TIFF: Day 4 — Bees, war and Michael Moore

Colony (dir. Carter Gunn and Ross McDonnell)

Confession: I was planning on watching the new Ricky Gervais movie this morning, but accidentally went to the wrong theatre. Lack of sleep can make navigating these festivals a bit tricky. Fortunately, it led to my catching a decent documentary on honeybee colony collapse disorder.

It’s a pretty straightforward doc, but very thorough, and does a great job of illustrating the extent of the problem. A third of the U.S.’s honeybees have disappeared or died in the span of a couple of years, which means trouble for more than just apiaries. Given that bees are the only creatures capable of pollinating a good chunk of the world’s food crops, their disappearance could have disastrous consequences.

Gunn and McDonnell direct with a light touch, letting the personalities of their subjects balance out the direness of the story. While the interviewees are mostly beekeepers, they make sure to talk to people on all sides of the issue, including the pesticide manufacturers who many beekeepers suspect are responsible for the disorder.

It’s an impressively comprehensive doc on a subject that’s fallen from the public consciousness — what a pleasant surprise.

Capitalism: A Love Story (dir. Michael Moore)

Moore’s approach to documentary filmmaking hasn’t evolved much over the years, but his ambition has. Roger & Me limited its scope to one company, Fahrenheit 911 to one administration. Capitalism sets its sights on the complete overthrow of the free market, with the aim of inspiring people to prioritize true democracy over the profit motive.

As usual, Moore doesn’t put much effort into constructing a solid argument. That’s not to say he has no valid points, though — each of the emotionally charged segments is convincing in its own right, and combined, they do paint a pretty damning view of the system. In Capitalism’s world, who the heroes and villains are is clear as black and white, and the biggest crimes are never punished. But Moore’s detractors will have no problem poking holes in the film, as there’s not so much as an attempt to connect the various dots.

The typical Moore grandstanding is also present. At 55, it might be time for the director to give up on stunts like putting Wall Street execs under citizen’s arrest (although surrounding the buildings with crime scene tape is a sight in itself), and I’m still not sure why Wallace Shawn (a.k.a. Vinzinni from The Princess Bride) is used as an expert, aside from the fact that he’s pals with Moore.

As usual, if you go into the film sympathetic with Moore’s viewpoint, you’ll likely be moved by the film. If you don’t, it probably won’t convince you. Odds are, either way, the revolution won’t be too influenced by Moore’s love story.

Lebanon (dir. Samuel Maoz and Maoz Shmulik)

This one just took the top prize at the Venice film fest, so the screening room was absolutely packed. A claustrophobic war film set in the First Lebanon War of 1982, almost all of the film takes place within a single tank. Exteriors are viewed only through the tank’s sights. The interiors are too cramped for anything but close-ups. It’s an extremely limiting perspective, but it does wonders to up the intensity.

The cramped location is pretty much the only innovation Lebanon offers as far as war film conventions go, though. The film’s characters fall into the usual genre stereotypes: There’s the hard-edged commander, the insubordinate underling, the newbie who’s prone to freezing up. But putting them all in close quarters and never allowing them a moment’s reprieve is enough to make you forget that some of the situations seem a little stock. I haven’t seen The Hurt Locker, so I can’t offer a valid comparison on that front, but personally, it’s the best war movie I’ve seen in years.

Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (dir. Manoel de Oliveira)

At 100 years, Portugal’s Manoel de Oliveira can lay a strong claim to being the oldest working director in the world. Starting as a short documentary filmmaker in the 1930s, he made his first narrative film in 1942, so it’s more than a little impressive that he’s already working on his next project.

Eccentricities, his 48th film, feels older than it is. Everything from the rich colours to the rigid, photographic framing and the long takes that linger a few frames past their natural cutoff point all contribute to the feeling that this film belongs more in the ’70s than the new millennium — it’s actually jarring to see modern computers in the main character’s office.

The story is scant, following a young accountant as he falls for the girl across the street, a gorgeous young thing with an Asian hand-fan. Naturally, all doesn’t go smoothly, and the man’s career suffers as he pursues her (as he puts it, “commerce shuns a sentimental accountant.”) Instead of plot, the film offers luxury — decadent apartments, expensive fabrics and precious gems are all lovingly filmed. Even Oliveira’s depictions of poverty somehow come off rich despite their simplicity.

Only 64 minutes long, the film still drags in places thanks to Oliveira’s languid pacing. It’s impressive that the director can make a film feel as timeless as Eccentricities does, but it leaves more of an impression as a novelty than a movie.

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