Festival Watch 2006

Festival Watch 2006: Day Two

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

This day may ever be known as the day after the Borat fiasco, and though I am sympathetic to all of you who waited in line only to watch the first few minutes of the film, you have to admit that you now have one amazing story to tell.

Is it just me, or does that guy in the NBC Universal trailer thanking volunteers before each screening look really really familiar? If someone can figure out where I've seen him before, I'll buy you a drink. That being said, the volunteers this year have been doing an absolutely phenomenal job, so if you get the chance, say thank you to the next one you meet, okay?

Of course, jumping from screening to screening means that it's often hard to find time to eat, so from personal experience, pack a lunch. Of course, there are great places to find a quick lunch around the festival venues, and I have a slight suspicion that you may see a post about TIFF food sometime soon, but my advice for day two is to not neglect your stomach or you'll have some serious trouble sitting through that next movie.

And now for some movies:

Suburban Mayhem
Paul Goldman, Australia
Never before in my life have I heard the word 'fuck' used so many times in a feature film. And that's exactly what Paul Goldman's Suburban Mayhem is all about: fucking. In this film that outlines one girl's sexual and social rebellion to the point of chaos, everyone is f--king one another, whether it be physically (and there's a lot of that), mentally (there's even more of that), or emotionally (and emotional f--king is what the whole movie is about).

The film is a little unsettling, but moves at a pretty good pace so you're always engrossed on what's going on on the screen. The dialogue switches between humorous and downright-disturbing pretty well, but I'll admit that all that swearing and smoking and debauchery turned me off a little (and trust me, I'm no prude). Suburban Mayhem definitely is a fun romp to watch, but isn't quite what I'd call a magnificient film.

Never Say Goodbye
Karan Johar, India
Reviews of Bollywood films rarely ever rave about the acting and editing of the film, but that's just what I'm about to do, so it is abundantly clear that Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna is not your everyday Bollywood film. Sure, it has the big name filmi stars (Amitabh, Shah Rukh, Abhishek, Rani, Preity), and of course, it has the song and dance numbers layered with cheesy Bollywood clichés, and it definitely has lots of colorful costumes and fancy jewellery: everything my mother looks for in a good Hindi film. But Johar's recent film offers so much more.

Heavily influenced by Patrick Marber's Closer, Never Say Goodbye pushes some intimate buttons when it comes to infidelity and friendship, but situates it so well in a South Asian context (though the film is set in New York) that Johar really makes it his own. And while Rani Mukherjee puts in her best performance since Saathiya, Shah Rukh Khan is genial in portraying a character you really should hate but in the end can't help but loving. Johar's film is fast-paced and superbly composed, and is much cleaner and crisper than what people expect from Bollywood. This is definitely the best-made film to come out of India since Lagaan.

Wavelengths 2
I may be the only person in Toronto that truly gets excited about the Wavelengths programme, simply because it challenges me to re-evaluate the nature and role of film in art and in culture. With Wavelengths 2, filmmakers — through their treatment of the film and their manipulation of images — are pushing the boundaries of film in general: Christina Battle's hsyteria uses childhood drawings to refer to the political climate, while Girardet and Muller's tweaking and warping of iconic images makes Kristall jarring and disquieting.

While most people will probably say that Abbas Kiarostami has lost his focus with Roads of Kiarostami, I argue that his lack of focus is one of the most endearing parts of his film. Essentially, Kiarostami's film is a collection of photos of roads, and these empty roads pass through empty places filled with empty life. All this is eventually a comment on nuclear proliferation, but this social comment is actually what makes the film less attractive. I enjoyed watching the emptiness of Kiarostami's roads, even if most people would find them dull.

Pedro Almodovar, Spain
Pedro Almodovar's Volver has been pegged as a huge draw at this year's festival, and with good reason. Almodovar's newest film is quirky and a little odd, but masterfully crafted, with phenomenal performances by Penelope Cruz (yes, she's actualy a decent actress when not speaking in English), Lola Duenas and Blanca Portillo. I'll admit that I was a little taken aback by the content of Volver, especially after watching Bad Education and Hable con ella, but that didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying a film about relationships and secrets and trust.

Volver is by no means perfect: there are plot lines that are just barely relevant, and at times the various narrative threads seem to fray and have trouble sticking together, but as a whole, Almodovar has directed a wondrous and enjoyable film. And for a movie that is so dominated by the female characters, Almodovar hasn't forgotten that there may be some men in the audience forced into the theatre by their wives and girlfriends: there is an overabundance of Penelope Cruz cleavage shots to keep even the most uninterested film-goers occupied.

Ten Canoes
Rolf de Heer, Australia
Sure, the print we saw of Ten Canoes didn't have subtitles, much to the chagrin of director Rolf de Heer, but that didn't detract from the fact that this Australian Aboriginal tale is magical and wonderful journey into the swamps of Arnhem Land. Featuring an all-Aboriginal cast and inspired by a Peter Thompson photo of the old goose-egg hunt, Ten Canoes is essentially a story within a story, and both those stories are engaging and endearing.

While at times the film seems to drag, these moments are barely noticeable, as the humor of the dialog (yes, I could understand some of it) and the wonderful narration by David Gulpilil makes you forget about all the more languid parts of the movie. The Thompson photo-inspired tableaus are an excellent way to showcase the beauty of the landscape of the Northern Territories, and in general, de Heer's Ten Canoes is the kind of film that is so comforting (despite occasional bouts of violence) that it makes you feel good about going to bed later that night.

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