One of the highlights of the Toronto International Film Festival is going to see films in such grand surroundings as the Elgin Theatre. This is the way movies should be seen.
Yesterday, I was late posting a picture and I promised a list of the films I've seen at the festival this year. Didn't happen. Today, the list:
Melody for a Street Organ (dir. Kira Muratova - Ukraine)
This is the second film I've seen by Muratova after the brilliant The Tuner. She must be some kind of national treasure, so rich is The tapestry of her films. This is the story of two orphaned children - half siblings - adrift for a day in the big city trying to find their fathers. What they encounter is a world of characters too preoccupied by their own lives to worry about those who are truly in need. This is a long film, but it has seemingly hundreds of fascinating side-characters. Man, I love Kira Muratova.
I found this film a work of rich imagination and a truly resonant story that stayed with me. Highly recommended.
Partir - Leaving (dir. Catherine Corsini - France)
Another strong performance from Kristin Scott Thomas (following last year's I've Loved You So Long). This time, she plays a woman who drifts from her comfortable marriage into the arms of another man. This story details the tragic consequences brought about by her following her own heart's will. One of the few films I've seen where a main character dies in the very first scene.
This was a strong and harrowing work with powerful performances, but ultimately I didn't connect with any of the characters enough to want to share their journey. Mostly I just felt sorry for them.
Air Doll (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda - Japan )
Another favourite director (Afterlife, Nobody Knows, Hana) presented a truly odd story this time: An 'air doll' or inflatable sex toy owned by a lonely guy who lives by himself but treats the doll as his wife, sharing meals and conversation, going for walks together, etcetera suddenly comes to life, Pinocchio-style.
But even though she develops a life of her own, and she's played by a real actress, she's still an air doll, with seams on her arms and legs and contains nothing but air. Nevertheless, knowing nothing about life, she soon finds work in a video store. How other characters relate to her is one of the interesting aspects of the film.
As you can imagine, there are layers of metaphor at work here. Certainly a poetic movie, whether the metaphors all work or begin to be too much is up to the viewer. While I enjoyed the film for the most part, my wife thought parts of it were best described as 'horror-porn'. A challenging film, but presented as Kore-eda always does with a lot of grace. Highly recommended.
La Doppia Ora (dir. Giuseppe Capotondi - Italy)
A thriller about a Slovenian hotel chambermaid, Sonia, who finds a boyfriend, Guido, through speed dating. One day, he invites her to go with him to the mansion he is watching in his job as security guard. An armed robbery takes place, and in attempting to save her, Guido is killed. From that point on, the story becomes more and more odd as Guido keeps reappearing while Sonia gradually descends into the depths of paranoia and panic.
The thriller genre is unusual in Italian cinema, and Capotondi makes great use of this heart-stopping story, with beautiful cinematography, clever editing, and especially by casting the excellent Ksenia Rappoport as Sonia. Filippo Timi (who also stars this year as a young Mussolini in Vincere) is also spot-on. While not the deepest of films, it avoids cliché, and keeps us guessing right to the end. Satisfying and highly recommended.
Max Manus (dir. Espen Sandberg & Joachim Roenning - Norway/Denmark/Germany)
A war movie about a subject few on this side of the Atlantic have even considered: the resistance against the Nazi occupation of Norway. Max Manus was a hero to the Norwegian people due to his efforts during the war to make life as miserable as possible for the German army who had taken over his country. After 60 years, Max finally has a film as epic in scope as his deeds were heroic.
This film was a true blockbuster in Norway where about one quarter of the entire population has gone to a theatre to watch it. For the rest of us, it's still compelling cinema where the human element never gets lost among all the action. While it's not by any means the most brutal of war films, it's probably also not for the faint of heart. Most touching is Max's survivor's guilt as he watches most of his closest friends die while luck seems to assure that his own life continues.
During the Question and Answer session after the screening of this film, an elderly Norwegian woman came to the front of the auditorium and told us that she had lived in Oslo during that time and was involved herself in the resistance movement. It was moving to see how much it meant to her to see this history preserved in such a manner. Highly recommended.
The People's Choice award this year went to Precious, an American film that looks to be extremely powerful, a film where even watching the trailer might make you cry.