Toronto International Film Festival 2009 - UPDATE #3
Directed by Lars von Trier
Filmmaker Lars von Trier's relentless (and undeniable) spiral into irrelevance continues with Antichrist, an effort that admittedly opens with some promise but inevitably becomes as tedious and interminable an experience as one could possibly envision. The film follows a nameless married couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) as they attempt to cope with the tragic death of their infant son, with his background as a psychiatrist leading him to insist that the two take a trip to their cabin in the woods - where they'll be forced to confront and conquer their greatest fears (it's hardly a spoiler to reveal that things start to go awry almost immediately). Von Trier's decision to kick the proceedings off with an almost hilariously over-the-top (yet undeniably striking) slow-motion sequence proves effective at immediately capturing the viewer's interest, although, as becomes clear quick enough, the remainder of Antichrist boasts a total absence of compelling elements and it's certainly not surprising to note that the film moves from intriguing to unwatchable with astounding expediency. The oppressively deliberate pace with which von Trier has infused the movie is exacerbated by his aggressively uneventful screenplay, as the lack of plot becomes increasingly impossible to overlook due primarily to the infuriatingly banal conversations between "He" and "She" - with the psychobabble-heavy dialogue ensuring that the viewer has exceedingly little invested in the well being of the two central characters. And, as expected, von Trier has suffused Antichrist with a whole host of eye-rollingly avant garde and downright inexplicable elements that succeed only in provoking unintentional laughter from the viewer (ie what the hell is up with that talking fox?), while the movie's now-legendary third act, though admittedly quite impressive in its brutality, is rendered completely meaningless by the incompetence of everything preceding it. Antichrist's abject failure is particularly frustrating given the effectiveness of both Dafoe and Gainsbourg's work here, as the actors have thrown themselves into their thinly-developed characters with a courageousness that would be Oscar-worthy in a better movie - which, when coupled with the sporadically creepy atmosphere, cements the film's place as an aggravatingly misguided and thoroughly pointless endeavor.
Les herbes folles
Directed by Alain Resnais
From legendary French filmmaker Alain Resnais comes this oddball, increasingly unwatchable effort revolving around the complications that ensue after André Dussollier's Georges happens upon Marguerite's (Sabine Azéma) stolen wallet, with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently detailing the back-and-forth dynamic that ensues between the two far-from-authentic characters. Resnais does a nice job of initially drawing the viewer into the heightened reality within which the movie transpires, as the director emphasizes stylish visuals and expectedly quirky structural choices to mostly positive effect. The pervasively off-the-wall atmosphere becomes increasingly difficult to stomach as Les herbes folles progresses, however, with the complete absence of plot effectively exacerbating the movie's aggressively pointless sensibilities. There simply reaches a point at which Resnais appears to be stressing weirdness for weirdness' sake, and one's efforts at indulging the storied filmmaker can only carry the proceedings so far (ie the relentlessly arty vibe slowly but surely wears the viewer down). By the time the movie arrives at its laughably baffling final line - seriously, has there ever been a closing bit of dialogue that made less sense? - Les herbes folles has cemented its place as a hopelessly misguided and thoroughly dull piece of work that's unlikely to hold much appeal for even Resnais' most ardent fans.
Five Hours from Paris
Directed by Leon Prudovsky
Five Hours from Paris is a low-key tale set within Tel Aviv and revolving around Yigal (Dror Keren) and Lina (Elena Yaralova); Yigal is a recently-divorced taxi driver who finds himself falling for Lina, his son's music teacher. Lina inevitably comes to feel the same way about Yigal, yet their tentative relationship faces a serious stumbling block in the form of Lina's husband (Vladimir Friedman's Grisha) and the couple's impending move to Canada. The easy-going nature of Five Hours from Paris' opening half hour, coupled with a striking performance from Keren, ensures that the viewer is drawn into the proceedings almost instantly, with the palpable chemistry between the two central characters certainly going a long way towards perpetuating the exceedingly agreeable atmosphere. Filmmaker Leon Prudovsky's decision to break the movie up into three segments - "Yigal," "Lina," and "Yigal and Lina" - ultimately plays a key role in the film's transformation from agreeable romance to surprisingly melancholy drama, as the emphasis is taken off Keren's character and instead placed on Lina's depressive antics (ie she continues to pine for Yigal yet finds herself bound to Grisha). The film only grows more and more uninvolving after that point, with the deliberately-paced buildup into the conclusion particularly problematic - as Yigal and Lina are essentially forced to confront (and contend with) their despair without one another. And although the movie's final shot is admittedly quite impressive and even a little stirring, Five Hours from Paris' uneven sensibilities inevitably drains the proceedings of its energy and renders its overtly positive elements moot.
Directed by Jane Campion
UNITED KINGDOM/AUSTRALIA/119 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Filmmaker Jane Campion's first effort since 2003's In the Cut, Bright Star revolves around the final years of poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) - as he falls for a commoner (Abby Cornish's Fanny Brawne) and eventually contracts tuberculosis. Writer/director Campion's excessive reliance on the various conventions generally associated with stories set in the 1800s - ie relentless politeness, eye-rollingly flowery dialogue, etc - prevents the viewer from connecting either with the material or the characters virtually from the get-go, with the aggressive lack of plot exacerbating the movie's less-than-enthralling atmosphere. The film, which moves at a sub-glacial pace, is consequently something close to an ordeal for the bulk of its hopelessly overlong running time, and there quickly reaches a point at which the aggressively uneventful vibe becomes too much for even the most patient of viewers to stomach. Only Paul Schneider - cast as an 18th century douchebag - manages to make any kind of an impact, as it becomes increasingly difficult to resist his gleefully over-the-top turn as Keats' closest friend (ie his appearances represent an all-too-infrequent break in the monotony of the central storyline). The pervasive absence of visual flair is hardly as problematic as the film's lack of passion or emotion, with the tragic trajectory of the true-life tale finally unable to pack even a portion of the impact that Campion is surely striving for. The final result is a frustratingly stagnant endeavor that renders the admittedly impressive production design and performances moot, and - aside from indiscriminating art-house fans - Bright Star is ultimately unlikely to hold much appeal for the majority of viewers.
Directed by Katarzyna Roslaniec
Though infused with what feels like a vibe of authenticity, Mall Girls' aggressive lack of plot slowly but surely transforms it into an unusually interminable experience - with its increasingly simplistic message inevitably exacerbating its various problems. The movie follows a shy teenager (Anna Karczmarczyk's Alicja) as she befriends a trio of slutty fellow students and eventually comes to abandon her well-meaning ways, with her less-than-savory behavioral changes eventually affecting her family and a longtime crush. Director Katarzyna Roslaniec admittedly does a nice job of initially establishing the world within which Alicja resides, as the character is essentially surrounded by sleaziness on all sides - with her inability to make friends at school compounded by her almost abusive home life (ie her father is indifferent to her and her mother seems to actively dislike her). But Roslaniec's inability to draw the viewer into this world and turn Alicja into a sympathetic figure inevitably triggers the film's downfall; Alicja is generally portrayed as an apathetic figure who doesn't seem to care much about anything, which makes it awfully difficult to work up any concern for her increasingly perilous plight. It certainly doesn't help that Roslaniec's screenplay is often as muddled as it is plotless, with Ala's completely inexplicable decision to break a date with her crush to try her hand at prostitution (!) undoubtedly standing as the movie's most baffling development. The final shot is impressive, admittedly, yet Mall Girls' relentlessly aimless sensibilities effectively transform it into an interminable experience virtually from the get-go.
Directed by Matthias Emcke
Based on a true story, Phantom Pain stars Til Schweiger as Mark Sumner - a thirtysomething slacker whose passion for cycling is threatened after he loses his left leg in a traffic accident. It's a familiar set-up that's primarily employed to agreeable effect by filmmaker Matthias Emcke, as the movie - which unfolds in as predictable a manner as one could envision - essentially captures (and sustains) the viewer's interest for the duration of its brisk running time. Emcke's conventional approach is subsequently easy enough to overlook, although there does reach a point at which filmmaker's relentless use of folk songs during the movie's myriad of montages becomes almost laughable. There's little doubt that Schweiger's magnetic, downright commanding performance plays a substantial role in Phantom Pain's success, as the actor effortlessly transforms Mark into a figure that the viewer can't help but sympathize with. And although the movie has been infused with a raft of familiar elements, it's worth noting that the expected sequence in which Marc angrily rails against his predicament never comes (which is, in itself, fairly impressive). The inclusion of several genuinely moving interludes cements Phantom Pain's place as an engaging, stirring piece of work, yet it's admittedly not difficult to envision certain viewers finding Emcke's unabashedly sentimental treatment of the material difficult to stomach.