TIFF REVIEWS: Day 1

Sorry about the delay – I couldn’t get to a computer at a stable point during TIFF and have to basically do 47 reviews over the next 10 days to be true to whoever reads this. It was a great festival – a plethora of greatness with a few bits of stupidity chopped into the mix. Not a disappointment at all. OK, so on the first day I watched An Education and Antichrist – good, an easy way to kick it off.

Kicking off the festival was Lone Scherfig’s An Education – it being the first English language flick for the Dane was a major concern to supporters of the director as many filmmakers have issue with maintaining their integrity overseas. With Sundance support and an impressive cast, this film seemed to have nothing but positive reinforcement behind it. And while it was a solid feature, it fell into the grooves that previous coming-of-age tales created too often to be a great one.

The story follows Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a precocious 16-year old who devolves from ideal daughter for her father Jack (Alfred Molina) to a disobedient, angsty youth over the course of a few months in smalltown England. At first, Jenny is a sought after scholar who is perhaps more plain than a wooden plank; she does exactly what’s she told, never talks back to either of her parents and has a genius academy record. One afternoon after a typical classical music recital, a well-to-do gentleman with seemingly harmless intentions jests playfully with her. He introduces himself as David (Peter Sarsgaard) and they begin to build a relationship of perceptible proportions.

Although the synopsis is quite unappealing/tired/obvious/etc… the feature is quite witty in its dialogue. Sure, we as an audience acutely percieve the intentions of the feature a couple of minutes in, but where bland, drawn-out dialogue is usually found, we find creative and very humorous banter in its place. Molina plays Jack, the uppity father to a t and has some of the most hilarious exchanges with Jenny that you’ll see all year. Yet it somehow remained honest and didn’t deter the feature from its thematic intentions.

Later on – we, of course – begin to doubt David’s honesty. He has a suspicious occupation and seems uncomfortable in giving answers to Jenny; this is where David’s buddy-in-crime Danny (Dominic Cooper) and he begin to form tension. Danny is identical to David, but he values Jenny’s worth and intelligence more than David does, as he is clearly only focused on the exterior beauty of the beautiful youth. You see, Danny has one of the most frustratingly single-minded girlfriends imaginable who is uncultured and who is a downright gold digger. Sure, she’s got some beauty covering her thoughtless body, but she is worthless otherwise. You see the transformation from bright, earnest Jenny to pouting, needy Jenny more accurately because of the comparisons between her and Helen (Rosemund Pike), Danny’s girlfriend.

As coming-of-age tales go, this is a pretty balanced affair. Where there is drama, there is comedy to follow; where there is romantic tension, there’s romantic easement; where there is a weak lesson to be taught, there are interesting indications of how poorly Jenny’s future could’ve been.

This is the only true problem I have with the feature. It lacks tension; even the discussions about Jenny’s life with her administrative superiors are more humorous than dramatic. They tend to underline what her parents have been saying over and over, it becomes repetitive and because the formula is similar to many other features, we know how it will all play out in the end and how minuscule these talks will be in comparison. This makes the moral weak and it’s the only aspect keeping the feature from being memorable.

During the Q+A, writer Nick Hornby briefly commented on the time period in which this film took place – the early 1960’s. He hinted that Jenny’s childhood would’ve been enduring because of the food famine that the UK experiences in the mid 40’s and how that would be an early testament to Jenny’s strength. This is a very interesting tidbit of information that, if actually expressed in the film with some fervor, would have made the feature a cut above the subgenre. The film doesn’t mention any sort of upbringing that the protagonist had, so this glimmer of an idea goes unpublished – a bit that would have made the character of Jenny much more developed. A missed opportunity by the expert novelist.

With a great cast from top to bottom – you know a cast is good when Sarsgaard sports a British accent – An Education teaches its viewers that a film doesn’t need to be creative to be good. It’s as typical a feature as you’ll come across all year, but boy does Nick Hornby know how to tickle a viewer’s funny bone. [7/10]

The most talked about movie of the year: Antichrist. Whether you know about the very grotesque, very ‘von Trier’ scenes in the final act or not, you’ve undoubtedly heard a bunch about the latest from the utmost insane director of the last decade.

If you don’t know the synopsis, it’s quite a tricky one. It’s about the descent of happiness within the confinements of a family existence. Simply named He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), the couple experience tragedy when their young son plummets to his death as the two were intertwined in sexual affairs. The beginning scene (the prologue) aptly displays the love between the two in harmonious fashion – the use of black and white, the slowed down frame rate to show the inexplicable bliss the two find themselves in when enraptured in orgasm, and the melodic music that works both as a foreground for their love and as a worrisome back drop for the curious young child as he wanders aimlessly around the home and eventually out of an open window. What follows is far less passionately nurturing.

The mother begins to fall apart. She has an emotional collapse almost hourly – while the father seems a bit detached from the scenario. He bears the grief with a stoic output and is called on his carelessness by a guilt ridden wife. They begin to get at each others throats, but deep down they still have that attachment that brought them together in the first place – neither wants to see the other come to harm.

This is when the man, a psychiatrist, decides to place his entire focus on his new patient: his wife. He takes her off her medically prescribed medication as he feels it won’t do justice to his wife’s cause believing that she will be all the better for it. As he tries to keep their physical relationship apart from their psychological one he finds it almost impossible. She is in a state of crisis and disperses her anguish through physical sensations (ie. sex) so it becomes progressively difficult for He to keep his mind on her visceral needs rather than her physical. He thinks its a good idea to take her to where all of her deep-rooted depression began – it’s revealed to be a forest aptly named Eden.

As the two wander through Eden looking for a specific cure for She, He finds himself in harms way as well. Depression begins to grasp him; religious teachings and coincidence manifest inside of his brain while he tells himself its all imaginative and there is no God, essentially. Plenty of issues are revealed and some weird metaphors are shown to the audience that will really make you wonder what it all means, but deep down this film is a generalized look at repenting for one’s sins and a brief breath of martyrdom.

There’s a line that’s spoken in the middle of the film that rings important throughout the final act. “Those under hypnosis can only do what they’re capable of doing”, meaning if say someone was to murder someone else under hypnosis, it’s only because that thought was in their human nature and that they could have done so even if not under the trance. This plays a very important role in the final act entitled Chaos Reigns and the possible stupor She seems to be under.

It is a thinkers film through and through. If you don’t agree with what’s being portrayed; are bored by the subject matter or find it fanciful to an annoying point, you won’t devote any time to thinking about the message and reasoning behind the feature and will extract very little from this existential horror. It appears to be the only film made that truly examines the strain of losing your child due to reckless thinking and is perhaps the only honest examination of one’s soul becoming devoured in remorse.

In the end, Antichrist is either a realization of a nightmare becoming integrated into one’s actual existence or a gimmicky hoax discussing improbable and ludicrous assumptions. I found von Trier’s latest to be a surreal masterpiece that Tarkovsky (to whom the film is dedicated) would applaud to no end and thus a success in its own right. A phobic journey into a daunting pathos. [10/10]

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