Monday, September 11, 2006


SATURDAY: For all its gross, excessive hilarity, Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” pales in comparison to Saturday’s first offering, “Taxidermia” (a TIFF press & industry programmer’s idea of a sick joke: showing this at 9am!). From Gyorgy Palfi, a Budapester whose inspired, altogether more tasteful “Hukkle” screened here in 2002, “Taxidermia, like “Borat,” parodies backward Soviet-influenced village culture, its wart-faced populace’s too-close relationship to poultry and pigs, and other things that make you laugh, wince, hunch over in pain and pop your eyeballs in wonder. Palfi’s whirligig visual style mixes and mashes Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Terry Gilliam and Jan Svankmajer, while his scatological, out-there sexual sensibilities have a bizarro John Waters (if he was Slavic, and straight) edge. What’s it about? Ha! A multigenerational tour through Hungary’s post-war Soviet rule and aftermath, it’s about the sport of speed-eating (championship gluttony, spooning down pounds of bean soup and gelatin-encased offal!) It’s about love and parenting and Army life, Peeping Tomism, and father-son relationships gone really, really bad. It’s about a lot of “ations” – masturbation, fornication, regurgitation. It has to be seen to be believed, and it should be.

Interview with Sir Ridley Scott, who tells you he’s getting over a nasty 5-day flu -- AFTER he shakes your hand. He and Peter Mayle, who wrote “A Good Year,” are old London ad-world buddies and they each have spreads in Provence. Scott’s wrapping his third film with Russell Crowe, the 1970s drug and cops saga, “American Gangster”, in New York right now. The director and his star like each other.

In “The Last King of Scotland,” Forest Whitaker is Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. It’s a big, lusty part, and Whitaker is great in it, going from charming revolutionary to paranoid despot in the span of a couple of tumultuous (and over-directed, breathlessly edited) hours. Seen from the perspective of a young Scottish doctor who goes to work for Amin and becomes one of his closest advisers, it’s a remarkable and odd story, very much worth watching despite its filmmaking flaws. Whitaker = Oscar nom (even though, having now seen Christopher Guest’s indie-world awards season pararody, “For Your Consideration,” it seems utterly foolish and predictable saying that.)

Interview Russell Crowe, who’s wearing black Sydney football club sweatshirt and who’s chatty and smart and talking about his daily commute from north of Manhattan to Governor’s Island, for the shoot of "American Gangster" (he plays a cop, Denzel Washington has the title role): The Aussie star gets ferried down the Hudson each morning on a speedboat. His daily commute on the set of “A Good Year” in the South of France: a 10-minute bike-ride from hotel to chateau. He’s beaming like a little boy.

Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” is another super-cinematic, dark, bloody, graphic, saga – this one set in Spain as the Fascists battle a stray band of freedom fighters at the close of WW2, and a little girl has an amazing journey into realms of faeriedom and fantasy. It’s “The Wizard of Oz,” if Tarantino got his hands on it, and he was Spanish, kind of.

I didn’t get what was going on half the time in the Indonesian musical “Opera Jawa,” a combo of Bollywood singalongs and a more spiritual, avant-garde-y art-installation and dance mindset. It’s beautiful, though, and strange, especially when the lovely Artika Sari Devi does weird dances with oversized, conical straw hats. Javanese puppetry, Indonesian politics and street crime have a part, too. As do beheaded cows. What’s with all the bloody, butchered livestock at this year’s fest?


SUNDAY: Things start badly – bloody awful, as the fake-Brits in “Love and Other Catastrophies” would say. A stab at jaunty, sophisto, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” tooling-around-London-in-a-vintage-Mini sex and relationship comedy, this self-consciously clever piffle from Alex “Madonna: Truth or Dare” Keshishian stars Brittany Murphy as an American ex-pat who gads, gawks, and I dunno what. The opening credits music, blasting over putatively snappy dialogue, was nothing if not distracting, the characters (a gay screenwriting journalist, a fashion mag editor, a hunky photo assistant) were annoying, and “For Your Consideration” was starting in 10 minutes in Varsity 8. Make a run for it.

(A note, in case anybody’s reading this: the last thing a critic does is quit a movie before it’s over, and if “LAOC” gets distribution and my colleague can’t review, I’ll revisit it in its entirety. But there are way too many possibilities and potential gems at TIFF, and buyers and other industry-ites get up and leave all the time. It feels bad, but then it feels good.)

“For Your Consideration”: the Christopher Guest Players do their thing, gently mocking Hollywood/Indiewood narcissism. But this stuff’s beginning to feel stale and crusty and somewhat off-the-mark. Thank God for Fred Willard, who plays an “Entertainment Tonight”-like co-anchor, wears a faux-hawk and gets off all the best lines.

“Little Children,” from Todd Field, is next. Kate Winslet is amazing as an unhappy housewife who tumbles into an affair with a hunky Mr. Mom (Patrick Wilson) in upper-tier suburban settings. Beautfully shot, and deploying a smart, ironic voice-over that lends a dimension of humor, and distance, to an otherwise too-disturbing tale, this is formidable, thought-provoking stuff. Michael Moore is sitting next to me. Before the film starts he tells me about the “Borat” public screening -- he could have fixed the projector if they’d let him cannibalize a part from another booth (he was a projectionist for many years in Detroit), but they wouldn’t. Then the lights go down and “Little Children” begins, with the Canadian distributor Atlantis Alliance’s logo: “They still haven’t paid me for “Bowling For Columbine,” Moore whispers. “I’m getting ready to sue them.” Then, five or ten minutes into “Little Children,” a weird meta moment as Jennifer Connelly’s character explains what she does for a living. “I make documentaries.” “Oh, like Michael Moore?” someone asks. No sound from the seat next to me.

I just make it into Benoit Jacquot’s “L’Intouchable.” His “A Single Girl,” with Virginie Ledoyen, is a real-time mini-masterpiece, and like that, this one lovingly follows a young French beauty (Isild Le Besco) on a psychic odyssey – although this is a geographic odyssey, too, as Le Besco’s Jeanne quits Paris for New Delhi to find her Indian father. A father that she only just found out about! Jacquot shoots doc-style, so people on the crowded streets of New Delhi eyeball his camera and occasionally grin, but mostly his camera only has eyes for Le Besco. She’s very good, and the film stays with you, even though it flirts with French art movie cliché and verite self-parody.

Speaking of self-parody, Harvey Keitel absolutely kills “Un Crime,” Manuel Pradal’s interesting up-to-the-moment-Keitel-appears story about a guy (Norman Reedus) who races his greyhound and bails drunken floozy Emmanuelle Beart out of jail for a living. Set in interestingly grungy quarters of Manhattan and Brooklyn (and boasting an opening shot of a Delilah’s Gentleman’s Club billboard – yes, the Philly strip club), “Un Crime” (it’s in English) is a mystery of sorts about the death, several years earlier, of Reedus’ girlfriend. Keitel plays a cabbie that may or may not have been the culprit, the perp. Beart, pursuing the case, pouting her lips and puffing les cigarettes, climbs into Keitel’s taxi (yes, he’s a Scorsese alum and he’s a Taxi Driver!) for the first time. They chit and chat, and then Keitel delivers his first major clunker: “In the harsh light, I see that you’ve got sadness written all over you.” People start running for the exit.


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