Toronto International Film Festival 2005 - UPDATE #1
Souvenir of Canada
Directed by Robin Neinstein
CANADA/71 MINUTES/REAL TO REEL
Souvenir of Canada is an offbeat, irreverent documentary revolving around the creation of author Douglas Coupland's Canada House, an art exhibit stocked with a variety of distinctly Canadian items (anyone remember the Ookpik?). Based on his book of the same name, the film also documents some of the more notable events in Canada's history over the last thirty or so years (including the revelation that, in the early '70s, the Canadian government attempted to replace the greeting "hello" with its Inuit counterpart, "chimo"). Director Robin Neinstein initially employs a quirky, poppy aesthetic that appropriately reflects Coupland's off-kilter world view, though the movie does morph into something far more sedate and reflective as it progresses (particularly as Coupland divulges certain facts about his childhood, and his relationship with his father). And while there's no doubt that Canadians will get more out of the film than non-Canadians (Toronto is referred to as "Tranna" in big bold letters), the movie is entertaining enough and funny enough to hold the interest of virtually anyone (ie Coupland refers to those old 35mm educational films as "Soviet-style torture").
The House of Sand
Directed by Andrucha Waddington
BRAZIL/103 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATION
Though it opens with a scene of impressive grandeur - a large group of villagers attempt to make their way across an aggressive-looking desert - The House of Sand is soon revealed to be an overly pretentious, utterly dull piece of work. Part of the problem is the film's unusual structure, in which time passes without so much as an onscreen notification (the first time this happens, as a result, one can't help but wonder if the reels are somehow playing out of order). Exacerbating matters is the absurd storyline, featuring a mother and daughter who are doomed to spend their lives in the middle of said desert (the other villagers abandon them the very next day, while the daughter's husband dies in a fit of rage). About midway through The House of Sand, the film's point - life in a barren desert sucks - has been driven home countless times, leading to a distinct feeling of repetition (screenwriter Elena Soarez just doesn't have anything else to offer). And while there's no denying that Ricardo Della Rosa's cinematography is impressive, it's about the only worthwhile aspect of the film.
Directed by Bernard Émond
CANADA/97 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
It's hard not to be impressed by how engaging La Neuvaine eventually becomes, thanks to an opening half hour that's remarkably pretentious and thoroughly dull. The film introduces us to two characters - Jeanne (Elise Guilbault) and Francois (Patrick Drolet) - both of whom have their own reasons for being miserable. Jeanne, a doctor, is recovering from a violent encounter with the disgruntled husband of a patient, while Francois is dealing with the imminent death of his ailing grandmother. After a chance meeting one afternoon, the two come to rely on each other for support (their relationship remains strictly platonic, though). La Neuvaine, written and directed by Bernard Émond, moves at an incredibly slow pace, as the filmmaker initially emphasizes style and mood over character development. But once Jeanne and Francois meet, the movie becomes oddly compelling and even a little moving. It certainly doesn't hurt that both Guilbault and Drolet deliver subtle, nuanced performances (the plight of both their characters soon garners a great deal of sympathy from the viewer, something that's particularly true of Jeanne). Unfortunately, Émond doesn't quite know how to effectively wrap up the story - allowing the film to go on much longer than it needs to (to call the last 20 minutes anti-climactic is a gross understatement). Still, the performances - combined with the appropriately downbeat vibe - are effective enough to warrant a mild recommendation.
Directed by Sean Garrity
CANADA/89 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Lucid is a strange, thoroughly bizarre little movie revolving around a therapist and his three patients - all of whom seem to be experiencing problems discerning reality from dreams. It's soon revealed that the doctor, Joel (Jonas Chernick), is having problems of his own stemming from a severe case of insomnia (it's evidently been weeks since he's slept). Lucid is well acted and certainly well made - director Sean Garrity imbues the film with an appropriately off-kilter sense of style - but ultimately, it's just not terribly interesting. We're never quite sure if this is supposed to be a drama, a thriller or even a horror movie, which is undoubtedly part of the problem; the rampant weirdness (which only becomes more pronounced as the film progresses) effectively keeps the viewer at arms length, making it virtually impossible to sympathize with the plight of these characters. It's clear that Garrity is going for a David Lynchian sort of vibe, and on that level, the filmmaker succeeds. But despite several fantastic performances - Chernick is certainly leading-man material, while established costars such as Callum Keith Rennie and Lindy Booth are expectedly effective - Lucid never quite becomes anything more than a visually-intriguing experiment, one that'll likely hit certain viewers as a stunningly original piece of work (which it is, in a way).
Where the Truth Lies
Directed by Atom Egoyan
CANADA/UNITED KINGDOM/107 MINUTES/GALA
While Where the Truth Lies is undoubtedly director Atom Egoyan's most mainstream effort to date, the film - despite a surfeit of positive attributes - never quite becomes much more than a mildly diverting period piece. Alison Lohman stars as Karen O'Connor, an ambitious reporter who's writing a book revolving around the unsolved case of a dead woman that was found in the hotel room of '50s lounge acts Lanny (Kevin Bacon) and Vince (Colin Firth). Both men have their own reasons for wanting to keep the truth hidden, which only increases Karen's determination to uncover it. It's clear almost immediately that Egoyan is going for a vibe of lushness rather than realism, and - along with cinematographer Paul Sarossy - there's no denying that Where the Truth Lies succeeds on a purely visceral level (the film occasionally resembles a '50s-era production, complete with well-placed flourishes of melodrama). But in terms of developing the characters, Egoyan stumbles; though Lohman's Karen becomes fully realized by the time the end credits roll, the problem is that she's just not a terribly compelling figure. Far more interesting are Lanny and Vince, though Egoyan relegates them to second tier status (the filmmaker also neglects to explore their chemistry as a team, choosing instead to focus on their individual qualities). It certainly doesn't help that Egoyan takes the emphasis off these characters towards the end, as the film's mystery comes to the forefront (twists and turns abound in the last 30 minutes). Still, Bacon and Firth deliver extremely effective performances, to the extent that it's fairly easy to overlook some of the story's more overt flaws.
Directed by Mike Mills
USA/95 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATION
Thumbsucker is one of those movies that seems to do everything right, and yet somehow falls short in terms of connecting with the viewer. Part of the problem is director Mike Mills' screenplay, which emphasizes quirkiness to an almost infuriating extent. Newcomer Lou Pucci stars as Justin, a 17-year-old misfit with a penchant for sucking his thumb. This is the least of Justin's problems, though, as the boy's having problems at school, he's not getting along with friends and family, and he seems to be suffering from what seems to be a terminal case of apathy. He's eventually diagnosed as having ADD, and a daily dose of prescribed drugs seems to be just the trick to pull Justin out of his funk. With a supporting cast that includes Vincent D'Onofrio, Keanu Reeves, and Vince Vaughn, Thumbsucker remains somewhat watchable throughout; however, Mills' rambling narrative (which only becomes more pronounced as the film progresses) makes it impossible to really latch onto any of these characters. This is particularly true of Pucci's Justin, who - although the film revolves around him - never entirely comes off as an entirely fleshed-out figure (instead, his actions often seem to be dictated by the film's unusual plot twists). And while there are a few surprisingly compelling moments towards the end (particularly one revolving around an honest conversation between Justin and his father), it's an obvious case of too-little-too-late by that point.