Thursday, September 06, 2007

first reviews!: edge of heaven; disengagement; and lust, caution!

Well, it's September, but it feels like July! Walking the already well-trod path between the Sutton Place and the Varsity, I had to take off my jacket. That's amazing. Every first-day of the festival since I can remember, I have either been dragging my tote bag and latte through the pouring rain or longing for a parka. It was positively balmy on the Bay beat. I am rushing this out before heading off to meet up with someone and then see more movies! Here are the first reviews!

Faith, personal spirituality, and the politics of religion are going to be big themes at this year's TIFF. Faith Akin's Edge of Heaven is a beautiful combination of cinematic styles, both east and west. A complexly (but brilliantly) structured screenplay weaves together four or five lives with the kind of layered textures of a Kieslowski film (Red comes to mind). Synchronicities in storytelling can be hit or miss affairs; there is always the huge risk of it seeming forced by the needs of the screenwriter. Here the dovetailing is also interwoven with a non-linear structure so that not only lives overlap, but so do dramatic timelines. Those of us old enough to remember the glory days of Hanna Schuygulla in old Fassbinder and other German and Italian films will be thrilled to see her back here, playing a hardened German mother who sees the light of redemptive caring in the wake of a personal tragedy. Her face registers so many layers at once it is a master class in acting. The rest of the cast are very strong too, particularly Nursel Kose as Yeter, a man in relentless pursuit of 'doing the right thing' while also trying to appease his own yearning, wandering spirit. The film suffers at the top from clunky editing and a feeling of wrong coverage but that falls away and the filmmaker's visual style slowly emerges strong and masterful.

Disengagement, as you know if you've been reading here, has been a real heavy-hitter for me. Both an Amos Gitai film and featuring Juliette Binoche it has been one of my front-runners. The film both lives up to my own hype and disappoints. When you come to know the style of a particular filmmaker, you learn how to appreciate whether the work is strong within their vision. This film is very daring, even for Gitai. Having exposed so much of the middle eastern despair in his previous films, he now focusses more solidly on character work, and moves into abstract themes. The opening half, which takes place in France, follows Binoche's transformative character Ana, who is grieving her father, and her own failed life. "I'm lazy," she says, casually, "probably because I'm in despair." The line is ever so gently ironic and is part of the incredibly textured and detailed character lacing of emotion and psychological complexity that Binoche brings to this turn. Her whole body is different: a highly sexualized character in this part of the movie, she slides from room to room and up and down staircases peering sensually over her shoulder, her dress-straps always falling. Barbara Hendricks, the great American soprano sings Mahler. Only in Gitai can you have a black woman singing at a French Jewish man's funeral in German! Much more on this movie later, as it digests.

The line up for the Press/Industry screening of Ang Lee's Lust, Caution wound through the Manulife Centre and out on to Balmuto. The woman in line with me was not impressed. "This is like a Public screening line!" (oh, the horror!) It did afford us a glimpse of Michael Moore on his way to a limo, as discreet and smiling as ever, with the ubiquitous cap. Once in the cinema, even the most hardened press corps were silenced by the incredibly subtle nuancing of the growing relationship between the two lead characters. Tony Leung can simply do no wrong. That's all there is to say about him. He has a face and a body that can single handedly carry the emotional line of a film, but he gets lots of help here from newcomer Tang Wei, whose round face can read both eternal innocence and hatred in the same heartbeat. The movie is an exquisite set piece, featuring the deep burgundies, reds and maroons of WWII Shanghai and Hong Kong. The incredibly graphic sex scenes are gorgeous and erotic -- probably the best on-screen sex in movies for some time, in no small part because it is about the characters engaging each other as much as their bodies. All three of these movies are worth catching. Go for it!

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