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Toronto International Film Festival 2004 - UPDATE #6

Shadows of Time
Directed by Florian Gallenberger

One of the more impressive debuts to emerge in a while, Shadows of Time tells an epic story simply and efficiently - allowing the audience to focus on the characters rather than the spectacle. We meet two children named Ravi and Masha who have been sold into India's labor workforce, and follow their lives as they grow up. The two make a promise early on to reunite once they are adults, a plan that turns out to be fought with complications. Director Florian Gallenberger's ease behind the camera is evident right from the film's opening frames, and the first-time filmmaker does a wonderful job of imbuing this tale with a distinct sense of style. But more than that, Shadows of Time presents us with two characters that become increasingly intriguing as the movie progresses; we're actually rooting for the pair to find each other and live happily ever after, despite the overwhelming odds. It doesn't hurt that the actors playing the adult versions of these characters, Prashant Narayanan and Tannishtha Chatterjee, have genuine chemistry with each other. It's interesting to note that the film often feels like a Hollywood epic, something that might turn off the art house crowd. And though Shadows of Time does go on a little bit longer than necessary - Gallenberger's screenplay occasionally seems to be trying a little too hard to keep Ravi and Masha apart - that's a small complaint for a film that's as effective as this.

out of

Mysterious Skin
Directed by Gregg Araki

Mysterious Skin marks Gregg Araki's latest exploration of misspent youth, and while the film is likely one of his more straight-forward efforts, the whole thing just feels flat somehow. The story revolves around two seemingly different kids who grow up in the same town; Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) becomes a gay hustler, while Brian (Brady Corbet) is convinced he was abducted by aliens twice during his childhood. It's really not as weird as it sounds, and Araki does a nice job of setting up both characters (it doesn't hurt that Gordon-Levitt and Corbet are very effective in their respective roles). But this doesn't change the fact that the film isn't all that interesting - something that's particularly frustrating given that there's nothing outwardly wrong with the movie (ie it's well directed, written, etc). Part of the problem is that this is the sort of thing we've seen so many times before, particularly from Araki - though even Gordon-Levitt has explored this sort of territory in Manic. Still, the movie never becomes completely unwatchable - undoubtedly a step in the right direction for Araki.

out of

Lightning in a Bottle
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Antoine Fuqua may seem an odd choice to helm a film documenting a star-studded blues concert, but the director reigns in his hyper-kinetic sensibilities and delivers a straight forward account of the event. In early 2003, dozens of famed blues musicians came together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their genre for an audience comprised mostly of rich-looking white people (go figure). The show itself featured performances by legends including B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray. Fuqua spends the majority of the film just shooting these performances, though he does occasionally allow some of the musicians to reflect on what the blues means to them (we're also provided with a brief history lesson). Though Lightning in a Bottle isn't quite as enjoyable as Standing in the Shadows of Motown, the film does feature a number of genuinely engaging performances.

out of

Directed by Lodge Kerrigan

Keane marks writer/director Lodge Kerrigan's third film in 11 years, following the acclaimed Clean, Shaven and Claire Dolan. If nothing else, the filmmaker has long since proven that his movies are worth waiting for. Keane follows William Keane (Damian Lewis), a young man of questionable sanity, through the course of a few particularly eventful days in his life. When we first meet William, he is wandering around a bus terminal trying to locate his kidnapped daughter (who actually went missing months before, we soon discover). We don't learn much about William - he's in his early 30s and was once married - but it's clear almost immediately that he's in desperate need of some serious mental help. Keane doesn't contain much in the way of a plot - if you've seen Clean, Shaven, you probably have a good idea what to expect - but that soon becomes irrelevant thanks to Lewis' astounding performance. Lewis, best known for his work in films like Dreamcatcher and various British mini-series, is an absolute revelation as the title character and he delivers a daring and completely riveting performance. It's the sort of role most actors would kill for, though very few would be able to disappear into it as effectively and thoroughly as Lewis. Keane is one of those rare movies that rattles around in your head long after the credits have rolled, and if there were any justice, both Kerrigan and Lewis would receive Acadamy Awards for their work here.

out of

Red Dust
Directed by Tom Hooper

Despite the best efforts of everyone involved with the film, Red Dust is nevertheless one of those movies that tackles a serious and important subject matter - but never quite becomes as compelling or intriguing as we get the impression it's supposed to be. Set in South Africa during the time of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings (which involved Apartheid-era soldiers and cops admitting their crimes and summarily being absolved of them), the movie follows one such case as a successful politician named Paul Mpondo (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) confronts the police officer who tortured him years before. Hilary Swank stars as Paul's lawyer, a native of the area who moved to New York long ago (which, I suppose, is meant to explain her complete lack of an accent). Complications ensue once suspicion begins to arise as to whether or not Paul is actually innocent of the crime he was arrested for. Red Dust is undoubtedly a success in terms of providing a brief history lesson of an important moment in South Africa's history, though there's a distinctive movie-of-the-week sort of vibe going on here. However, Ejiofor continues to prove that he's got the charisma required of a leading man, while Hooper does try his best to infuse the story with bursts of style.

out of

Directed by Todd Solondz

Palindromes marks writer/director Todd Solondz first film since the notoriously troubled Storytelling, and if nothing else, it's clear that the film has been made entirely without compromise. The movie tells the relatively simple story of Aviva, a young girl who runs away from home after being forced to have an abortion. Simple, that is, except for the fact that Aviva is played by different actresses throughout the film - including a large black woman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. With Palindromes, Solondz has returned to the territory of his first film, Welcome to the Dollhouse, in that it explores the trials and tribulations of adolescence from the perspective of a pre-teen heroine. The film is actually a sequel of sorts to Welcome to the Dollhouse, as it opens with the death of Heather Matarazzo's Dawn Wiener - though Matarazzo doesn't actually appear. Solondz imbues the film with his trademarked blacker-than-black humor (which actually seems even more twisted than usual, if that's at all possible), and there are a lot of sharp and honest truths about growing up peppered throughout his screenplay. But all the positive aspects are undermined by the bizarre rotating-actresses gimmick, which makes it impossible for the viewer to ever connect with Aviva. And since there's not much of a plot here, that's certainly not a good thing. Still, the film isn't bad - though it is a disappointment, particularly when compared to earlier Solondz efforts like Dollhouse and Happiness.

out of

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© David Nusair