Festival Watch 2006

Festival Watch 2006: Day One

A brief look at the some of the films and events happening at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

Festival season is upon us, and all the telling signs are present: lineups are forming in front of movie theatres, people are toting around little blue director bags, the cafes in Yorkville are packed, I've started gushing over the cute publicist in the press office (I'm a fan of PR people), and people can't stop talking about directors and actors like they've known them all their lives.

But the one sign that truly tells me that TIFF 2006 has rolled around is the film-related advertising. Companies that are seemingly unrelated to the film industry — like local insurance brokers, financial advisors, and sex toy shops ("Win the Award for Best Performance") — are all forcing cinema-related imagery and puns on movie titles and themes into their advertising to capitalize on the buzz. Take a ride on the subway or a walk down Yonge Street to see for yourself.

Even then, you can't help but smile at the fact that hordes of film enthusiasts are going to be swarming the city for the next ten days, showing the world that Toronto is definitely the place to be when it comes to arts, culture, and fun.

And now for some movies:

The Banquet
Feng Xiaogang, China
I'm not surprised that Feng Xiaogang's newest film is getting a lot of attention: it is absolutely breathtaking to watch. The sets are lavishly decorated, the costumes are colorful and meticulously detailed, and the film in general is simply beautiful. The sheer magnificence of Ye Yan (The Banquet) is a testament to Xioagang's keen vision and eye.

The problem with The Banquet may be that it focuses too much on how it looks and much less on what it is saying. Publicists are calling this a "loose adaptation" of Hamlet, and in all honesty, the adaptation isn't all too loose: any high school student can tell you what's going to happen next. In an attempt to make every scene poetic, Xiaogang's overuse of blood and gore has the ability to turn off the viewer at times. All that being said, Ye Yan is still a visual spectacle to behold, and what a beautiful spectacle it is.

Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan
It is quite ingenious for Kore-eda to set his first samurai film in a time and place where the feats of the samurai are no longer needed. In this tale of honor vengeance and familial pride, the samurai in the Edo tenement in the early 1700s are better known for their adeptness in the local theatre scene than they are for their prowess in sword-handling. In this way, Kore-eda is able to craft a tale where the protagonist Sozaemon (Junichi Okada) discovers his true calling as a teacher and father-figure, and decides to follow those rather than his prescribed quest for vengeance.

Kore-eda's samurai film is slowly paced, which allows for some brilliant views of the 18th-century Japan set, but is also incisively funny; there are several scenes that will make you laugh out loud and many others that will certainly incite a chuckle. Make sure you stay alert through some of the slower parts, because Hana hides a lot of its ethical statements between the humor, and that's what makes this film a lot more than just a samurai flick.

After the Wedding
Susanne Bier, Denmark
Susanne Bier wastes not time in exposing the central conflict in this film — that of the ghosts of relationships past — and instead decides to focus her time and energy on the repercussions of that revelation. It is precisely for this reason that After the Wedding is so poignant: instead of relying on twists and turns to move the sotry, Bier instead lets her characters engage with the audience through displays of raw sentiment.

After the Wedding stands out among the gala screenings mainly because of the excellent performances by the two leading men (Mads Mikkelsen and Rolf Lassgard), but also because it is so raw. Taking the audience on a veritable roller-coaster of sentiment — from hope and joy to despair and anguish — Bier lets you probe the depths of her characters' psyches, for better or for worse. Don't miss this one.

Hans-Christian Schmid, Germany
In short, Requiem can be described as The Exorcism of Emily Rose without all the Hollywood. Inspired by the same events that guided the American version of the film, Hans-Christian Schmid crafts his tale of a tormented — say possessed — young college student within the context of a highly religious family in rural Germany, and the setting works well for the film.

Schmid avoids using the intense effects that are normally found in stories of possession, and this makes the film seem much more real. Coupled with the brilliant performance of lead actress Sandra Huller, Requiem tells a tale of psychosis that can be hard to watch at times, but is extremely jarring and sincere at the same time.

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