Toronto International Film Festival 2011: The Loneliest Planet, Dark Horse, Coriolanus, Kill List, Dreileben; conclusions
I tend to struggle a bit with the last post of the festival, in part because I'm invariably working on a wrap piece and want to save my favorites for that, and in part because the hype has calmed down to a point where it's not always clear which non-favorites are worth highlighting. (I missed this year's surprise Cadillac People's Choice Award winner, Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now?, which until today hadn't figured much into the discussion.)
This year, I'm also in the early stages of what appears to be a massive festival cold, making the mental fog surrounding the writing of this post a tad thicker than usual. So rather than attempt to wrest my concluding thoughts into some sort of grand theme or assessment—I'll save that for the magazine—here's a rundown of a few notable films I saw in the fest's last few days. Check back for my wrap piece early this week.
The Loneliest Planet Among critics, this was one of the most talked-about films at the festival, which is a bit of a paradox, since it's almost impossible to discuss the movie without giving away all its surprises. Suffice it to say that the film concerns a couple (Hani Furstenberg and Gael García Bernal) hiking in the Caucasus. Over the course of the film, their relationship evolves in subtle, barely perceptible ways, as if someone had reworked last year's Everyone Else in the idiom of Gerry (to cite two frequently invoked comparisons). There is little in the way of conversation, and indeed, of dialogue, as the couple's attitude toward each other shifts. Mark Peranson argues that the film moves to "a place beyond language," and he has a point, though I can't shake a nagging suspicion that that approach is too abstract for the subject, with director Julia Loktev (Day Night Day Night) going to great lengths to avoid having her characters mention the elephant in the room. I'll need a second viewing to determine whether I'm being too literal-minded, and whether this is the magnificent achievement some claim.
Dark Horse Todd Solondz's new film, meanwhile, is almost nothing but talk. Typically for Solondz, the movie follows a middle-aged schlub (Jordan Gelber) still living with his parents (Christopher Walken, who would win the Best Hair Oscar if such a thing existed, and Mia Farrow) who impulsively proposes to a depressed schemer (Selma Blair) who has chronic hepatitis. The movie has a few interesting ideas about the inequality of romantic appeal and the way that notions of marriageability have evolved over time. The use of fantasy sequences is also more elliptical and suggestive than in the director's other films. But all told, this feels like a half-baked, vaguely ugly work—something Solondz made to give ammo to his detractors.
Coriolanus Stepping into the director's chair, Ralph Fiennes stages one of Shakespeare's lesser plays against the backdrop of a modern military coup. (The setting is still ostensibly Rome, but the movie was shot in Belgrade, and the cast is multiethnic.) John Logan's screenplay strives to clarify the text with a lot of fake newscasts and battle scenes, to a point where Shakespeare's language frequently has to fight for attention. As Coriolanus's mother, Vanessa Redgrave gets one supremely moving scene toward the end.
Kill List I'll admit that my Circadian rhythms were not in the most receptive mode for this year's meandering, shocktastic Midnight Madness closer, but I'm really not sure what all the hype was about. Time Out London has a considerably more charitable take.
Dreileben Screened at the beginning and end of the fest and sporting a complicated back story, Dreileben consists of three films, each executed in a distinct style and tone by a different director, that revolve around the subject of a killer on the loose. The first installment, by Christian Petzold (Jerichow), is a love triangle with a vaguely Twin Peaks–ian feel; the second, helmed by Dominik Graf, is a full-color melodrama that keeps threatening to turn into an Almodóvar film, full of reminiscences and secrets from the past; and the third, from director Christoph Hochhäusler, is primarily a chase picture. The trilogy is consistently engrossing, and seen as a whole, it makes a fascinating case study for a discussion of film style and form. But as drama, the series suffers from the same problem as the similar Red Riding trilogy: a thudding, overexplained third segment. Still, almost all of the audience stuck with it until the end. At a festival as busy as Toronto, that's no small feat.