Toronto International Film Festival 2012 - UPDATE #1
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Directed by Stephen Chbosky
USA/103 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Based on the book by Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows introverted teen Charlie (Logan Lerman) as he attempts to successfully navigate his first year of high school - with his status as an outsider alleviated by his friendship with a quirky brother and sister (Ezra Miller's Patrick and Emma Watson's Sam). One can't help but walk into The Perks of Being a Wallflower with almost impossibly high expectations, as Chbosky's timeless novel remains one of the best and most authentic portrayals of the high school experience. It's clear immediately, however, that Chbosky has, for the most part, done an absolutely note-perfect job of bringing this story to the big screen, with the movie's subdued yet frequently heartbreaking atmosphere heightened by the efforts of a spectacularly well cast group of performers. Miller and Watson are certainly quite good in their respective roles, yet there's little doubt that The Perks of Being a Wallflower's considerable success is due primarily to Lerman's note-perfect and consistently captivating turn as the astonishingly sympathetic central character. It's worth noting, too, that Chbosky manages to infuse the simplest of sequences with a palpably affecting feel that proves impossible to resist (eg Sam and Charlie's first kiss), and there's little doubt that the filmmaker has, generally speaking, done a superb job of shepherding his material's transition from an R-rated book into a PG-13 movie - which ultimately cements The Perks of Being a Wallflower's place as a stellar and consistently engrossing adaptation.
All That You Possess
Directed by Bernard Émond
Directed by Bernard Émond, All That You Possess follows morose college lecturer Pierre Leduc (Patrick Drolet) as he quits his job and devotes himself entirely to translating the poems of an obscure Polish author - with his efforts eventually interrupted by the teenage daughter he's never met (nor intended to meet). Émond, working from his own screenplay, has infused All That You Possess with a very serious and very deliberate feel that is, at the outset, employed to watchable effect, as one is initially drawn into the proceedings by the almost excessively depressive protagonist (ie it's impossible not to wonder just what makes this guy tick). Émond's lackadaisical sensibilities ensure that there's nothing wholeheartedly compelling about any of this, yet the filmmaker generally compensates for the meandering vibe by emphasizing a number of unexpectedly engrossing sequences (eg Pierre's first encounter with his daughter). There reaches a point, however, at which it becomes more and more difficult to overlook the movie's absence of plot, with the decidedly closed-off nature of Pierre's preventing one from wholeheartedly sympathizing with his plight (ie Pierre's perpetually somber personality is ultimately oppressive) - which is a shame, certainly, given that Drolet does deliver an undeniably impressive (and consistent) performance. The end result is an almost passable endeavor that ultimately doesn't contain much of an arc for its central character (ie he's as gloomy at the end as he was at the beginning), and it's clear that the film could've benefited from a shorter running time and a brisker pace.
A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman
Directed by Ben Timlett, Bill Jones, and Jeff Simpson
UNITED KINGDOM/82 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman brings Graham Chapman's autobiography to life using a wide variety of animation techniques, as directors Ben Timlett, Bill Jones, and Jeff Simpson use Chapman's own voice, as well as the voices of surviving Monty Python members John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam, to tell the story of his upbringing, early life in comedy, and eventual success with Monty Python. It's a striking concept that's executed to consistently wrongheaded and unwatchable effect by the three directors, with the decision to stress what seems to be the most mundane segments in Chapman's book immediately transforming A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman into a seriously interminable piece of work. (There is, for example, a painfully pointless sequence detailing Chapman's childhood trip to the seaside with his squabbling parents.) The episodic atmosphere consequently ensures that the movie, for the most part, lurches from one ill-conceived interlude to the next, with the ensuing lack of momentum compounded by an emphasis on jokes and gags of a decidedly (and aggressively) unfunny nature. Far more problematic, however, is the filmmakers' decision to suffuse the proceedings with as low-rent and pervasively unimpressive an animation style as one could possibly envision, as the eye-bleeding visuals prove a constant detriment to one's efforts at embracing the continuingly erratic narrative (and let's not even get started on the hopelessly worthless use of 3-D). And although there are one or two admittedly intriguing stretches here (eg Chapman's discovery of his own homosexuality), A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman has clearly been designed to appeal solely to the most die-hard of Monty Python fans - with the movie's complete unwillingness to reach neophytes cementing its place as an aggressively narrow-minded documentary.
Directed by Kim Nguyen
CANADA/90 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Set entirely within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rebelle follows a young girl (Rachel Mwanza's Komona) as she's forced to murder her own parents by gun-toting rebels and subsequently integrated into the group as their newest member. It's an intriguing yet familiar premise that's employed to better-than-expected effect by filmmaker Kim Nguyen, as the movie grabs the viewer right from the get-go with its admittedly striking opening stretch. And although the viewer subsequently has a fairly good idea of where all this is going, Nguyen does a nice job of confounding one's expectations on a fairly regular basis. There's little doubt that Rebelle's success is due primarily to the strength of Mwanza's central performance, as the actress effectively manages to transform what could've been a one-note character into a compelling and increasingly sympathetic figure. The narrative's decidedly episodic bent does result in a hit-and-miss midsection, admittedly, and it's ultimately clear that certain portions of Nguyen's screenplay fare much better than others. (It is, for example, hard to work up much enthusiasm for the recurring emphasis on Komona's apparent ability to see ghosts.) The end result is an intriguing and frequently disturbing drama that tells an important story in an impressively even-handed way, and it should be interesting to see what Canadian filmmaker Nguyen does next.
Directed by Michael Haneke
A typically dour effort from Michael Haneke, Amour follows elderly married couple Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as they're forced to cope with the former's rapidly declining health - with the film meticulously detailing Georges' ongoing efforts at caring for his increasingly sick wife. As expected, Amour has been infused with a matter-of-fact and incredibly deliberate sensibility that proves effective at establishing (and sustaining) at atmosphere of high authenticity - with this vibe perpetuated by both Riva and Trintignant's absolutely spellbinding work. And although there are a few lulls here and there - eg Georges engages in several minutes worth of small talk with his daughter (Isabelle Huppert's Eva) - Amour is, for much of its first half, a remarkably compelling drama that doesn't pull any punches in terms of its often hard-to-watch material. There does reach a point, however, at which Haneke's slow-paced modus operandi transforms the film into an increasingly oppressive experience, as the movie, which rarely leaves the couple's apartment, adopts a palpably repetitive feel that slowly-but-surely drains the viewer's interest (ie the film, past a certain point, appears to be about nothing more than abject suffering). It doesn't help, either, that Amour, having reached a point at which it could logically end, continues to plod along until reaching its entirely anticlimactic finale (and what's with Georges' continued encounters with a tenacious pigeon?), which is a shame, certainly, given the strength of the setup and the power of certain individual sequences.
Rust and Bone
Directed by Jacques Audiard
FRANCE/BELGIUM/120 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Directed by Jacques Audiard, Rust and Bone details the low-key exploits of two disparate, damaged characters (Matthias Schoenaerts' Ali and Marion Cotillard's Stéphanie) and the consequences of their inevitable coupling. At a running time of just over two hours, Rust and Bone is clearly much longer than it needs to be - with the film's overlength, which is reflected in the middling midsection and emphasis on needless sequences, ultimately diminishing the overall impact of Audiard and Thomas Bidegain's frequently powerful screenplay. It's worth noting, however, that the movie benefits substantially from the stellar work of its two leads, with, especially, Cotillard's mesmerizing turn often compensating for the decidedly erratic narrative - as the actress manages to become her character to a degree that's nothing short of jaw-dropping. (Schoenaerts is, while technically quite good, simply unable to turn the overtly sleazy Ali into a similarly engrossing figure.) The somewhat predictable nature of certain plot developments is, generally speaking, offset by Audiard's often strikingly cinematic visual sensibilities, and there's little doubt that several sequences within Rust and Bone manage to make a far more pronounced emotional impact than one might've anticipated. The end result is a solid little drama that falls just short of greatness, although, by that same token, the film's proliferation of engaging elements (eg Cotillard's stunning performance) generally compensate for its hit-and-miss atmosphere.