TIFF 10 Capsules — Day 3
In a disturbing trend, all the films I graded 7 or better for the first three days of the festival, I could only describe as “hokum.” Effective hokum; enjoyable hokum; but hokum. THE KING’S SPEECH is Oscar-bait hokum, a relatively-restrained “historical Wiki movie” designed for contemporary consumption of semi-history. One detail suffices to prove: Winston Churchill’s role is about three times the size of Neville Chamberlain’s even though the movie ends before Churchill’s return in 1940. And did Churchill really suggest that “Albert” sounds too German, as if somehow “George” doesn’t, given British royal history?
Of course, in 2010, the king’s character trajectory has to involve learning to be equal to a commoner who insists on treating him as an equal. Still, what “equality” means in a modern monarchy is an interesting subject (this film covers some of the same ground as THE QUEEN, albeit less trenchantly) and there’s also a profound exchange in which George saying “I wouldn’t know” what friends are for, because friendship presupposes equality. The basic history of THE KING’S SPEECH, that George VI had a speech impediment and had “Dr.” Logue brought in unofficially to help his public speaking, is true enough and the story of George VI leading the nation into war to save civilization will get the patriotic juices flowing. While I couldn’t resist a snicker at the war speech against Germany being accompanied by Beethoven, Geoffrey Rush as the speech therapist keeps George VI mentally secure and “conducts his speech.” Rush has never been better — not as tic-ridden here as in some of his other roles. Colin Firth has both the regal bearing and the discomfort with that necessary to play an accidental king. And there’s a subtle contrast — one I wish the film had done more with — between George and his brother Edward about their attitudes toward royal power and what kingship (and leadership generally) means. THE KING’S SPEECH is also quite funny — one of my favorite scenes was George swearing in order to get used to natural speech flow.
The audience at the Ryerson ate it up and gave thunderous ovations to Hooper, Firth and Rush. Expect a lot of awards speeches in January and February.
Besides being a huge boxing fan, I could also have been a character in this movie (or at least one of the types). For about three months a decade ago, I went two or three times a week to a boxing gym in Georgia that was a lot like this one. And so I can say definitively that BOXING GYM is observationally superb. The people here, and in a typical gym, run the gamut — Golden Gloves guys, marginal pros and washed-up ex-pros making a living by training others, whitecollar guys who want to get in shape, kids who need to learn to fight back, frat boys impressing their girl, ethnic minorities with a dream, soldiers or cops who enjoy combat in all forms, women learning self-defense.
Wiseman gets not only that (easy enough), but he also nails the camaraderie between gym people at these different levels and goals — nobody is too good to help out anyone else or to work with him. BOXING GYM also shows how conversation here presupposes the martial virtues rather the whitecollar aversion thereto. There are a score of conversations about violence in all its forms — the Virginia Tech shooting, the Afghanistan war, e.g. But in one scene, two men converse about one of them being trained to be a Ranger, and the other says “well, that’s good” to the remark that the soldier won’t be sent off immediately. The response is “well, I joined the Army to go into combat.” There’s also 100 small touches that tickled me — for example, the way hand wrapping is the first thing you’re taught and becomes a kind of nervous tic while doing something else; also, we see a young girl jump rope but doing so “like a girl” which is funny in this context (I had to be told to jump rope properly — the point is to develop ankle and heel strength, hence you have to keep your ankles and knees together). Wiseman also choreographed his cameras like a virtuoso, or even a fighter, in order to avoid their being seen (as is typical, this Austin gym is filled with mirrors).
For all this though, BOXING GYM is not a great film because it never really goes beyond slice-of-life observation. We really only get to know one person — gym owner Richard Lord, and he’s more a presence than a “character.” There are thus no real trajectories to follow — Twitter bud Darren Hughes said he could watch a 10-hour cut of this material, and I said there’d essentially be no difference, besides the sheer time. The closest I can say BOXING GYM has to a trajectory, a reason to finish rather than stop, is that the last scene is the first time we see two adults spar one-on-one, full-contact (i.e., the culmination of everything else). But even so, we don’t really see who *these* men are (I’m pretty sure from a tattoo that one of them had never been seen before). At his best (the HIGH SCHOOL movies, e.g.), even Wiseman’s deliberately uninflected films (no commentary or voiceover, film-maker never seen, not even onscreen “namecards”), stories of a kind do develop. To steal a line with permission from Jeremy Heilman, we generally do see “before,” during” and “after” in Wiseman’s films. Here, it’s all “during.”
Since I’ve just acknowledged having trained at a boxing gym, that gives me Man Enough cred to admit defeat and just say “I didn’t get this.” The set up is wonderful and promising — photographer rushed late at night to a bedside to photograph a dead girl, and then she comes alive and smiles at him in the developed photos. And he gets infatuated with her memory. I was able to go for a while with de Oliveira’s signature style — stiff performances, timing a little “off,” an excess of exposition and declamation in the dialogue. And I was willing to wait and see what the point of the protagonist also taking an interest in photographing old-school laborers in the fields (they come by and pose for camera, i.e., de Oliveira’s also). I was also intrigued by his pointedly being made Jewish while Angelica’s family is devoutly Catholic with a sister in an old-school public-habit convent — potential there too. And then … hmmm … supernatural elements …
But after having set up an intriguing premise, ANGELICA doesn’t go anywhere interesting, and the end was too predictable. The lengthy kitchen-cabinet table discussions are dire, dire, dire. And the lead actor, Ricardo Trepa, is as uncharismatic a leading man as I’ve ever seen, at least in a major film by an important auteur who has done well with the likes of Michel Piccoli in lead roles. But being the director’s grandson gives you the right to lie there like a lump of used charcoal, I guess.
I have to acknowledge that the comparison I made on my Twitter — that this film is ALL ABOUT EVE set in the world of white-collar corporations — came from Ludivine Sagnier herself, during the Q-and-A. But she said it in response to a question from Yours Truly, so I feel free to use it. Like the Mankiewicz film, LOVE CRIME is bitchy trash, but it’s bitchy trash of the highest order. Trash on a croissant, you might say in this case. Sagnier plays the Anne Baxter role, only with a bit more viciousness, and Kristin Scott Thomas the Bette Davis role with a touch of Cruella de Vil. KST is a top-level executive who steals credit from Sagnier and says “you have real talent. I must make the most of it.” The first half of this film is a hugely entertaining game of dislikability one-upmanship.
But then the film’s big reveal happens (which I won’t spoil), and frankly I thought the movie was over and got a bit restless until I realized there was another reveal coming. Certainly I didn’t realize that Corneau, who died late last month, had a Hitchcock streak in him wider than I’d ever have guessed from his great TOUS LES MATINS DU MONDE (though Corneau is a French director; loving M. Hitch might be some kind of law). Sagnier also mentioned in the Q-and-A Corneau’s love of Fritz Lang and how the film didn’t deviate “one coma,” her French accent delightfully said, from the script. Indeed, LOVE CRIME is structured a bit like one of Lang’s deterministic geometrically-structured thrillers like FURY or SCARLET STREET, where everything is relevant, especially the apparent irrelevancies. If you don’t love (and apparently, some people didn’t) the second half’s deliberately anachronistic old-fashioned touches (having a criminal wear black gloves, say) and the way it has fun with the detective-story genre (I was laughing at one anti-believable “Death on the Nile” reference) — it might make LOVE CRIME seem predictable and tedious. But this is the kind of tight, hyper-controlled exercise in plot that I just eat up.
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