Festival Watch 2006

Festival Watch 2006: Day Three

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

You want to know the true meaning of fear? Fear isn't what you feel when you sit through one of those Japanese horror films. No, instead, fear is that feeling you get when you stare at the faces of people with press and industry passes that are turned away from a screening because it has reached capacity. Scary stuff, I tell you. Today was a day where I got to witness industry hotshots being turned away from at least three P&I screenings (The Last King of Scotland, All the King's Men, Pan's Labyrinth), and it wasn't a pretty sight.

I also managed to catch a parade that was passing by outside the Varsity this afternoon that had drawn quite a big crowd of festival-folk. I'm not exactly sure what the parade was about, but they were loud and musical, so people stopped and stared.

Oh, and if you're not a celebrity, the best way to get noticed at the film festival is definitely to wear an interesting t-shirt. Too lazy to dress up this morning, I decided to throw on some jeans and a favorite t-shirt of mine for the festival screenings. I'm glad I did, because no fewer than 35 people came up to me and asked about t-shirt, with at least half of them recognizing the fact that it was from Threadless. I felt like a minor celebrity. Very minor, but a celebrity nonetheless.

And now for some movies:

Olivier Masset-Depasse, Belgium
The general premise behind Cages had a lot of promise. The story of a couple whose relationship is torn apart after a freak accident leaves the woman incapable (psychologically) to speak has the potential to be a particularly good film, but sadly director Olivier Masset-Depasse wastes all that potential in creating a film where the psychological strain of relationships is but a side-story to a pity-ridden violent and masochistic plot where gratification rules over understanding.

The actors in Cages put up a valiant effort, but in all honesty, they don't really have much to work with. The entire film feels a little contrived and artificial, and once the story shifts to the whole concept of cages and detainment, it loses all plausibility. There's enough sex and intensity in the film to keep it from being boring, but it certainly isn't good, or even redeeming, in the least.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, USA
You've all seen the trailers, read all the reviews, heard all the buzz, and stared at the publicity photos of Brad Pitt. With such high expectations for Babel, Inarritu had a tough task in front of him, and by golly does he deliver. Babel is part jarring political commentary, part cinematic masterpiece, with a multitude of story lines all woven together to tell us all that true understanding is almost impossible, even with subtitles. Brad Pitt puts in his best performance since Fight Club and Adriana Barraza is absolutely brilliant, but it is the complete packaging of this film from top to bottom and beginning to end that makes it so effective.

Sometimes, the converging plot lines seem a bit too distant from each other, but Babel still works beyond that. The most intriguing story is that of deaf-mute Chieko and her dad in Japan, and the scene where Chieko goes to a disco on ecstacy might be one of the best pieces of film-making I have seen in years. The fascinating sets and background settings around the world are as much characters in the film as are the ones played by the actors, and the sweeping largeness yet intricate details of every scene makes this movie one of the best of the year.

Hubert Davis, Canada
For a ten-minute film with almost very little dialog, Aruba says a lot: it tells a story of a young boy whose only hope of escape from a life of violence and misery is blind hope and the dream of a far-away utopia. Carefully shot with muted tones that adequately portrays the squalor of the urban landscape, Aruba is a film of promise and desolation, all rolled into one.

Paris, Je T'aime
Paris is the city of love, and Paris, je t'aime is a collection of love stories from acclaimed directors that tell short love stories in and around the various neighbourhoods of the city. This is no tourism brochure: the stories use Paris as an active character in each of their plots, but it is a Paris full of hurt, loneliness, but also promise. Each of the sixteen short love stories has their own quirks and charms — seeing Steve Buscemi get beat up in the Coen Brothers' "Tuileries" and watching Elijah Wood satisfy his taste for blood in Vincenzo Natali's "Quartier de la Madeleine" being among the most memorable moments — but there is no bad segment in this collection. Every tale is magically created by the all-star lineup of filmmakers and meticulously assembled together by Emmanuel Benbihy.

Standouts include Chomet's "Tour Eiffel," Chadha's "Quais de Seine," Schmitz' "Place Des Fetes," and Salles' "Loin du 16eme." The stories are heart-wrenching, uplifting, and puzzling all at the same time, and I applaud Benbihy and Tristan Carne for bringing this film together. It's a movie that will make you feel good all over and remind you that you can love someone, a place, or yourself for many reasons, each one as good as the next. And for that, j'aime Paris, je t'aime.

The Saddest Boy in the World
Jamie Travis, Canada
In a jarring juxtaposition that plays with your logic, The Saddest Boy in the World features a color palette and musical score that is more reminiscent of a happy old-style physically comedy than a melancholic look at childhood depression. Timothy Higgins, our titular saddest boy, is cute and pathetic at the same time, and is wonderfully played by Benjamin B. Smith. Jamie Travis' film keeps you wondering whether to laugh or to cry at Timothy's plight, and culminates in a fantastic yet disurbing final scene. This is hands-down the best short film I have ever seen.

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