Editor’s note: We’re thrilled to have film writer Cathleen Rountree blogging to us daily from the Toronto Film Festival, telling us the buzz on the marathon of movies and parade of movie stars in Toronto. She’ll file her dispatches daily between movie screenings.
After missing an early screening of John Sayles’ “Honeydripper” (right) at 10 this morning, because I misread the venue, I had to rework my schedule. My first two films of the day weren’t my favorites.
“Eat, For This is My Body” (dir., Michelange Quay, France/Haiti)
A strange, unsettling, surreal narrative that combines images of slavery, colonialism, and Vodoun. Stark imagery of an elderly Caucasian woman, in bed or in a milk bath, and the Black boys who visit her. Bizarre.
“M” (dir., Lee Myung-se, South Korea)
No, not a remake of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece, but a story about a successful novelist, whose imagination begins to take over his life, even as he cannot bring himself to write. Filled with expressive hallucinations and nightmares.
In the afternoon, I interviewed Jessica Yu (right), director of the stunningly original and intelligent documentary “The Protagonist,” which I saw at Sundance in January and again at San Francisco IFF in April. Yu’s last doc, “In the Realms of the Unreal,” also a remarkable work, shown at The Nick a couple years ago. She’s at Toronto accompanying her first narrative feature, “Ping Pong Playa,” about a Chinese-American boy who dreams of becoming a basketball star, but whose parents –– both ping pong champions –– have other plans for him. My interview with Jessica will be published in “Documentary” Magazine in November.
Afterwards, the real viewing began; I was in screenings until 1 AM this morning.
“Emotional Arithmetic” (dir., Paolo Barzman, Canada) This fine cast, including Max von Sydow, Susan Sarandon, Gabriel Byrne, and Christopher Plummer, presents the story of survivors from transit camps set up outside Paris during the Nazi occupation and how the experience continues to rule their lives. Unfortunately, the script and directing don’t live up to the promise of the stellar cast.
“Death Defying Acts” (dir., Gillian Armstrong, UK/Australia) I’m a huge fan of Armstrong’s work, therefore, I was looking forward to her account of magician Harry Houdini’s brief affair in 1926 with a struggling Scottish con artist and single mother. How Armstrong cast Guy Pierce to portray Houdini was a mystery that consumed me during the entire film. In addition, the lack of chemistry between Pierce and Catherine Zeta-Jones (as beautiful as she is) as the love interest left me cold. This compelling concept should have been so much better.
“Honeydripper” (dir., John Sayles, USA) The most political of independent filmmakers, Sayles’ newest film harkens back to the South in 1950, when the Black man’s blues gave voice to rural life in a fictional place called Harmony, Alabama. Ty (Danny Glover) owns a dying juke joint and needs a miracle to save it and his marriage. That miracle arrives in the form of Sonny, who rocks the place and reminds us that rock-and-roll emerged long before Elvis.
“To Love Someone” (dir., Ake Sandgren, Sweden) In the most difficult film of the day, we meet Lena, who is happily married to Alf, a fish dealer. Lena’s first relationship was extremely abusive and her boyfriend was sent to prison. But on his release, the two find they cannot resist meeting again. The film raises the age-old questions: can people change and do we get a second chance in life?
“Blood Brothers” (dir., Alexi Tan, Taiwan) Although beautifully rendered, this film reeked of a number of American gangster movies, but especially “Once Upon a Time in America” staring Robert DeNiro and James Woods.
“The Walker” (dir., Paul Shrader, USA) I’ve long been a fan of Shrader’s rendering of the American underbelly in such films as “Light Sleeper,” “Affliction,” and “Auto Focus.” His current film observes the slimy side of life in our nation’s capital. There’s no mistaking where his politics lie (characters refer to the vice-president as “a liar and crook”). Carter Page (Woody Harrelson, above, in his best performance since his take on Larry Flynt) escorts his married women friends to social events in D.C. When he finds himself as the prime suspect in a murder that involves one of these women, he attempts to solve the crime, while remaining the chivalrous Southern gentleman of his upbringing. This is an involving and sophisticated who-dun-it.
It’s hard to believe I have only two more days at the Festival. As it’s 2:30 in the morning, I’d better rest up a bit before I interview Julian Schnabel and John Sayles later this morning.
TIP: “Eastern Promises,” David Cronenberg’s new film staring Viggo Mortensen, remains one of the best I’ve seen here. it opens to general release this Friday, 14 Sept. Highly recommended.
Ciao for now …