Monday, September 16, 2013

Parting Shots from Toronto 2013

Strangers by the Lake by Alain

 In this riveting, suspenseful
salute to Hitchcock, Guiraudie explores the intersection of death, danger, and
desire.  What prompts Franck to pursue
his passion for a man he knows to be a murderer?  Guiraudie ups the ante when it becomes
apparent to Michel that Franck is on to him. 
Now Franck’s life is on the line. 
The issues raised by the film resonate beyond an exploration of queer
desire.  How far are any of us willing to
go when the heart wants what it wants?  Guiraudie
adopts an almost Aristotelian unity, returning each time to the identical
parking lot, the nude men on the beach, the gorgeous blue water.  And men coupling, the camera never blinking,
in all its permutations. 

Strangers by the lake

I thought that viewing this
at a public screening with retirees eating popcorn (versus a press screening
with jaundiced reviewers) would be fairly excruciating.  It wasn’t. 
cinephiles stand ready to embrace it all. 
Interestingly, the sex and nudity is so integral to the story it takes a
back seat – well, almost -- to the dizzying
psychological abyss Guiraudie opens up in this provocative film.  What’s the deal with Franck?  Why doesn’t he cut and run? 

 Afterwards, Deladonchamps, the
actor who plays Franck, came onstage to take questions.  “You all saw me naked, so now I’d like to see
you,” he joked, adding, “well, not all of you.” 
Body doubles were used, he said, for everything below the waist; nothing
was improvised, all the sex scenes were tightly choreographed.  “Franck makes bad decisions because he’s in
love.”  What to make of the disturbingly
ambiguous ending? I asked.  “It’s for the
viewers to decide,” Deladonchamps said.  “In
an alternate ending, Franck and Michel go off together.”  Whoa.

 Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable
Elements of Belarus
Madeleine Sackler

In this revelatory doc, Sackler
goes behind the scenes with The Belarus Free Theatre, an underground,
avant-garde troupe that defies Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator choking their
country -- the last remaining dictator in Europe.  He and his goons forbid theatrical treatment
of topics such as sexual minorities, alcoholism, suicide, and politics.  To which the gutsy Free Theatre responds by
injecting these taboos into performances that are staged secretly in Minsk in the Republic
of Belarus and to critical acclaim
overseas, primarily in the Edinburgh fest and England.  Using meagre props and resources, they mount
subversive and powerful performance pieces – such as the striking “Zone of
Silence” -- which nail the quality of life under a tyrant.  "Dangerous Acts" picks up the story
in 2010, as the KGB of Belarus is cracking down on dissenters, targeting Free
Theatre founders Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Koliada, along with their
colleagues.  Forced to smuggle parts of
the film out of Belarus,
Sackler snags interviews that illuminate the plight of artists without a
country who live cut off from family and culture, yet manage by hook or by crook
to practice their craft.  In the past,
writers have had to choose between repression at home and disconnection in
exile.  Now, with the power of
documentary crews to report from the front, we get access to this portrait of
resistance.  As one Free Theatre member
says, "Work and laughter are what will save us."  HBO will premiere the film in 2014.

Dom Hemingway by Richard

Losing his gorgeousness has
given Jude Law a second life and freed him as an actor.  In “Dom” he’s got a hairline going south, a
gut, and a Cockney accent you could eat with a spoon.  “Dom” doesn’t so much begin, as explode with Law’s
obscene aria about his manhood, almost Shakespearean in its word-smithery, with
a generous dollop of Henry Miller.  “Is
my cock exquisite?”  It should hang at
the Louvre, Law goes on, it’s hard, it’s titanium, it can stand all day my
cheetah cock, etc.  Some eight minutes of
this before the camera pulls back to reveal the circumstances inspiring his
rant.  After such a bravura opening the
air goes out of “Dom” like a fizzling balloon, yet given the terrific blast-off
it somehow stays aloft. 

Marking scenes with sardonic title
cards such as “12 Years in Prison is a Long Time” and “Father of the Year,” Shepard
follows Dom, a master safe-cracker, as he’s sprung from jail and sets out with one-handed
sidekick Richard Curtis to settle accounts with a Rumanian playboy (Demian
Bichir, a hoot) and claim the stash he was promised for not ratting him
out.  Shepard mocks trendiness in art
through the décor of Bichir’s country hideaway, which favors grotesque blow-ups
of exotic monkeys. 

From there it’s a picaresque
about Dom’s rotten luck as an ex-con -- much of it brought on by his
hair-trigger temper; “I worked on my anger issues in prison” – and his longing
to be reconciled with the grown daughter (Emilia Clarke) he neglected for 12
years.  Dom’s re-entry into society
climaxes in an off-the-wall scene when he bets the family jewels on his ability
to crack a new digital safe.  The story
is the least of this film, an insidery riff on the British gangster genre.  Mainly, it’s an occasion for Law to pull out
all the stops in a priceless portrayal of a macho maniac.  Fox Searchlight, with its great nose for
off-beat fare, will open the film here in April.

Actors who delivered career-bests in TIFF 2013

Jude Law in Dom Hemingway by Richard Shepard
Dakota Fanning and Peter Saarsgard in Night Moves by Kelly Reichardt
Jake Gyllenhaal and Melissa Leo in Prisoners by Denis Villeneuve
Dane DeHaan in Kill Your Darlings by John Krokidas
Steve Coogan in Stephen Frears’s Philomena, as both its co-star (with Judi Dench) and its co-screenwriter

And then there’s the case of
Sandra Bullock in Gravity by Alfonso
Cuaron.  As we all know, instruction
manuals are translated from the Gujurati by dyslexic sadists.  That Bullock not only keeps her cool while
stranded in the ether, but can actually decipher the instruction manual aboard the
space craft to guide it back to earth reveals her not only as courageous but a
mental giant.  She is well and truly the
queen of TIFF 2013.


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