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Toronto International Film Festival 2007 - UPDATE #7

Silent Resident
Directed by Christian Frosch

The extent to which Silent Resident just flat-out doesn't make sense is nothing short of astonishing, and one can't help but wonder what was going through the minds of everyone who agreed to be a part of the production. The impenetrable storyline - which has something to do with the goings on within a futuristic apartment complex - is ultimately less coherent than even the most avant-garde Godard film, as writer/director Christian Frosch has infused the proceedings with a random and utterly meaningless vibe that ensures the whole thing generally feels like a parody of an obtuse foreign flick (there's an obnoxious jazz score and everything). It's clear almost immediately that Frosch isn't even remotely interested in offering up a coherent experience for the viewer, and it's consequently not surprising to note that the movie is rife with random bits of nonsense (ie at one point, the central character - apropos of nothing - is making out with an old lady). Star Brigitte Hobmeier is literally the one bright spot within Silent Resident, as the actress delivers a strong performance that's sadly rendered moot by the nonsensical nature of everything around her. And while Frosch's refusal to offer up even a kernel of exposition is impressive in its audacity, Silent Resident is consequently devoid of anything even resembling entertainment value.

no stars out of

Gone with the Woman
Directed by Petter Næss

Gone with the Woman is a breezy and lighthearted romantic comedy that's basically entertaining, though there's no denying that the film's inability to make any kind of impact on the viewer ultimately hurts it. The film follows an affable (and nameless) everyman (played by Trond Fausa Aurvåg) through his various misadventures with a woman who's clearly wrong for him. And that, in a nutshell, is the most glaring deficiency within Gone with the Woman; the movie never leaves any doubt as to the incompatibility of the two central figures, with the introduction of a French woman midway through (who just happens to have oodles in common with Aurvåg's character ) only cementing this feeling. It's consequently impossible to care about the couple's struggles to make their relationship work, as we know their future together is far from a sure thing. Director Petter Næss' innovative visual choices notwithstanding, there's exceedingly little here to separate the film from its cliched romcom brethren (Peter Stormare does turn in an amusing cameo as a nosy friend, however).

out of

To Love Someone
Directed by Åke Sandgren

Hindered by an almost unreasonably deliberate pace, To Love Someone never quite becomes the searing drama one imagines it's meant to be - though there's certainly no denying the originality of the film's storyline. The movie follows a couple whose seemingly happy existence is shattered when the woman's abusive ex is released from prison, as said woman (Sofia Ledarp's Lena) - despite warnings from her friends and family - finds herself compelled to find out for herself if his rehabilitation changed him. As a portrait of a battered woman, To Love Someone undoubtedly succeeds; the film offers up a complex, decidedly unsentimental look at the psychological ramifications of spousal abuse. And because we find out right in the first scene that Lena dies, there's an underlying vibe of mystery here that effectively holds the viewer's interest even through some of the more overtly torpid interludes. Screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson doles out small clues relating to Lena's impending demise - in addition to the mere presence of her abuser, the character is also suffering from strange dizzy spells - and the reveal regarding her fate is left for the film's final few minutes. To Love Someone ultimately benefits from the inclusion of that mystery, though there's certainly no overlooking the effectiveness of Ledarp's searing performance.

out of

Diary of the Dead
Directed by George A. Romero

A reboot of sorts for George A. Romero's ongoing Dead series, Diary of the Dead transpires on the first night of the zombie uprising and follows a group of college students as they attempt to make their way back to their respective homes. One such character (Joshua Close's Jason) is trying to document the crisis with his camera for posterity, and the movie subsequently takes place almost entirely through his eyes. It's an interesting gimmick that doesn't always work, particularly as Jason elects to film the carnage rather than help his friends. Far more problematic, however, is the almost total lack of interesting or compelling characters; while Romero has effectively managed to avoid transforming these people into horror-movie stereotypes, the filmmaker instead offers up a series of uniformly underdeveloped and flat-out uninteresting figures that aren't sympathetic in the slightest. It's consequently difficult to care about their survival, and the movie undoubtedly suffers because of it. That being said, Romero has certainly peppered Diary of the Dead with a number of expectedly suspenseful and downright engrossing moments - with the highlight undoubtedly a short-lived appearance by a tough-as-nails Amish guy (who also happens to be deaf!) And while the film is ultimately a far cry from the first three installments in the series, it's hard to imagine Romero's die-hard fans walking away from Diary of the Dead flat-out disappointed.

out of

Battle for Haditha
Directed by Nick Broomfield

Famed documentarian Nick Broomfield makes his first foray into the world of fictional features with Battle for Haditha, although - as becomes clear almost immediately - there's little doubt that he'd better stick to his day job. The movie, which follows a real-life event that occurred within the Iraqi city of Haditha, has been infused with a distinct lack of authenticity by Broomfield, with the distinctly amateurish cast only exacerbating the film's many problems. Broomfield's inability to offer up a single sympathetic character - ie the soldiers are all type-a, macho jerks, while the Iraqis are portrayed as either religious nutjobs or impossibly content victims-in-waiting - makes it virtually impossible to care about their respective fates, and one ultimately can't help but question the veracity of this tale (ie did the soldiers really open fire on innocent women and children?) The lack of subtlety within the screenplay - as evidenced by the heavy-handed bursts of speechifying - lends the proceedings a black-and-white feel that undeniably does a disservice to the complicated (and heartbreaking) subject matter, and it's clear that Broomfield would've been far better off had he just stuck to what he knows best (ie this could've been a searing documentary).

out of

Margot at the Wedding
Directed by Noah Baumbach

As expected, Margot at the Wedding - written and directed by The Squid and the Whale filmmaker Noah Baumbach - is rife with dysfunctional characters that seem to spend all their free time arguing with one another; problems ensue as it becomes increasingly clear that virtually none of these people have been infused with traits of authenticity (ie they're all just ridiculously dysfunctional). Infused with a drab, downright unpleasant visual style, the movie follows a series of characters - including Nicole Kidman's Margot, Jennifer Jason Leigh's Pauline, and Jack Black's Malcolm - as they converge on a ramshackle country estate for a wedding. Despite the best efforts of an exceedingly capable cast, Margot at the Wedding remains an objectionable experience for much of its running time - with Black's expectedly dynamic turn as Malcolm the only respite from the relentlessly downbeat shenanigans. The inclusion of a subplot revolving around a hillbilly family that lives next door is nothing short of absurd, and the movie also has the distinction of ending on as meaningless and random a note as one could possibly imagine. Baumbach's efforts to set himself apart from his contemporaries are clearly backfiring, as the filmmaker's newly-adopted aesthetic generally comes off as unappealing and flat-out annoying.

out of

Paranoid Park
Directed by Gus Van Sant

Since kicking off an entirely new phase in his career with Gerry several years ago, Gus Van Sant has essentially devoted himself exclusively to increasingly experimental and downright esoteric efforts. Paranoid Park is certainly the filmmaker's most inaccessible effort to date, as the movie - which is chock full of all his expected stylistic quirks, including long tracking shots of people walking - ultimately feels as though it's about 20 minutes worth off story stretched out to fill a 90 minute running time. The non-linear plot - which essentially revolves around a skateboarding teen who may or may not be involved in a murder - has been padded out with slow motion and instances of repetition, and while there is admittedly something initially mesmerizing about the whole thing, there does reach a point at which the viewer begins to long for something more concrete. That the central character is never made out to be an entirely interesting figure certainly doesn't help matters, though actor first-time actor Gabe Nevins acquits himself nicely with a surprisingly effective portrayal. The bottom line, however, is that Paranoid Park has clearly been designed to appeal solely to Van Sant's devotees - as few concessions have been made for neophytes to his particular brand of filmmaking.

out of

Directed by Renny Harlin

Although Cleaner is certainly a substantial improvement over some of filmmaker Renny Harlin's more recent efforts - ie 2006's The Covenant - the film is nevertheless almost entirely lacking in elements designed to hold the viewer's interest for more than a few minutes at a time. This is despite the participation of such stars as Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and Eva Mendes; Cleaner is ultimately just one of those movies that, though generally free of outwardly negative attributes, remains strangely uninvolving for much its running time. Jackson plays Tom Cutler, a crime-scene cleaner whose latest case proves to be far more complex than he might have anticipated - with his background as a cop eventually coming into play. Harlin admittedly does a nice job of infusing Cleaner with an appropriately understated sense of style, something that's reflected in Jackson's low-key performance (Harris, on the other hand, is just as intense and over-the-top as one might've hoped). The lack of action and suspense within the proceedings becomes increasingly problematic as the film progresses, as the viewer is never entirely given a reason to care about Tom's plight - as screenwriter Matthew Aldrich disguises such deficiencies by piling on one complication after another. The end result is a movie that's agreeable enough yet utterly forgettable, and its inclusion within the festival is undeniably somewhat baffling.

out of

© David Nusair