TIFF Capsules — Day 2
Not a very good day, frankly. One (fully expected to be) great film and several disappointing misfires, even the Ang Lee to some extent.
YOU, THE LIVING, Roy Andersson, Sweden — 9
The only possible criticism of this film is that it’s the same movie as SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR — Charles Odell said it [mostly] could have been the outtakes from the 2000 masterpiece. LIVING is (very) marginally less implausibly surrealistic, but the same distinctive style is abundant — the forced perspective on the sets, the nailed-down camera with a handful of zooms in and out, the single-take scenes, the white-faced characters, the incantatory dialogue, the shot-in-studio claustrophobia with nary a drop of natural light in sight, the same dread-filled apocalyptic tone, though that doesn’t kick in until later. LIVING starts out funnier than SONGS, and if you’re expecting a pure comedy, you may think it loses gas in its last third, as it does become a bit more serious. I just want to tick off the funny scenes like a litany: the dog, the tablecloth, non-alcoholic beer, the haircut, the execution, the sensitive 90s biker, the trial. The key is offhand gestures that are ignored (e.g., a door closing) or things that build up from nowhere in particular, like a grain of sand that becomes a pearly before your eyes (the scenes in the apartments that we’ve just seen “across the yard”). It’s a minimalist and very dry style of humor that is so perfectly in synch with my own sense of humor that Andersson may be incapable of making a film I wouldn’t like. The film does take a darker turn (an untypically unperceptive Mike aside) — there are several scenes that are not played for jokes at all, often associated with fourth-wall breaking (the psychiatrist, the happy wedding). And both religion and music, often in concert, are foregrounded as creating both community and the hope of a better life “across the Jordan”; one song, played more than once during LIVING, was identified by Robert as an evangelical hymn. Given SONGS as well, Andersson has a sensibility with a hotline to mine.
THE MOURNING FOREST, Naomi Kawase, Japan — 5
To be perfectly frank, I was nodding off on and off during this one (and I didn’t nod off at all during the 915am LIVING, so I know it’s at-least partially FOREST’s fault). Clearly, Kawase has an eye for both the sweeping landscape extreme long shot and an urgent verite-style “among the weeds.” Just as clearly, she has no ability to create interesting characters or plots. The tone is completely different, but FOREST in some ways reminded me of L’AVVENTURA — beginning with an ensemble, of residents and youthful caregivers at an old-folks home, that narrows focus to a couple of characters, and with the drama coming in natural correlatives in the landscape. And like with my first viewing of the Antonioni, I knew when I saw the last shot — of two people embracing, of two trees intertwined — that I *should* be getting more out this image than I objectively am.
ONE HUNDRED NAILS, Ermanno Olmi, Italy — 4
A film so ham-fisted that it can’t pass for exhibition in Israel. You know it’s all too obvious when a Christ-figure protagonist is called “Jesus Christ” by other characters. And when his resemblance to Jesus is noted in police Identikit descriptions. And when an old man asks him to tell the story about the rich boy and we hear (a version of) the Prodigal Son parable. And when the central character’s friends ask him to get more wine because we can’t have a celebration without wine (as even Jesus said, it’s pointed out). Oh … and I’m not sure why Our Lord would destroy books, but I guess Olmi sees Jesus as a existential personalist. I was liking this film for a while, as the central character drops out of society to live like a hermit, like Jesus going off to the desert. And it does close with a lovely image, of candles lining the route of the expected return. But what did any of this have to do with the government’s Po River projects that (apparently) threaten the Apostles remained obscure at best.
LES CHANSONS D’AMOUR, Christophe Honore, France — 4
The official Cordon Bleu Recipe for this French dish: Take one cup each of UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT, mix well. But before mixing, take out the hack Michel LeGrand music, both wall-to-wall themes and Mozartian arias, and replace with contemporary Francopop. Also, ditch all choreography, however cheerfully amateurish, and replace with natural movement around sets or streets (also, be sure to keep away Gene Kelly or anyone similar). And who needs those unrealistic candy-pastel colors and even color-coordinated costumes. We can do color *realistically* now dammit. Oh … and speaking of things we can do now … add heaping dollops of sex, of every imaginable variety of Tab A fitting Slot B (can we get those two Deneuve chicks, only make sure that in this opening scene, they’ll be in bed with each other and a man). The product — ick.
LUST, CAUTION, Ang Lee, Taiwan — 7
Despite this film’s notorious and rather off-putting sex scenes (which are richly deserving of the NC-17 rating), the best scene in this spy thriller is one that Hitchcock would have been proud of. And that’s not speculation — he actually did make the Gromek scene in TORN CURTAIN, he said, to illustrate a point — how difficult it really is to kill someone. And to be honest, I think Lee actually did his scene on the same point, better — a bit dirtier, just as messy, but doesn’t go on for quite as long and so avoids bad laughter. Yes, I did say that: Ang Lee outdid Hitchcock. To continue the Hitchcock comparisons, the basic scenario here is NOTORIOUS — basically man persuades the woman he loves to sleep with the enemy to advance political intrigue. That comparison is obviously unfair — Lee’s film is a very good literate-midlebrow genre piece (i.e., what he makes), but it isn’t in that category. Why? Imagine Devlin as a politics-only romantic cipher, and also because I simply did not buy the last plot point — the one that takes place in a jeweler’s shop. Still, this is a good film and an expansion of Lee’s major theme of repression. While the early trailers were selling IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, *the* recent film about “passion repressed,” Lee gives us here passion expressed, only for something other than love. Until love (or jealousy or something) gets in the way. And Tony Leung is as good at playing repressed, which he does here for much of the films length, as he was in the Wong Kar-wai film.