The best of the fest
Can't decide what to see? Here's our critical
guide to the films worth getting in line for
Rick Groen, Liam Lacey, Ray Conlogue, Matthew Hays, Don Irvine, Stephanie Nolen and Mark Peranson
Wednesday, September 6, 2000
The following reviews of films playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, rated on a system of 0 to 4 stars, are by Rick Groen, Liam Lacey, Ray Conlogue, Matthew Hays, Don Irvine, Stephanie Nolen and Mark Peranson.
KILL FOR A TICKET
Dir: Ang Lee (Taiwan)
After his success with such sensitive social portraits as Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm, Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee went home to the source of his childhood entertainment to make this unabashedly fun and spectacular martial-arts entertainment that was the delight of this year's Cannes festival. Based on a prewar pulp novel, it manages to be far more character-driven than most martial-arts films, while setting new standards for spectacle and stunt work. Set in 19th-century China, the movie tells the story of a legendary fighter, Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), who gives a rare sword to his old friend, Yu Hus Lien (Michelle Yeoh, of Tomorrow Never Dies) to take to the governor for safe keeping. On the night the sword arrives at the old man's house, it is stolen by the governor's teenaged daughter, disguised as a cat burglar. That theft provides the opportunity for the first spectacular chase scene, with both the burglar and Yu skipping and flying up walls and across rooftops. That's just the first of a series of jaw-dropping action sequences, culminating in a gorgeous balletic battle in the treetops of a bamboo forest. -- L.L.
(Sun., Sept. 10, 6:30 p.m., RTH; Mon., Sept. 11, 9:30 a.m., Uptown 1.)
Dir: Shinji Aoyama (Japan)
Eureka won both the critics' and ecumenical prize at Cannes this year, two prizes previously won by Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, which covers similar emotional territory. Running more than 3½ hours, mostly in black and white with little dialogue, Eureka certainly offers a challenge, but it's a challenge well worth taking, as one of the few films this year from anywhere that has a sense of greatness about it. The movie begins when its most sensational event is already underway: A man has taken a busload of commuters hostage, eventually killing everyone except a brother and sister, Naoki and Kozue (Masaru and Aoi Miyazaki), and the bus driver (Koji Yakusho of Shall We Dance?), before he is shot by police. Two years later, the driver, Makoto, is estranged from his wife and ends up moving in with the children from the bus, who have been orphaned and refuse to talk. Then a new round of atrocities begin: The bodies of women, raped and murdered, start turning up and Makoto is a suspect. As the truth is discovered, the movie edges toward a hopeful resolution. Using landscape to paint the characters' emotional states (in a manner reminiscent of both Antonioni and John Ford), Eureka etches itself gradually on the imagination. -- L.L.
(Fri., Sept. 15, 6 p.m., Varsity 1; Sat., Sept. 16, 12:45 p.m. Varsity 1.)
Requiem for a Dream
Dir: Darren Aronofsky (USA)
Requiem is a furiously brilliant and almost unwatchably violent film. Darren Aronofsky, a young director with an uncanny knack for fast cutting and montage, portrays a United States in which drugs have exploded from the underclass like maggots from a rotting corpse. They touch not only foolish Harry and Marion, who think they can get a start in life by dealing cocaine, but Harry's hapless mother Sara (an Oscar-class performance by Ellen Burstyn), sitting alone in her Brighton Beach apartment. Yearning to lose weight before appearing on a TV game show, Sara consults a doctor who airily prescribes an all-amphetamine diet. Harry tries to warn her, but with a suppurating needle sore on his forearm he's not in a position to moralize. Hapless Sara ends up taking so many uppers that the game-show host walks off the TV screen and strolls digitally around her apartment, laughing at its tawdry untrendiness. Is this film the beginning of the inevitable backlash against drugs? Aronofsky is young and hip, but also seized by an antidrug rage that no Baptist pulpit thumper could even begin to imagine. -- R.C.
(Wed., Sept. 13, 9 p.m., Varsity 8; Fri., Sept. 15, 10 a.m., Uptown 3.)
MISS AT YOUR PERIL
Dir: Liv Ullmann (Sweden)
Lucidly directed by Liv Ullmann from a powerful script by Ingmar Bergman, this story unfolds as the memory of an old theatre director talking to his muse, an actress named Marianne (Lena Endre) whom he knew in his youth. The story turns out to be the tale of an affair that begins, innocuously enough, between Marianne and a theatre director, David (Krister Henriksson), who is a family friend. Marianne is initially titillated by the attention, while her husband is touring the world as a conductor. But she becomes frightened as David becomes more intense and possessive. It's her husband's discovery of the affair that opens the chasm beneath her -- a nasty custody battle, the angry jealousy of both men and the fear for her child. Ullmann has been knocked for serving more as a Bergman functionary than a director in her own right, but she has an exceptional gift for eliciting performances from actors that have not a hint of artifice about them. Here, in an exceptional cast, Endre's performance is hair-raising, as honest and powerful as anything that's been seen on screen in recent years. -- L.L.
(Fri., Sept. 8, 8:45 p.m., Uptown 1; Sat., Sept. 10, 12 p.m., Uptown 1.)
In the Mood for Love
Dir: Wong Kar-wai
Hong Kong's cinema dandy has made a visually exquisite chamber piece, filled with romantic heartache, great early sixties clothes and a beautifully suffering couple in Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, in a movie that could be a homage to soap master Douglas Sirk. Li-chun (Cheung), a secretary for an export firm, and Chau (Leung), an editor of a local newspaper, move into adjacent rooms in a Hong Kong apartment building in 1962. They discover their spouses are having an affair, and gradually, in discussing and analyzing the betrayal, find themselves drawn inexorably together. Leung (who won the Cannes best-acting award for his work here) is sombre and intensely handsome; Cheung, poured into an amazing variety of form-fitting floral shifts, is electrically sexy. In contrast to Wong's busy camera work in Fallen Angels and Chungking Express, cinematographer Christopher Doyle is highly disciplined, using careful framing, mirrors, doorways and well-placed lighting. The movie is set-designed to the teeth, with rich, muted red-and-yellow interiors. Nat King Cole sings in Spanish and cello music sobs on the soundtrack and the whole package contributes to an atmosphere of claustrophobic desire. -- L.L.
(Tues., Sept. 12, 9:30 p.m. RTH; Wed., Sept. 13, 1:30 p.m., Varsity 8.)
Dir: Kim Kiduk (Korea)
The setting is a small lake where weekend vacationers occupy small, spartan houseboats and the caretaker, Heejin, goes from boat to boat selling bait and occasionally, herself. Almost fishlike in her silence and in many other ways, she becomes obsessed with one of her customers and soon becomes his murderous protector as well. This striking, beautifully shot film artfully combines metaphors of sexual obsession and fishing; as if someone had mixed together bits of In the Realm of the Senses with The Compleat Angler. (At least, you hope they're metaphors: Be prepared to see fishhooks do things you haven't seen them do before.) -- D.I.
(Mon., Sept. 11. 4 p.m., Uptown 3; Fri., Sept. 15, 10 p.m., Uptown 3.)
Dir: Denis Villeneuve (Canada)
With this follow up to his auspicious debut, August 32nd On Earth, Quebec's Villeneuve continues to explore his duel fixations with fate and mortality. After a young woman (Marie-Josée Croze in an astonishing performance) accidentally kills a fisherman in a hit-and-run accident, she becomes romantically involved with his son (Nicolas Verrault). She's left with a dilemma of explaining herself to Verrault and the two must reconcile her reckless act with their love. Villeneuve manages to combine an intense realism with the surreal (the film is narrated by a fish), creating an emotional portrait that is staggering. -- M.H.
(Fri., Sept. 8, 7 p.m. Elgin; Sat., Sept. 9, 9.30 a.m. Cumberland 2.)
Dir: Christopher Nolan (USA)
Christopher Nolan's followup to Following is a super high-concept genre piece that boldly reinvigorates the detective story. Guy Pearce plays Leonard, a man with no short-term memory caused by the traumatic murder of his wife. To remember the details of the case, he carries with a stack of labelled Polaroids, and has tattooed the relevant clues on his corpus. If that wasn't enough, Nolan tells the story forwards and backwards at the same time, constantly shifting our naive understandings of the way detective stories can be assembled. It's doubtful there's any groundbreaking philosophies at the core of Memento, but Nolan's style is certainly spectacular, and the film is never less than completely intriguing. -- M.P.
(Sat., Sept. 9, 6 p.m. Uptown 2; Mon., Sept. 11, 9 a.m., Uptown 2.)
State and Main
Dir: David Mamet (USA)
What makes State and Main so delicious is not just that it's a movie about moviemaking, and thus perfect festival fare. Instead, the real appeal here is David Mamet's teeming brain -- this is a romance-comedy as only he could conceive it. A film crew invades a sleepy Vermont town in pursuit of their sullen craft, with all the expected archetypes present and accounted for -- the obsessed director (William H. Macy), the libidinous actor (Alex Baldwin), the narcissistic diva (Sarah Jessica Parker), the foul-mouthed producer (David Paymer) and the sensitive writer (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). As Mamet manoeuvres these icons through an increasingly intricate plot, the result is a rare blend of the farcical and the subtle, bald humour with a thoughtful twist. At a certain point, the writer is trapped in a seemingly unsolvable dilemma that doubles as a dark cinematic metaphor: He must choose between his career and his conscience, between making movies and telling the truth. This being a comedy, he eventually escapes to have his cake and eat it too. Ultimately, so does Mamet -- State and Main is a buoyant satire that eviscerates the biz even while celebrating it. -- R.G.
(Fri., Sept. 8, 9:30 p.m., Elgin; Sun., Sept. 10, 9:30 a.m., Cumberland 2.)
Dir: Edward Yang (Taiwan/Japan)
If there were a spirit-of-the-Zeitgeist award, Edward Yang's gently ironic, novelistic film of modern Taiwan should be the winner. Filmed in a series of long shots, with fixed frames, the director holds his characters with an intelligent, ironic sympathy. The story revolves around the difficulties of a middle-aged businessman, N. J. (Ninzhen Wu), who is undergoing a mid-life crisis that coincides with the collapse of the Asian high-tech economy. After his wife leaves him for a religious retreat, N. J. runs into an old flame who is now married to an American businessman. His teenaged daughter begins seeing a friend's boyfriend and his nine-year-old son begins a new hobby, photographing mosquitoes and the backs of people's heads (so they can see what they look like from behind). N.J., trying to save his company's business, heads off to Japan, where he faces a tough moral dilemma. -- L.L.
(Wed., Sept. 13, 12:30 p.m., Uptown 3; Sat., Sept. 16, 8:30 p.m., Cumberland 3.)
MONEY WELL SPENT
Dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
The sensation of Cannes's Critics Week was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's bloody, brutal Mexican version of Pulp Fiction for adults. Three interconnected, tonally specific sections each involve family, dogs and the people who love them. To varying degrees, each tale is an urban horror story: The first contains some of the most gut-wrenching dogfight scenes ever committed to celluloid; part two, which has a crippled model trying to free her trapped dog from the floorboards of her apartment, plays like a Stephen King short story; part three sees a dog-loving hobo contracted as an assassin. While it often meanders, Amores perros is nevertheless an accomplished first film, very well acted, and, unlike its American progenitor, packing many well-earned emotional wallops. -- M.P.
(Sat., Sept. 9, 6 p.m., Varsity 8; Sun., Sept. 10, 12:45 p.m., Uptown 3.)
Dir: Samira Makhmalbaf
Samira Makhmalbaf, daughter of Iranian master Mohsen Makhmalbaf (who co-wrote, edited and produced this film), became the youngest director in the history of the Cannes Film Festival with The Apple, a film she made at 17. This sophomore effort (she's now all of 20) is more complex, though not as immediately appealling, and explores a similar theme: the choice between familiar ignorance and fearful education. The story follows a group of teachers wandering through the desert, carrying their blackboards on their backs, looking for work from local Kurdish nomads. The movie is both allegory and subtle political statement: The blackboards of the title become all-purpose symbols of culture and technology, serving at different times as the wall of a house, protection from enemy strafing, a dowry for marriage, a wall of privacy and a stretcher for a sick old man. -- L.L.
(Fri., Sept. 8, 12 p.m., Varsity 8; Sat., Sept. 16, 6:30 p.m., Varsity 2 and 3.)
Bye Bye Africa
Dir: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Chad/France)
Bye Bye Africa is a docudrama about the roadblocks, cultural and otherwise, to making a feature film in a Muslim African nation recently torn by civil war. A film director -- played by the film's actual director, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, as himself -- is dismayed on returning to Chad to discover that an actress who played an AIDS victim in an earlier documentary is now shunned by the community: Most Chadians can't tell the difference between fiction and reality where cinema is concerned. Bye Bye Africa elegantly reflects this confusion by mixing documentary and fictional elements in a seamless tissue: Is the devout Muslim storekeeper who attacks Haroun for "stealing his image" with the camera an actor? Or a storekeeper attacking Haroun? Is the street boy so infatuated with film that he's made a camera from tin cans a fictional invention? Certainly the dusty streets and ruined cinemas are the real thing, as is the dilemma posed by poet Aimé Césaire, quoted by Haroun: In today's world, technologically powerful nations will dictate what culture is. And the weak ones will be overwhelmed. -- R.C.
(Thurs., Sept. 14, 9 p.m., ROM; Sat., Sept. 16, 12:30 p.m., ROM.)
Dir: Im Kwontaek (South Korea)
Sixty-seven-year-old Korean director Im has made an astonishing 97 films in his career, leading up to this, his most ambitious to date. Chunhyang, an operatic tale that is the Korean equivalent to Romeo and Juliet, tells the story of a young faithful bride from the 18th century who prefers to sacrifice her life rather than surrender to the tyranny of an evil governor who wants her as his courtesan. Beautifully detailed, with a cast of 15,000 extras in period costume, it's an eye feast and a complete immersion into a long-lost Korea. Throughout, the tale is narrated by an on-stage singer who performs in front of a contemporary Korean audience in a traditional hollering style (think of a cross between Homer and Muddy Waters), as he recounts a long, metaphor-rich tale of the Korean national heroine. -- L.L.
(Fri., Sept 15, 6:30 p.m., Uptown 1; Sat., Sept. 16, 9:30 a.m., ROM.)
Comédie de l'innocence
Dir: Raoul Ruiz (France)
What might have happened if a French filmmaker had been the one to explore the kind of emotional ground covered by The Sixth Sense. On his ninth birthday, young Camille abruptly claims that he is the child of another mother. His mother, partly through spinelessness, partly from simply being a French bourgeois, goes along with the game, at least until it leads to another mother who lost her own child a couple of years before. There are times when director Ruiz seems to lose control of his cinematic tools, but for the most part, Comédie is understated, unsettling and thankfully unsentimental about the potential destructive power of children. -- D.I.
(Sun., Sept. 10, 5:15 p.m., Cumberland 2; Sat., Sept. 16, 7 p.m., Elgin.)
Les destinées sentimentales
Dir: Olivier Assayas (France)
Olivier Assayas, with such films as Irma Vep, Cold Water and Late September, Early October, is a major international director, though Les destinées sentimentales does not showcase him at his most trenchant or dangerous. Based on Jacques Chardon's epic historical novel, the film is an elegant, cinema-of-tradition exercise -- beautifully appointed, carefully observed, with lots of historical sweep and social portraiture. Divided into three sections, from 1900 through the mid-1930s, the film follows the fortunes of a powerful Protestant family whose fine-china factory becomes their touchstone of value in the tumultuous changes of the century. Charles Berling and Emmanuelle Béart star as the husband and wife who lose and rediscover their love for each other over the decades. Their performances, and the film, lose momentum in the final section, where we become a little too conscious of the metaphor of nice pottery and the importance of art. Moreover, the powder on the actors' hair never does manage to make them look wise and old, just powdery. -- L.L.
(Wed., Sept. 13, 9:30 p.m., Uptown 1; Fri., Sept. 15, 2:15 p.m., Uptown 2.)
Dr. T. and the Women
Dir: Robert Altman (USA)
The opening shot is vintage Robert Altman -- a long, continuous take in a gynecologist's waiting room, with the dialogue overlapping and the camera circling and the women (patients, nurses, receptionists) milling about like queen bees in a crowded hive. Using the always-symbolic city of Dallas as his setting, Altman is returning to the same themes -- the rusted-out American myths -- that animated his classic early work. But his touch is much lighter now -- not defter, just lighter, like crossing Nashville with Cookie's Fortune. Although several of the film's inchoate ideas remain buried, the ensemble cast rises nicely to the challenge, including Richard Gere as the sympathetic yet beleaguered doctor -- a passive male in a seething colony of aggressive females. The narrative meanders and never quite crystallizes, yet an Altman movie remains sui generis. This one is tantalizingly watchable and lingers after the fact. -- R.G.
(Tues. Sept. 12, 6:30 p.m., RTH; Wed. Sept. 13, 9:30 a.m., Uptown 1.)
Dir: Junji Sakamoto (Japan)
Masako, a slow-witted, middle-aged woman, has spent her life operating a sewing machine in her mother's laundry. Her mother dies, and Masako's spiteful sister comes back, apparently to take charge of her. But before Face has a chance to turn into Rain Man, Masako murders her sister, takes a train as far away as she can, and successfully begins a new life. Grimly humorous and at times looking like a filmmaker torturing his hapless creation, Face gratifyingly evolves into a statement that even for those at the more remote reaches of the human tapestry, freedom (and face) is worth its price. -- D.I.
(Fri., Sept. 8, 9:30 p.m, Cumberland 2; Sat., Sept. 9, 12 p.m., Uptown 2.)
Dir: Amir Bar-Lev (USA)
The fighter of the title is Jan Wiener, a handsome 78-year-old Czech Jew who escaped from Prague following the Munich Pact, and eventually found his way to the West, where he served as a pilot with the Royal Air Force against the Nazis. For the purposes of this documentary, he travels with a journalist and professor, Arnost Lustig, who is thinking of writing a book about Wiener. First they go to Prague, then they retrace the route of Wiener's escape and journey through Europe -- for part of the trip, he hung onto the bottom of a train for 18 hours. Wiener is irascible, self-confident and proud; Lustig, who spent his childhood in the camps and lost his family, is analytical, intellectual and doubting. They hug, they battle, they argue about the past and Wiener reacts angrily, both to his colleague's probing questions and his own inability to recapture the past. Refreshingly, the film does not opt to be either simply elegiac or hopeful, but remains realistically unresolved. Neither man has finished his story yet. -- L.L.
(Mon., Sept. 11, 6:30 p.m., Cumberland 2; Wed., Sept. 13, 12 p.m., Cumberland 2.)
Dir: David Gordon Green (USA)
A Gummo meets Days of Heaven, set in a dilapidated North Carolina town, David Gordon Green's improvisationally constructed, ravishingly photographed debut follows a ragtag allotment of disenfranchised youths trying to deal with their shared guilt at the accidental death of a friend. The titular George must wear a helmet to deal with a skull that hasn't hardened since birth, while the events of the film are a revisionist replay of the "I cannot tell a lie" myth. The most refreshing element of the film is its poetic and literate qualities -- Green's abstractions show us kids the way they've never been depicted before, resulting in a sympathetic surrealism. -- M.P.
(Sat. Sept. 9, 6:45 p.m., Varsity 2; Tues., Sept. 12, 1 p.m., Cumberland 3.)
Dir: Nagisa Oshima
The first film in more than a dozen years from the legendary director of In the Realm of the Senses is about gay intrigues in a samurai community in the early 19th century. Visually elegant but emotionally cool, it's unlikely to satisfy veteran fans of this esteemed leader of the Japanese New Wave, but this erotic whodunit is admirably crafted. A group of elite militia is selecting new recruits and decide on two: Kano (Ryuhei Matsuda), an effeminate rich boy with a taste for violence, and Tashiro, who is in love with the other recruit. Although homosexuality is tolerated in the samurai ranks, Kano's beauty has an increasingly disturbing effect on the men and officers as they compete for him. When bodies start piling up, the officers are forced to investigate. -- L.L.
(Sat., Sept. 9, 3 p.m. Elgin; Thurs., Sept. 14, 3:30 p.m. Uptown 1.)
Harry, un ami qui
vous veut du bien
Dir: Dominik Moll (France)
This clever, Hitchcockian thriller/comedy begins as a classic tale of the insinuating stranger who moves in and takes over. When Michel (Laurent Lucas), his wife (Mathilde Seigner) and three daughters are setting out for their family vacation, crammed into a hot car and on the verge of family meltdown, they run into Harry. Years before, Harry knew Michel in school -- and quietly idolized him. Harry (Sergi Lopez) has an expensive car, a plump and lush girlfriend, and a powerful desire to help his old friend, Michel. After spending the night at Michel's rundown farmhouse, Harry begins to show some strange signs. He gets angry at any slight to Michel, and in an alarming act of generosity, buys him a Jeep. Though the tension does not sustain as well through the final third as might be hoped, the film has rich, black comic touches and dead-on performances. -- L.L.
(Tues., Sept. 12, 9 p.m., Uptown 2; Thurs., Sept. 14, 4 p.m., Uptown 3.)
The House of Mirth
Dir: Terence Davies (UK)
In adapting Edith Wharton's classic novel of manners, director Terence Davies made some baffling casting choices; yet more often than not, they have panned out. Davies's nuanced, exceedingly well-observed melodrama set in Gilded Age New York charts the tragic downfall of Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson), an intelligent, well-bred lady of leisure who has reached the age where she must marry, though she's having a hard time deciding between wealth and love (Eric Stoltz). It takes a while to believe Anderson is capable of the part, but the weight of her emotion accrues with each rung she descends down society's ladder. By the end, she has succeeded in portraying a martyr. -- M.P.
(Wed., Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m., RTH; Thurs., Sept. 14, 9:30 a.m., Uptown 1.)
Dir: Johnnie To Kei-Fung
An admirable rethinking of the traditional Hong Kong urban shoot-em-up by a director previously known for some of the genre's most delirious excesses. Abandoning the kineticism of earlier classics like A Hero Never Dies and The Heroic Trio, Johnnie To Kei-Fung here seems more obsessed by exploring all possible visual relationships between killers carrying guns at arms length and garish interior spaces (an empty shopping mall gets a particularly lush treatment). The resulting movie is stylish in the extreme, without being particularly exciting. If Antonioni had ever made a gangster movie, it might have looked like this. -- D.I.
(Thurs., Sept. 14, 12 a.m., Uptown 1; Sat., Sept. 16, 5:30 pm., Cumberland 4.)
Dir: Benoît Jacquot (France)
His name has become synonymous with sexual torture, but in this biographical study set in revolutionary France, the Marquis de Sade comes off looking like Al Gore when you compare him to someone like Robespierre. Setting their movie at a country estate converted to a prison for the aristocracy, Jacquot and screenwriters Jacques Fieschi and Bernard Minoret portray Sade as a cosmopolitan ironist: modernity's representative in a dying aristocratic age. Like him or not, they seem to be saying, this man is your great-great-grandfather. Lead actor Daniel Auteuil's performance is attractive enough to make that seem almost an enticing prospect. -- D.I.
(Thurs., Sept. 7, 6 p.m., Varsity 8; Fri., Sept. 8, 3:30 p.m., Uptown 1.)
Songs from the Second Floor
Dir: Roy Andersson (Sweden)
In one scene in this scabrously black comedy, a car backs over crucifixes cast onto a city dump. In another, a corporation decides to indulge in a virgin sacrifice to maintain corporate momentum. The film, the first in 25 years from writer-director Roy Andersson, is an "episodic, slice-of-life pastiche of modern urban society" consisting of 46 scenes -- each a continuous take with a fixed camera -- shot over four years, as a kind of catalogue of human venality and foolishness. Somewhere between a spirit of Monty Python grotesquerie and millennial social comment, it promises to be one of the most distinctive films at the festival. -- L.L.
(Fri., Sept. 15, 9:30 p.m., Uptown 1; Sat., Sept. 16, 9:45 p.m., Uptown 3.)
Such is Life
Dir: Arturo Ripstein
Formidable director Arturo Ripstein has reset the Medea story in a crumbling Mexico City courtyard presided over by an obese thug named "Pig" who rules the tenants' lives. One day Nicolas, a mediocre boxer, leaves his wife Julia and their two children in favour of Pig's daughter Raquel. Shocked by abandonment, Julia quickly receives two more blows: Pig serves notice that she is to be kicked into the street the next day "to avoid trouble between women," and her husband announces that he is keeping their children. Julia's shock darkens toward vengeance, and those familiar with the Medea tale will need no hints about what comes next. What is extraordinary, however, is that the story is convincing solely in terms of Mexico's brutal machismo, which could both provoke Julia's homicidal rage and patronize it in the belief that women are incapable of action. Ripstein frames the bloody tale in a surreal structure where a trio of sombrero-clad singers appear magically to serenade Julia with songs about abandoned women, and a female TV announcer interrupts news bulletins to weep hysterically about her menstrual period. -- R.C.
(Thurs., Sept. 14, 1 p.m., Uptown 1; Fri., Sept. 15, 9 a.m., Cumberland 1.)
The Truth about Tully
Dir: Hilary Birmingham (USA)
An amiable first feature set in Nebraska, where farm-girl Ella (the remarkably poised Julianne Nicholson) is caught between two brothers, the womanizing Tully and shy, honest Earl. But the brothers and their father are in danger of losing the farm. The crisis -- together with Tully realizing he's not worthy of a girl like Ella -- forces him to grow up fast. Sounds familiar, but the tale is told with quiet style (the laconic dialogue alone is worth the price of admission), and it's a relief to see there are still Americans leading normal lives. In fact, the producer has said that the film is partly a reaction to edgy urban films that give the impression everybody in the country is overdoped, oversexed and underbrained. This is a lovely, lyrical turn in naturalistic filmmaking. It's also an independent film, which you can tell because Nicholson is as un-Hollywood as a girl can get: skinny and with freckles all over her body. -- R.C.
(Sat., Sept. 9, 10 p.m., Varsity 4 and 5; Tues., Sept. 12, 1:45 p.m., Cumberland 1.)
La Veuve de Saint-Pierre
Dir: Patrice Leconte
In the mid-19th century, on the French island of St. Pierre off the southern coast of Newfoundland, a simple rustic commits a brutal murder for no apparent reason. The death sentence is swift but its execution is slow. The island lacks both a guillotine and someone to drop it -- the one must be shipped from France, the other recruited from the locals. In the months that follow, the film finds its theme of rehabilitation and redemption -- a bad guy turns good. Of course, the tragedy is rooted in the hard fact that man is more changeable than his laws -- justice tends to be a slave to the past and blind to the present. With the help of a gifted cast -- the stalwart Daniel Auteuil as an eccentric military captain, the lambent Juliette Binoche as his compassionate wife -- director Patrice Leconte (Monsieur Hire, Ridicule) lets the drama build slowly against the rugged beauty of the island setting. -- R.G.
(Thurs. Sept. 14, 9:30 p.m., RTH; Fri. Sept. 15, 12 p.m., Varsity 8.)
DON'T RULE OUT
Michael Haneke (France/Austria)
An official selection at Cannes, Haneke's film is organized around a number of fragments of different people's lives, intersecting through chance occurences. The central event takes place on a Paris street corner, where an actress, Anne (Juliette Binoche) is unexpectedly met by her brother-in-law Jean (Alexandre Hamidi) who has arrived in Paris, saying he no longer wants to work on his father's farm. When Jean contemptuously throws garbage at a Romanian woman begging on the corner, he's confronted by a young black man, Amadou (Ona Lu Yenke). When the police arrive, Amadou is arrested and the old woman deported. There's a constant undercurrent of violence, as the larger expressions of civilization's pathology -- Kosovo, Afghanistan -- are contrasted with the smaller battles of illegal European immigrants and broken families, media violence and racial antagonism. It intends to work as a kind of litmus test of prejudices and fears; in practice, Haneke's funny games with representation and violence tend to inspire loathing more than insight. -- L.L.
(Mon., Sept. 11, 4:15 p.m., Cumberland 1; Fri., Sept. 15, 6 p.m., Varsity 8.)
Dir: Amos Gitai (France/Israel)
In his second feature, following the controversial religious melodrama of Kadosh, Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai offers a recreation of his experiences as a soldier, seriously wounded during the Yom Kippur War when his helicopter was shot down. The point of view here is the subjective, pawn-in-the-game perspective of a confused young soldier and Gitai, a veteran documentary filmmaker, manages to place the viewer in the action in a believable fashion. Some sequences are powerful -- especially a scene where the soldiers are trapped in so much mud that an attempt to help a wounded friend has a kind of slapstick horror. Gitai's images of war -- as a kind of helpless confusion puctuated by moments of surreal horror -- is persuasive enough, but not wildly original. His attempts to contrast the war with scenes of erotic body painting at the beginning and ends of the film just seems kind of dumb. -- L.L.
(Thurs., Sept. 7, 9 p.m., Varsity 8; Sat., Sept. 16, 9 p.m. ROM.)
Love Come Down
Dir: Clement Virgo (Canada)
Rival brothers, confused parentage, racial divides, abusive fathers, wrongful convictions, ex-addicts-turned-nuns -- whoa, Love Come Down is forgettable soap served up with memorable style. Flashing back and forth from dark deeds in the past to a blooming romance in the present, writer-director Clement Virgo (Rude, The Planet of Junior Brown) gives his extended family saga an almost impressionistic visual treatment. When the rapid-fire editing is at its rhythmic best, especially during the climax, the accomplished style redeems the lame plot -- that is, the flair of the directing distracts us from the flaws in the writing. Too often, though, the mask of style slips, and the polished sights give way to a jarring sound -- what you're hearing is the clank-clank of bad melodrama. -- R.G.
(Sat., Sept. 9, 6:30 p.m., Uptown 1; Sun., Sept. 10, 1 p.m., Uptown 2.)
Dir: Anne Wheeler (Canada)
The source here is Linda Svendsen's worthy book, but Anne Wheeler's adaptation falls short of the mark. Unfolding from the perspective of a precocious 12-year-old girl, the movie means to be a comic/poignant tale of an extended and barely functional family. Headed by a lounge-singer mom (Cybill Shepherd in mediocre voice) and her sailor boyfriend, the clan boasts a varied assortment of estranged husbands and abused daughters and drunken sons and preying mistresses. That makes for a plot that oscillates between the merely busy and the downright cluttered. Wheeler attempts to lend the piece coherence by injecting Marine Life with marine imagery -- notably, a recurring shot of a friendly whale in a local acquarium. Nice try, but her success is only intermittent -- the rest of the time, this thing floats belly up. -- R.G.
(Thurs. Sept. 14, 7 p.m., Uptown 3; Fri. Sept. 15, 12:15 p.m., Varsity 1.)
Shadow of the Vampire
Dir: E. Elias Merhige (USA)
The idea is intriguing. Suppose that F. W. Murnau, the German visionary who directed the classic Nosferatu back in 1922, had engaged in a singular bit of typecasting: The vampire he recruited was the real deal, passed off as a "method actor" named Max Schreck. Now let's visit the obsessed Murnau (who better to play him than John Malkovich?) on the movie set, and watch as he strives to keep the peace between his all-too-credible star and an all-too-vulnerable crew. Yep, a terrific idea, but the execution is a little flawed, especially in the last act. The result is an adequate horror flick about the making of a great horror flick. However, from the true nature of acting to the voracious appetite of genius, the script does raise a veritable checklist of fascinating aesthetic issues. Too bad it cheats a tad on the answers. -- R.G.
(Sun. Sept. 10, 7 p.m., Elgin; Tues. Sept. 12, 9 a.m., Uptown 2.)
Dir: James Gray (USA)
The director of the well-regarded Little Odessa has fashioned a tale of urban corruption and family that starts well and soon declines into familiar banalities. Mark Wahlberg plays the guy who gets out of jail and, through his well-connected uncle (James Caan), gets himself work in the subway yards. When he hooks up with his old friend (Joaquin Phoenix) to make some extra cash, he soon finds himself on the wrong side of the law and threatened by his own family. Packed with name talent (Faye Dunaway, Ellen Burstyn, Charlize Theron) this is an ensemble piece with a grey and amber-toned palette that looks great, and initially holds promise. Too soon, though, the script betrays it as a commonplace corruption tale. -- L.L.
(Wed., Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m., Uptown 1; Fri., Sept. 15, 9:15 a.m., Cumberland 2.)
THE POPCORN (**)
Bread and Roses
Dir: Ken Loach (UK)
The veteran English political filmmaker takes on the issue of abused Hispanic office workers in contemporary Los Angeles in this drama, in which the didacticism and melodramatic sentimentality of the script clobber viewers' sympathy for the film's good intentions. Based on the Justice For Janitors campaign to unionize unprotected Latino workers, the movie begins with an exemplary tale of Maya (Pilar Padilla), a young Mexican woman who is smuggled from Mexico to L.A. to reunite with her older sister, Rosa (Elpidia Carillo). Avoiding the predatory gangsters and sexual harrassment of barmaid life, she decides she wants to be a janitor like her sister. Then along comes a fiery young radical, Sam (Adrien Brody), determined to help the janitors better their lot -- and Rosa is inspired by the cause. There is one funny scene where the janitors break up a Hollywood party (Tim Roth, Chris O'Donnell and Ron Perlman offer cameos), and there are some characteristically raw emotional moments between the actors, but overall, Bread and Roses forces an interpretation on the viewer that feels like its own kind of oppression. -- L.L.
(Mon., Sept. 11, 9:30 p.m., Varsity 2 and 3; Fri., Sept. 15, 4 p.m., Uptown 3.)
Dir: Karyn Kusama (USA)
A "buzz" film from Sundance, Girlfight is little more than a distaff Rocky story, about a poor black girl with a mean right hook who must overcome the difficulties of her drunken dad and an intimidated boyfriend to show she has the right stuff. Diana (21-year-old Michelle Rodriguez) is a troubled teen at constant risk of suspension for fighting. Her younger brother, a sensitive would-be artist, is bullied into boxing lessons by their dad, but when he tries to skip out, Diana takes his place. After overcoming the skepticism of the male coaches, she gains self-esteem and respect as she struggles through the routines of the gym. Soon, romance blooms as she meets Adrian, an up-and-coming lightweight who doesn't mind dating girls, but doesn't like fighting them. Naturally, they have to go glove-to-glove in the amateur finals. Rodriguez has a scowly, androgynous magnetism about her and while the movie is already a proven festival crowd-pleaser, the viewer is likely to feel more bruised than enthralled by the conclusion. -- L.L.
(Sat., Sept. 9, 9 p.m., Uptown 2; Mon., Sept. 11, 3 p.m., Uptown 2.)
Dir: Joel Hershman (UK/USA)
The likes of The Full Monty and Brassed Off have spawned an unfortunate trend in British film -- the sloppy/sappy comedy, the kind where a bunch of erstwhile losers overcome steep odds to redeem themselves with a stirring victory. In this pale version, a quintet of prison inmates takes up gardening and, with the aid of Mrs. Green Thumb (Helen Mirren), set their competitive sights on nothing less than the Royal Horticultural Show at Hampton Court. It's the usual sentimental jive, with the plot lame and its turns predictable, all playing like a bizarrely delayed reaction to the inequities of the Thatcher era. In Britain, if nowhere else, the triumph of the common man is beginning to make for some uncommonly mawkish flicks. -- R.G.
(Sun. Sept. 10, 9:30 p.m., Elgin; Tues. Sept. 12, 12:30 p.m., Uptown 1.)
Dir: Paul Cox (Australia)
Paul Cox (Man of Flowers, Lonely Hearts) tackles another touchy subject, sex in old age. Largely on his reputation as a master, together with a rave review from Cannes by Roger Ebert, this film arrives in Toronto with much brouhaha. But it's flawed. The love affair between Andreas (Charles Tingwell) and Claire (Julia Blake) is marred by excessive philosophizing, and even more by Cox's discomfort with the sex. Torridness we don't need, but the tenderness should be convincing, and we need to see more chemistry between Tingwell and Blake. She has a Jane Goodall prissiness, and he has a mannerism of never quite making eye contact with her. It's a shame, because these are two of Australia's stellar actors, and they have a superb supporting cast. Also, the flashbacks to their first encounter (they had an affair as 20-year-olds which they're trying to rekindle a half-century later) are a lovely device, highlighting the difference between nubile young bodies and decayed elderly ones -- and showing how the memory of once having been beautiful can salve old age. Interleaving these two realities, Cox works at a high level of skill. But the magic doesn't jell. -- R.C.
(Fri., Sept. 8, 7 p.m., Varsity 8; Sun., Sept. 10, 4 p.m., Uptown 3.)
Dir: John L'Ecuyer (Canada)
Liane Balaban (New Waterford Girl) stars in this ambitious but self-defeating film that sets out to explain how a pretty, clever, razor-tongued girl can have so little self-esteem that she thieves and tricks for a living, loves a suicidal drug dealer, and hangs out with a pedophile. It's beautifully filmed by John L'Ecuyer, and is the only film I know that portrays the interface between English and French Montreal without being embarrassing about it. So what's the problem? It's that Heather O'Neill's script is marred by fake-poeticizing, a desire not to write a single genre cliché. Not only Jude, but the violent pimp to whom she finally submits, and her loving father (played by Nicholas Campbell of Da Vinci's Inquest), are given to bizarrely philosophical remarks. The film wants to escape the grunting dumbness of American films in this genre, in order to portray how a gifted girl can also have a total lack of belief in herself. But the stylizing simply breaks the mood of what otherwise is a beautifully shot movie. Dommage. -- R.C.
(Thurs., Sept. 14, 9:30 p.m., Cumberland 1; Fri., Sept. 15, 9:15 a.m., Varsity 1.)
Dir: Fabrice Genestal (France)
As enthralling as it is horrifying, La Squale tells the story of Désirée, a tough young woman living in a suburban Paris ghetto. The film is a feature debut for Genestal, who was a high-school teacher in these grim slums. Désirée gets street cred by claiming to be the daughter of a ghetto hero called Souleimane, and sets out to seduce Toussaint, the virile hood who rules the ghetto. Esse Lawson gives an impressive debut performance as Désirée, who exacts a brutal revenge when she's betrayed by Toussaint. What drives the film is the casual, savage sexual violence that underlies every interaction in the neighbourhood; the story is only slightly marred by an out-of-left-field ending. Genestal uses seductive visuals and a driving hip-hop soundtrack to keep his audience watching even as their stomachs heave at yet more almost-inconceivable violence. -- S.N.
(Thurs., Sept. 14, 6 p.m., Varsity 1; Fri., Sept. 15, 3:30 p.m., ROM.)
Dir: Denys Arcand
The conceit -- the rise and partial fall of a fashion model as seen exclusively through the various cameras that have photographed her -- is a potentially promising idea but the result is a featherweight, obvious media satire. Jessica Paré plays Tina, the Cornwall, Ont., girl who gets discovered and turned into a supermodel and she does a nice job of looking pretty, which seems the main motivation for all the men around her to go crazy (including Dan Aykroyd as a nightclub owner who dumps his wife for her, and Frank Langella as the diplomat who, Trudeau-like, falls for youth and good looks). There are sequences parodying Entertainment Tonight, Jerry Springer and Fashion TV. Robert Lepage, looking out of place as an avant-garde filmmaker, follows Tina around and serves as a mouthpiece for Arcand's views on celebrity. All of this is broad and silly and far more innocuous than spending an hour channel surfing. Less a satire than an expression of pique at that favourite bugaboo, celebrity culture. -- L.L.
(Thurs., Sept. 7, 7:15 p.m., Uptown 1; Thurs., Sept. 7, 8 p.m., RTH.)
Dir: Daniel Fridell (Sweden)
A far-fetched tale of two small-town Swedish boys, bored and sex-obsessed, who talk a beautiful visiting teenager into starring in a movie they have no idea how to make. They really just want to film Sofia naked, but sensitive 15-year-old Anders soon finds a vulnerable, orphaned girl behind her stunning exterior, and falls in love. His compulsively masturbating cameraman Borje, however, fails to mature quite as quickly, so Anders has to cut a lot of Super-8 footage of Sofia's cleavage. Other plot twists involve a local hood who muscles in on the action and a 13-year-old girl who writes their script. Director Daniel Fridell is described as the "darkest Swedish director since Bergman," but there's little evidence of it here, excepting one extraordinary scene where Sofia delivers on a promise to deflower shy Anders if he finishes the film. She does so with such perfunctory aggression that he is left sobbing afterward: the only successful portrayal of a boy being raped by a girl I've ever seen. -- R.C.
(Fri., Sept. 8, 6:30 p.m., ROM; Sun., Sept. 10, 3:45 p.m., Cumberland 3.)
Dir: Pavel Lounguine
This ribald, braying comedy from Russia's Pavel Lounguine (Taxi Blues) focuses on postcommunist life in a small mining town outside Moscow, where the local beauty, Tania (Maria Mironova), has recently returned after five years in Moscow, possibly as a model, perhaps as a hooker. Instantly, she attaches herself to her childhood sweetheart Mishka (Marat Basharov) and they decide to marry. Mishka, depressed at his inability to buy a decent present for his new bride, hangs out with his friend Gakusha (Andrei Panine), who gets him drunk. Inadvertently, they mug Tania's Ukrainian aunt and are thrown in jail, which puts a damper on the wedding party. Various political intrigues, copious chugging of vodka and much singing of dirty songs brings the wedding party to a close. -- L.L.
(Fri., Sept. 15, 3 p.m., Varsity 8; Sat., Sept. 16, 8:45 p.m., Varsity 2 and 3.)