Toronto — Day 4 — capsules
BORN AND BRED (Pablo Trapero, Argentina, 4)
My reaction to this movie is, rationally speaking, impossible. BORN AND BRED is a 100-minute movie. For the first 98 minutes of it, I was completely uninterested in it. Oh, I didn’t hate it — BORN AND BRED is professionally made, professionally acted, technically competent, not morally repulsive or otherwise objectionable per se. I was just utterly indifferent. The early part of the film plays like a Haneke depiction of a well-off Buenos Aires bourgeois couple with their perfect child — only as shot by a TV-movie crew and a network dramedy writing team. I knew that something would happen to burst this perfect (and perfectly inert) bubble. Sure enough it does, and once I realized what had happened next and that the movie on my mind should have been BLUE, I knew where BORN AND BRED would go. And one (very well-telegraphed) difference from the Kieslowski aside, that’s exactly what happened. Fitfully. And with little of interest happening through the slog, though someone with more interest in landscapes and scenery than me might enjoy the vistas of either southern Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego. But then the last scene happened (and it’s not a scene that’s unexpected or otherwise recodes the first 98 minutes), and I felt a lump in the throat. I was actually kinda moved by the reunion, though I should not have been. Not moved enough to recommend BORN AND BRED or to be interested in seeing it again to see if I missed something. But there it is. I report; you decide.
OFFSIDE (Jafar Panahi, Iran, 8 )
Mike D’Angelo once dismissed an Iranian movie, saying (close as I recall) “why do the women in this set-in-Iran movie act as if they don’t know that the status of women in Iran is shit.” If Mike wasn’t referring to Panahi’s THE CIRCLE, he should (also) have been, and that’s what makes OFFSIDE such a step forward over that piece of feminist hand-wringing masquerading as a movie. These Iranian women know their status, and the basic plot premise is about their efforts to get around it and do something particular that men take for granted, in this case (though obviously it stands for more than itself) by getting into Tehran’s national soccer stadium for a World Cup qualifying game against Bahrain. (One word of advice for soccer geeks — don’t keep score during the drama.) Like Panahi’s WHITE BALLOON and CRIMSON GOLD, it’s a simple premise that gets developed to the fullest in the course of a long day. There are lengthy sequences of 20-plus minutes (here, taking a woman to the bathroom, like CRIMSON GOLD’s pizza man stuck on the street while a vice raid is going on) that actually use plausible drama rather than a soapbox to illustrate how Iranians live with/don’t live with/undermine their theocratic regime’s stifling restrictions on women. To its eternal credit, OFFSIDE also shows how the women are actually real soccer fans and Iranian patriots first — when Iran scores, they chant “Iran forever” and sing the same frenzied cheers the men do (“Iran blankets you with goals” — which I assume sounds better in the original). This is not only more believable — I remember waiting to see Pope John Paul, standing for four hours next to a Brazilian woman who knew as much about soccer and was as opinionated about it as I — but OFFSIDE thus shows how national pride matters. It not only isn’t dimmed by an oppressive regime, but (and I will be vague) such nationalism even offers a space for dissent or undermining such a tyranny. And God bless him, Panahi never pushes that point as such, though it’s plain to anyone with two eyes.
CASHBACK (Sean Ellis, Britain, 4)
I didn’t see the same-titled short film that this grew out of, but now I do want to — and not for a particularly good reason. I was assured by fellow film geek Jason Overbeck that the short CASHBACK doesn’t have the most aggravating facet of the feature CASHBACK. That score. Gawd is it ever incessant. We get the standard “Bolero” and Bellini’s “Norma” interpolations (which is obviously fine music in itself) and a lot of piano-tinkling mickey-mousing. A lot. In fact, the music is practically wall-to-wall, particularly during the incessant slo-mo sequences about how you want to freeze time to snatch and savor all the beauty in it — to the point that the music became the dominant fact about the film for me. Imagine the paper-bag sequence from AMERICAN BEAUTY. Now imagine it for about 40 minutes of a 90-minute movie. It’s supposed to evoke all sorts of romantic heartache and longing, but it mostly gave me an ache somewhere else and left me longing for a stiff drink. I began to sympathize with people who say Wong Kar-wai used Yumeji’s Theme too much (but come on … that’s way better music, and it accompanies Maggie sashaying in a qipao). It’s as if Ellis didn’t have enough confidence in his drama — and supporting this thesis, CASHBACK also has a great deal of voiceover narration. Pity. The basic premise (and what the short is) is an OFFICE-SPACE like portrayal of My Strange Workmates at the Supermarket Overnight Shift. Had potential — there are some real eccentrics here. But Ellis tries to flesh it out with backstory into a low-budget romantic comedy. The material was way too thin for that.
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