Day eight of TIFF was light for movie-going, as I had only two films on the schedule. The day began with a resounding thud with a screening of That Summer (Un été brûlant). This new feature by French filmmaker Philippe Garrel pits two couples in romantic squabbles as they vacation together in Rome. That Summer ranks among the most flaccid infidelity dramas I have ever seen, aside from one great dance sequence in which Monica Bellucci heats up the screen. The early scenes of That Summer show promise, but the film ultimately becomes as empty and directionless as its four characters. Like an exasperated parent awaiting ‘Back to School’, Summer can’t end soon enough!
Fortunately, the tedium of That Summer encouraged a brief visit to the Blackberry Lounge at the TIFF BellLightbox, which provided ample relief and a chance to recharge before the next film. Second up for the day was a more agreeable dip into the world cinema offerings of the festival. Kotoko is a shocking and ambitious horror film by Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto. Kotoko stars pop singer Cocco in the title role of Kotoko, a young mother whose baby is taken from her when she is suspected of abuse.
Kotoko feels overwhelmed by the prospect of maternity, and she descends into a terrifying underworld of nightmarish daydreams and sudden bursts of violence. In some ways, this tale of motherhood gone awry resembles an Asian extreme version of We Need to Talk About Kevin: it recalls that scene in Kevin where Eva masks out Kevin’s cries in the blissful noise of jackhammers, except for Kotoko would literally drown her baby, rather than merely drown him out. Kotoko surely is not for the faint of heart, especially for audience members who might shirk away from the countless acts of violence against infants. (For example, Tsukamoto includes a close-up shot of Kotoko’s baby having its head blown away by an AK-47.) Tsukamoto amplifies Kotoko’s monstrous post-partum depression by manipulating the form of the film to match the content. As Kotoko becomes less lucid and more prone to madness, so does the film. Kotoko therefore projects Kotoko’s monstrous motherhood through fragmented images and near deafening sound. The spasmodic nature of the film offers an involving act of sense-making, provided one can avoid shielding one’s eyes from the horror. Kotoko is a brutally difficult film, but it is worth the pain.
Up for Friday: rising from the mid-festival slump with Hysteria, Take Shelter, Tyrannosaur, and Wuthering Heights.