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TIFF 2010. Discovery, Visions, Wavelengths

And with this roundup, we finally wrap the coverage of the coverage of this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

"Artists have it tough everywhere, but maybe nowhere worse, suggests writer-director Julio Hernández Cordon in his second feature, Marimbas from Hell, than his native Guatemala," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "A more realized film than his teenagers-in-trouble debut, Gasolina, this largely comic look at one determined marimba player's struggles is a clear allegory on the dangers Guatemalan artists face when thinking outside the box." Here in The Daily Notebook, Daniel Kasman's found it "uneven but pleasant."

Leon Ford's Griff the Invisible is "just an anemic losers-in-love story with a Kick-Ass twist," writes John Anderson for Variety. "[Ryan] Kwanten's Griff — described by his brother Tim (Patrick Brammall) as a customer-liaison officer who thinks he's an invisible superhero is more an object of sympathy than admiration in this Down Under dramedy, even though Ford does a nice job of leading the aud in various directions before delivering the eccentric romance the movie's really about."

"Long on cast and concept but slightly short on execution, Michael Henry's Blame never quite manages to reach its full potential or really cash in on its premise, ultimately ending up as an interesting but minor footnote to the Australian wave of the past few years," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "Animal Kingdom, Van Diemen's Land or Last Ride this ain't." Dennis Harvey sets up that premise in Variety: "Fortyish music teacher Bernard (Damian de Montemas) arrives at his rural home outside Perth only to be set upon by five hooded attackers who force-feed him an excess of sleeping pills, then stage his 'suicide.' They're friends of a girl who had an affair with the teacher three years earlier, and who has killed herself. But once the fleeing quintet realize they've left something behind, they return to discover the dose wasn't fatal. What's more, Bernard credibly pleads innocence over the girl's death — and fingers someone in the group for withholding their own guilty secrets." More from Megan Lehmann (Hollywood Reporter).





"Virtually dialogue-free for most of the way — the total amount would probably add up to about two pages of script — [Arielle Javitch's] Look, Stranger seeks to convey one woman's journey through a warzone as an almost purely visceral experience. The war goes unnamed, the context for it isn't provided, and actions speak quite a bit louder than words.... But all roads lead to a clunky monologue where [Anamaria] Marinca finally finds a moment to express her feelings and they come tumbling out in a kind of strained poetry that belies the film's previous commitment to hard realism. It's better before question marks become periods." At the AV Club, Scott Tobias gives it a C. But here in The Daily Notebook, Daniel Kasman argues that "while the Red [camera] can capture pictorial texture and color values, its intrinsic glossy smoothness is antithetical to the tactility this film relies upon transmitting to us.... But the Red is excused if shooting on it is what it takes for someone like Javich to break free of the irritatingly insular and generally unadventurous state of young American filmmaking with this mysterious, risky adventure, one with a distinct vision both for mise-en-scène and for actors."

"Shawn Ku achieves an impressive balance of formal control and emotional spontaneity in debut feature Beautiful Boy, a rigorously understated drama about parents coping with guilt, incomprehension and mutual recriminations after their teenage son goes on a shooting spree at his college campus, then kills himself," writes Joe Leydon in Variety. At Twitch, Kurt Halfyard finds it to be "a solid first film, but rather torn on two fronts: On one hand, it struggles to transcend clichés as a hand-held realistic and grounded drama, and on the other, it wants to throw plates, obsessively scrub gravestones and have its principle characters do enough body-shaking crying so as to rival a belly-dancers funeral." Still, it's helped "significantly by top shelf performances from its leads, Maria Bello and Michael Sheen (with a solid American accent)." More from Michael Rechtshaffen (THR). As Peter Knegt reports for indieWIRE, FIPRESCI's named Beautiful Boy the best film of the Discovery program.

"Justin Lerner's Girlfriend claims to be the first US feature film to star a person with Down syndrome," notes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter, "namely Evan Sneider, who plays a young man with a major crush on a single mom whom he has coveted since high school. The particular difficulties that face someone in his situation are explored with sensitivity and genuine dramatic tension, with a central performance that will please audiences seeking observant and heartfelt drama."

Daniel Kasman caught Djo Tunda Wa Munga's Viva Riva! on his very first day in Toronto and found it to be "an efficient and fluidly caricatured crime story where money is the focus of all desire and movement, be it of plot or cinema.... It's doubtful there'll be a more fun film at the festival."

"Two diametrically opposed Italo women form an unlikely and unusual bond in The Call, the disconnected, Buenos Aires-set sophomore feature from Stefano Pasetto," which Boyd van Hoeij (Variety) finds "more muddled than meaningful."

"Dirty Girl stars Juno Temple as a teen jezebel who, with the help of the school closet-case, hits the road in search of her deadbeat dad, whose lifelong absence too-conveniently explains her man-crazy ways," writes Peter Debruge in Variety. "What begins as a politically incorrect, Mean Girls-esque satire constantly shifts tone and focus as director Abe Sylvia pursues a style as jumbled as his narrative." Neither Stephen Saito (IFC) nor Scott Tobias (AV Club) can believe the Weinstein Company's paid $3 million for this. More from Mike Goodridge (Screen), Daniel Kasman (The Daily Notebook), Michael Rechtshaffen (THR) and Kim Voynar (Movie City News).





"Being in the wrong place at the wrong time makes a young schoolteacher a prisoner of an ethnic war in As If I Am Not There," writes David D'Arcy for Screen. "Juanita Wilson's troubling debut feature revisits the horrors of 1990s Bosnia through the fate of women in a single village. The courageous newcomer Natasha Petrovic in the lead should focus critical attention on Wilson's look back at the Bosnian version of a perennial fact of war, mass rape." Boyd van Hoeij in Variety: " Based on the book by Croatian scribe Slavenka Drakulic, and impressively lensed in gorgeous widescreen, this is a bona fide arthouse title that should turn Wilson into a name to watch."

"Max Winkler's Ceremony is "a comedy that has all the store-bought ingredients for so-called indie comedy," blogs the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "An obnoxious children's book writer (Michael Angarano) drags an estranged friend to a party Hamptons, where writer's girlfriend (Uma Thurman) has gotten engaged. The movie is all urbane tics and poses. Angarano, an actor I really like, wears a mustache that looks like an animal died above his lip. Thurman, meanwhile, looks mortified. If Wes Anderson paid a college intern to remake Wedding Crashers, the result would be Ceremony, a movie so immature and self-indulgently bad it should be at Sundance." Both Tim Grierson (Screen) and Stephen Saito (IFC) like it a bit more than that; Joe Leydon in Variety? Not so much.

 

VISIONS


"After the unnerving but impressive Carcasses, a film which placed Lisandro Alonso-style observation in the context of a Quebecois junkyard and then introduced a possible murder mystery among the mentally challenged (no, really), I was quite disappointed with Curling, the latest effort by Canada's Denis Côté," writes Michael Sicinski for Cargo. "At first, it seems to be another portrait of outsiders (in this case a father and daughter) but it soon takes a turn toward the deliberate. By this I mean, there is a Secret, and once you figure it out, everything that had once been compelling and mysterious is really just a satellite orbiting around that central idea." Earlier: Jason Anderson's interview with Côté for Cinema Scope.

Sticking with Cargo and Michael Sicinski, he finds Michelangelo Frammartino's The Four Times to be "a tricky film to write about, because so much of its power of insinuation relies on the element of surprise. Suffice to say, this is a film about an elderly rural Italian goatherd who eventually recedes in order to reveal the different layers of reality around him. Frammartino is also, I think, interested in the presence or absence of the spiritual, and how we can exist solely within materialism and still experience wonder."





"Prescriptive-procedural cinema is among the most squirm-worthy and irritating styles of the art," writes Daniel Kasman. "Brownian Movement by Nanouk Leopold, who directed the promising Wolfsbergen, falls into this trap, facilitated by employing a style pioneered by Antonioni so long ago that it has become an unfortunate aesthetic default for a certain strain of art cinema that no longer holds any weight in its compositional composure and pictorial precision."

"An overworked programmer at the Uruguayan Cinematheque finds himself distracted from the job by a woman in Federico Veiroj's delectable A Useful Life," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "What begins as a seemingly dry work directed purely at cinephiles evolves almost invisibly into a droll romantic comedy, and marks a clear step forward for Veiroj (Acné)." Josef Braun: "Over the course of the picture, Jorge Jellinek loses his job, gets a haircut, abandons his luggage, and impersonates a law professor — and that's only in the movie's second half. By the end a sort of transformation has taken place, a change has come over his face, and he seems lighter, like a new man, or at lest trying to be. It's a wonderful performance, among the finest I've seen at the 35th Toronto International Film Festival, one that's unassuming yet rippling with comic grace. Jellinek is just a pleasure to watch." More from Daniel Kasman.

 

WAVELENGTHS


"Wavelengths," begins Livia Bloom in a dispatch to Filmmaker, "the Toronto International Film Festival program that ferries viewers deep into the world of contemporary experimental film, celebrated its tenth birthday in 2010 and received a sweet birthday gift: A completely sold out first show. Even enthusiasts who had lined up more than thirty minutes early were turned away from the 200-seat theatre at the Art Gallery of Ontario (along with your loyal scribe and similarly surprised colleagues from the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Pacific Film Archive and the Walker Art Center). It was an auspicious start to curator Andréa Picard's extensive program of more than thirty individual pieces."

Her overview includes a quick conversation with Peter Tscherkassky, whose Coming Attractions "takes its title, in part," notes Michael Sicinski in an entry at Cargo, "from Tom Gunning's famous film theory article about early cinema and its unique mode of internal display. Instead of maintaining an enclosed, self-sufficient story world ('diegesis,' if you're nasty), early cinema actively solicits the spectator's look. Tscherkassky's new film, which occupies a snug, lovely Academy ratio, draws its source material from a form that, like early film and the avant-garde, openly asks to be gawked at: commercials."





Back to Filmmaker. Scott Macaulay: "After a day of films that pondered war, ethnic division, and social strife, [Nathaniel] Dorsky's work reminded me to stop in my search for meaning — or, perhaps, to stop looking for single meanings, or easily expressed ones. He showed three films, all short, ostensibly non-narrative works in which images — hands, curtains, abstracted patterns, trees and leaves, street signs — were imbued with a particular beauty resulting from their being captured on a specific film stock with a specific light at a specific moment in time. Meaning returned, however, with Dorsky's post-screening Q&A. I've often thought that experimental filmmakers should do their Q&A's before their screenings, not after, but that would mean depriving viewers of their own untainted approaches to the work. Dorsky likened his films to devotional poems or songs and described each in the context of not only their thematic influences but also film stocks."

"In Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), an essayistic 'city symphony in reverse,' Thom Andersen surveys the way that Los Angeles, despite its status as the most filmed city in the world, is consistently misrepresented in the movies," wrote Genevieve Yue at Moving Image Source in early September. "Perched atop Griffith Park, the Hollywood sign names a place, but one that perhaps existed only in palm-lined fantasy. This is the fable and fate of Los Angeles that Andersen exposes in Los Angeles Plays Itself and reconstructs in Get Out of the Car. Though it may appear to be 'nothing,' the city he describes is less about what's there, what we see, than the people and places that have slipped from view." Back in August, we pointed to Vadim Rizov's piece on Get Out of the Car in the LA Weekly; and in the September issue of Artforum, Andersen and Lucy Raven discuss, as the magazine puts it, "their mutual commitments to unearthing the past and picturing what is to come."

Coverage of the coverage: Toronto 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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