September 17, 2015

TIFF 15: Homunculus Problems, Just a Part of Growing Up

Capsule reviews and notes from the Toronto International Film Festival, Thursday, September 17th.

Blood of My Blood [Italy, Marco Bellochio, 4] In the 19th century, clerics try to wring a confession of witchcraft from a nun; in the 21st, fading vampires fear encroaching bureaucracy. Thinky historical allegory given life by a series of striking images.

From the director of Fists In Pocket and Devil in the Flesh.

Full Contact [Netherlands, Thomas Verbeek, 2] French drone targeting pilot confronts the new stresses of 21st century air warfare. Dispenses with the obvious beats of a drone war story in act one, then shifts, none too compellingly, into the Antonioni zone.

The main problem with making fiction about the drone war is that it is already an overly obvious metaphor.

The Clan [Argentina, Pablo Trapero, 4] State security officer in the late days of the Argentinian dictatorship enlists his family in a kidnap-for-profit ring. Bracing true crime drama takes cues from the Scorsese style guide.

From the director of Carancho.

Baskin [Turkey, Can Evrenol, 4] Cops called for backup at an abandoned, Ottoman-era police station descend into Hell. Hypnagogic pageant of initiatory creepiness, conjured with micro-budget ingenuity Sam Raimi would be proud of.

This is what I want in a Midnight Madness title--from somewhere unexpected, working at the very edge of its ambition, crazy but knowing. And with a blood-drenched taste of political subtext, too.

So to sum up: Turkish auteur cinema, back on festival moratorium. Emerging Turkish genre cinema, the opposite of that.

Der Nachtmahr [Germany, AKIZ, 4] Teen girl is haunted by a homunculus-like creature, leading both her hard-partying friends and uptight bourgeois parents to think she’s going crazy. Delirious fable of misunderstood youth plays like the Austrian spawn of Harmony Korine and Frank Henenlotter.

With Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth fame as the girl’s English teacher.

And Austria, you’ve got to stop undercutting your fantasy and horror pics by imposing the wrong kind of logic on them. You know what I’m talking about, Austria.

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The Birds: Worse

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TIFF 15: Who Gets Lonelier, Ghosts or Androids?

Capsule reviews and notes from the Toronto International Film Festival, Wednesday September 16th.

An [Japan, Naomi Kawase, 5] Sad-eyed pancake stall operator gives in to the entreaties of a sweet-natured elderly woman who offers to improve his bean paste--the crucial ingredient that gives the film its name. Quiet, beautifully wrought drama starts out as a delightful food procedural on the order of Tampopo or Babette's Feast but becomes so much more.

Frenzy [Turkey, Emin Alper, 1] As Istanbul falls into police state lockdown, a parolee informing for the cops and his brother, who works for the government secretly shooting stray dogs, descend into separate paranoias. Hallmark signs of ill-wrought story construction include repeated story beats, dream sequences, idiot plotting, and the general wet cement pacing endemic to Turkish art cinema.

If you’re looking for the misnomer title of the fest, here you go. I knew this was a risk when I programmed but was misle by comparisons to Polanski and Cronenberg. But then to forgo all risk is the biggest film fest risk of all. Also it was kind of a dead slot.

Evolution [France, Lucile Hadžihalilovic, 4] Pre-pubescent boys on remote island discover that their so-called, oddly young mothers and nurses are performing weird medical experiments on them. Hypnotic tone poem suffused with horror themes and imagery.

Now this is a movie that can aptly claim to be a cutting from a Cronenbergian pseudopod. The obverse of the director's previous film, the much more lyrical weird fantasy Innocence, about girls' rites of passage.

The Whispering Star [Japan, Sion Sono, 4] An android courier delivers packages to the galaxy's few remaining humans, her only company a child-like navigational computer and her own tape recorded diary. Austere contemplation of the pleasures and perils of solitude, with the planets the protagonist visits represented by the still-abandoned streets and structures of the Fukushima quarantine zone.

Last year Takashi Miike had an austere formalist exercise that referenced genre tropes and Sono the crazypants Midnight Madness entry. This year it's the other way around.

I would not choose to see an entire day of meditatively paced titles, but one does not impose one's will on the festival. It imposes its will on you.

Journey to the Shore [Japan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 4] Woman goes on road trip with the very visible, quite solid ghost of her husband (Tadanobu Asano.) Seems to lack the director’s telltale unpredictable strangeness… at first.

Have a question about my TIFF capsule reviews? It may be frequently asked. If so, I have already answered it.