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Toronto Film Festival: Day 4

Sun, Sep 16, 2007

Here are the films I saw today, my last full day at the festival. I can return to leisurely cups of coffee in the morning, not having virtually every conversation interrupted by a call someone “has to take,” and a reasonable amount of sleep each night.

The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat, France)
I REALLY debated about getting up for this 9am screening or treating myself to another hour or two of sleep. After directing two films that I enjoyed quite a bit (and that we screened at the Wexner Center), Fat Girl and Sex is Comedy, Breillat followed with a film that I abhorred, Anatomy of Hell, a film that included a scene where lead actress Amira Casar had to endure the handle of a shovel in her bum. I was skeptical about her latest. But, duty called and I made it to The Last Mistress, adapted from the novel by Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly. The film follows the impending marriage between a young aristocratic woman and a young libertine who can't give up his longtime lover (Asia Argento!). The film was remarkably restrained considering Anatomy of Hell (and an earlier film Romance), or as restrained as a film can be with a scene showing Argento licking the blood off of her future's lover's chest. The great Michael Lonsdale has a nice supporting role.

Redacted (Brian De Palma, United States)
The film is De Palma's account of the war in Iraq and is presented in the form of a pseudo-doc, interweaving the home movies of a soldier, a polished doc on the war by a French film team, internet video, and the military's own surveillance video. The film is centered on the rape and murder of a 15-year-old Iraqi girl and her family by U.S. soldiers (based on a true 2006 event). There is no disputing that De Palma has created a powerful film but I wish he would have focused more energy on creating great cinema as opposed to an argument (the acting is at times amateurish because it is trying to appear amateurish). The film is very timely but I don't know that it will hold up 25 years from now. But perhaps we don't have that luxury at the moment. Films like this need to be made (and seen) now.

Gone with the Woman (Petter Naess, Norway)
Gone with the Woman is one of those films you occasionally find yourself seeing when you have just enough time to see it and there isn't anything else you're interested in seeing. Sometimes you're kicking yourself ten minutes into the film (or heading for the door) and sometimes you're pleasantly surprised. The film is a likable enough comedy about a directionless young man who is sick of his girlfriend. But the more she clings to him and the more time she spends at his apartment the more he starts to grow attached to her (at which point she takes a job teaching on an island off the coast of Norway). Again, not particularly memorable but certainly enjoyable.

Persepolis (Vincent Parannoud & Marjane Satrapi, France)
Persepolis is the animated adaptation of Satrapi's acclaimed graphic novels about her childhood in Iran before and after the revolution and her years spent abroad after her parents sent her away to escape the repressive climate at home. Many wondered how well the books would translate to the screen. They do so beautifully and the film stands on its on as a great work that preserves the look of the books while enhancing it with a style of animation that often reminds me of the limited animation of UPA. The film is at times hilarious and at others terrifying. Some of France's leading stars provide the voices (Catherine Deneuve as Marjane's mother, Chiara Mastroianni as Marjane, and Danielle Darrieux as the grandmother) but unfortunately it looks like the film will be dubbed into English for the U.S. release.

Encarnacion (Anahi Berneri, Argentina)
One of the pleasant surprises of the festival. Argentina is producing some of the most interesting films in the world (we presented an eight-film series of new Argentine cinema in January) and Encarnacion is another great example. The film is about a forty-something actress who is at the point in her life when her looks aren't getting her the jobs or glamorous lifestyle she could rely on as a young sex kitten. The depiction of this change in her life is wonderfully subtle. She attends the premiere of a friend's film but few recognize her and her friend blows her off for his younger crewmates saying he might drop by later. She has time to work on a website devoted to her career which features pinups of her as a young actress. She attends her niece's birthday out in the sticks and but is not welcome by the girl's parents who have issues with her lifestyle. Though she is older, she still dresses and acts like a young woman (plunging necklines, bikinis, short skirts) and still manages to bed the young stud manager of the hotel where she is staying. It is a great role for an actress and Silvia Perez makes the most of it.

My favorite films of the festival in alphabetical order: Don't Touch the Axe, Encarnacion, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, Joy Division, My Winnipeg, Persepolis, and You, the Living. I regret not being able to see many films including Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park, and Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon to name just a few. – Dave Filipi

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