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The Auteurs Daily. Toronto. Contemporary World Cinema

The Auteurs Daily

Rabia

A handful of titles that screened in the Contemporary World Cinema program at Toronto this year wound up with entries of their own; those are indexed here. What follows are notes on several more.

"Patxi Amezcua's 25 Carat, a film that twists and winds its way through the lives of minor criminals in Barcelona's underworld," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "The script is sharp, the direction strong. 25 Carat is one of the surprising little gems of the year, a little film that deserves a lot of big praise."

Daniel Kasman has reviewed Malaysian director Ho Yuhang's fourth feature, At the End of Daybreak. Todd Brown notes that this is "a story of class division and aimless youth leading ultimately to large scale tragedy. Filled with the sort of attention to detail and character that made Rain Dogs such a favorite Daybreak also expands Ho's palette, the film taking the first steps into the crime genre that the director loves."

"Backyard builds its plot around a scandal on the US-Mexican border: the rising body count since 1996 of young women murdered in corrupt congested Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas." David D'Arcy for Screen: "Carlos Carrera's first feature since the successful The Crime of Father Amaro (2002) is an earnest melodrama that exhumes the corpses but never finds the drama to match its horror."

"Expertly crafted for maximum impact, the fact-based political thriller Balibo throbs with an anger and a passion rarely seen in recent Australian cinema," writes Megan Lehmann in the Hollywood Reporter. "Following a flurry of introspective family dramas, Robert Connolly (The Bank, Three Dollars) has made a pluckily unambivalent film that confronts big-picture geopolitics, managing to be vigorously entertaining even as it rails against a past wartime injustice."

Golam Rabbany Biplob's Beyond the Circle was the only Bangladeshi film at the festival and most likely, as Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky notes, "the only many Westerners will get to see in any context this year." It's "hardly difficult, but it does offer a simplistically constructed and reasoned melodrama that might turn off viewers no longer accustomed to such broad strokes painted in such ideological black and white.... [I]t may not be particularly good, but the film will give its viewers a brief glimpse of a national cinema that for most has been simply a mystery." More from Alissa Simon in Variety.

"Cheery but innocuous Bran Nue Dae is based on a 1990 Aussie stage musical," notes Dennis Harvey in Variety, "and while opened up for the screen by director/co-adapter Rachel Perkins, it retains that dated once-almost-hip look - like Up With People, or in this case, Up With Aborigines."

"A rookie prison guard finds himself trapped on the wrong side of the bars in Cell 211, a satisfyingly intense and suitably incendiary prison drama that keeps the viewer tightly handcuffed during its first hour before falling victim to the fraud of improbability," writes Jonathan Holland in Variety.

"Mistaking poverty for profundity and ugliness for drama, Carl Bessai's small-caliber Cole tells a familiar story about a poor boy trying to make good," writes John Anderson in Variety. "But the boy doesn't have much purpose, and neither does the movie."

"Ostensibly a suspense picture about a suburban family under siege by an angry mob of bigots, [Ole] Bornedal's Deliver Us From Evil presents itself as nothing less than a meditation on evil itself, and its all-too-explicable human origins," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "The emotions and issues that Bornedal plays with here are undeniably provocative, and add a bit of juice to what's essentially a primal thriller. But they leave a sour aftertaste too, as audiences are left to wonder whether such a contrived situation has any real application outside the confines of a movie." More from Todd Brown at Twitch.

"[F]irst-time director Giuseppe Capotondi proves there is life in Italian cinema beyond ponderous glossy dramas and pneumatic sex comedies," writes Lee Marshall in Screen. "Mixing film noir, thriller, love story and supernatural horror, The Double Hour has some of the dour provincial atmosphere and subtly menacing tone of 2007 Italo murder mystery The Girl by the Lake; but it's more intricately plotted, and takes us into much more intriguing dream-and-reality territory. It also features a standout performance by Italy-based Russian actress Ksenia Rappoport which won her the best actress prize on the Lido." More from Guy Lodge (In Contention) and Boyd van Hoeij (Variety).

"Latina street gangs in Los Angeles are the focus of the latest film by writer-director Alan Jacobs, who had modest success with Nina Takes a Lover and American Gun," writes Peter Brunette in his review of Down for Life for the Hollywood Reporter. "This kind of self-professed homage to Italian neorealism, where the quest for 'authenticity' guides every artistic decision and becomes an end in itself, certainly isn't new, but what's different this time around is the no-holds-barred violence that fills the film to bursting."

"Haim Tabakman's Eyes Wide Open situates its tenuous same-sex affair in the Orthodox community in contemporary Jerusalem, and much tortured hand-wringing, heavy-breathing, and mezuzah-kissing ensues," writes Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky. "It's so tempting to treat Eyes Wide Open as the preposterous melodrama that it easily could have been, but Tabakman manages to make a well composed, unemphatic, and fleet drama out of the overheated material." Reviews from Cannes.

"Mika Kaurismäki, pretty much universally known as the less talented of the Finnish Kaurismäki brothers, is back in Toronto with an offbeat, often funny battle of the sexes comedy that is perfectly pleasant to watch," writes Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter. The House of Branching Love is "good, but not a home run either."

"Movies in which absolutely nothing happens are a tricky proposition, and first-time Chilean director Alejandro Fernández Almendras pulls it off with more low-key aplomb than most in Huacho," writes Mike D'Angelo in Not Coming to a Theater Near You. More from Michael Guillén (Twitch) and Bernard Besserglik (Hollywood Reporter).

"Nina is an aspiring rock star. Kiko is a deaf dancer. And the idea of the two of them hooking up in a Filipino teen-romance will probably provoke as many rolls of the eyes among those reading this as Nina herself delivers in the film's opening act." Todd Brown at Twitch on If I Knew What You Said: "The look is cheap, the script cliché, the acting weak. But then something strange happens. At about the twenty minute mark the film starts to work." More from John Anderson in Variety.

"One from the heart," begins Justin Chang in Variety, "Jean Charles recounts the sad saga of Jean Charles de Menezes, a young Brazilian immigrant shot dead in 2005 by London police who mistook him for a terrorist. While its final passages seethe with proper outrage, director Henrique Goldman's moving docudrama is no liberal harangue but rather a scrappy, affectionate celebration of a man who, as inhabited by Selton Mello, all but leaps off the screen with life." More from Allan Hunter in Screen.

"The latest from Dutch favorite Alex Van Warmerdam - who also plays a key role in the film as dog-man Theo - The Last Days of Emma Blank is a darker than dark comedy that comes to Toronto fresh from winning the Venice Days sidebar at the Venice Film Festival." Todd Brown at Twitch: "Emma Blank is one of those films that appears to be one thing on the surface but give that shiny veneer just the tiniest scratch and all sorts of darkness begins to emerge."

Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective is not "just a wry portrait of the clash between changing attitudes and rigid laws, but also a call for active consciousness in life and in cinema," writes Fernando F Croce at Slant. More from Scott Tobias at the AV Club for now; we'll be hearing much more when the film screens at the New York Film Festival in just a few days.

"The plight of immigrant workers has been well documented on screen, but it's not every day their stories are given a creepy, film noir overlay," writes Michael Rechtshaffen in the Hollywood Reporter. "Such, however, is the case of Rabia, an effectively atmospheric suspense drama by Ecuadorian Sebastián Cordero (Cronicas) that starts out conveying the day-in-a-life naturalism of a Ken Loach film before venturing into decidedly Hitchcockian territory." More from Howard Feinstein in Screen.

"Though the complete Sawasdee Bangkok project features nine shorts by nine directors, only four were chosen to participate at the Toronto Film Festival screening," notes Todd Brown at Twitch, "those four being new shorts by Wisit Sasanatieng, Aditya Assarat, Kongdej Jaturanrasmee and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. All four are relatively big names on the international film circuit, all four given very close to free rein to tell whatever story they wanted to tell with the sole condition that it had to somehow be about their view of Bangkok. And while the limited production budget for these projects - which were commissioned and largely funded by Thai public television - means much of the directors' trademark visual flair is lacking the stories are quite strong - albeit it more than a little bleak in three of the four entries - right across the board." More from Dan Fainaru in Screen.

"For Tales from the Golden Age, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days writer-director Cristian Mungiu invites four young Romanian filmmakers to join him in helming five mostly comic short films (all scripted by Mungiu) about the quirks and absurdities of life in the Ceausescu era," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. Overall, the result "plays like a series of pointed satires aimed at a sociopolitical system that no longer exists. They’re fairly keen satires; just a little late to the party." Reviews from Cannes.

Image: Rabia.

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.

Wow—a ton of films I want to see. 25 Carat looks very interesting. Thanks for the write-up, I’ll be looking for many of these.
Thanks, Josh. More indexes to come, too.

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