Anyway, onto the movies themselves. My 8 film weekend started with The Humbling directed by Barry Levinson, co-written by Buck Henry based on Philip Roth’s novel, and starring Al Pacino in the lead role as Simon Axler – an aging actor, who falls off the stage during a performance, and decides to retire. After a stay in a mental hospital, he retires to his large house in Connecticut. It’s there he meets – or re-meets I guess – Pegeen (Greta Gerwig) – the daughter of his old friends who he hasn’t seen since she was 10, decades ago. She always had a crush on him, and that has stopped all these years later – despite the fact that she’s now a lesbian. The filmmakers wisely turn one of Roth’s least novels – which is really a misery tour that borders on the comedic – into a full blown comedy. Pacino gives the role his all – and it’s nice to see that at least one of the great actors from the 1970s is still willing to challenge himself and not just coast (like DeNiro). It’s a broad performance, but Pacino hits all the right notes – and the supporting cast, from Kyra Sedgwick to Dianne Wiest to Dan Hedaya to Charles Grodin – all hit the right notes in rather small roles. A particular highlight is Nina Arianda as Sybil, a woman he meets in the mental hospital, who thinks Simon can kill her husband because he has experience killing people in the movies. The problem with the movie is that it never really figures out who Pegeen is – despite a valiant effort on the part of Gerwig, who plays like a caricature of a typical Roth woman (or actually, perhaps a Woody Allen woman) – although since the movie segues back and forth between reality and fantasy, perhaps that’s intentional. Still, it seems like her whole purpose is to destroy Simon – or at least come along and move the plot in whatever way it needs to go, instead of being an actual character. It’s still one of the better movies Levinson has made in a while – and one of the best performances Pacino has given not for HBO in a decade.
Another movie star showed up in Time Out of Mind directed by Oren Moverman. This was Richard Gere, who plays the homeless George in what is mainly a plotless movie. What little plot there is involves Gere trying to reconnect with the daughter he abandoned (Jena Malone) and navigating the bureaucracy of the shelter system, and the Government, as he tries to get some proof of who he is (he has no ID). Mainly though, Moverman is interested in re-creating the day-to-day life of a homeless man – often shooting Gere from a distance, observing him as most of the people he passes takes no notice of him. It’s a fascinating film, with a great performance by Gere, who has never disappeared this far into a role before, nor done something that doesn’t utilize his natural charm to this degree. It’s also kind of dull to be honest – but still well worth seeing to see both Moverman and Gere take an interesting step in a new direction for their careers.
I ended up seeing three blood soaked foreign films, of varying degrees of quality. The worst was Shrew’s Nest from Spain, directed by Juanfer Andres and Esteban Roel about a pair of sisters living in an apartment building. The older one never leaves the apartment, where she makes a living making dresses, and the younger one – who is more beautiful, has just turned 18, and may want out soon. When there upstairs neighbor falls down the stairs, breaking his leg outside their apartment, the older sister takes him in – he’s grateful of first as he was planning on disappearing for a while anyway – but soon he discovers she’s basically planning on keeping him in bed forever, Misery-style. The first half of the movie is restrained, but also kind of dull – because it’s clear everyone is holding back REALLY BIG secrets that will eventually be revealed. The second half of the film is bonkers, with the revelations and corpses piling up every five minutes or so in a blood soaked finale, which requires pretty much every character to behave in completely unbelievable ways for the sake of its “shocking” finale that was telegraphed almost from the beginning. It was only 90 minutes, but felt much longer.
There was also Fires on the Plain by director Shin’ya Tsukamoto, a remake of Kon Ichikawa’s 1959 WWII classic about dehumanization. Tsukamoto’s film hits some of the same themes, but does so in a much more blood soaked way – including a massacre in the middle of the movie which is as chaotic, violent, bloody and disturbing as any scene of its kind – until it goes slightly too far. The same can be said of the movie, which is a weird mixture of art-house sensibilities – with long portions with little or no dialogue, with the main character on his own, mixed with the splatter film violence that Tsukamoto is most known for. The effect is surprisingly effective and disturbing – but of course, falls well short of Ichikawa’s classic, which was pretty much inevitable.
The best of the blood soaked triad was Alleluia directed by Fabrice du Welz based on the infamous Honeymoon Killers, who have had several movies made about them in the past. In the film, a normal woman – a mother of young woman – falls for a womanizing conman, and even after she learns his secrets, wants nothing else than to be with him. She poses as her sister as he seduces three other rich women for their money – but completely loses it every time she sleeps with them, leading to bloody murder and dismemberment – and even a surreal musical number. The film never really attempts to answer the question of why – why this normal woman fell so hard for the conman, or why the conman lets her keep screwing up his plans – but as a portrait of obsessive love and violence its damn good – particularly the insane performance by Lola Duenas. The film is at its best when it’s at its most unhinged and surreal – and Du Welz goes for broke.
I suppose the mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi could also be described as a blood soaked foreign film – there are literally geysers of blood throughout the film, and it is from New Zealand, but unlike the other three films its goes for comedy more than anything else – and the results are delightful and hilarious – it won the People’s Choice for Midnight Madness, and is a cult film in the making. The film follows four vampires who are also flatmates in New Zealand, who have to have meetings to ensure everyone is doing their fair share of the chores, and other such issues. Waititi is wonderful as Viago, a “former dandy” who is a little obsessive about cleanliness – he asks the others to put down some paper or towels before killing a victim, so as not to get blood everywhere. Clement is even better as an older vampire – once known as Vladislav the Poker. The film plays with every vampire movie cliché imaginable – from Nosferatu to Twilight – and has great fun the entire time. In a festival where almost everything else I saw was heavy, violent and disturbing, this one was a pure joy.
The best film I saw was The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to his previous documentary The Act of Killing – a film that left me stunned two years ago at TIFF, where it completely surprised me as I had no idea what to expect. In this film, Oppenheimer accompanies Abi, an optometrist, as he goes to visit the men who killed his older brother during the 1965 Indonesian “cleansing” of Communists. Oppenehimer returns, repeatedly, to Abi simply watching the footage of the killers as the recount, without a hint of remorse, what they did to his brother – and to his two aged parents – the mother who still cries for her lost son, to his father, who is sick and somewhat demented, but still sad. When he confronts his brother’s killers he encounters a series of denials, excuses and threats. They don’t want to stir up the past – at least not with the family of one of their victims, as they seem to have no problem revealing to Oppenheimer what they did, and no remorse for it either – as we saw in The Act of Killing. The children of his brother’s killers are perhaps even more interesting than the killers themselves – one makes excuses for her father – telling Abi he’s old and senile and doesn’t remember much, even though this follows his rather precise re-telling of what he did. Two sons of a man who wrote a book – complete with drawings – of what he did don’t want to hear anything about, and say they knew nothing. “Can’t we just all get along like the military dictatorship taught us?” one asks Abi. All Abi really wants is to see some sort of remorse from his brothers killers – and it’s the one thing they seemingly refuse to give. As a chilling scene in his son’s classroom makes clear, Indonesia still hasn’t come to terms to the reality of what was done – and they don’t seem to much care either. The movie doesn’t have the same hook as The Act of Killing – killers re-enacting their crimes in the style of various Hollywood films – but is even more devastating. I’m not sure if Oppenheimer made the film is response to some of the criticism the last one received, but if he did it refutes it brilliantly. This may be even better than The Act of Killing – which was the best documentary I had seen in years.
I ended my TIFF experience with Goodbye to Language 3-D by Jean-Luc Godard. Any regular readers know that I am ambivalent at best about almost everything Godard has made since Weekend way back in 1967 – and I have downright hated some of them, like his last feature Film Socialism. But Goodbye to Language is my favorite Godard film is years – its more playful and less didactic than Film Socialism, even though it is definitely related to that film. The film is more accessible than that film as well – even if I still think I only understood about half of it. But even when the film left me confused, it was brilliantly filmed in 3-D – giving us images that no other filmmaker would think of doing. Godard is experimenting with 3-D – and gives us some amazing images – most notably a moment when the screen splits, the camera revolves, and then comes together again. For the most part, I am indifferent at best to 3-D – since it became the norm for large scale movies, the only ones I think truly utilized it well are Gravity, Hugo and Avatar – the rest are merely unnecessary or distracting. While Goodbye to Language isn’t the best 3-D movie I have ever seen, it is certainly the most unique use of 3-D I have ever seen – and perhaps the thing the technology needed the most – a true innovator trying to do something completely different with it. I’m not as in love with the film as many are – it comes back to that only understanding half of it thing – but I’m glad I saw it at TIFF, as I am well aware that I may never get another chance to see it on the big screen in 3-D the way it is meant to be seen. If you have the opportunity, you should definitely seize it.
So that’s it for TIFF for another year. Hopefully next year, I.’ll be back to another week long trip. But this year, despite how short my stay at TIFF was, I had a great time, some saw great films – and isn’t that what TIFF is supposed to be all about.