Saturday, September 07, 2013

TIFF 13 More Reviews: Three Romcoms

Fanny Ardant in Bright Days Ahead
Thirteen films since my last post! Will have to update in blocks, perhaps around genre. 

The romcom is enjoying a bit of a global renaissance if this year's selection at Tiff is any indication. Through the accidents of scheduling, I ended up with three of them in a row on Friday morning.

Fanny Ardant's radiant beauty at the age of 60 is an incandescent light in Bright Days Ahead, Marion Vernoux's portrait of a woman whose life is in need of transformation, even as she is forced into transitions she hasn't sought out. Recovering from the death of a friend and a marriage sliding uneasily into complacent routine in its golden years, Caroline unexpectedly finds herself in the arms of a man half her age, whose sexual addiction does not mean he doesn't also fall in love from time to time. Vernoux handles the complexities of their encounter with care and manages to avoid the trappings of the genre by allowing Caroline to always be the author of her own life changes. Even as she anticipates the end, she lives into it with wisdom and acceptance. The film is very much about freedom and hers is always one she has chosen. I carry with me some gorgeous shots of Ardant walking in dusk light by the sea, as stunning as the landscape.

I slid into Joel Hopkin's The Love Punch, about a half hour in. There are a few funny sequences that made me laugh out loud - and this is a perfect film for a late night can't-sleep jammies and teatime with Netflix. But make no mistake, this is a cotton candy of a movie about divorced jewel thieves who reunite to enact a revenge heist. Joined by Celia Imrie and Timothy Spall, the funny bits come in the slo-mo mock action movie sequences when they put on the next guise and head out like heroes. Hopkins is his most at home in the form here but the rest of the film's farfetched plot lacks this kind of satiric edge and sorely needs it. Emma Thompson and Pearce Brosnan have enjoyable chemistry but even they are working too hard. Thompson is just too good an actor; it is impossible for her to be truly lite. The gift of her comedy is that she brings layering and longing to an otherwise seemingly superficial character (just think of all of her scenes in Love Actually). But it has to be written for her. And please please. Can someone please give Celia Imrie a real role? Here is a strong British character actress who has played the exact same oversexed semi-silly character in the last three films I've seen her in. She does it well, but all of these actors deserve better.

Irrfan Khan in The Lunchbox
The real gem of Friday morning, however, was
The Lunchbox, Ritesh Batra's lovely lovely film about a man on the verge of retirement who starts receiving lunches by mistake from a lonely housewife, who is trying to woo her way back into her husband's heart through his stomach. Letters to the other start to appear under the naan and soon they are each telling the stories of their deepest memories and regrets, desires and dreams. The gem of this film is its screenplay, beautifully crafted and quite funny also, including a prominent secondary character who is only ever heard and not seen, like something from a Preston Sturges or Ernst Lubitsch comedy. But Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur are beautiful as the two leads. The preparation of the food adds a bonus pleasure: so sensory that you swear you can smell it and taste it. (Plan now to go for Indian food afterward.) I hope The Lunchbox gets widespread release; Variety has already declared it to have crossover potential. Maybe that means more people will see this quietly touching film.

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