TIFF trailings

A few more to add to the list. I only have one more industry screening after this, but I may try to rush a public screening of the Herzog doc (good luck without getting there three hours early) and one or two others over the weekend. It’s a bit of a bummer getting here too late for a lot of the major screenings — there were a full seven days of press screenings before I got here — but at least what I’ve been watching has been decent.

Speaking of…

Bad Faith (Dir. Kristian Petri, Sweden, 2010)

Context can mean a lot in a festival experience, and viewing Bad Faith immediately after I Saw the Devil was probably a mistake. Bad Faith is a more subtle, more languorous take on the serial killer genre, and while some of the twists it provides are plenty interesting, it’s also a lot less visceral.

There is, of course, viscera, but Petri doles it out in smaller portions, preferring atmosphere to immediate thrills. Centring on a woman who keeps finding herself at the murder scenes of the “bayonet killer,” the film’s biggest trick is also one of its biggest drawbacks – the use of an unreliable narrator is a novel twist in what is otherwise akin to a standard procedural forces viewers to question what they really know about both the protagonist and the suspects, but it doesn’t make it easy to get behind the film’s narrative drive.

The chilling last shot is the kind that will linger, and a chase sequence involving a shotgun and a crawlspace is particularly taut, but otherwise, Bad Faith has the feel of an interesting exercise more than a fully developed film. There’s enough on the screen to keep you guessing as to the nature of the film’s reality, but when all is said and done, there’s little incentive to ponder it.

Red Nights (Dir. julien Carbon and Laurent Courtlaud, Hong Kong, 2009)

Back to that whole context thing — I wrote the Bad Faith review immediately after watching it and immediately before going to Red Nights, and I’m thinking I was too hard on it. Because it was a well-executed and even somewhat innovative take on a well-worn genre, where Red Nights is not only derivative, it’s derivative in a half-assed sort of way. Much of it feels like a film noir made by people who’ve only seen third-hand imitations of film noir. Trench coats and silhouettes substitute for genuine atmosphere, flesh takes the place of sexuality, and gore replaces tension, and all of it is done in an awkward zone between camp and seriousness. The description of it actually sounds interesting — the plot features international criminals, ancient poisons, sadism and fetishism and a Maguffin in the form of an Imperial seal — but the execution falls completely apart. The film reaches a low point with a prolonged torture sequence that resulted in a number of critics walking out; it’s not so much that the scene is overly graphic (although it is), but that it does very little to earn the moment, playing it as torture porn in a very literal sense.

How to Start Your Own Country (Dir. Jody Shapiro, Canada, 2010)

After so much murder and torture on Thursday, I started today with something much more frivolous. This Canadian doc focuses on “micro-nations,” tiny countries with negligible populations and no international recognition — usually founded by one person who got sick of where they were living and declared themselves an independent state.

It’d be easy to make fun of your subjects in this kind of doc, and How to Start Your Own Country does feature plenty of ridiculous images, but Shapiro approaches the topic with a level head, even speaking to officials at the U.N. for their perspective on the phenomenon. Some of these micro-nations have historical grounds for their existence and others are just around because of the stubbornness of their founders, but Shapiro convincingly makes the case that, regardless of their eccentricities, the self-made statesmen he profiles do share at least some of the spirit of the founding fathers of any other nation. There’s more intellectual heft than you might expect for a subject that’s pretty silly on the face of it, but it never stops being fun, either.

Dirty Girl (Dir. Abe Sylvia, USA, 2010)

From the opening narration, Dirty Girl showcases an affinity for John Waters-style mid-west misfits. The titular dirty girl is the high school slut, a girl who’s perfectly comfortable banging her boyfriend-du-jour in the back seat of her car in the school parking lot regardless of how many people are standing outside. When her antics get her placed in remedial classes, she’s forced to befriend the school’s token chubby loner. Naturally, they become unlikely friends, and it’s not long before they embark on a road trip to meet the dirty girl’s long-lost father and help the loner embrace his homosexuality.

Dirty Girl hits so many indie-movie cliches that it could become a drinking game. There’s the dual coming-of-age storylines, appearances by Dwight Yokem and William H. Macy, unlikely stripteases and singalongs and even a talent show-based resolution — it’s like a more sex-obsessed Little Miss Sunshine. That does get tiresome, and so do the whiplash-inducing transitions from campy comedy to heartstring-tugging family drama, but the star turn from Juno Temple and her easy chemistry with co-star Jeremy Dozier helps ease it down. It’s not really raunchy enough to earn the title or the Waters comparison (though it’s probably a bit too dirty for Little Miss Sunshine-style crossover), but it certainly could’ve been worse.

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