Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TIFF Day 6: Les Herbes Folles, Enter the Void, The Loved Ones, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans and Vengeance

Another day at TIFF, another 5 films under my belt, bringing my total up to 15, or roughly half way (as I will end up seeing 29 if all things go as planned). While none of today’s films were great like yesterday’s A Serious Man or The Road, all five were at least interesting. Even the film I did not much like, I am glad I saw.

I opened the day with the new film by master filmmaker Alain Resnais, who at 87 is still turning out wonderful work. His latest is Les Herbes Folles (***), which translates into Wild Grass. The movie is about a very odd couple who meet when one of them is mugged and loses their wallet, and the other finds the wallet and tries to return it. Such sets into a motion a series of strange meetings, and arguments, the end result being a wonderful ode to cinema itself. Resnais use of color in this film is masterful, and he draws wonderful performances from his actors. The very weird Sabine Azema plays the woman who got mugged, a single dentist who flies small planes in her spare time. The man is Andre Dussollier, an older, happy house husband to a younger woman (Anne Consigny). Dussolier is drawn to Azema based on the photo of her in her wallet. Even after the wallet is returned, he is obsessed with her, and writes long winded notes that drone on for pages at a time, until she finally goes to the police to get him to stop (the police here is represented by the wonderful Mathieu Almaric who becomes increasingly annoyed every time one of these two people show up at the station. I would have like Les Herbes Folloes even more than I did had the complete irrationally of the characters had not started to gnaw on me a little in the last half hour - which is also where I think I started to get confused as to what exactly was going on. But no matter, Les Herbes Folles is a fitting entry in Resnais already full body of work.

The next film is one that I think just about 99% of people who see it are going to despise - and for good reason. Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void (** 1/2) is a truly strange film that clocks in at more than two and half hours, which is much longer than anyone should be expected to endure a film like this. The movie is about Oscar, an American drug dealer living in Tokyo, who has just been reunited with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta, who with this and Jim Jarmusch’s The Limited of Control on her resume seems to be quickly being the auteur’s choice for any art film that requires a woman to constantly show her tits). The first 15 minutes or show takes place entirely in Oscar’s head, registering his blinks and head movements, as the audience experiences everything he does - including drug hallucinations and, ultimately, his own death at the hands of the police. Next, we flash back on Oscar’s life, and the camera hovers just behind Oscar’s shoulder for the entire time (more than an hour), as the movie recounts what led he and Linda to the life they currently lead. For personal reasons, I could have done with Noe only showing the horrific car crash that killed their parents once, instead of at least three times like he does. Finally, the movie follows what happens to Linda after Oscar’s death, as Oscar floats above her as an omnipresent observer, whipping through the skies of Tokyo. If you were stoned, than Noe’s visual approach, including lots of visual head trips, particularly in the last sequence as Oscar seems to use light sources as a portal, and the film is a variable mind fuck. It’s hard to take the film all that seriously, when Noe insists on showing us an abortion being performed, and then uses the dead fetus as another one of his portals (it’s disgusting by the way, someone should contact those nutty pro-life groups and tell them they have another film to recommend - better yet, maybe not). And the orgy finale, where all the characters we have come into contact with are all at one hotel fucking each other’s brains out in extremely realistic detail drags on WAY too long, and features what I think is probably the first POV shot in history from inside a vagina during sex - complete with the money shot. Yet I cannot say that I am unhappy I saw the film. Noe is taking huge chances here, and his film weaved a hypnotic spell over me. With an hour to go, I had to pee really badly, but I just held onto until the end, not wanting the spell to be broken. So while I cannot say I actually enjoyed the film, and cannot think of a single person I would actually recommend this film to, I am glad that I saw it. It this what festivals are for - to play films that provoke a response and debate?

After the complex worlds of Resnais and Noe, I was glad that my third film was just a straight ahead, balls to the wall horror film. Undoubtedly the best of the three Midnight Madness selections I saw this year, Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones (*** 1/2) is a new classic in the horror genre. An Australian teen, reeling for the death of his father in a car accident (seriously, what the hell is up with parents dying in car accidents in movies today?), seems to have finally turned a corner in his life on the day of his prom. His beautiful girlfriend has stuck by him, and now he wants to give her the night she deserves. Instead, he is kidnapped by a delusional classmate, and forced to be her “prom date” at the prom thrown in her house, with the only other guests are her demented father, and a woman they refer to as Bright Eyes, who has a giant hole in her forehead. The film is unrelenting harsh, grim and violent, but also freakishly intense. Byrne is not interested in creating torture porn like Eli Roth, but rather in making intelligent, scary horror, and in that he succeeds brilliantly with his debut feature. All the performances are great, but none more so than by Robin McLeavy as the delusional prom date, who is one of the scariest female villains in horror movie history. This is one that will develop a following - mark my words.

It is rare that you get to witness the birth of a cult classic, but judging on my own, and the audience’s, reaction to Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans (*** 1/2) that is what happened tonight. The film shares almost nothing in common with the original Bad Lieutenant, except that it has a drug addicted cop who has lost his moral compass at its core. Nicolas Cage gives one of his most brilliantly unhinged performances as Terence, a cop who in the aftermath of Katrina rescued a prisoner, and in the process ruined his back. Now, six months later, he has been promoted, and is addicted to vicodin and cocaine, that he says he takes for the pain. But really, he is not picky - he’ll take just about anything he can gets his hands on. When he is assigned the case of quintuple homicide of an African immigrant family, it just adds to Terence’s load. He is already trying to balance his addiction with protecting his hooker girlfriend (Eva Mendes), staying ahead of his bookie (Brad Dourif), dealing with his alcoholic father, and trying to maintain a squad room where, if they’re all like Val Kilmer, he may actually be the most moral one. The film keeps adding one thing after another to Terence’s plate - not unlike A Serious Man come to think of it, but in this case if Terence does anything moral, it’s purely by accident. As the movie progresses, Cage becomes more unhinged, and takes to shooting out some rather brilliant non-sequitors like “What are those fucking iguanas doing on my coffee table” and “I’m trying to be courteous, but it’s getting in the way of my effectiveness, so I may have to change tracts”. While the original Bad Lieutenant was a very dark, very disturbing drama, this is actually a pitch black comedy that encourages us to laugh along with Terence, and actually identify with him. Brilliantly directed by Herzog, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is certainly not for everyone, but I could not helped but love it.

Lastly, we had Johnnie’s To’s Vengeance (***1/2). To is pretty much the last man standing in Hong Kong action filmmaking, and he fills the void left when most of his compatriots went to America brilliantly. While Vengeance is not To’s best film (that would be either Election of Election II, take your pick), it certainly is one of his most entertaining. French superstar Johnny Hallyday plays an aging Frenchman who comes to China when his son-in-law and grandchildren are murdered, and his daughter ends up on the brink of death in a hospital room, begging her father to avenge her. Hallyday doesn’t know the lay of the land though, so soon he has hooked up with three hit man (led by the brilliant Anthony Wong) to track down his families killers and help him dispose of them. Adding to the problems however is that Hallyday’s memory is going, so he cannot always remember what the hell is going on. This movies has echoes of film noir, but is really just a near perfect action film. The film’s gun battles are extremely well choreographed, and put the ones in American movies to shame. I particularly liked one set in the dump, where huge cubes of garbage as used as personal shields. To is an action movie master, and Vengeance is a wonderful example of what he does best.
So that’s all for day 6. I still have three more days to go. Tomorrow I have The Front Line, an Italian drama about left wing activists, Youth in Revolt, which features Michael Cera doing his typical stammering thing, Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime, his quasi-sequel to happiness, Samantha Morton’s directorial debut, The Unloved, and the new film by French master Francois Ozon, Le Refuge. See you then!

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