Toronto International Film Festival 2012 | Odds and ends
At Toronto I saw 44 films—far more than I could capably cover either in my wrap piece or in the blog posts I wrote during the festival. But it’s worth addressing at least a handful of major titles that I haven’t gotten to until now. In the order I saw them:
Seven Psychopaths (Dir. Martin McDonagh)
I alluded to this one in a sentence, but I liked it well enough that it’s worth elaborating on. In his first film since In Bruges, playwright McDonagh has made an Adaptation-like meta-comedy revolving around a screenwriter, pointedly named Marty (Colin Farrell), who struggles to write a script about…well, seven psychopaths. His life and his work begin to merge. In focusing so relentlessly on writer’s block, this gleefully violent and sometimes aimless movie made me wonder if McDonagh was mainly reflecting his own. At the same time, it’s frequently hilarious—especially when Sam Rockwell is taking issue with Gandhi’s dictum that an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.
Something in the Air (Dir. Olivier Assayas)
A sort of spiritual sequel to 1994’s Cold Water, Assayas’s memoir-ish portrait of radicalism in the early ’70s is engaging and extremely well made, though the autobiographical material prevents it from having much of an upshot.
Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out (Dir. Marina Zenovich)
The current status of the Polanski case really comes down to the question, raised in Zenovich’s Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, of whether there was misconduct on the part of the late Judge Rittenband and the prosecutorial team. Everything else—that Polanski is now a family man; that Samantha Geimer has forgiven him; the rather tenuous conspiracy theory that maybe the Swiss government arrested him only to protect its banks by currying favor with the U.S.—is irrelevant.
Hyde Park on Hudson (Dir. Roger Michell)
My, my, FDR was a rascal! Michell’s adaptation of Richard Nelson’s play seems inadequate even by Oscar-bait standards, with key scenes (such as Roosevelt greeting King George VI) underwritten and drowned out with music that would be more appropriate to the end credits. Yes, Bill Murray’s Roosevelt gets a hand job from his cousin (Laura Linney).
The Act of Killing (Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
This has gone down as one of the documentaries of the year, but the premise made me ill. Oppenheimer takes self-described gangsters, recruited by the Indonesian army after the 1965 coup to participate in the genocide of alleged communists, and invites them to reenact their crimes, hoping they’ll develop self-awareness. With this setup, a filmmaker has a very fine line to walk before the project turns into mutual exploitation. (The production's history is complex; it can be found here.)
The Land of Hope (Dir. Sion Sono)
Certainly one of the most topical films I saw in Toronto, the new feature from the director of Love Exposure is set in 2013 and focuses on the aftermath of a fictitious nuclear disaster—albeit one that’s pretty much the same as Fukushima. Sono’s point is that Japan has all too quickly forgotten about the dangers of radiation. At 133 minutes, the film is redundant, but the material—which reminded me of Akira Kurosawa’s 1955 I Live in Fear—is potent.
Penance (Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Overlong Japanese movies were perhaps a trend this year, though the content of the "other" Kurosawa’s 4.5-hour melodrama—made for television and adapted from a novel by Minato Kanae—is pretty inane. If you’re going to weave together five interrelated threads, try not to save the most banal for last.