So, I'm 7 films in now and this is starting off as very different kind of festival year for me.
Fewer stars, less glitz, more challenging films.
And I'm too tired to really do justice to the films I've seen so far, but here's a quick summary.
Plus Tard, Tu Comprendras (French with English subtitles.)
French film introduced by the Festival director as one of the best films of the year, that fell slightly flat for me. Compelling topic -- 43 year old man in 1987 finds out that his mother is Jewish, right before she dies, and struggles with learning one side of his family all died in the holocaust and that his mother hid this information from him. Like I said. Powerful topic. And Jeanne Moreau plays the mother, but I didn't ever feel very invested in the story. I think part of it was the film maker's decision to have the protagonist talk to himself -- basically listing all the facts we needed to know, fairly often. Storytelling "telling" of the most blatant kind -- not that I have a better solution for the film maker... Just saying I found the choice kind of weak.
Waltz With Bashir (Hebrew with English subtitles.)
Arguably the best film I've seen so far. But as the director said while introducing it: "I wish I could say "enjoy", but it's a difficult film." It's an animated documentary about events that happened in the war between Israel and Lebanon in the early 1980's. Interestingly, it's also about genocide and memories of war and how we cope with them (like the first film) but this one did a much better job of it in my opinion. In a nutshell, the director was a 19-year-old soldier in the Israeli army at the time and realizes 20 years later he has no memory of the events and tries to piece it together to regain his memories by talking to his friends and journalists etc. Highly recommend this film, as long as you're prepared for something dark and thought provoking.
JCVD (French with English subtitles.)
I don't usually go for the "midnight madness" selections both because it's hard to do midnight movies and get up the next day, and because they're usually horror and/or very violent action films, which just aren't my thing. But I couldn't resist this one. JCVD stands for Jean-Claude Van Damme and yes, he's the star -- and playing himself. And the film was quite fun and an interesting look at celebrity in our society -- or I guess in this case, Belgian society. And the Belgian society thing really just heightens the issue of celebrity because he's so singularly important to the Belgians in terms of being the only serious movie star to come from there. If this one gets released, check it out. I was amused and I expect if I'd ever seen even one Jean-Claude Van Damme movie before, it would've been even funnier. (Although I really did laugh when he loses a part to Steven Segal because Steven agreed to cut off his ponytail.)
RockNRolla (English, perhaps could've used a few subtitles, but not as badly as some of Ritchie's previous films needed them.)
Drum roll.... Guy Ritchie is back. (And boy is he good looking in person. What a charming cutie Mr. Madonna is.) I really enjoyed this film. By far the most enjoyable film I've seen so far this year. Very funny in parts and I think a great lesson in sub plots, too. (But don't really have the brain power to do a proper critique of it now.) Filled with great characters each with his/her own story and all those stories interconnect and impact each other so that the stakes escalate for just about everyone and at various points in the film the audience knows much more than the characters which is always fun. Very fast paced, great sound track, Gerard Butler. Need I say more? Oh, and film's narrator was played by another good-looking British actor named Mark Strong who, especially in profile, is the spitting image of Andy Garcia. (Where are all these great looking British actors coming from lately???)
Yes Madam, Sir (English with some highly unnecessary subtitles at times, as was pointed out by an Indian Canadian during the Q&A, who was offended by the subtitles.)
Documentary about Kirin Bedi an Indian woman who was the first female officer in the Delhi police force and thus far (I think she's just in her 50's) has lead a very impressive and inspirational life. It was a pretty straightforward documentary in terms of structure, etc. but it really held my interest, and she's certainly someone to be admired. Both the film maker (a young Australian woman) and the film's subject, Kirin herself, were at the screening, so it was a good Q&A at the end.
Tony Manero (Spanish with English subtitles.)
This Chilean film wasn't one of my picks and frankly I think I could've lived without seeing it. In fact, if not for the Q&A I think I would be posting that I hated it. But as the director answered audience questions, I started to understand and appreciate the film a bit more. But it is not a film for everyone (or most people for that matter.) The "hero" of the film (an anti-hero if I've ever seen one) is obsessed with the Saturday Night Fever character Tony Manero and goes to some pretty violent and hideous extremes in order to feed this obsession. And his childish and brutal reactions to jeaously were disturbing -- but the most disturbing for me display of jealously was something his girlfriend does... I literally raised my hand to my mouth when I realized.
After the film, my first thought was "why the hell make a film about this horrible man?" but what I figured out during the Q&A was that the protagonist's character and actions were a metaphor for the Pinochet regime in Chile at the time (1970's) and also a demonstration of how that regime was obsessed with American capitalist ideals to the point where the regime used extreme cruelty and horrible crimes were committed to ensure those who got in the way of those ideals were eliminated. The more I think of this film, the more powerful and kind of genius it was, but, I repeat, on the very off chance it comes to a theatre near you, proceed with extreme caution. There is not one character to like in this film and there's some pretty extreme and unexpected violence.
To wrap up my day, I saw yet another film I didn't pick, but rather picked me, because it still had tickets available when I was filling all the gaps left by my horrible luck in the lottery, and I noticed Rufus Sewell was the star (and I love him). Vinyan was another difficult film. (Like I said... so far difficult films are the theme of the festival for me.) Perhaps if I'd been a bit more prepared for a horror type film, it would have been easier... It's more psychological horror than slasher, although there are a few bloody bits, too. For both this film and Tony Manero the audience sat in stunned silence at the end... no applause. Very surreal to sit in a full theatre of people who sit silently through credits. No talking. No leaving. Just silence.
This film is about a couple who lose their very young son while on vacation in Thailand when the Tsunami hits and then 6 months later go to Burma trying to find him when the mother thinks she sees a glimpse of him in a DVD shown at a charity fundraising event. The film turns into something that makes the kids in Lord of the Flies look sweet. Looking at this photo from the film used in the TIFF programme... I have to wonder: Why did I pick this film after seeing this image? And the final image of a huge group of little boys rubbing mud on Emanuelle Beart's bare body... well, disturbing doesn't quite cover it. (But I guess compared to the image of my beloved Rufus earlier being disemboweled by this same little gang was worse.)
So... to sum up my first 2 days... Probably the only film I've seen that's likely to get a wide theatrical release is RockNRolla and I give it my thumbs up. In fact, I might see it again when it opens at the end of October.
Tomorrow I have an odd list of films, too. In fact, I've already decided to skip my morning screening. (Do I really need to get up for a 9:00 am screening of a black and white Bulgarian film? Even if it's had a lot of buzz? I don't think so. Especially since it's already 1:30 am and the screening's at the theatre farthest from my house.
(I do have some films I'm really excited about later in the week, though... They aren't all so depressing. I promise. At least I hope not...)