A disappointing day. Not in that all the features weren’t great, but in that I expected to see Up in the Air’s premiere but didn’t get to because of the hype around it causing a quick sell-out and me being ineligible to get a ticket. So I saw the “free surprise screening” which was very disappointing in comparison to my anticipation for Reitman’s latest.
First up was one the most appealing features that was debuting at TIFF. It’s called The Day God Walked Away and it follows one woman’s struggle through a sin-stricken Rwanda during the genocide.
The film opens on a fairly young woman named Jacqueline (the inexperienced Ruth Nirere) saying her goodbyes to the family she was a maid to. She frantically speaks of where her two boys are to the caring, but not overly concerned Belgian couple she tends to. In a sentence, they want to high-tail it out of there, but they insist that Jacqueline not go look for her children in the blood-soaked streets because they’ll do their best to come back for her. After a few agonizing minutes of hearing the animal-like chants of the Hutus, she disbands her original plans and runs into the endless forest that Kigali provides. This is essentially the entirety of the plot; a woman running around a forest trying to escape the violence surrounding her, all the while contemplating her personal issues (ie. the loss of her children).
Midway through the story, Jacqueline happens upon an injured man. As never seen in a feature before, she sterilizes his wound with her urine. Immediately, they have a personal connection, but Jacqueline is far too strained to take on any romantic entanglement at this time. As the story progresses, you see the man’s attempts at sexual relations and the woman’s resistance. It isn’t a superb feature in this aspect, but it does highlight the will to survive by each of them – but especially the protagonist in Jacqueline.
This story is very exhausting in general. It doesn’t showcase the horrors of Rwanda and is rather against portraying violence. However, first time director/long time cinematographer Philippe Van Leeuw really does well with the material. This film and the locations it is set on are a cinematographer’s dream. He slowly reveals tense scenarios in a calming light; he enhances the horror that the jungles of that time provided; he easily creates one worrisome atmosphere for the viewer.
But no amount of fervor provided can keep this feature from meddling around in itself for far too long. The 100 minutes feel more like 180 and the story builds up to very little climax. In the end you get a semi-acceptable lead performance that would have received accolades if a well versed actress took on the role, a few outstanding shots and an ending that doesn’t satisfy in anyway. It’s somewhat enthralling, somewhat emotionally engaging and somewhat earnest. [5/10]
After strongly taking to Lav Diaz’s Melancholia earlier this year at Cinematheque Ontario, an urge for more Filipino cinema. When I heard of Raya Martin’s Independencia and saw the beautiful stills from the feature, I was immediately hooked.
However, like a fish biting down on a seemingly harmless worm, I was caught and taken on a terrible ride. Not to say that Independencia is one of the worst films of the year, but it was a grating experience that had lots to say, but little to offer – constantly trying to speak to its audience about the power of industry and fable, but seldom connection with anything valid.
Although you haven’t seen a film like this in your life the story remains completely familiar. There’s a whimsical wonder about this that keeps its viewers invested, but only visually. The story trails an unnamed man referred to as Son (Sid Lucero) in the credits. It tells his story of being a tribal warrior in parallel to other families living amongst common society – telling a general tale of how the strong survive and how the weak fall to peril, primarily.
When the villagers believe that God is angry at them – artillery shells fall in their humble home – they run into the forests believe they’ll be safe there. Here is where Son reigns supreme. He tells story after story about his strong family values to strangers, but mainly one consisting of how fearless his father was and how he killed hundreds of venomous snakes. This stably shows how much of an impact the strength of pride means to these less civilized people.
Cut into these slow segments are absurdest newscasts about the military success in the unfamiliar lands. They provide a humorously ironic introspective into the American mindset of war and sustaining control of a place they’re not concerned with.
All in all, this film is a gigantic bore. I’m sure it captures the atmosphere needed to appreciate an old fashioned Filipino folklore – what with all the silent film photography attributing to a very classical aura – but as I, and many other viewers, are not of this nationality, it comes off rather trite and excessive. Even though it clocks in at just over an hour, the pacing is terrible to a gnawing point. It’s semi-intelligent and showcases some solid performances, but there’s little character development and even less to be spoken about the country. A disappointment from top to bottom. [4/10]
Next up is one of the most engaging films about film you’ll see this decade. It’s a documentary about the unfinished project by Henri-Georges Clouzot called L’enfer – a feature that was eventually made conventionally by Claude Chabrol in 1994.
The film recounts Clouzot’s snowballing obsessiveness with this feature. When he first prompted the idea to heads at Warner Brothers, they were so impressed that they gave him an unlimited bank roll. Imagine that: a never ending amount of money to make this dream project with no producers attached. Either you’re going to get a brilliant outcome or a collision consisting of endless possibilities. Of course, the latter happened and the story that unfolds in front of the audience is as tragic as it is visually enrapturing.
The whole film documents the ascent and descent of the project as told by several participants; mainly young crew members, but it all sounds legitimate. Sliced into the menial interviews is footage from the feature including the hallucinatory styling that Clouzot was so adamant to capture on this film. What’s shown appears to be the marks of a true existentialist befitting himself into an absurd atmosphere – the collapse of logical thought. Director Serge Bromberg actively showcases this feeling by imbuing a state of alarm from his interviewees that come off a tad manipulative and give off the antagonistic impression of one of France’s most popular (see: greatest) directors of all-time.
The footage of the initial feature is all selected from the hundreds of reels shot by Clouzot. There is no soundtrack to accompany to visual, but Bromberg does exceedingly well to create what sounds you’d assume would be behind these fascinating marvels of film.
There is just something off about the editing. Bromberg tends to cut away from some of the more interesting aspects that Clouzot’s mind had to offer – for example, the storyboards in which he spent countless hours on perfecting – whereas he exploits the arduous task of getting up early to comply with Clouzot’s demands from the cast to a maximum. The film has suffers from MES (multiple ending syndrome) which makes the feature seem almost endless and exhausting in the final stages.
Other than these few nit-picky flaws, it’s a very insightful and captivating little documentary. It pleases me to hear its picked up distribution so quickly (especially from an international country like the UK) and I hope for the best for this little film. A true film for film fanatics that rarely eases on the accelerator. [8/10]
Due to the fact that Up in the Air had the most exclusive premiere of the festival (Gala included) and that only 6 non-donors were able to muster tickets, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to get to attend. So after L’enfer I rushed over to AMC and snagged myself a ticket for the free surprise screening. Unfortunately the biggest surprise of the screening was that the film wasn’t good.
The film is Making Plans for Lena, Christophe Honore’s latest film. After loving Love Songs last year and becoming more familiar with his work over the past 18 months, I was pretty interested when Cameron Bailey announced the title. However, the story plays out as a traditionalist French family drama from beginning to end. It would be entirely predictable if not for the side-step at the end to avoid being a gigantic cliche – really the only area in the script that keeps the film from being an utter waste of time.
The story is simple: Lena (Chiara Mastroianni) is has an endless supply of family issues. She’s recently just gone through a sticky divorce, one in which her two young children were obviously emotionally affected, and wants a getaway at her parents house. There’s Annie (Marie-Christine Barrault) the nagging, hypocritical mother that rides Lena’s back at every opportunity imaginable and Michel (Fred Ulysse), a kind-hearted, hard-working traditionalist. When Lena goes up to her parents, she’s accompanied by her brother and sister – it’s a very lovely gathering. The atmosphere changes heavily when Annie invites Lena’s ex-husband Nigel (Jean-Marc Barr) up for no reason other than to torture her daughter some more.
So the audience digests more mother-daughter dysfunction, the story muddles around in itself for an hour, nothing is really resolved and you get to Lena and Nigel trying to reconcile. This works to an extent – as does the rest of the film – but like previous incidents, Honore tries to exploit the good moments which only diminish the previous success with the pursuit of glory.
In the end, you receive a very solid cast that rise above the caricature-esque characters they’re given. If not for Chiara Mastroianni almost completely misplaying the role of Lena, this could have been at least an average affair; it’s the supporting cast that backs her up very well. They’re quite genuine – Chiara is as well, but there’s something completely off-putting about her character that makes you cringe. Personally, I’ve become exhausted with the triteness that comes with generic family studies – no matter how quirky or serious – and this falls into that category with ease. A film I hope to never endure again, but one that I wouldn’t tell people to avoid because I see this being taken to by the general public fairly well. [3/10]
After that French mess, I was practically preying for a movie to pick me up. And what better film to do so than one that renounces what we know as God?
The film: Enter the Void. The director: Gaspar Noé. His reputation: Eh… unsettling, to be safe. He’s been called warped, perverted, mentally imbalanced and tactless – among other things. He’s stirred up controversy with both of his previous features in Irreversible and I Stand Alone – each of which features an inexplicably shocking scene that either reels the viewer and has them talking about it for weeks on end or it turns the viewer off and, you know, adds to the dystrophy of Noé’s reputation. With his latest feature, there is never one of these moments to divert or entrance the attention of the viewer; the feature comes off as euphoric as one would imagine, though through the eyes of a dark mind at work.
As tough a film to astutely review, Enter the Void is quite fragmented. There is very little in terms of structure – the majority of the film cuts to and from present and past events that Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) has experienced/is experiencing. Twenty minutes into the feature, Oscar gets shot after a miscommunication between police and the young druggie – and when that happens, his spirit leaves the body and a whole new type of cinematic experience begins.
In Enter the Void, there is hardly any story to be told. After Oscar dies, there are flashbacks that his spirit encounters after seeing people or objects that reanimate past memories almost instantly. He’s brought back into the present by falling into an assortment of lights in a very hallucinatory fashion. As the mind often works, you recall the more impressionistic memories more often – the flashbacks commission the exact same order. An impacting car accident, speaking somberly to his younger sister as children and his first trip to Tokyo frequent his memory streamline more often than the rest; causing distress and at times depression for the viewer watching the colorful and imaginative feature unfold.
The plot is barren, the character development for anyone but Oscar is essentially bare, but what Noé gets at with this film is far more contemplative than any formula or manufactured story could behold. To fill in the time between the flashbacks that give viewers an essence of Oscar’s past is a primary plot of Linda (Paz de la Huerta), his live-in sister’s grieving. She takes to Oscar’s demise with rough tears and torment, all the while considered disposable flesh by the owner of the strip club she’s employed at. In the other more complex story is Alex’s (impressive debut performance by Cyril Roy) struggle for survival in the chill backstreets of Tokyo. He witnessed Oscar’s death and, it seems, the officials that tended to Oscar’s murder are after him to cover up and signs of unintelligent play by the police, as Alex was murdered under terrible pretenses. Neither of these stories are incredibly engaging, but the directorial work is. The mixing up of birdseye view and various other torqued visual perspectives make for the utmost engaging theatrical experience.
Enter the Void is a lucidly bold examination on the possibilities of the soul wandering postmortem. It dissects one of the most contemplated speculations that man has cogitated for centuries through multiple exotic movements that will enamor any fan of the metaphysical. Without hesitation, I can fervently say that Noé’s latest is a directorial masterwork – a film that is so powerful in its intent that the scriptural flaws pale deathly in comparison; becoming void of consideration. [10/10]