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Entries in foreign films (189)

Wednesday
Sep172014

TIFF Jury of One: Nathaniel

Channing & Chastain hit TIFFAnd now, a superfluous but fun-to-write "awards" wrap of the 25 films I saw at TIFF to close out the coverage. I did a little wrap post for Towleroad as well, focused on the LGBT content and the celebs, but if you're a TFE regular I know what you like: awards and lists!

I had intended to see 40 films but with only 8 days of actual screening time (travelling the other 2 days) that proved ridiculous to even try for, impossible really. Especially since I was planning to AND DID write up everything I saw before the festival actually ended. I've never written this quickly so excuse the typos (yeesh).

If you were reading along the whole time this might feel redundant but who doesn't love to box their experiences up in list format? In a festival with hundreds of films everyone has a different experience so this was mine... with nominations only. Don't even ask me to pick winners because I like things to marinate. It's good to get a little distance before bold decrees of "THE BEST!"

BEST PICTURE
links go to the reviews 

Xavier Dolan and Anne Dorval on the set of "Mommy"

  • Force Majeure (Sweden) -Magnolia Pictures. Opens October 24th
  • Mommy (Canada) - Roadside Attractions will release. When though? Unfortunately they aren't exactly a swift distributor. (A headscratcher addendum: Xavier Dolan's Tom at the Farm, which debuted last year at TIFF is still without a US distributor. US audiences just can't jump on the Dolan train without hitting festivals. Maybe that will change with all three of his first features currently winning new fans on Netflix Instant now)
  • A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Sweden) - Currently without US distributor
  • Wild (USA) - Fox Searchlight. Opens December 5th
  • Wild Tales (Argentina) - Sony Pictures Classics will release. When though?

My favorites at the fest turned out to be this eclectic mix of two Swedish comedies, one hyperstylized the other realistic and intellectually provocative, one Canadian melodrama about a bad seed and his wild mommy, one Oscar bound US solo hiking trip, and an exciting Argentian anthology mixing revenge, thrills and comedy.

Favorite Scenes and Performances After the Jump

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Sep162014

Amir Sat on a Branch Reflecting on TIFF

Amir here, looking back at the Toronto Film Festival that recently wrapped up.

"Girlhood," superior to Boyhood and one of the best of TIFF 14

You may have noticed that after a few years of covering the festival to various degrees for The Film Experience, I was completely absent from this space for the past ten days, mostly because of a personal decision to enjoy the films without sweating over writing. TIFF is a big festival, maybe the most frantic and hectic in the world, with more choices than one can physically experience over ten days. Nathaniel and I shared so few films from the program’s sprawling lineup, we could have each written about every single thing we saw and you’d never know we attended the same festival. It’s this overwhelming scale that made me want to take a break from reporting, and yet, I feel unsure about how that affected my festival experience.

Writing about films for me is a passion born out of the necessity to articulate my thoughts on the things I watch. Maybe that process of writing makes the films more memorable? Isn’t it so that writing, even about bad films, makes us appreciate good cinema all the more? Without recording my memories, details about this year’s films have fled my mind quicker than ever. My feelings about some of them have been diluted a bit, too. There is something missing, even though I had the best festival experience of my life, meeting more people than ever and watching some terrific films. Maybe this pessimism is just a withdrawal symptom. Let’s stay positive!

As has become something of an unplanned tradition for me – with precedents including Oslo, August 31st and Closed Curtain – my favorite film of the festival came my way on the last day.

MORE...

"The Look of Silence" will be in theaters next summer

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Sep132014

TIFF: The New Girlfriend

Nathaniel's adventures at TIFF continued

 François Ozon remains one of France's most prolific directors. Like most prolific auteurs this means an uneven filmography. Even the very good films can feel ever-so-slightly underrealized. Is it the rush or just the nature of the artistry of the prolific, all first draft energies, favorite or borrowed styles structures and themes, and just warming-up ideas with the occasional lightning-strike perfections?

Like many fans I'm still waiting for another of those lightning strike perfections like certain moments in Under the Sand or 8 Women in full but his not-quite-there efforts can still be highly appealing: Potiche anyone?

The New Girlfriend turns out to be all of the above with grand moments, messy ones, energetic diversions, familiar tropes and half formed ideas... which as it turns out is just fine for a movie about embryonic searches for new identities. It begins with a funereal yet beautiful opening sequence that recalls an Almodóvarian trance, and quickly moves into an Up-like backstory prelude detailing the very intimate friendship of Laura and Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) from childhood to Laura's early death. When we begin our actual story Claire and her husband Gilles (Raphael Personnaez, who also starred in The Gate at this festival) along with Laura's widowed husband David (Romain Duris) and his infant daughter Lucie are all still reeling from Laura's demise. One day on a guilty whim, Laura jogs to David's house to check in on Lucie only to make a startling discovery when no one answers the door and she lets herself in: there's David, in full drag, tenderly feeding Lucie with a bottle like a good mother. Claire can't believe what she's seeing and to cover her tracks for where she was that day with her husband she says she was with "Virginia... a girlfriend, someone you don't know." And thus begins our subject matter with the title taking on multiple meanings. Is David more Virginia than David? Which of them is Claire befriending? How desperate are both of them to recreate Laura in her vacuum? And what kind of a girlfriend can Virginia even be since she has a visible penis? 

The rest of the film is largely devoted to both farcical and dramatic consequences of this new secret in Claire's life with delightfully surprising beats amply peppered across the character arcs. Demoustier proves rather masterful in delineating Claire's internal confusions and hypocrisies, especially and most amusingly her illicit hypocritial thrills in having a new girlfriend at all (the prelude makes amply obvious that Laura and Claire were so devoted and happy together that they didn't cultivate other friendships). But full warning: the film is way too comically provocative and politically incorrect to please the easily offended which many in the LGBT community seem to be of late. Claire for example thinks 'gays are fine, trannys are not!' in one joke that goes over well in context but will surely offend out of it and calls David "sick" while still encouraging him to do it. David isn't as certain of what his gender fluidity means to be a role model for any political agenda. And Gilles ignores ambiguities and is convinced that David is just gay, always has been.

Though Romain Duris has long since proved his worth as a leading man, his screen attraction is entirely masculine, so I'll admit that it was easy to wonder what the film would have been like had the more beautiful Personnaez considered his inner woman instead. Would it have dulled the surprise or the comedy or made Claire's confusing situation between the two men in her life and this new girlfriend more believable?  Who can say? The time jumped epilogue leaves things both tied neatly up and slightly ambiguous as to what went down between the climax and the credits roll but by that time we know the characters well enough to draw our own conclusions. B

previously at TIFF


Friday
Sep122014

TIFF Quickies: Behavior, Cub, The Gate, and The Farewell Party

Nathaniel's adventures in Toronto, the last leg.

I came out of my last screening a few hours ago and a plane awaits me tomorrow which is a good thing since I'm running on fumes. Four more films need writeups and we'll probably do a podcast. But we'll worry about this tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day. My TIFF screenings ended tonight. And get this: Less than 48 hours after my return to NYC, critics screenings for NYFF begin. I'm not even exaggerating. No rest at all for poor Nathaniel.

 

 

LMAO. Tweet of the Year! Okay, on to the movies...

Behavior (Cuba)
A huge hit in Cuba, and their probable Oscar submission if they submit at all (they often skip it), Behavior tackles tough topics like educational buerocracies, dead-end poverty, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency, prejudice against immigrants, you name it. More importantly it asks questions that have interested educators forever: how involved should a teacher be in the lives of her students? do you prepare them for life outside of school or merely provide them shelter from that life for a part of each day? Do you break the rules for one if you feel that child is a special case? Yet for all these heavy topics, provocative questions and the film's frequent classroom scenes, this drama never feels didactic or preachy but organically dramatized around its dimensional characterizations rather than characters as stand-ins for ideas/types (with a couple of exceptions). It's the story of an old passionate teacher Carmela (Alina Rodriguez), past retirement age, who is always at odds with the schoolboard because she's inflexible when it comes to bending rules to meet a student's needs. It's also the story of her class trouble-maker Chala (12 year old Armanda Valdez Friere in a frankly amazing debut), who the schoolboard wants to send to the Cuban equivalent of a juvie home. Chala is the sole breadwinner at home (through illegal means) and his mother drinks away the money rather than paying the bills. Carmela believes the kid has a good heart and continually demands disciplinary leeway at school.

a moving story of teacher and student

While many of the plot developments in Behavior are depressing and predictable, the movie is stubbornly hopeful, knowing the odds are against success but pressing on anyway. Writer director Ernesto Daranas, a fine new voice in Latin American cinema, makes sure this doesn't happen in a corny inspirational way, as in so many inferior teacher/student dramas do, but with roll up your sleeve grit in its narrative and smart visual choices - the camera is often exactly the right distance from the actors, to keep you fully aware of their tough environment and also their dreams. (Cue multiple shots of Chala on rooftops.) Behavior suggests that Carmela has saved a few students from their own lives, knows it, and will save as many more as she can manages before she dies... maybe even Chala. Her stubborn heroism? She knows that the broken system and these broken homes will long outlive her. B+

Cub (Belgium)
I got dragged to this slasher movie by two friends who I hadn't seen in a long time. Spent the film with fingers carefully crossed over my eyes for watching / not watching simultaneously. A group of Cub Scouts are out for a camping weekend and they pick a spot much further into some spooky woods than they were intending, woods they're warned against but you know how people are in movies, they never turn back when warned. The Scouts three barely adult supervisors tell the young boys the tale of Kai a boy who becomes a deadly werewolf at night. It's a legend meant for campfire scares but we see Kai right away, not a werewolf but a boy their age with a creepy one horned mask who watches them from afar. He takes an interest in one of them, a loner named Sam (Maurice Luijten), the film's lead. Kai doesn't attack him but starts the bloodletting elsewhere. It's mildly entertaining but the characters aren't that well delineated and I predicted the finale about 75 minutes in advance. My friends thought the kills were imaginative and I will concur that two of them were, particularly a morbidly funny group kill. But ... GROSS.

"GROSS". That's actually my full sophisticated one-word review, and come to think of it my review for all slasher movies. I have come to understand and admire the broader horror genre after years of reading great critics enthusing about it, but this subgenre I'll never get - even when it comes with subtitles.  C-

The Gate (France/Cambodia)
Like Labyrinth of Lies a few days back, The Gate benefits from a continually engaging true story. The new film from Regis Wargnier, who won the Oscar for the Catherine Deneuve epic Indochine, returns to that rich well of stories, French expatriates in countries they've colonized. The Gate, more appropriately titled Le temps des aveux in French, is based on the memoirs of a man named François Bizot (Raphaël Personnaez) who was arrested by the Khmer Rouge while he was innocently researching Buddhist traditions at monasteries. The communists believed this Frenchmen was a spy for America and the film becomes a battle of wits and test of humanity as Bizot and his captor Much (Phoeung Kompheak) argue and debate about Bizot's purpose in Cambodia and his fate. Like most good prisoner/captive dramas, their relationship is perversely intimate and the heart of the movie. Since its based on Bizot's memoirs, and the film begins near the ending, with Bizot returning to Cambodia we know he survives but things look bleak for a time and even when freed, the chaos isn't over since his wife and child are Cambodian/French and they don't have as much protection. Intense at times and surprisingly well acted -- most of the cast were non-actors aside from, of course, handsome French movie star Personnaez. B


The Farewell Party (Israel)
Israel's Oscars, "the Ophirs," have heartily embraced this dramedy about senior citizens who accidentally and after much prodding become crusaders for mercy killings of their terminally sick friends and spouses. It is far more tasteful than it sounds starting with heartbreaking decisions among longtime friends. But, curiously, the mood gets lighter and lighter in mood and the film funnier and funnier as it progresses. The comic highlight is a wonderfully cheeky display of solidarity when one of the friends is diagnosed with dementia but there are many little laughs along the way and each ensemble member finds a way to shine in a dialogue heavy film. It's a difficult film to describe, part drama about longterm love (both platonic and romantic), part ensemble black comedy, part agitprop about personal choice in matters of the end of life rather than machine-mandated life, and all parts delightful. It's not a done deal yet but it's easy to imagine this as Israel's Oscar submission and if submitted, an actual nominee in the Foreign Language Film category.   B+

Also at TIFF
A Little Chaos
The New Girlfriend
Wild
The Theory of Everything and Imitation Game
Foxcatcher and Song of the Sea
The Last Five Years
Wild Tales and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Force MajeureLife in a Fishbowl and Out of Nature
Mommy
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Charlie's Country

Thursday
Sep112014

TIFF Quickies: 1001 Grams, Sand Dollars, Labyrinth of Lies

Nathaniel's adventures in Toronto. Day whichever.

Three more quick takes on Norway's Oscar submission, a LGBT romance of sorts in the Dominican Republic and a surprisingly intense film from Germany that I hadn't heard of before arriving.

Bent Hamer directs Ane Dahl Trop in the Norwegian Oscar submission "1001 Grams"

1001 GRAMS
How much does a soul weigh? I don’t mean to bring up painful memories of 21 Grams, but everything in 1001 Grams must be effortfully measured. Lab technician Marie is just such a meticulous woman, in charge of the official Norwegian kilo, which is to be weighed and calibrated in Paris at an annual seminar to ensure that all countries kilos are the same or else: chaos! Though the oddity of this international standards milieu suggests a comedy, what we get is stonefaced drama... or possibly comedy so dry, I needed a humidifier in the room to get it. Bent Hamer, who directed two previous Norwegian Oscar submisssions O'Horten and Kitchen Stories (neither won nominations), so precisely calibrates this new film that every image feels carefully storyboarded. There's a gorgeous balance of stark blues and bright whites and he often abandons our lonely protagonist in silhouette in dark sparsely furnished apartments. Even Marie’s car, an cute electric thing, fits the color schemes. When Marie and her colleagues take smoke breaks at work the images are so strictly shot that the actors seem like mice stopped for a moment to think (?) in a narrow stretch of  bureaucratic maze. Marie is so controlled that she can’t even express her grief when her father dies, and the actress Ane Dahl Torp, doing fine if limited work by the nature of the role, has to squeeze all Marie's hurt into tiny hollow syllables like “takk” (thank you) when people wonder how she’s doing. It’s a solid movie but unfortunately its strength, that crafted precision, is also its weakness. There’s so much time spent establishing how regimented, monotonous and empty Marie’s life is that the film turns into a dull laborious watch. Things eventually begin to change for Marie when she meets a bird-loving Frenchmen at a business seminar but the actual drama is so backloaded that it's tough to make it to the final stretch. Slightly touching in an unusually low key way, but it’s a complete mystery as to why Norway chose it as their Oscar submission over the daring and hypnotic Blind (Sundance review) which was also in the running. C+

Yanet Mojica and Geraldine Chaplin star in "Sand Dollars"

SAND DOLLARS
Wealthy septuagenarian Frenchwoman Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) is wiling away her twilight years on a private beach of the Dominican Republic. There’s little to tether her to France, her only child being estranged, and she’s fallen in love with a young local girl named Noeli (Yanet Mojica) though she knows almost nothing about her. Money is often exchanged though Noeli is neither, strictly speaking, a prostitute nor a kept girl. This intimate and relatively stable relationship (two years and counting) begins to crack when Anne wants to take Noeli back to Paris with her permanently. Sand Dollars hits its encomic colonialism, class disparity, and exploitation notes relatively indelicately  -- there's no mistaking the themes -- but the odd connections between its characters are, in contrast, delicately observed. Noeli's true feelings are hard to read, but she is both an attentive lover and shameless about requests for money. Little details begin to accumulate like the way Anne's mascara clumps always look like she's crying even when she's happy, how Noeli dances both for self pleasure and with awareness of the practical value of her body, the way that even when Noeli's boyfriend  looks away he's weighing the presence of "the old lady". The film gets under your skin especially with the complications of actual affection where only a business transaction would be easier for everyone. A minor film but sensitively delivered and blissfully short (80 minutes) in keeping with its slim story. B/B-

LABYRINTH OF LIES
For the first reel or two of this postwar German drama, I wondered why they’d cast such a handsome but blank lead actor (Alexander Fehling) as the protagonist Johann Radmann. Radmann is an ambitious young lawyer who, somewhat on a whim, takes an interest in unpunished war crimes and former Nazis teaching school children that a local activist reporter has clued him in to. But the initial empty suit impression is a false one. At a party early in the film the reporter tells his bohemian friends that they have to encourage Radmann until his flicker of humanity turns to a raging fire. It’s meant as a ‘loosen up’ joke, and very smartly delivered as an offhand remark rather than foreshadowing. But this is exactly what happens in this impressive debut feature from Giulio Ricciarelli. Fehling's performances, very well modulated, grows more and more intense as the new case shifts from curiousity to a detective-like fascination and then full blown righteous vendetta with Fehling's blown out eyes and angrier voice dramatizing that he hasn't slept in weeks, and that his daydreams are all nightmares. The story is fascinating, detailing the widespread ignorance about The Holocaust in Germany just one generation after the war. Auschwitz, for example, the chief subject of the investigation, is a place most young Germans the lawyers talks to have never heard of. Labyrinth of Lies is glossily made (perhaps too glossy?), well acted, and moving with a constant throughline of the need for survivors to tell their stories and for people to understand their own country's history and face their own demons.

Germany was the first country to ever try its own soldiers for war crimes and if there is a significant mark against the film it's that this is, frankly, an impossible story to squeeze into a 122 minutes motion picture. It's implications are so vast and though the movie has many fine scenes and is appropriately sober about the psychic turmoil of survivors and the need to understand your nation's own character and face your own personal demons, it also wants to be a detective story and a romance. Labyrinth is sometimes so swift that some of the developlments and results feel convenient rather than desperately produced or are brushed off so quickly that they matter less in retrospect. I rarely ask for movies to be longer but this one could have used Zodiac's willingness to chase loose ends and run on for at least another half hour or so. B/B+ 

Alexander Fehling loses himself in horrific documentation of World War II

Also at TIFF
A Little Chaos
The New Girlfriend
Wild
The Gate, Cub, The Farewell Party and Behavior
The Theory of Everything and Imitation Game
Foxcatcher and Song of the Sea
The Last Five Years
Wild Tales and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Force Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl and Out of Nature
Mommy
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Charlie's Country