Toronto Film Festival Report #2

Wed, Sep 16, 2009

The Time That Remains

The Time That Remains (Elia Suleiman, 2009)

Some brief notes on the films I saw yesterday:

The Refuge (Francois Ozon, France)

Ozon's latest follows a young couple of means who are addicted to heroin. One night following a binge they both overdose (the boyfriend fatally) and they are discovered by his mother and brother. Once she comes out of her coma the woman learns she is pregnant. She retires to the countryside and is visited by her boyfriend's brother. While she is obviously attracted to him, we eventually learn he's more interested in her male caretaker complicating the evolving relationship. The film is quite simple, narratively, but Ozon proves once again how incredibly adept he is at presenting and juggling interesting relationship permutations: man and woman, man and man, woman and boyfriend's brother, etc, etc. Great performances throughout. We've screened a number of Ozon films in the past including Water Drops on Burning Rocks, 5 X 2, and Angel.

The Time that Remains (Elia Suleiman, UK, Italy, Belgium, France, Palestine)

The Time that Remains is a brilliant summation of Palestinian history following the formation of the Israeli state in 1948 through the lens of Suleiman's family history. The catalog essay on the film notes that Suleiman's work is a bridge between the work of Edward Said and Buster Keaton and it is an apt description – combined with the filmmaking style and humor of Jacques Tati. It would be easier to expand on this film than be concise but it is safe to say it is one of the best films of the festival and one can only hope it gets the attention it deserves upon its U.S. release. We've screened Suleiman's Chronicle of a Disappearance and Divine Intervention in the past.

Happy End (Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, France)

A better translation of the film's French title would be The Last Days of the World or The End of the World. Mathieu Amalric stars as a man who loses interest is his marriage after becoming infatuated with a striking young woman he first sees on the beach. The plot is very comparable with other Amalric films directed by Olivier Assayas or Arnaud Desplechin but the hook here is that the world is coming to an end all around the film's characters. Decades of pollution, political unrest, and nuclear proliferation have finally taken their toll on the world and the film's characters are constantly reminded through radio and TV reports, riots, etc. But the apocalypse can barely draw Amalric's attention away from his obsession. One could make some interesting comparisons between this film and Claire Denis's White Material.

Accident (Soi Cheang, Hong Kong)

Accident is fairly straight genre picture depicting a gang that stages murders that are designed to look like accidents. When one job goes wrong the gang's leader begins to question the loyalty of those around him and eventually fears for his own life. It was one of those films that serve as a schedule filler and while an entertaining diversion it doesn't add up to much more than that.

Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania)

Though most have never heard of him Porumboiu is quickly becoming one of the most championed of the world's young directors. His debut, 12:08 East of Bucharest was a surprise to all who saw it in 2006 but unfortunately it didn't receive much of a theatrical release in the U.S. (I believe it did play on IFC On-Demand for awhile). His latest, Police, Adjective has a deceptively simple premise: an undercover cop is staking out a kid who passed out a joint to some of his school mates. The cop's superiors want to bust the kid as a dealer but the cop argues that the kid would get a prison sentence for the minor infraction, thus ruining his life. Also, he argues, the surrounding European countries would never charge anyone with a similar crime and it is only a matter of time before Romania follows suit. The cop's act of rebellion against the authority in his life is a break from an otherwise relatively monotonous existence. The film is wonderfully directed and acted and, keeping with the trajectory of some other recent notable Romanian films, the casual pacing and lack of theatrics allow for the exploration of powerfully resonant themes.