Thursday, September 06, 2007

TIFF 2007: Day One

I managed to get myself to Toronto with only a few speed bumps. Customs was a zoo; who'd have thought it, and the pick up line for the out of town packages took maybe three times as long this year as it did last year. (Last year I went on Friday morning, so that may have been a difference.)

Carlos Saura's film is essentially a series of musical vignettes of singers and dancers performing various numbers in the style of this Portuguese music. The audience at the Ryerson loved it (and was heavily peppered with Portuguese, who apparently are a subcommunity in Toronto).

I had mixed feelings. It was interesting from a cultural anthropological point of view, and the performers were quite good. As a film, though, it was perhaps a bit static and repetitive. I tend to want dance numbers on film to show me the entire body, but only one or two of the numbers did; after awhile I felt like I was watching Portuguese MTV.

The Brave One
Jodie Foster, Neil Jordan, and Terenece Howard introduced the film.
Foster claimed at the beginning that it was "subversive" (or at least that she hoped people would find it so), but I confess I found it more cynical (about the audience and the characters). To be truly subversive, I think a work of art must ultimately have a moral point of view and not just play devil's advocate. There is even a difference between being ambiguous and just confused.

Joel Silver, in introducing the film, suggested that the script came to his office as more of a genre piece--a revenge flick--and that the participation of Foster and Howard helped put a new, deeper spin on the material. I certainly think their participation elevated the film--Foster is terrific and Howard equally so--but there is a difference between being a genre film with a pedigree and being something more than a genre film.

I think the film lies at the end. Without giving away major spoilers, it suggests that (despite Foster's final monologue) things are concluded adequately...or at least that equilibrium is restored after a fashion. Saying so seemed to be the only way of allowing the audience to feel good about feeling good about some of Foster's and Howard's choices, and I didn't think the film ultimately had the courage of its convictions.

[Also, if I may openly plagiarize Russ here--may we PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE have an end to the use of cell phones ringing as a dramatic fulcrum? And while we're at it (this not from Russ) an end to vomiting as a sign of a character's own self-revulsion? Some may argue these are conventions of the genre. I think they are just cliches.]

Neil Jordan has directed two films I love: The End of the Affair and The Crying Game. He's also directed films that didn't work for me: Interview with the Vampire, Breakfast on Pluto, and Michael Collins. I did find more thematic connections to the films I like than those I didn't...we have characters dealing with the weight of living with irrevocable decisions, the awareness (increasingly forgotten these days) that man is body and not just spirit...or at least that the love of man must include body and spirit.

It seems like everything these days has to evoke 9/11 and this film is no exception. At least it is pretty bald about where and how it invokes it rather than thinking it is being subtle by talking about violence, power, revenge, and proportionality in general sort of ways and then saying with faux surprise, "Gee what does that sound like."

Actually, I'm not sure if the film didn't have the courage of its convictions or if it didn't believe the audience would have the courage of their convictions. I'm not sure which is worse, actually, But both are pretty deadly for a film with pretensions. If The Brave One were satisfied with just being a revenge genre piece it would be fine. The more it congratulates itself for being an "Important" film, the less slack I'm willing to cut it for not having much insight or conviction of its own while it is wagging its finger at us for not knowing where we stand (or insisting that we must be callous or shallow if we claim we do).

1 comment:

Russell Lucas said...

Glad to be there in spirit, if not bodily.