TIFF Day Six, first part (with grades from Days 9 and 10)
No time to write more than a couple of capsules right now, but first my grades for the final two days at Toronto (with one film from Day 6 I had forgotten about):
FREE RADICALS (Barbara Albert, Austria, 2003) — 3
CLOUDS OF MAY (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey, 2000) — 5
THE MERRY WIDOW (Erich Von Stroheim, USA, 1925) — 7
THE TULSE LUPER SUITCASES: PART 1 (Peter Greenaway, Britain, 2003) — 0
DALLAS 362 (Scott Caan, USA, 2003) — 9*
CONFESSION (Zeki Demirkubuz, Turkey, 2001) — 2
ZATOICHI (Takeshi Kitano, Japan, 2003) — 7
*Best American film of the festival and does not (as of yesterday morning) have a distributor. This film could be an Indiewood smash if handled well. (What is it with the children of people involved with THE GODFATHER?)
THE COMPANY (Robert Altman, USA, 2003, 6)
Fellow TIFF Geek (and roommate) Charles Odell said this film, about a season of Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet Company, was Altman’s best since SHORT CUTS — an assessment with which I agree, but which means rather less coming from me than from him. Though his two masterpieces (NASHVILLE, THE PLAYER) mean I will never be wholly uninterested in him, Altman is just not one of my favorite directors. Still, this is obviously The Man doing what he does well, and that will be enough praise for some folks, and even semi-skeptics about Altman should try to check it out.
The ready comparison film is READY-TO-WEAR, Altman’s portrayal of the fashion industry, and the difference in tone is immediate and obvious. Yes, some of the hyperstylized ballet costumes look silly, but there’s a complete absence of the contempt and misanthropy that made the earlier film just so unpleasant to share a room with. With the director’s greatest weakness somewhat reined in (we still get some of those Lettermanesque end-the-shot punch lines), the movie is free to rock. Altman can do his characteristic overlapping, sound-mix-dependent dialog in his sleep, but the backstage setting and all the chaos that surrounds putting on a show of any kind means that here it feels fresh and appropriate.
Still, as always, he uses the ballet subject matter as a side-angle approach to his real concern — the relationships between the “ins” and the “outs” and the efforts of the latter group to become the former. There’s not much plot, and he handles the little there is in a rather perfunctory manner. Two or three threads threaten to take over the movie — the rehearsals, a backstage love affair — but never for long and as usual an Altman is weak in the narrative, but strong in a sense of place, and there are other compensating virtues — Malcolm McDowell performance as the company’s director is pure ham, but in the service of playing a ham.
For the second time this year, my lack of ballet knowledge gets in the way of judging one aspect of a movie with any confidence, but to my layman’s eye, star Neve Campbell did just fine (she certainly didn’t wreck the film by appearing untrained in a field of pro dancers) I won’t say there are definitely none, but I can say (sitting, jogging my memory a few days later) that I don’t recall a single cheap “ballet dancers are homos” joke. Which is good.
LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE (Sylvain Chomet, France/Canada, 2003, 7)
A nice refreshing dousing with Perrier in the midst of a pretty sombre day. I had trepidations about this feature-length cartoon going into the festival, because of reputed America-bashing a la frog. There’s a little of that (the city of Belleville has some resemblance to New York and has a statue in the harbor that looks like the Statue of Liberty, only it’s fat and holding up a hamburger. But how insulting could such a joke be from the country that actually produced the Statue in the first place? More seriously, it’s just about three or four moments, and frankly they’re more than outweighed by the film’s jokes about All Things French (and how they’re crap). I mean, what’s not to love about a movie that features the French Mafia (demonstrating those famed Surrender Monkey martial virtues) missing every gunshot while using a fleet of 2-cylinder 1960s Citroens to chase a two-horse-drawn vehicle with no wheels … and losing.
TRIPLETTES begins with a TV show of a WW2-era trio of singers and their hit “Belleville Rendezvous,” the original title of the film. It then centers on three viewers, a boy who wants to be a cyclist, his implacable trainer-mother and their dog. During the Tour de France, some stuff happens and mom and dog have to rescue the now-adult boy from bondage in Belleville. It’s perfectly airy and silly, and is really just an excuse for a series of carefully set-up comic gags (there’s one that doesn’t pay off until after the closing credits).
TRIPLETTES also showcases a style of animation I’ve never quite seen before — a kind of retro-grunge Tex Avery. I’ve seen some French animation/comics in the past (BABAR, TINTIN, MADELINE, and the style of those pre-1960 movie posters), and TRIPLETTES seems to have some family resemblance (the flat 2-dimensionality of the animation e.g.) while also finding a new style (probably inspired by the Jeunet/Caro films like AMELIE and DELICATESSEN and the explicitly-acknowledged Jacques Tati films). This style, though it also owes something to Avery’s work at Looney Tunes, tends toward grotesquery, outsized caricature, elaborate gags, and outrageous and impossible physical movement.
I’m not sure how broad this movie’s appeal will be. Fun though it us, it clearly can’t appeal too broadly to American children, because, not only is its subject matter so alien, there’s almost no dialogue but a few lines of garble. It may be more intelligible in snatches to Francophones, but clearly there was nothing essential or requiring subtitling.
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