Wednesday was one of those exhausting days with 4 screenings, starting at 9 am, with the last credits scrolling up at around 10 pm. First up, Kathryn Bigelow’s, The Hurt Locker starring Jeremy Renner with cameos from Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes. The film follows the US Army Bravo Company in Baghdad, as they navigate thru one dangerous situation after another, defusing one bomb after another, as each soldier is trying to make it to the end of their tour of duty.¬† Bigelow has constructed a highly charged and engrossing film. The masterful cinematography and editing keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. Bigelow was present at the screening and discussed some of the reasons why she wanted to make this film. She felt that the overall Iraq War has been under reported and she felt Mark Boal’s script, based on his experiences as a journalist in Iraq, would give the audience as close to an understanding of the soldier’s experience without it being a documentary. The overall message of the film is “War is hell” but also, the constant adrenaline rush of trying to stay alive is a drug for some. Jeremy Renner gives a very good performance as the fearless bomb disposal technician.¬† James (Renner) has disposed of over 800 bombs and he keeps components of these bombs in a box under his bed like a trophy case.¬† Excellent film and probably the best I have seen thus far on the Iraq experience.
Next up was Atom Egoyan’s, Adoration. This is Egoyan back to the form and the type of film he does best. More in the style of Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter. In an effort to deal with the death of his parents years earlier, Simon (Devon Bostick) constructs a story about his past for his teacher. But is it the truth? In this film Egoyan explores many of the complex subjects we are all dealing with in a post 911 world.¬† This is one of Egoyan’s best works.¬† Incidentally Mr. Egoyan was present at one of the screenings and spoke a little about the film but also spoke about the upcoming election here in Canada. Stephen Harper, the Conservative Prime Minister with his minority government has called an election for October.¬† Mr. Egoyan reminded the audience that the government’s support of the arts has been abysmal and that as supporters of the arts which TIFF goers of course are, we should make sure that protection of culture and the arts are a priority in the election. Also, the Harper government recently tried to introduce legislation which in effect tries to decide which project will receive tax credits. Many have said this is a form of censorship.
The third film of the day was Danny Boyles, Slumdog Millionaire. The film played to a packed film house of at least 1000 people eagerly in anticipation of this film. This film has all the elements that make a great story; a poignant love story, a hero that the audience roots for and the triumph over adversity. In Danny Boyles kinetic style of filmmaking, he has woven a heartwarming story about the resiliency of the human spirit.¬† The film is accompanied by a thrilling original score by A.R Rahman. Above all, what makes this film great are the compelling characters created by endearing actors who are for the most part unknown to North American audiences, but not for long. Great film.
The last film of the evening was Il y’a longtemps que je t’aime, Philippe Claudel’s directorial debut. Claudel has created a powerful film about loss and renewal. Kristin Scott Thomas gives a staggering performance as a woman who has been imprisoned for 15 years for murder who is now reunited with her sister, who is now married with children.¬† Juliette (Scott Thomas) has been separated from her sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) since her incarceration because according to her parents she was “dead” to the family. And when we first see Juliette at the airport waiting for her sister she appears dead in spirit. As Juliette finds her way again in the world with a new relationship and getting to know her sister Lea again, along with her husband and children, we slowly come to know the circumstances which lead to that fateful day.¬† Claudel and Scott Thomas were present at the screening. Claudel was appreciative to be able to have someone as good as Scott Thomas with her wonderfully expressive face at the centre of his film. Zyberstein gives a fine performance as well but Scott Thomas gives the kind of performance that you remember and I will be surprised if it’s not remembered when nominations are considered.
Thursday began with the screening of Kari Skogland’s, Fifty Dead Men Walking, starring Jim Sturgess and Ben Kingsley. Based on true events, Martin (Sturgess) is a Belfast hustler in the 80′s who is rather agnostic in his beliefs and so becomes a prime target by a British intelligence officer (Kingsley) to become an informant about IRA activities. For Martin it is really more about the excitement of doing something covert like James Bond but as he gets deeper and deeper into the IRA organization, things get more and more dangerous. Martin also falls in love and fathers a child to further complicate things. As compelling as this story is on the page, I felt I had seen this all before. Skogland’s style of direction is conventional and unoriginal. The always reliable Mr. Kingsley gives a good performance as does Sturgess who is on his way to a promising future as an actor. Not a bad film but I really can’t fully recommend it either.
The second film of the day was the long awaited directorial debut from Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York. The film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman with support from Michele Williams, Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson and Dianne Wiest. Adele ( Keener) decides to leave her husband Caden (Hoffman) and take their daughter with her to Berlin to pursue her art career. After winning a prestigious endowment, Caden tries to create a play about his life in an effort to trying to understand it.¬† Kaufman has taken the idea of art imitating life to the extreme here……..and I do mean the extreme. Its been 17 years and Caden is still not finished with his play. Its the first time this week that I actually felt like getting up and leaving 30 minutes into the film. But I stayed to give it a chance in hopes it would get better. Unfortunately it never did. As someone who ranks Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as one my favourite films of all time and Being John Malkovich as one I admire as well, I knew what I was in for with a Kaufman script. The problem with this film is that it’s an idea that is out of control. Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry have been the best interpreters of Kaufmans writing and created very good films with characters we cared about. I never really cared about Caden or Adele and I found them annoying from frame one. Although all of this talent makes the most of the script they were given, and some scenes do represent acting at a high level. Unfortunately, that’s just not enough. The impressive cast is wasted here. Hate is something I rarely use when reviewing films because there is always something I admire but I really hated this film. A huge disappointment.
Tomorrow I am going to see Soderbergh’s Che in its entirety. Yes, that’s right, the full 4-hour version with a 15 minute intermission. Maybe they should start making t-shirts, “I survived 4 hours of Che”.¬† I am also seeing Gavin O’ Connor’s Pride and Glory. More from the TIFF tomorrow.