be friction there.
  • Everyone has a different idea of what the bare essence of life is to them, but for her, she always wants to be living in a way where she is thinking what is it that she needs, what is that she wants most now.
  • The biggest influence on her is manga author Kazuo Umezu. She remembers hearing a discussion with him in which he was asked what horror was, and his comment was that modern people don't fear anymore or live in a state of fear in many countries, so they aren't stimulated and aren't using their heads in the way they used to. Without that kind of stimulation, people will not continue to evolve. That theme was very much at the base of what she made.
  • Kenichi Matsuyama was 23 when he shot this film. He had already been featured in such films as L: Change the World and Detroit Metal City as lead characters. In both of those cases he played a very enigmatic, powerful character, whereas in this one he plays an ordinary man, so she wasn't sure how he would go about doing that. She looked forward to working with him, but she was kind of unsure or frightened about if it would work or not. In the end, she found he was incredibly sensitive, honest, straightforward, really just an easy person to work with. She didn't need to do a lot with him, he just seemed to take on the role and become that himself. He's a quite amazing actor and looks forward where his career goes from here.
  • None of the people in the film are friends from the time she lived in Aomori. Kenichi Matsuyama was born and raised in Aomori. The children in the kindergarten were not professional actors and did not having previous acting experience. They just collected up local children through an audition. One local actor was the woman who had a vegetable fight with Yojin.

Spoilers below:

  • That's not a real brain at the end of the film. It was made with a kind of pudding and gelatin, molded into the shape of a brain, and bears love sweet things like that.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

2009 Festival Wrap-up

I still have 5 more films to post, but in the interim here's my annual end-of-fest wrapup. I was slightly down from last year, with 24 films and discussions totalling 42 hours, 25 minutes. By the end of all that, I was at the point I could have introduced a film and thanked all the sponsors from memory (thanks to our lead sponsor Bell, our major sponsors RBC and BlackBerry, our public supporters the Government of Ontario and Telefilm Canada, and of course we can't forget the Government of Canada's marquee contribution this year).

Things that worked well:

  • As always, the volunteers did a great job, and they always steered me to the right line.
  • The AMC lines were kind of all over the place, but like I said, I was always directed to the one I needed to be in. Plus, we were inside this year, and I didn't see anyone cut into the line (some of the other venues had issues).
  • Got good, prompt feedback from customer service during the advance order procedure this year, which cleared up some of the issues that arose.
  • Thought some of the translators did an exceptional job this year. The gentleman doing the translation during the Gigante Q&A, and the woman doing a number of the Japanese translations were both quite good.
  • The festival generally kept its promise to ensure all the gala films had regular screenings somewhere else during the festival. There were two exceptions with the two Bollywood films, but the explanation given was they were world premieres, and it is highly unusual for such films to debut outside of India.
  • I came to it rather late, but I used to create my schedule this year. It proved exceptionally helpful when scheduling films with a friend. Hope to see it around next year.
  • I generally saw less people texting or checking their cells during the films, with the exception of the premiere of Defendor. One of the actors who played a thug in the movie kept checking his damn phone throughout the screening.
  • I liked the additional time available to select films during the advance order procedure and having the Labour Day weekend free, but not sure if that was primarily due to when Labour Day fell this year. Be interesting to see what happens in 2010.
  • I managed to have only two street dogs (plus one at the Scotiabank) this year!
  • Kind of liked the RBC trailers, especially the Chick-Chicken one (you're the hostess!). Also glad to see GM was being fiscally responsible by recycling their trailers, which still get a chuckle. The short films celebrating Toronto's anniversary were kind of interesting - one wag in a screening today described the Toronto Maple Leafs victory parade as the "most depressing film in the festival." Side note: by the end of the festival my friend and I were playing a game trying to guess which RBC, Cadillac, and Toronto short would show up before the film.
  • Had a good press year this year, with a quote in the Toronto Star and a mention in Stella Artois NOW Magazine insert. But then, I'm something of a press whore. :-)
  • Colin Geddes made a valiant effort to come up with something new for the anti-piracy (or anti-cowboy) warning, but don't think it's quite made it into the mainstream yet.

Things that could use improvement:

  • The festival had a screw up in the advance order book this year with listing premium screenings, but they did acknowledge it relatively quickly and attempted to honor any selections of those films. Not sure how that slipped by, but funny thing is, most festival veterans noticed right away.
  • I saw people cut into line at the Ryerson and Isabel Bader, and I know other people Twittered or posted similar experiences. They could probably do a better job at policing some of those lines. I did see some people get turned away, but not always.
  • One pet peeve that I'm sure many share is people in Q&A's that ask meandering questions or don't ask any question at all. Right behind that is people who insist on talking during the Q&A. I saw someone Twitter that they wish they had a rifle in one particularly bad Q&A to take the questioner out.
  • There was the usual problem of the online box office not scaling on the first day of sales, but that's pretty much par for the course.
  • Usually everyone is really curious what the song is in the Bell Lightbox trailer after a couple of days (anyone would really, after hearing it repeated over and over again). Since the festival always goes to the trouble of selecting a Canadian artist, might be nice for them to credit them in the trailer as well. In case you're wondering, this year's is Light You Up by Toronto group Pilot Speed (see my post here:
  • The festival might want to consider posting on the website a description or pictures of the TIFF merchandise they have, even if they don't accept sales on the website. You'd be surprised by the number of hits that come up with people searching for that.

Of the films I saw this year, there's probably fewer I hated, but less that really stood out. Probably my fault for taking less risks in my schedule this year. Below are my favourites of the 24 films I saw:

Favourite films: Gigante and La Donation, with honorable mention to Mr. Nobody and Air Doll.

Best film with a political bent: Backyard.

Best Canadian film and best drama: La Donation, which won a special jury prize for Canadian film this year.

Best film involving a hitman: La Soga, over Vengeance and Accident (the latter of which my friend and I dubbed The Conversation crossed with Final Destination).

Best film with the least amount of dialogue and a guy walking all over town: Gigante over Police, Adjective.

WTF?! Award: this year goes to Les Herbes folles. My friend heard a rumour that the cat croquette reference in the film is a shout out to a friend of Renais that did a documentary about cats, but I haven't been able to find any confirmation on that yet.

Film that was the most fun: Hipsters.

Best documentary: much to my own surprise, I didn't pick any documentaries this year. I'll have to compensate by going to the next Hot Docs.

Screening with the most celebrity wattage: I actually avoided most films with a celebrity cast this year, so it would probably be a tossup between Perrier's Bounty, which had Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson, and Defendor, which had Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennings, and Elias Koteas. I'm skipping over In Conversation with Michael Caine, but it was quite amusing listening to all his anecdotes.

I hope to finish the five remaining reviews I have (which include three Q&As) sometime within the next few days. Hopefully people found this blog useful again this year, and with any luck I will be back again next TIFF with more ticketing tips, reviews, and Q&As. And if I manage to get around to it this upcoming year, maybe reports from other local festivals as well. Thanks for reading!

Mr. Nobody

Director Jaco Van Dormael returns after a long absence with Mr. Nobody, the story of Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto), who is the last mortal man left on the planet in 2092, when everyone else has achieved near immortality through genetic and cellular manipulation. Nemo is a news story, not only because he is about to die, but because no one knows who he is. He doesn't exist in any records, and when a reporter sneaks into his room to snag an interview, Nemo can only give seemingly contradictory stories about his life. He weaves tales of lives with three different women: Anna (played by Juno Temple as a teen - she's also at the festival in Cracks - and by Diane Kruger as an adult); Elise (played by Canadians Clare Stone as a teen and Sarah Polley as an adult); and Jeanne (Linh Dan Pham, who played Camille in Indochine). But all his stories seem to take place at the same time in the same space and it's not clear to the reporter which is the truth, and even Nemo himself doesn't seem to know until the end.

Mr. Nobody is chock full of philosophical elements but really rests on a underpinning of physics and quantum mechanics. The film muses about entropy, the arrow of time, and even the butterfly effect, but the core of the film and its stories can be thought of (and possible spoilers to follow from here on in) as Schrödinger's cat, with Nemo as the cat. His lives with Anna, Elise, and Jeanne, are but some of the possible states for his actual life that are in an indeterminate state until finally collapsed into one reality. I was partially reminded of the Nicolas Cage film Next (but in a good way), as even changes as small as a leaf on a road affect Nemo's life and cause it to play out in radically different ways. The film has a visually arresting style, from Nemo's futuristic world to his childhood in the 70's. Leto, and Toby Regbo as young Nemo, both do a good job of playing multiple versions of their characters, both the same and subtly different in each different version of their realities. From a narrative point of view, I thought the origin of the Elise story seemed a bit more awkward in contrast to say, the Anna story, which felt more natural. But overall I thought it was an interesting film, much more than say Sliding Doors, that examines the myriad different paths a person's life can take even because of the smallest things both in and out of our control.

Some of the cast were present at the start of the film (Sarah Polley was there, but not Jared Leto), but only director Jaco Van Dormael returned for a Q&A at the conclusion of the film:

  • On the origin of the film, Van Dormael joked he didn't know but that people usually go to the hospital for that, but he makes films.
  • When asked how he would pitch the film, Van Dormael described it as a very "expensive, experimental film" which got a laugh.
  • Van Dormael wrote the screenplay with the stories already mixed (as opposed to writing each story separately then mixing them). He writes on cards that allow him to move them around and find edits for the beginning, middle, and end.
  • Editing was a huge process; they had two main editors that were like two feet in the story and six sub editors that worked on smaller scenes and pieces.
  • He joked that he got finance by chance and that maybe no one read the script. It was actually a long process to get financing, that you never have enough co-producers and that every time you bring on another one of the others drops out. And that there are times when everyone wants to do the film, and then no one wants to do it, and then everyone wants to do it again. It's a little chaotic, but there are some that are continuously there and believe in the film. It was co produced between Canada, Belgium, and Germany, so they shot partially in Montreal (where the visual effects were also done), they shot
    in Germany for the future of Montreal, and Belgium stood in for England.
  • Most of the crew are friends that Van Dormael has worked with before, such as the sound engineer and makeup, the DoP was one of his students in film school. They tried to find one style for each life.
  • Even after seven years writing the script, the film was pretty close to the original vision. They tried hard not to make it look like 2001 or Metropolis, but elements of those still kind of made their way in.

Spoilers below:

  • The life he ultimately chooses is the one he missed in a way. He lived completely the lives except for the one with Anna because she isn't there.
  • There are three types of relationships; one where he loves her and she loves him, one where he loves her and she doesn't love him, and one where she loves him but he doesn't love her.

Les Derniers jours du monde

From brothers Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, Les Dernier jours du monde finds Robinson (Mathieu Amalric, who I also saw this year in Les Herbes folles), in Biarritz in the southwest of France, trying to write the story of how he met Laetitia (Omahyra), a beautiful woman he first saw on the beach. Told in flashbacks and played out across the world in France, Taiwan, and Canada, we see the growth of Robinson's obsession with Laetitia until she finally disappears once and for all.

Meanwhile, in the present, the planet is slowly falling apart. An environmental catastrophe is but the catalyzing event that seems to be leading to general anarchy, with disease, terrorist acts, and even nuclear explosions the order of the day. As society begins to disintegrate, Robinson, now separated from his wife Chloé, decides to head out to join his daughter in Bilbao. But on the way he is reminded of Laetitia, and decides to seek her out to try and spend what days are left in her arms. His quest takes him across Spain and France as civilization takes its last gasps of air in its final death throes.

As I watched this film, it brought to mind Wim Wenders' Bis ans Ende der Welt (Until the End of the World), another film set in the days leading up to an apocalypse. In Les Dernier jours du monde, one of the most fascinating parts of The Larrieu brothers' world is the slow impending sense of doom, and how it affects everyone differently. Some despair and commit suicide, others take it as license to go out in a bacchanalian blaze of glory. People abandon relationships to have one last taste of freedom, while others are drawn closer to the ones they love. This conflict is played out in a very personal sense in Robinson and those he meets along the way in his quest to find Laetitia, and Mathieu Amalric does a good job of playing out Robinson's emotions in both the past and the present. I was also intrigued on their visualization of how the world might end, not in one single cataclysmic event, but in a series of events building on one another until the world finally falls apart under the weight of it all.

Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu were present for a Q&A after the film. I wasn't able to transcribe all the answers because of the sound system in the Ryerson.

  • The film is adapted from a 600-page novel written by one of the directors' former professors. The novel was written in the 1990's but set in 2010, and they moved it up to the present year.
  • Despite the impending end of the world, they wanted to show that life still went on.
  • There are two stories in the novel, and they took the frame of the novel, and slightly changed the character of Robinson, who was a bit of a loser in the novel and had no wife or child.
  • Someone asked if all the characters were comfortable with the nudity in the film, and they replied that one actress, Catherine Frot is one of the few who doesn't have any nudity in the film, and they shot a landscape instead. Omahyra is a model, so was comfortable. Karin Viard early in her career turned down a role because she had to show her breasts, but after later seeing how that film turned out, she decided she would be more free in the future.
  • They shot in Pamplona in Spain. For Saragossa they shot in Tarragona in Catalonia, and they didn't change the city in the script because it didn't sound quite the same in the dialogue. The hotel the characters travel to in the middle of the film is not actually a hotel; it's a mix of a monastery and some other places. The train station for Toulouse was actually shot in Barcelona. The shots of Canada were actually shot in the Pyrenees.
  • It was a complicated shoot, but they wanted those complications. They wanted a road movie that travelled to those places. It was hard when you want to shoot the end of the world in places where life is currently going on. The worst was shooting Paris at night. The preparation was actually more difficult than the shoot, which took 66 days for the film.

L'Affaire Farewell

In the midst of the Cold War, Sergei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) is a KGB colonel that is disenchanted with what the Soviet state has become; a shadow of its once great former self. Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet) is an engineer stationed in Moscow who is asked by his boss, who has ties to the arm of French intelligence known as the Direction de la surveillance du territoire, to meet with Grigoriev. Grigoriev passes Froment the first of what proves to be significant information about how deeply the KGB has penetrated the west. Soon the French are sharing this windfall with the CIA, but the more people that are drawn in, the greater the risk to Grigoriev and Froment and their families as they become pawns in a larger geopolitical game between Reagan and Gorbachev.

L'Affaire Farewell is reminiscent of the classic Cold War tales spun by John le Carré, with more focus on the characters, their motivations, and the personal toll, than any action. But the movie does not lack for suspense, including a tense border crossing scene and the ever-present paranoia and deception that are hallmarks of the trade. Emir Kursturica portrays well the aging spy who's dedication to an ideal extends all the way to destroying its corrupted form to have it born anew. And Guillaume Canet is good as an ordinary man embroiled in extraordinary circumstances, never quite comfortable balancing the political and the personal stakes.

Men on the Bridge

Men on the Bridge provides a glimpse into contemporary Turkey through three story lines. There is Umut (Umut Ilker), a taxi driver, and his wife, who want more, but are constrained by their finances. There is Fikret (Fikret Portakal), a teenager who sells flowers on the road to the Bosphorus Bridge, and who lacks the education and drive to do anything else. Finally, there is Murat (Murat Tokgöz), a traffic cop who unsuccessfully dates on the internet and longs for the life of his small hometown.

There's no plot to Men on the Bridge, per se, and the three stories never intersect in any significant way. It's just a look into the day-to-day lives of people trying to make a life in Istanbul. Money woes, education, and isolation and loneliness figure as common themes, ones not uncommon to a more universal urban experience. Director Asli Özge hints at the social and political forces shaping Turkey today, but doesn't dwell on it, instead taking a more personal focus. Originally intending to make a straight documentary, she has instead created a fictional look at three sets of real lives that capture the void between the promise and the reality of the bright city lights.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Best Bets for Saturday, September 19, 2009

Best bets for tickets for Saturday, September 19, 2009 from the festival alerts:

What's Your Raashee?
Saturday, September 19, 2009, 1:30 PM
Roy Thomson Hall

Saturday, September 19, 2009, 11:00 AM
Visa Screening Room

Mother and Child
Saturday, September 19, 2009, 12:00 PM

Soul Kitchen
Saturday, September 19, 2009, 12:15 PM

Beyond the Circle
Saturday, September 19, 2009, 3:00 PM

Thursday, September 17, 2009

La Donation

Seeking to escape her own personal demons, Dr. Jeanne Dion (Élise Guilbault) travels to the remote town of Normétal in northern Quebec to stand in for Dr. Yves Rainville (Jacques Godin), the local physician, while he takes a month's vacation. Rainville has an intimate connection to all his patients, many of whom he personally delivered, and it's not long before Dion soon shares that connection. But that personal involvement can weigh heavy as she deals with cases involving cancer, abortion, drugs, and simple old age. Dion must struggle with the decision to stay on in the small former company town on the downslope, or to go.

La Donation is a wonderful, emotional film that shows the challenge and the enlightenment that Dion gets from the people she sees and treats. The town and its denizens are portrayed in an honest, unvarnished light that shows both their hope and their despair. Both Élise Guilbault and Jacques Godin give strong performances from director/writer Bernard Émond's script that balances their professional exteriors with their interior personal struggles. An excellent film, that based on audience response, seems to resonate especially well with those in the medical profession.

I previously saw Bernard Émond's film 20h17 rue Darling at the festival back in 2003.

Writer/director Bernard Émond and director of photography Sara Mishara did a Q&A after the film:

  • This is the last film in his faith, hope, and charity trilogy.
  • Someone asked a rather long-winded question about whether Émond had seen or was referencing Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red, White, Blue trilogy, and Émond said those films he liked the least of Kieslowski's work, but that The Decalogue is one of the monuments of cinema in the 20th century, so he is much more influenced by that than his later work.
  • One doctor in the audience commented that the film should be used in training new doctors.
  • Émond has two new projects in the works; the first is an adaptation of a short story by Chekhov, Une Banale Histoire; the second is an original script inspired by a fresco by Giotto in the basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the one where St. Francis renounces his father's heritage, and he appears naked in court because he doesn't want to owe anything to his father. It's a contemporary retelling of this story, of a young man who refuses a large sum of money because it was badly acquired. Probably about two-and-a-half years before he's finished.
  • Canadian filmmaker Don Owen gave Émond praise for the film, but Émond shared credit with his crew. Some people he's worked with are new to him, such as the DoP, and others he's worked with for 10 or 20 years, like his editor Louise Coté.
  • Akira Kurosawa is also a big influence on Émond; while writing the script he went back to Red Beard (Akahige), Kurosawa's 1965 film about a young doctor from a wealthy family who wants to practice medicine at the imperial court, but his father sends him to a poorhouse to treat the poor; he hates it at first, but eventually becomes the doctor to the poor.
  • It's an original screenplay, written in situ for Abitibi in northwestern Quebec. Émond comes from a background in anthropology and documentary, so he tends to research his films a lot and write them in situ.
  • Many of the places in the film are the actual places, like the bakery is the actual Normétal bakery, the hospital was a working hospital; it's rare to get access to that, but the crew was wonderful because it takes a lot of savoir-vivre to try not to disturb the life of the hospital. The people of Abitibi helped them a lot.
  • Someone commented on the accuracy of the medical details; Émond said they had one doctor with them for most of the time, and when he wasn't available they had one or two nurses, and they corrected the gestures as they went.
  • DoP Sara Mishara talked about how the landscape dictated the visuals of the film rather than the opposite. The region is flat, the treeline is low, the skies are pronounced but not so colorful. They had the idea to show it in its reality, not enhance it any way.
  • On the lack of sun, Émond talked that with his budget, if it's there it's there, if not, it's not. For the last sequence they started on a cloudy day, but then the sun came out and they had to reshoot to maintain some semblance of continuity. He thinks the sun makes the scene better, even though he had maintained from the start that he wanted the sequence to be shot on a cloudy day.

Spoliers below:

  • The first film in the trilogy (La neuvaine) is set in St. Anne de Beaupré and also stars Elise Guilbault as Jeanne Dion. In that film, she witnesses a murder she thinks could have been avoided, and she feels guilty and suffers from depression as a result. She is saved by a young man. Characters have a life of their own, and he wondered what would happen to her afterwards, when she comes back to life after losing all hope. She can't go back to her job or her house or her husband that doesn't love her anymore. So he was wondering what happens when you break away, and you try to make a meaningful existence.
  • The ending is how he envisioned it in the script. in editing they toyed with other possible endings, but returned to the one that was written. He felt that the audience had to know in a way that she would stay and that there would be a note of hope. Even though the mother dies, the child survies, and Dion has the child in her arms, and this was the strongest image of hope in the film.

La Soga

La Soga is the story of Luisito (Manny Perez, who also wrote the script), who works with his cousin Tavo (Hemky Madera) as hitmen for The General (Juan Fernández), who runs the police. The General gives the two lists of criminals to hunt down and kill, which gives him something to trade with the U.S. government. But the personal toll on Luisitio is high, and comes into focus even more when his childhood friend Jenny (Denise Quiñones) re-appears to help her mother settle in just down the road.

Luisito's past is told through interspersed flashbacks, where it is revealed he came to work for The General after the death of his father at the hands of Rafa, a drug dealer who has since fled to the U.S. The General takes the young Luisito under his wing, with the ultimate promise of revenge, which the now grown up Luisito still hasn't been able to exact. As Luisito grows closer to Jenny and separately learns more about how the system works, he reaches a point where his emotions take over and he has to make a decision that will affect everything.

La Soga has a compelling story and compelling characters. It is visually vibrant, remarkably so given the limited budget director Josh Cook faced. Manny Perez brings a lot of emotion to Luisito, from the tender moments when he reconnects with his childhood love, to the extremely violent times when he is carrying out his tasks. Of the now three films I've seen at the festival involving hitmen of some sort either dealing with their tragic pasts or exacting a measure of revenge, this is probably the best and most resonant.

Director Josh Crook and star and screenwriter Manny Perez, and actor Juan Fernández were in attendance and did a Q&A after the film:

  • This is Josh Crook's first solo directing effort; he normally partners with his brother Jeff.
  • La Soga means "the rope", which is a central metaphor in the film. It is also a symbol of how he plays with the criminals, he ties them up and he lets them go and brings them back in again. Used in every other scene, like the pig is tied up in the backyard, and Luisito is tied to the General. In Spanish, it is also suggestive of a noose.
  • The film is based on a some government hitmen that actually existed in the Dominican Republic.
  • Crook and Perez met on the set of a movie a few years ago (likely Rockaway), and there was a lot of downtime. And they talked about the films they admired like City of God and Amores perros.
  • Manny is from the Dominican Republic and told Crook stories about the characters and the world, and Crook read the script that night and they went full bore on it for the last two or so years.
  • They hope to show it in the Dominican Republic. It's the first movie to make it off the island, and they had a lot of support from the country, and everyone is proud of it.
  • Crook couldn't really say what the budget was, but it was low. It's not physically possible to do this movie at this level with the budget they had without the contributions of everyone and the passion they had for the project.
  • The entire film was shot in Perez's hometown and it wouldn't have been possible without the support of the community. All the extras are from his hometown.
  • Crook and Perez went to the country a month before shooting and went to the capital for casting, then Santiago, and then his hometown, and his mother's neighbour was the kid who would play Luisito (Fantino Fernandez), and he talked to Perez, said he heard Perez was looking for actors, and that he should stop because he's his man. Perez described him as a natual, raw, beautiful actor that worked hard; if his call was at 6 in the morning, he was there at 5.
  • Some of the songs were performed by some of the actors in the movie; the rest were all the best Dominican bands; the score was done by Evan Wilson, and he wrestled for 6 months looking for the right sounds.
  • What happens in the movie with the government corruption, the violence, how people live. that's most of the world lives; they've shown the film to all sort of nationalities, and many in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, say that's how they live too.
  • They tried to be true to Dominican Republic in details, but is more universal than that.
  • Crook described Perez as the soul of the movie, writing it growing out of his experiences and emotions, when everyone else jumped on, that's what they followed; but it was one collective brain, a collaborative effort.
  • Crook said that in spite of the fact it is an extreme world, very violent, the themes are universal, the nostalgia for ourselves before the world corrupts us, and trying to think back to who we are really before the world gets a hold of us; that we need to think outside of boring middle-class life we live in and see, describe stories of other people.
  • Perez said that he wrote because he saw things happen to his friends, heard other stories, so he wanted to write a story not because he's mad, but a story that is different; wanted to do something that means something to them, that represents something, so if
    tomorrow he passes away, he's left this behind, that this is something we've accomplished.
  • Perez lived in the country to age 11, and his father killed pigs for the 11 of them in his family to eat, so they all know how to kill a pig. He killed his first when he was 8. He came to US when he was young, went back to visit his relatives, saw they had a little pig and he treated it as a pet, but on last day he hears what sounds like a baby crying, rushes out, sees his uncle killing pig for his goodbye feast, ever since hasn't eaten pork.

Spoilers below:

  • In the final scene, Luisito doesn't smile. Perez said that for Luisito's whole life, he's been chasing down these deportees and killing them, and now he's been shipped from his home to a world where the deportees and their families live, he has a better life, but in a sad, touching was because he could get killed at any time by relatives of those he's killed, so they leave it up in the air if he's happy or sad.
  • Juan Fernandez said that the speech that the General gives to the young Luisito, moved him to tears, and it answers questions of nationalistic ideal but then becomes corrupted by money and greed. He also gave a shout out to production designer Jaime Whitlock.
  • Fernandez also said that for him last scene when two children are playing and then turns to Luisito and Jenny as adults, shows the salvation of our spirit is that we live in a place of love.

Like You Know It All

Ku Kyung-nam (Kim Tae-woo) is a director of modest reputation invited to be on the jury of a small film festival. A bit lazy by nature, he takes a rather lackadaisical approach, missing or sleeping through the screenings, and much preferring to drink at night with his colleagues. Ku runs into an old friend he lost contact with, and after a night of drinking, is invited into his home. But after some sort of misunderstanding, and then a shocking revelation later with one of the festival organizers, Ku takes his leave and travels to the countryside, where he gives a lecture on his work and meets up with an old mentor that has since married a girl Ku was in love with in college.

I probably enjoyed this film the least out of everything I've seen so far. Ku, the main character, is completely unsympathetic and doesn't seem to ever learn anything, even when he sees the effect of his action or inaction. His declarations of love seem to come from nowhere and sound more like whining than anything else. The plot is all over the map, and it's not quite clear exactly what Ku did to his friend's wife (did he assault her, seduce her, or just peep at her, and what was with the rock?), which makes it difficult to read his nature. A scene in the middle of the film where Ku lectures a class of film students seems a bit self-referential and like a pre-emptive attempt to deflect criticism. The back half of the film seems like another story entirely, divorced from the first half; from a narrative point of view either half would have probably made a stronger impression on its own. Even some of the shots where the camera tracks over the background and then zooms in on a particular feature are distracting and seem technically awkward. While I stuck it out to end, I can't say I came out either particularly inspired or entertained.

Best Bets for Friday, September 18, 2009

Best bets for tickets for Friday, September 18, 2009 from the festival alerts:

Friday, September 18, 2009, 3:00 PM

The Angel
Friday, September 18, 2009, 5:30 PM

To The Sea
Friday, September 18, 2009, 4:45 PM
Isabel Bader

Max Manus
Friday, September 18, 2009, 9:30 PM
Roy Thomson Hall

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Vengeance is the latest from director Johnnie To. In it, an auditor and his two children are killed in Macao by a trio of assassins, and his wife (Sylvie Testud) is left in critical condition. Her father, Costello (played by French singer and actor Johnny Hallyday), arrives from France to care for her, and she asks him to avenge her and her family. When returning to his hotel, Costello inadvertently stumbles across a different group of assassins, carrying out an assignment to kill crime boss George Fung's (Simon Yam) cheating girlfriend and bodyguard. Costello manages to recontact them later, and asks them to help him find those responsible for his daughter's tragedy and seek his vengeance. But Costello has secrets of his own, including rapidly deteriorating memory, which brings complications and calls everything into question.

Vengeance is a classic To film populated with many of his regulars, including Anthony Wong, Ka Tung Lam, Suet Lam, and Simon Yam. There are some very cinematic action set pieces spread throughout the film, and on that point the film does not disappoint. The central theme of the movie, looking at vengeance and memory, and does the former have any meaning without the latter, is intriguing, but maybe not carried quite as far as it could be at the very end. The choice of Hallyday is an interesting one, but brings both pluses and minuses. He does convey a hard-boiled, noirish feel, and has some good moments when his memory starts to fail him, but there are other times when it feels a bit stiff. Still, if you're a fan of To's work, you'll like the film.

Johnnie To was present this year, and did a Q&A after the film, with Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes. Johnny Hallyday was present at the start, but had to leave to make an early flight the next day:

  • Hallyday did relate a story about a scene in which his character has to jump off a building, and he turned to To and asked if he had a stuntman to do it, to which To replied, no, Hallyday had to do it himself, so he did.
  • The film is a French/Hong Kong co-production. It came about in 2005 when To was in Cannes for Election, and a French distributor introduced To to Alain Delon, who To was a big fan of in the 70's. Geddes noted that Delon's film Le Samourai was an inspiration for John Woo's The Killer. Delon's character's name in that film is Costello, just like Hallyday's in Vengeance.
  • Delon had seen To's movies and liked them, so at dinner they both agreed to try and work on something together. To went back to Hong Kong and worked on a script with Wai Ka-Fai with Delon in mind, but when he submitted the script, Delon decided that the role wasn't suited to him. The producer of the movie and To thought the story was a good one and wanted to find a way to continue. The distributor called him and told him there was someone he should meet, so To flew out to Paris and met Hallyday at his restaurant off the Champs-Élysées. When To walked in, he didn't know who Hallyday was, but saw a man sitting at a table by himself, with a suit, and he immediately thought this person is like a killer, waiting for his job.
  • For the night picnic shootout scene, what was important was what he could say about the character of Costello, and in the film we see memory go in and out of him. So the moonlight and the cloud is used as a reflection of his state of mind, as sometimes things are clear to him, and other times not.
  • For the recycling cube scene in the garbage dump, he didn't want to disclose exactly how he got the idea, but both To and Wai Ka-Fai are fans of Akira Kurosawa, so the scene is strongly influenced by his work and style.
  • The actors he knows very well, and when he works with them on set it's easier as communication is straightforward, so it saves time and money. He needs them and they need him.
  • Suet Lam plays the dumbest but cutest character in the film. He's an actor who can do anything and everything, whether taking off his pants, or whatever. Geddes talked about how at an after party for Election in Hong Kong at a karaoke bar, he saw Suet Lam sing karaoke, saw Johnnie To sing Feelings, and Simon Yam had his fingers in his ears when Johnnie was singing.
  • Suet Lam started his career as a set runner 15 or 20 years ago, and that's how To first met him. He was never properly trained as an actor. When he was working on the set, To would notice him reenacting lines from whatever they were shooting as he was moving props around the set, but doing it in a naughty way. Sometimes To felt his performance was better than that of the actors, so over time To moved him to proper roles, but he would still be moving props and things between takes, so To reminded him he should stop carrying things and be a real actor.
  • Geddes related another anecdote about being on the set of Exiled, and getting a picture with the electrician, which none of the crew understood, but the guy was the guy pushing the cart who gets shot in The Mission. To uses a lot of the crew in various small roles in his films.
  • To grew up watching films in the 60's, so was a big fan of westerns. when he made Exiled, he had just come off of Election 1 and 2, which were a tough shoot because of the political subject matter, so Exiled was like a release where he could shoot based on things he liked. The first day on set, the actors didn't know what he was doing, and he said they were on Exiled, and were free and could do what they want.

Spoilers below:

  • There are many possibilities for the ending, but the ending is perhaps more important to the audience than the character, because of his condition.


Gigante is the feature film debut of director and screenwriter Adrián Biniez. The film focuses on Jara (Horacio Camandule), a physically imposing man who works as a security guard on the night shift in a supermarket during the week, and as a bouncer on the weekends. His main job at the store is to watch the closed-circuit cameras, which also allows him to see the cleaning staff at work. He becomes entranced by one of them, a country girl named Julia (Leonor Svarcas). The film follows Jara's growing interest in Julia, as he starts following her around town to learn more about her, which results in some funny, yet grounded, scenes as the normally collected Jara becomes as reluctant and nervous as a schoolboy when it comes to Julia. And in the process we see Jara try to find his footing to make a decision about his feelings and his life.

The style of the film reminded me a bit of this year's Police, Adjective, or a better example might be José Luis Guerín’s Dans la ville de Sylvia (En la ciudad de Sylvia). Like the former, Gigante is a very quiet, spare film, that focuses on the often mind-numbing daily routine of its principal character, but in that routine, gives subtle insights into the true nature of that person. Like the latter, Gigante has Jara follow Julia around Montevideo in long, dialogue-free shots and scenes that capture the feel of the city and its people that also provide a window into the characters. What could be quite unsettling (as one audience member put it, basically stalking), never becomes such as Biniez and lead actor Horacio Camandule do a very good job at belying Jara's physically imposing stature by providing ample glimpses at his gentle and kind nature. It's hard to imagine another actor being able to project the same presence that makes the character both sympathetic and interesting despite his life. While never a conventional courtship as the two leads don't directly interact for much of the movie, Biniez still has Julia provide subtle clues that perhaps she's not completely unaware of Jara's attentions. This is a nice, intimate little film that provides a different, yet satisfying romance.

Adrián Biniez was at the screening and did a Q&A after the film:

  • When asked if he could recommend any heavy-metal bands from Uruguay, Biniez said the last song on the soundtrack is from a group called Radikal and that Biniez and his friends did some of the other songs.
  • When he first started writing the film, Biniez had a friend of his in mind for the lead, and they rehearsed for about a year on-and-off, but he turned out to be a terrible actor. So they casted for the lead, and the first person to show up was Camandule, who hates going to casting sessions. As soon as Camandule walked through the door, Biniez knew he was perfect, but since it was his first time casting a movie, and his first time directing a movie, he didn't want to rush to conclusions and to play it cool.
  • Because Uruguay is such a small country, it's hard to make a living as an actor, so Camandule does work as a standup comedian on weekends, but normally teaches 10-year-olds in an elementary school.
  • On the grainy look of the film, Biniez said that was more a budgetary thing, but he does like grain, just not that much. He shot in Super 16, and the post production was quite chaotic. They did the colour correction process, which should take 10 to 15 days, in 4. They completed the film 48 hours before its premiere in Berlin (where it won a number of awards including best debut for Biniez), and he was very nervous to the point of losing his voice.
  • They originally shot a rough cut to get money to shoot the actual film, which was $150,000 USD. In total, the cost for everything was probably around $600,000 USD.
  • He doesn't really remember when he got the idea for the story, but he does remember having typed the line in his computer "security guard falls in love with cleaning lady in supermarket", to which a week later he added "during the night shift", then a week later "and he's in charge of the security cameras".
  • He was at his house one time with his friend and Leonor Svarcas, who plays Julia and who is Biniez's ex-girlfriend, and the other two said it was a great idea, and Biniez thought his friend and Leonor would be great in it, and started writing.
  • The lead role was always envisioned to be a big guy. Biniez's friend actually made it into the film as the guy who pays in the Molotov disco club.
  • He always had an idea that the main character would be tall, but Camandule isn't actually that tall, he wears 5 cm-tall platform shoes, and they cast to make sure everyone else was shorter. Biniez joked that Camandule is as tall as he is, but twice as wide.
  • Someone asked if Biniez was concerned about conveying a message that stalking is ok. Biniez had talked to a number of women who did the same in reverse when they were in love, but he knows there is something a bit strange about it. A woman in the audience commented on how since Biniez portrays Jara as a caring, morally good person, that's why it works in the film. Biniez joked stalking is likely more of an issue from the Rio Grande north. In the beginning, the spectator realizes that beyond some ambiguities in the character of Jara, they realize that the character is not threatening to Julia.
  • Biniez was searching for more to say when one woman in the audience commented that from a woman's perspective, she felt that Julia knew Jara was following her, which is exactly what Biniez wanted to say. He tried to make it subtle in the film, but in many scenes Julia kind of knows he's following her and in some scenes where the camera goes from background to foreground, you can see she has the vaguest hints of a smile. and since the film is recounted from Jara's perspective, Biniez couldn't make it too obvious but he thinks you can see she is somewhat aware.

On a side note, I thought the gentleman from the festival providing the translation was excellent in the Q&A.

Best Bets for Thursday, September 17, 2009

Best bets for tickets for Thursday, September 17, 2009 from the festival alerts:

Sook-Yin Lee introduces Sweetie
Thursday, September 17, 2009, 6:30 PM
Jackman Hall - Art Gallery of Ontario

Les Derniers jours du monde
Thursday, September 17, 2009, 6:00 PM

Phantom Pain
Thursday, September 17, 2009, 6:30 PM
Roy Thomson Hall

The festival alert also lists The Traveller, however, another note on the offical festival site mentions that the first screening of the film, today on Wednesday, had to be cancelled due to a legal dispute between the Italian producer and the Egyptian producer, the Ministry of Culture. The movie description is no longer on the festival site and tickets don't show up in the box office, so it seems like subsequent screenings may have been pulled as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Based on a play by Carol López and featuring the same four principal actors, V.O.S. (which translates to Original Subtitled Version), follows two men and two women and their shifting and evolving relationships. Clara and Manu are friends who decide to have a baby together, while Ander and Vicky are a long-time couple. Ander is creating a screenplay with the four of them starring in a film-within-the-film based on their relationships, but the line between the film and reality is constantly blurred. Conversations that start on set simply continue as the actors step off set and vice-versa, so you're never quite sure what parts are "real" and what parts are Ander's version of reality.

Lighter in tone than some of his other works, director Cesc Gay has still created a film that is different than a straightforward romance or comedy or drama. It is essentially just one story but the shifting viewpoints can be a bit confusing as the frame constantly shifts from the four in their roles to the four in their real lives. It is interesting in the sense that the interior film provides Ander's view of events, while the actors in the 'real world' of the exterior film provide the counterbalance of their own viewpoints. Gay takes an interesting approach to the film but it can be a bit challenging to watch.

Director Cesc Gay did a Q&A after the film:

  • Catalan movies are often dubbed, as opposed to subtitled, otherwise it would only play in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, maybe in the north in San Sebastian. But at TIFF was the original version. In the play, the four characters create a great work in progress, their own characters and dialogs. The male characters are Basque, the women from Catalonia.
  • The play was the same characters and story, but the play was in a little square, with table two sofas, a lamp.
  • When he adapted the play, Gay wanted to look at the relationship between reality and fiction. And in a way the characters are living in the set; the crew is helping the characters to have a movie.
  • The film was released in Spain at the end of July, and is still alive in Barcelona and Madrid. It is a comedy, but not an easy movie. He's not sure if it will release in North America.
  • His films are about what he sees, and are often based on what his friends are going through.
  • Gay asked his real crew to be in the film, but they didn't want to at first because they were busy working with the film, so he cast actors for the crew. But then his crew wanted to be in the film.
  • All the actors are close friends, so was an easy movie to make.
  • The actress who plays Clara, Àgata Roca, is actually Gay's wife in real life.
  • Movie references were in the play, it was a very cinematographic play because it was written by a journalist; very cinematic with flashbacks in the play, and one of the characters is a screenwriter.
  • Reference to Tarantino; Gay says he is a great writer and filmmaker, in the way he tells stories like in Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs; reference in film is just a reflection that Anders doesn't have the same talent.

TIFF 2009 Merchandise

The festival has a number of TIFF-related items for purchase, in case you're looking for a souvenir.

  • Ball cap: $25
  • Cardigan: $69
  • Hoodie: $59
  • Mug: $19
  • Patch: $5
  • Pen: $9
  • Programme book: $32
  • Satchel: $39
  • Shopping bag: $1.99
  • Sweatshirt: $69
  • T-shirt: $29
  • Water bottle: $15

Merchandise can be bought at the Festival Box Offices at Nathan Phillips Square or Roy Thomson Hall, and you can pay by cash, debit, or Visa.

Accident (Yi Ngoi)

The film opens with a man killed in what seems like a freak accident. But it soon becomes apparent that the man, a triad boss, has been assassinated in clever plot conceived of by Brain (Louis Koo) and his team. Their modus operandi is to stage intricate, Rube Goldbergian-like accidents to cover up their involvement and avoid the police.

When their latest assignment goes wrong, Brain becomes obsessed with an insurance agent (Richie Jen) connected to their client, convinced that he is somehow targeting Brain and his group. Brain's ever-growing paranoia unsettles his calm, cool demeanor and soon has him questioning who he can trust.

While I had heard mixed reviews from others who had seen the film, I enjoyed Accident. What could have been a conventional Hong Kong action film is rendered into something a bit more psychological. The staged accidents could have been a distraction, but the focus remains squarely on Brain and his doubts and uncertainty. Someone had mentioned that the film reminded him of Coppola's The Conversation, and there are definitely shared elements and themes between the two, even if Accident doesn't quite reach the same heights.

Director Soi Cheang did a Q&A after the film:

  • Cheang can't really articulate the process of how a simple idea evolved into the film, but he remembers having this idea of creating accidents that he had a really strong feeling about it. They went through a number of processes, such as with the initial scene and the shattered glass, he didn't know how to shatter the glass. At one point they thought about using sound waves and creating some sort of supersonic gun, but it turned out to be really loud and had to consult some professors on the idea, and eventually had to drop it. In the end, they tried to perfect it scientifically, and added a lot of mechanics and chemistry to make it work.
  • What you saw with the gang hidden away in a room trying to plot out these assassinations was the same process that the writers used. Every night Cheang and the other scriptwriters would go back in a room and try to think up assassination plots, and he though this is how that group must have lived if they were real. Cheang joked that in the end he realized how painful it was to think of a plot to kill someone.
  • Someone in the audience asked if Cheang thought Princess Diana's death was a staged accident, to which he replied that when they were writing the script, they actually did think about her accident, but they couldn't figure out if it was a setup or real.
  • Cheang hopes they will eventually release in North America, but no plans as of yet.
  • Sometimes the rainy scenes were real, but most of the time he didn't want it to rain because it happened in instances where the crew almost got electrocuted themselves. Unfortunately when filming, they experienced three typhoons in Hong Kong.
  • Most of what you see on the streets was real, because they didn't seal the set because Cheang wanted a real-life vibe, but his assistant director and the rest of the crew thought he was crazy. That presented a number of difficulties, such as shopkeepers being annoyed that their stores were blocked off because of the filming. In the opening scene, they did block off the street, but many drivers didn't realize they were shooting a movie and a scuffle almost broke out. The store where the glass shatters was excited at first, but after a few days complained about the lost business, but in the end were friends.
  • Cheang did worry about having an unsympathetic lead character, so when he created the story he consciously added a backstory to show that the character is not a superhero or all-powerful; he's also experienced real trauma in his life and is a real human being, and that trauma had a huge influence on his life, and he can't shake it off. Cheang experienced many of the same emotions as the character, for instance the doubts and suspicion throughout the story, he could feel the pain and walk the same path as he made the movie.

Soul Kitchen

Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) owns a restaurant called Soul Kitchen, located in an old warehouse in Hamburg. His clientele consists of neighbourhood regulars just looking for nothing more than the fish sticks and frozen pizzas Zinos serves up. But Zinos is beset by a number of events, from his girlfriend Nadine setting out for Shanghai for work, to his brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu, who I saw at the festival a few years back in Reclaim Your Brain) being released from jail on day parole. After his back gives out trying to move a dishwasher, Zinos hires a new chef, Shayn (Birol Unel), who refuses to cook the regular menu and instead produces his own creations that do nothing but drive away the regulars.

When Zinos runs into his old school pal Neumann, Neumann gives him a possible way out by offering to buy the property. But the restaurant soon finds new fans drawn in by Shayn's food, and Zinos must make a decision between joining Nadine and staying with the business, friends, and family that have been the core of his life.

Soul Kitchen is a fun romp with an engaging cast of characters, from Zinos at the heart of the picture, to brother Illias who's a bit of a roue yet still loves his brother dearly, Lucia (Anna Bederke) the sassy, hard-edged waitress, and Shayn the slightly psychotic yet culinary genius of a chef. While the plot is largely predictable, the main characters have a bit of life and depth to them that gives the film a bit more oomph and keeps it fresh. Combined with a groovy soundtrack, Soul Kitchen is an enjoyable way to spend an hour-and-a-half.

Director Fatih Akin and star Adam Bousdoukos were in attendance and did a Q&A after the film:

  • Akin said it was difficult to work on a comedy, that drama is easier. He said it was hard especially after the Edge of Heaven when his friend and partner Andreas Thiel died in the last week of shooting of the film. Thiel had always tried to convince Akin to do the script because he loved it. After Thiel's death Akin realized laughing is important.
  • The first draft had been written right after Head-On, because they had no money left, and they had hoped to realize it very quickly, because it was set in Hamburg, Bosudoukos could play the main character and had a restaurant a couple of blocks away. But winning the Golden Bear (at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2004) changed everything. He thought about just producing the film, but couldn't bear to give it away, likening it to giving away your child for adoption. Basically took five years to bring it to the screen.
  • Someone asked about the repeated use of La Paloma in the movie. Akin said there was probably seven or more versions of the song. Akin said the song is a sad, humble cliche and is like a Hamburg soundtrack. There is a film from the 40's (Große Freiheit Nr. 7) set in Hamburg and St. Pauli, the red light district, that all in Hamburg love. The film had started shooting in Hamburg, but had to move to Prague after the bombing of Hamburg during the war. Hans Albers, the star of the film, did a version of the song that plays in the diner in Soul Kitchen when Nadine and Zinos are talking.
  • Birol Unel, who plays the chef Shayn, was the star of Akin's Head-On, which changed his life, and Akin adores Unel and wrote the part specifically for him. It was like a family film for him, using both people he's worked closely with in the past, and some new ones as well.
  • Unel can cook a bit, but took coaching from Ali Güngörmüs, chef at Le Canard (where some scenes early in the film were shot).
  • Akin chose Shanghai/China as Nadine's destination as Shanghai is one of Hamburg's sister cities, and many young people today are going there to work.
  • Akin noted they won a special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival for the film, which he joked made them very happy.
  • Akin said the English-speaking audience got *almost* all the jokes in the film. He appreciated that the audience's reaction helped him watch the film again, which by this time he was sick of after having worked so long on it. They thought that 60km outside of Hamburg no one would laugh at the film, but was pleased by the response it is getting.

Slight spoliers below:

  • Akin was asked if he had to change the screenplay after the actress who plays Nadine's grandmother died in real life (Monica Bleibtreu, mother of co-star Moritz Bleibtreu), but Akin said that the character's death had originally been in the script.

Best Bets for Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Best bets for tickets for Wednesday, September 16, 2009 from the festival alerts:

La Refuge
Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 9:00 PM

Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 2:15 PM

Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 6:00 PM
Visa Screening Room

Mother and Child
Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 12:30 PM
Winter Garden Theatre

L'Affaire Farewell
Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 5:00 PM

Monday, September 14, 2009

Police, Adjective

Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is a police detective that spends his days trailing a teenager that an informant suspects of dealing drugs. But Cristi is unconvinced, and in light of neighbouring countries becoming more liberal in their view on drug possession, he grows reluctant to making an arrest that he knows will result in a jail sentence for the kid. Cristi's boss, however, challenges this crisis of conscience and forces Cristi to examine his beliefs.

Director Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest) has created an intimate film, spare on plot and observational in style, that follows Cristi in the monotony of his day-to-day work. This almost documentary-like feel is heightened by the lack of incidental music, all of which in turn heightens the sense of realism. Bucur turns in an understated performance that suits the character well, and still allows one to see some of the internal conflict Cristi has about what he wants to do and what his job, and by extension society and the state, requires him to do. This doesn't quite carry through all the way to the ending; we see the challenge to Cristi's beliefs and his ultimate decision, but not necessarily any more of how much he struggles to get to that final place. But maybe in the end that choice is not that hard given his options and the arguments before him. The film is still effective and for me an engaging work.

Director Corneliu Porumboiu did a Q&A after the film:

  • Porumboiu has a good friend that is a policeman that told him a story similar to the one in the film, and from there he started to write the script. It's also linked to his obsession with words.- Originally, he shot scenes on DVD to give them a scheme of rhythm, but ultimately the final rhythm is found in editing. This is in reference specifically to the scenes where Cristi is following the teenagers through the city.
  • On allowing the audience to experience the boredom of Cristi's job, Porumboiu said that in movies with police you usually see exceptional characters in exceptional situations, so he wanted to do the reverse of that kind of movie.
  • On casting, he said the Bucur is his godfather and have known each other for 10 years and worked on a couple of shorts, and from the second draft of the script, he was writing with Bucur in mind.- He makes movies about people that he knows well.
  • Porumboiu's friends in the police have seen the film, and they apparently liked it.
  • In his script, he is mainly concerned about dialog. For the remainder, because he shot in his hometown, he knew the streets and locations, so the directions in the script were quite simple, to the extent of "Cristi is walking on the street following the young girl" and nothing more.

Venice Film Fest Winners

Winners at the Venice Film Festival were announced, and a number of the films are playing at TIFF.

Top prize went to Lebanon, which is playing:

Monday, September 14, 2009, 8:15 PM, AMC
Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 3:45 PM, AMC
Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 7:30 PM, Varsity
All three screenings are apparently currently off-sale.

Best screenplay went to Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime, which is playing:

Monday, September 14, 2009, 8:15 PM, Scotiabank
Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 3:00 PM, Scotiabank
Saturday, September 19, 2009, 12:45 PM, AMC
Tickets appear to be available for the Monday and Wednesday screenings, but Saturday is off-sale.

Best Director went to Shirin Neshat for Women Without Men, which is playing:

Saturday, September 19, 2009, 9:15 AM, Scotiabank
The screening appears to be off-sale.

Best Actor went to Colin Firth, for A Single Man, which is playing:

Monday, September 14, 2009, 9:30 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 11:00 AM, Ryerson
Thursday, September 17, 2009, 8:00 PM, AMC
The Monday screening is on rush, the Wednesday screening is available, and the Thursday screening is off-sale.

Best Actress went to Ksenia Rappoport for La Doppia Ora (The Double Hour), which is playing:

Friday, September 18, 2009, 6:00 PM, Visa Screening Room
Saturday, September 19, 2009, 3:45 PM, Scotiabank
Tickets are available for both screenings.

Special jury prize for comedy went to Soul Kitchen (which I'm seeing today), which is playing:

Monday, September 14, 2009, 6:00 PM, Ryerson
Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 12:00 PM, Ryerson
Saturday, September 19, 2009, 12:15 PM, Varsity
Tickets appear to be available for all three screenings.

Best Set Design went to Sylvie Olive for Jaco Van Dormael's Mr. Nobody (which I'm seeing later), which is playing:

Friday, September 18, 9;00 PM, Ryerson
Saturday, September 19, 3:15 PM, Ryerson
The Friday screening is off-sale, the Saturday screening is currently available.

If a screening is off-sale, keep checking back with the box office or online, especially on the day of the screening, as additional tickets may become available. If a screening is explicitly listed as rush, then try the rush line at the theatre the day of the screening, in case any last minute tickets become available.

In Conversation With Michael Caine

Michael Caine gave a funny, enjoyable two-hour talk chock full of anecdotes about his career, including stories about his friend Cary Grant, how he got cast for some of his roles, and stories from on set and in his life. I can't fully do justice to all his comments, especially his jokes, so I'll settle here for just summarizing a few of them.

  • On his latest film, Harry Brown, Caine said the film in part comes from a desire to highlight the serious problem of drugs and how it is affecting kids on estates. They actually filmed not far from where Caine himself grew up, and he grew to understand the challenges the kids today have trying to find a way out after being largely ignored by the rest of society.
  • Caine is working on the second part of his biography. He joked that the audience should try to get it for half price since we were hearing some of the material.
  • Caine said that for Zulu, he went to a bar to audition, but was told the role of Private Hook had already been cast. Caine was on his way out, and if the bar hadn't been as long as it was, he would've been outside by the time he was called back and asked if he could do a posh accent for the role of Bromhead, given his long blond hair and tall stature.
  • On having to kiss Christopher Reeve in Deathtrap, they both had a bit to drink before filming the scene, but when it came time to do it, they did the kiss and couldn't remember their lines! So they had to sober up, come back, and redo the scene.
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was great fun in part because Caine lived for the summer in the south of France right between two of his best friends; and it's the only film that he's been in that makes him laugh when he rewatches it.
  • When someone asked if he had ever been approached to sing in a film, back when having stars in musicals was quite common, Caine replied that he's not a singer and the only singing he's done on film is with the Muppets (in The Muppet Christmas Carol), and in Little Voice. He told the director of the latter to get two cameras on him, because he knew his voice wouldn't last beyond two takes.
  • Sam Neill made a surprise appearance and asked Caine to comment on acting as a craft. Caine dropped one tidbit of advice that Marlene Dietrich gave him, that if the camera was to the right of the actor you are playing opposite, your right eye should point to his right eye, leaving your left eye for the camera lens. And that to project power, don't blink.
  • A young actor (I believe his name was Graham Gray), asked Caine for advice for aspiring actors. Caine replied he doesn't give advice, because when he was young the main advice he got was to quit. But he did say the one thing he tells actors is never give up if that's what they love. He then related a story of another young actor who asked him the same thing at a party once, and that actor turned out to be Tom Cruise.
  • When asked about working with Christopher Nolan, Caine said it was great and that he is filming another scene for Nolan's latest, Inception, in November. But Caine didn't elaborate on any details, and said in fact Nolan hasn't let him see any of the rest of the script.

TIFF Scheduling Updates

Some updates and changes:

As a replacement for Neil Young's appearance at the free screening of Jonathan Demme's "The Neil Young Trunk Show" (Monday, September 14, 2009 at 8:00 PM), The Carpet Frogs, with Ric Emmett of Triumph, will perform some of Young's songs after the film (at 10:30 PM). The Toronto Star is reporting that Young was unaware that anyone had committed him to appear at TIFF in the first place (

If you attended of the following Saturday, September 12, 2009, screenings, you can take you ticket stub to either the Festival Box Office at Nathan Phillips Square or the Festival Box Office at Roy Thomson Hall and exchange the stub for a ticket to another regular public screening at the festival that has availability.

  • 11:00 AM screening of Melody for a Street Organ at AMC 6, that started late due to late delivery of the print to the theatre
  • 2:15 PM presentation of Barry Levinson Presents The Band That Wouldn't Die at AMC 7, which Levinson was unable to attend because of bad weather and shooting delays on the set of his latest film.
  • 3:15 PM screening of The Hole at Ryerson, which was cut short because of a fire alarm.

Best Bets for Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Best bets for tickets for Tuesday, September 15, 2009 from the festival alerts:

Every Day is a Holiday
Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 5:45 PM

Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 2:30 PM
Visa Screening Room

Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 7:30 PM

Valhalla Rising
Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 4:00 PM
Winter Garden Theatre

Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 9:30 PM
Roy Thomson Hall

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Les Herbes folles

Les Herbes folles is an examination of the unlikely coincidences and connections that result after Marguerite (Sabine Azema), has her purse snatched. Georges (Andre Dussollier) finds her pocketbook abandoned in a parking garage and is intrigued by the glimpses into her life that it provides. This soon leads to a relationship of sorts that seesaws back and forth as each moves between interest and disinterest.

The film contains a stellar cast; Sabine Azema and Andre Dussollier have worked together before with director Alain Resnais in Coeurs, and Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos, Anne Consigny worked with each recently on Un conte de Noel. While beautifully shot and directed, I have to confess to some difficulty in accepting some of the, at times farcical, reversals the characters have over the course of the film, although those might be attributed more to the source material rather than the film itself. And while I can appreciate one of the overarching themes of how much in our lives is simply the result of random happenstance, I'm still trying to figure out the somewhat surreal and enigmatic ending.


The directorial debut of actor Peter Stebbings (who also wrote the screenplay), Defendor follows Arthur (Woody Harrelson), a man a little slow on the uptake who by day works on a road crew with his friend Paul (Michael Kelly), but by night patrols the crime-ridden city as Defendor, his superhero alter-ego. But Arthur doesn't actually have any superpowers; he's stuck in his own childhood, still feeling the death of his mother when he was young, and has used the comics he loves as an inspiration for tracking down the one he feels responsible - Captain Industry.

One night, Arthur rescues Kat, a prostitute, from the clutches of a corrupt cop (Elias Koteas). Kat, seeing a chance for revenge in Arthur, convinces him that a local crime boss is actually the Captain Industry that Arthur has been searching for. This leads them both down a path where Arthur's fantasy and reality will soon collide, but in the process may teach everyone what is worth fighting for.

As Stebbings described it, this really is more of a dramatic film with funny moments in it. Harrelson is good as Arthur, who finds the strength and comfort in his guise as Defendor that he can't often find in his real life. Stebbings was aiming for a very realistic, grounded film, and succeeds in that. This is almost an anti-superhero movie in a way, in that ultimately Defendor is really just a normal person, with no superpowers, who just by believing in things is able to achieve remarkable things and further inspire those who meet him.

Peter Stebbings and most of the cast were at the screening and did a Q&A after the film:

  • The story came from Stebbing's love affair with comics as a teenager. He loved the superhero genre, but knew he couldn't compete with the blockbusters, so he wanted to do a character study (he joked he was reading the Brothers Karamazov at the time). He sprung out of bed with the idea, and it seemed kind of zeitgeisty, so he wrote it.
  • When asked if Stebbings had always set the film in Hamilton, he joked he wrote it for the Hammer and that they have a really good tax credit there. But he said that everytime he works there, and goes over that bridge (the Skyway), he loves the esthetic, and it seemed like the perfect size and that it needed to be featured. It's a skyline and city that he adores.
  • Stebbings didn't grow up in Hamilton, he grew up in Vancouver, but they have similar issues (i.e. the Downtown Eastside). There really is a guy named Thanatos that goes out and fights crime in the eastside (
  • Stebbings didn't originally have Harrelson in mind, but now can't imagine anyone else in the role. The whole movie falls apart if there isn't someone honest in the role. He feels he was working with one of the great American actors of his age.
  • Harrelson said it meant a lot to them that the audience responded so well to the movie, and wanted to do the film because when he read it, it was one of the most beautiful, well crafted, unique, unusual, and completely original scripts he had ever seen. He had the opportunity to meet Peter and hit it off. It's one of those experiences you hope for.
  • Stebbings said the ending was important to him. The tone of the film was very important, it could have gone off the rails anywhere, could have gone campy, could have chased laughs. He was worried when the film was billed as a comedy, because he doesn't think it is, that it is a drama with a lot of levity and humour, they don't chase the laughs - they come to you. He wanted to ground this thing and 100% believe in these circumstances and that they could actually happen.

Five Hours from Paris

Yigal (Dror Keren) is a taxi driver who seems content in his life. Divorced, Yigal is still close to his ex-wife and her new husband, even to the point of thinking about going into business with him. When his son has problems in music class, Yigal goes to visit his son's music teacher, Lina (Elena Yaralova), and soon becomes enchanted with her. But Lina is married, and she and her husband are in the midst of applying to Canada for residency and may soon depart. What follows is a slow dance between Yigal and Lina as they grow to know one another, only to have to eventually face the obstacles between them.

Dror Keren plays Yigal in an understated manner befitting the character. You can see the small changes and victories in Yigal's life as he and Lina grow closer to one another. Yaralova is also good as Lina, and you can see her struggle with her dilemma between remaining true to her husband of many years and following her heart. The film eschews the conventional path of what one might normally expect in such a story on film, at least in the west. Five Hours From Paris is an intimate film that provides a mature look at a romance between two people with real complications in their lives.

Director Leon Prudovsky and actor Dror Keren were in attendance and stayed for a Q&A after the film:

  • Most of the music were old French songs, and Prudovsky (originally from Russia) and his co-writer Erez Kav-El (who grew up in Belgium) listened to these songs growing up and when writing, and worked that into Yigal's character.
  • Keren was pleased to see a warm response for a film that mixes two cultures and languages. He loved the script from the first reading. Woody Allen said once that the heart is a very flexible organ and the film shows that. It's a complicated question but also very simple; when love comes, what do you do with it? Do you stand up and fight for it? In theory this odd couple shouldn't be together. He loves the feel of the film and the result.
  • They auditioned about 100 children for the film. Was hard to find a girl who could act and play the piano and speaks Russian. Finally found a 13-year old girl. For Yigal's son, the actor they settled on was not what Prudovsky had originally envisioned (he had thought of a fat kid), but when he came in to audition, he asked questions that an actor of 20 years of experience would ask.
  • They got many questions when shooting about how they ended the movie. Many wanted to know if Yigal actually flies to Paris, but Prudovsky thinks everyone thinks for themselves. It was a very precise way he ended the movie.
  • Prudovsky thinks the film is about the small changes we make in life, very delicate, very small, so he's glad people noticed. This was the first time they screened the film for a non-Hebrew audience, and there are small nuances and dialogue, but he felt the audience got it.
  • Keren phrased it as on Yigal's way to win Lina's heart, he wins his own.

Best Bets for Monday, September 14, 2009

Best bets for tickets for Monday, September 14, 2009 from the festival alerts:

Monday, September 14, 2009, 5:30 PM

Down For Life
Monday, September 14, 2009, 3:30 PM

The Man Beyond The Bridge
Monday, September 14, 2009, 6:30 PM

Monday, September 14, 2009, 6:00 PM

Green Days
Monday, September 14, 2009, 7:00 PM

TIFF Trailer Theme Music - Pilot Speed - Light You Up

In case you were wondering what song plays over the TIFF trailer (or as some people put it, the Bell Lightbox trailer) in front of each film, it is Light You Up from Toronto group Pilot Speed, off of their album Wooden Bones.

Official Band Site:

Single on iTunes:

Album from Maple

Pilot Speed will be giving a free concert at Yonge and Dundas Square on Friday, September 18, 2009 at 9:00 PM.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Backyard (El traspatio)

Based on true events, Backyard is a drama that focuses on the hundreds of unsolved murders of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The film has two main story lines; one follows Blanca Bravo (Ana de la Reguera), a police detective newly transferred to the city who is soon overwhelmed with cases; the other finds Juanita (Asur Zagada), who moves to the city from the country and joins her cousin working in the maquiladoras, or multinational manufacturing plants set up to take advantage of the cheap labour pool.

While Juanita takes advantage of her new-found freedom in the city, Bravo struggles against the indifference of a city and government more often that not resigned to the situation, and inevitably the lives of the two women intersect. People like Bravo and radio host Peralta (Joaquin Cosio) try to effect change, but find themselves in an impossible situation and are challenged to stop anything without sacrificing their own morals in the process.

Backyard is a powerful film that explores a number of the postulated theories and causes of the soaring crime rate without seeming unfocused. Crimes initially go unsolved, because of an undermanned, underfunded, and at times corrupt police force, and this leads criminals to believe they they can act with impunity. The government is reluctant to act for fear of jeopardizing foreign investment that is more than willing to move on to the next country with even cheaper labour. People's lives are reduced to a matter of how many cents per day they cost the companies. All this leads to a moral vacuum where regular people are emboldened to act how they want without fear of consequences, and women more often than not become the target.

The film doesn't take the easy way out and reduce the problem to a simple mystery or crime story; it's a challenging social, economic, and political problem as well, with no neat, tidy ending or resolution. While Bravo's storyline shows the institutional side, Juanita's reveals a very personal view of the same issues. Ana de la Reguera is very good as a professional who has a job to do in a very patriarchal organization and society, yet can't help but be moved as a woman to the situation around her.

Director Carlos Carrera (The Crime of Father Amaro), and screenwriter Sabina Berman were in attendance and did a Q&A after the film:

  • Carrera was always interested in the story of the murders in Juarez, and had received many Hollywood scripts about it, but didn't like them. Berman had written the script about 10 years ago, but it took a long time to get the funding. Carrera found her script the most respectful way to treat this part of Mexican history. The only request he had was that the film be shot on location in the actual locations, which was a problem since Juarez is embroiled in a war between drug dealers.
  • Berman added that it was a very dangerous place to film, and they had to have the Mexican army and police guard the crew while they shot. They went to the governor of Chihuahua and said they were making the film no matter what, so it was up to him to give them protection or not.
  • Carrera says it is still a problem in Juarez, but is not restricted to there. At the end of the film they list crime statistics from around Mexico, Latin America, and even around the world.
  • Berman says it was more moving to make a drama rather than a documentary; difficult to figure out how to take actual events and arrange them to make them moving and human.
  • Carrera; movies are a visual memory for the audience; the film is a mixture of fiction and documentary; there are several very good documentaries of the topic already; they wanted to take this approach with Juanita's character, as the fiction gives a way of knowing better and loving better a character, so she is an actual person and not just a number.
  • Carrera said the film is not about violence against women in Juarez, it's about violence against women period.
  • An audience member noted the governor in the film talks like the actual governor of the time. Berman replied that the governor basically wrote his own text.
  • Carrera added that the governor in the film actually represents two real-life governors: Francisco Barrio (1992-1998) who is the current Mexican ambassador to Canada, and Patricio Martinez Garcia (1998-2004).
  • Berman thinks the fact that so much of the city is about money and producing things for less cost (and not just in Mexico, but in Asia), that it makes life cost so little; when it becomes about how much we can not spend on people, life becomes cheap.
  • Berman: in Mexico, the film is polemical; some believe they shouldn't be talking bad about Mexico, that they should be showing the funny, beautiful parts, or that a romantic story is nicer; other think they need this kind of cinema.
  • Berman usually does comedy. She took a comedic show to Juarez and afterwards met girls who told her what was going on, and was shocked and dreamt about it for a year and decided one should do what they can do; she started doing research, and what was shocking to her was the indifference to the phenomenon. The last version of the script focuses more on the silence in Juarez around the problem.

Perrier's Bounty

Michael McCrea (Cillian Murphy), is a layabout n'er-do-well who is estranged from his parents and in love with Brenda (Jodie Whittaker, who I first saw at the festival a few years back in Venus) the girl who lives downstairs from him. But Brenda sees him nothing more than a friend to whom she can complain about her indifferent and cheating boyfriend.

One day, Michael awakes in his apartment to a visit from two thugs who work for Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson), a local crime boss to whom Michael owes money. Given a deadline only a few hours away to come up with the money, Michael sets off across the city to find a way out, soon drawing in Brenda and his dad Jim (Jim Broadbent), who suddenly appears with news of his impending death.

The film has the right mix of drama and humour, and is given more depth in the fractured relationship between father and son. All the leads acquit themselves well, especially Murphy and Broadbent. Murphy captures well his character's frustration with life, and Broadbent demonstrates his usual skill in displaying an offbeat, eccentric personality that is often a cover for deeper-held feelings. The Guy-Ritchiesque voice over narration occasionally present in the film seemed a bit unnecessary at first, but there is a payoff in the end. Overall, the film provided a good start to the festival for me.

Director Ian FitzGibbon (A Film With Me In It), and stars Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson were in attendance and did a Q&A after the film:

  • The humor, imaginations, dark obsessions, and hilarious fixations come from the mind of screenwriter Mark O'Rowe (Boy A, Intermission).
  • As a director, FitzGibbon said your first day on set you realize everything is a gamble, which is both terrifying and exciting. You have something in your head which you hope makes sense, and when you're joined by members of the cast, it's a shock, because they obviously see things differently or they have a different take on stuff, but that's also what is magical about filmmaking for him.
  • FitzGibbon says when he watches some of the scenes towards the end in the warehouse, when Cillian and Brendan are fronting off of each other, he still gets excited, because he says 'f-me, they've got balls' and that's kind of rare these days to have that kind of humour, and that it's a real privilege to work with that kind of script and language, and these actors who can bring it to life and just fly with it and make it sing.
  • Scenes with the ocean were filmed about 40 minutes north of Dublin.
  • Cillian said it was a real thrill to work with everyone. He's worked with Brendan several times now (28 Days Later, Breakfast on Pluto, etc.). It's a real privilege to get to work with him over the years; admired when he was young before starting to act, and now as a friend. With Jim, was a fan. Enjoyed every minute of it.
  • Gleeson; when you work with something like this, the risks have already been taken by the writer. Mark (O'Rowe) has such a flow and a fearlessness, and had a gumption to be more colourful in the language. Characters came from Mark, and it was fantastic to get hold of them. Proud that they are producing the likes of Murphy as actors from Ireland, and that FitzGibbon was willing to take risks and let the actors go ballistic.
  • Murphy: Mark O'Rowe writes Irish males really well, he wrote Intermission that Murphy was also in, and brilliantly identified something about Irish males, maybe it's universal, a tendency to procrastination and not really doing anything. Michael has this relationship with his parents and with this girl and he's letting them all be because he hopes everything will just be all right in the end. Also enjoyed working with Jodie Whittaker, fantastic actress.
  • Ian: no plans for next film yet.
  • Has Irish and UK distribution with a release in Feb/Mar 2010, but nothing for US yet.
  • On working with dogs, FitzGibbon says it was nothing short of a nightmare, and jokes if anyone has a script with dogs, he doesn't want to see it, hear about, or even go see it. Frustrating for everyone because dogs have clearly not read the script and have a shabby attitude when they come on set, have a lot of minders and food requirements, but they don't give you the shot. Gleeson: thought they were brilliant.
  • FitzGibbon: Always element of risk, as separately that might make sense in and of themselves, but most crucial thing is chemistry, how does one element react to another element. You just don't know, because the nature of film means you can't get together and rehearse for 3 weeks, it's often just on that day, and they were blessed with good producers that were proactive and had good ideas, and that helped them to give the film a real cohesion, and the cast achieved that. Many of minor roles are filled by local actors that do know each other incredibly well because acting community in Dublin is quite small, but when Jodie or Jim arrived in, those are unknowns.
  • Murhpy and Broadbent spent some time together before filming, but for Murphy, it's that feeling when regardless of how successful or old or mature you are, when you're in the presence of your parents you turn into a teenager and everything about them irritates you. Brilliantly observed in Mark's writing, so they just slotted into that.
  • Someone asked that since FitzGibbon has done two films about Northsiders (from the rougher, north end of Dublin), will he do anything about cultchies (as FitzGibbons described the term, basically idiots from the country)? FitzGibbon replied he has no idea what his next film might be yet.

My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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