TIFF – A late start

As I type this, I’m in the TIFF Industry Lounge during Happy Hour – it’s daily free drinks for all industry types, which means it’s bustling, but I’m doing my damnedest to avoid anything resembling socializing or networking. Except in the sense that blogging is “social networking,” but let’s never mind that.
Despite the complete lack of professional obligation regarding coverage of TIFF this year, I feel I’d be remiss not to at least try to cover the films I’ve seen so far, so here’s a stab at it. The Wifi isn’t working at the moment, so forgive any lack of knowledge about the films. I love going into movies blind.

Behind Blue Skies (Dir. Hannes Holm, Sweden, 2010)
Attend a few film festivals, and you learn to dread the inevitable coming-of-age tail, usually identifiable through overblown emotions and a haze of nostalgia. Sometimes it works, as in last year’s An Education (basically Carrie Mulligan’s successful audition for a part in Belle and Sebastian’s world), but more often it’s the type of semi-autobiography that writers need to get out of the way before moving on to their real work.
Put Behind Blue Skies in the same category as An Education. Not knowing anything about Sweden in the 1970s, I can only guess at the period-appropriateness of the sets and costumes – they’re perfectly believable. The story kicks off by sending a working-class high school kid to his wealthy best friend’s yacht club for the summer, but before you can say “bourgeoisie pigs,” director Holm switches tack by having the protagonist fall in with the yacht club’s manager, who has his own ideas about upward mobility.
The opening scene is a well-executed bait-and-switch, but don’t hold that against it — the tease promises a teen sex romp that never happens as a way of introducing a more complex character than this genre usually delivers.

127 Hours (Dir. Danny Boyle, USA, 2010)
A confession – I only ended up watching this because my map-reading skills left me in the wrong theatre in the midst of torrential rains. Not that I have anything against Boyle – aside from his well-known inability to pull off a proper third act, I mean – but given the success of Slumdog Millionaire, whatever he makes is bound to make its way to Calgary sooner than later. Regardless, I’m glad I stumbled into this one. It may be blatantly manipulative and overly stylized in parts, but God damned if it isn’t effective – especially in that notoriously tricky third act.
Like Howl (which is at CIFF as well as TIFF this year) but to an even greater degree, 127 Hours is almost entirely carried by James Franco. There isn’t a scene in the film without him, which makes sense given the premise – he plays an adventure seeker who gets his arm wedged under a rock in a gorge in the middle of nowhere. (The film has the best use of title card-as-punchline outside It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.) That setup means that there’s literally nowhere for Boyle to go for much of the film. Never mind a single set; the main character can’t even move. But while the triumph-over-unbelievable-odds storyline could be cloying, and Boyle certainly isn’t averse to sentimentality, Franco plays it perfectly, nailing the gradual journey to delirium as well as the touching confessions via camcorder.
He isn’t always helped by Boyle’s frenetic direction, which uses split-screens and rapid-fire edits to establish momentum early on and indulges in the same tricks even when they seem less appropriate, but the climax (aided by Sigur Ros) isn’t so much jaw-dropping as heart-stopping. I think I even shed a single, masculine tear.
Expect a Best Actor nod for Franco for this one, although it probably won’t hit the Best Picture sweet spot.

I Saw the Devil (Dir. Kim Jee-woon, South Korea)
Happy hour’s coming to a close, so I won’t be able to give this one the justice it deserves before I run off. In short, Kim’s The Good, The Bad, The Weird (which played TIFF in 2008) was a genre-bending blend of Western, adventure, martial arts epic, heist film and Lord only knows what else. And I Saw the Devil is every bit as brutal as that film was fun. There are moments of dark humour, but they punctuate an overwhelmingly bleak revenge fable, thick with rape, cannibalism, torture and the worst that mankind can muster. At times the darkness seems indulgent, and many of the scenes are downright punishing to view – Kim can be brutal with his lens. But the characters are impossible to turn away from, even when you can’t stand to watch the violence. It’s nihilistic to the same degree as No Country for Old Men, but whereas that film pitted good against evil, I Saw the Devil is more a battle between “chaotic good” and “chaotic evil,” to borrow a couple of terms from Dungeons and Dragons. The themes echo Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance trilogy, but Kim brings his own flair to the genre.

And that’s all I have for now. Probably two more films tonight, a handful tomorrow, the Polaris gala on Monday, and then back to the cloistered life of a Masters’ student.
(sorry for the lack of images.)

One Response to “TIFF – A late start”
  1. Mary says:

    I was going to skip 127 Hours (I thought Slumdog Millionaire was overrated) but Boyle’s use of Sigur Ros intrigues me. Which song is it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: