Toronto International Film Festival 2003 - UPDATE #9
Prey for Rock and Roll
Directed by Alex Steyermark
USA/104 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Though the film runs about 20 minutes too long and becomes a tad melodramatic towards the end, Prey for Rock and Roll is nonetheless a fairly enjoyable look at the trials and tribulations of an all-girl punk band. Gina Gershon stars as Jacki, the lead singer for said band - which includes guitarist Faith (Lori Petty), bassist Tracy (Drea De Matteo), and drummer Sally (Shelly Cole). Jacki's been at it for years - she's about to hit 40 - and though she's never experienced any real success, she and her band keep plugging away. Prey for Rock and Roll is one of those follow-your-dreams kind of movies, the sort where we watch characters overcome obstacles to succeed in the end. But despite the cliched structure, the movie remains watchable because these aren't the type of conventional characters that one might expect out of a flick like this. These are people who've been struggling for years to make it, and as a result, they're jaded and tough. And they're surrounded by people that aren't necessarily nice, including the abusive boyfriend of one of the characters, giving the movie a certain sense of realism. Oh, and the music's not bad either.
Le Temps du Loup (Time of the Wolf)
Directed by Michael Haneke
There's one thing you can never accuse Michael Haneke of, and that's playing it safe. With movies like Funny Games and The Piano Teacher, Haneke seems to delight in tormenting the audience and pushing the envelope as far as it'll go. Le Temps du Loup is certainly no exception to that. Set in France, the movie presents an alternate version of our reality where all expected societal constraints have broken down (in true Haneke form, we never find out what happened). A family of four is heading to their cabin in the country (one of the only pieces of information we do receive is that it's somehow safer away from larger cities), where - almost immediately upon arriving - the patriarch is killed by squatters. His wife (Isabelle Huppert) and two children head off into the wilderness with few supplies, hoping to find a safe place to stay. There's a lot to admire about Le Temps du Loup - Haneke does a brilliant job in setting up the situation visually - but the problem is much of the film is incredibly dull and banal. Characters sit around having these typically European discussions about morality and compassion, but their words have little meaning since we have absolutely no idea what's going on. We're never given any kind of context in which their intellectual arguments make sense, so it's almost like listening to one half of a phone conversation. But more than that, how are we to sympathize with these characters if we have no idea what they're going through? Haneke peppers the story with a few interesting ideas (including two men that travel by horse selling water by the bottle), but they're short lived and we're right back to squabbling. What it really comes down to is the fact that the movie is neither interesting nor entertaining. It's never a good thing when the most memorable aspect of a movie is the opening credits, and that's certainly the case here (against a black background and in complete silence, the credits flash on screen in a tiny font; it's stark and ominous, and sets up the movie perfectly. Unfortunately, the film can't live up to their promise).
The Middle of the World
Directed by Vincente Amorim
BRAZIL/85 MINUTES/NATIONAL CINEMA
The Middle of the World is a small, gentle film involving a poor Brazilian family biking their way across the country... but the problem is, it's not terribly interesting. Though it's layered with good intentions, from the noble characterizations to the appropriately down-and-dirty directorial style, the film never becomes anything more than a mildly entertaining peek at a completely alien lifestyle (for most of us, anyway). The movie centers around Romao (Wagner Moura) and Rose (Claudia Abreu), a happy couple with five kids that are forced to take their only possessions - their bicycles - and head to Rio de Janeiro (where Romao is convinced they'll find jobs). Along the way, they meet up with a variety of figures - including a homeless man that turns out to have connections - while squabbling with each other (the family's eldest son, in particular, doesn't approve of this nomadic existence). The Middle of the World is so innocuous and easy-going it's hard to really say anything bad about it - but at the same time, it's exactly that reason why the film never become terribly compelling. Though the characters do begin to grow on us in the final half hour, that still leaves an opening two-thirds that are underwhelming (to say the least). The real problem is that these people are never developed to the point where we really care about them or their plight; the film essentially just presents them to us and hopes that we'll automatically sympathize. Having said that, director Vincente Amorim does an admittedly superb job of taking us into a world that most of us will never see (here's hoping, anyway). The extreme poverty of Brazil is obviously a real concern, and as an educational tool, the film succeeds. But beyond that, the characters never become intriguing enough to warrant an 85-minute movie.