Saturday, September 08, 2007

TIFF 2007: Day Three (Sublime, Good, Good, and...Not)

Today was my hump day at Toronto, and it carried with it a mix of exhilaration and sadness. It was my fullest day yet of films, and I'm feeling as though I'm here. But I also have to try a little harder to not let the shadow of the end cast a pall over time that should be enjoyed in the moment.
A quick run-down on the films:

Easily my favorite film experience of the year thus far, this animated film of the graphic novel by the same title is a magnificent blend of scope and concentration, of emotion honestly felt and extracted and empathy sincerely felt. The film inspired me to skip Battle in Seattle to write a review which I hope to get posted somewhere soon, so I won't say too much more about it just yet other than if you get an opportunity to see it, grab it...and make an opportunity to see it.

My Kid Could Paint That
This film surprised me in some pleasant ways. I was expecting something similar to Who the $#@&* is Jackson Pollock--that is a film that used its subject matter to comment ironically about the state of modern art. While it clearly started down that path, the filmmakers (as well as the film's subjects) were clearly thrown a curve ball by a 60 Minutes report that questioned the authenticity of some of Marla Olmstead's paintings and the process used to create them. As a result, the film becomes as much about journalism and American media obsession as about modern art. I hope to write something a little more about this as well, but we'll see. Just an aside--I thought Michael Kimmelman, the art critic for the New York Times came across spectacularly in the film. How strange it is to see an academic or professional expert in a film (especially one about art) who is cogent, clear, and concise, using his forum to both educate the public and frame the topics at hand rather than to simply making a sweeping pronouncement.

100 Nails
I was telling my friend Andrew that I liked this film but I'm not totally sure I got it. It certainly made me curious to see some of Ermanno Olmi's other films. I felt like the film was in two parts and it took me awhile to connect them. I got some meat from my contemplations, but I'm still concerned that this may be me reading too much into it. The film starts with an act of vandalism at a university library and looks for awhile like it will be satire--maybe a cross between Jane Smiley's Moo, The Da Vinci Code and Columbo (except, you know, Italian). Then it turns in to a sort of Jesus of Montreal meets Riddley Scott's A Good Year (except, you know, in Italy). I guess the key to whether or not I understood it is that I don't know as I think the film was entirely sold by the main character's argument. If it wasn't, then it was subtle, and I got it. If it was, then I was reading too much into it.

Nothing is Private
Well to quote the proverbial friend of a friend--"What did [I] think was going to happen?" About half way through this film I tried to remember why I thought I might like it. I guess because I did find parts of Six Feet Under to be genuinely pathos laden. I am not, however, an American Beauty fan.

The TIFFG person introducing the film said that it was a new stage of development or maturity for Alan Ball, but to me there is a sameness about his work that is very formulaic: people do bad things until you dislike them then they do something good so that the film can scold you for being intolerant; people do good things until you like them then they do something bad so that the film can pity you your naivete for trusting anyone. His works recognize that venality is not the same thing as evil and argues that being conflicted about one's evil makes one a more complicated and sympathetic person than those who are unconflicted about their venality.

Plus, those who know me know that few things irritate me more than being drowned in a sea of people who love something when I don't, and I was in a theater with 1300 people who truly, madly, deeply, passionately, gayly love the work of Alan Ball...and I just don't. I may live to regret saying this, but while I appreciate and chuckle at his ability to spotlight the obtuse hypocrisies that are often present in his hicks, and zealots, and fascists, there is an oversimplification in his one-size-fits all deconstruction of human weakness that I find as monolithic and absolutist as the people he most loves to caricature. There was some good acting here, but I think anyone who saw American Beauty or a single episode of Six Feet Under could probably tell you after the first fifteen minutes or so where the film was going and how it was going to get there.

I predict that someone, somewhere who is a fan of American Beauty will write a review of this film that calls Ball "fearless" and "uncompromising" in his willingness to depict controversial subject matter. We will also be told (as, in fact I was told with the introduction to The Brave One) that it is "not for the faint of heart" as a means of saying that if you are not giving a standing ovation with the rest it is because you lack the courage and honesty that someone like Ball has. That may even be true, I guess, I don't know.

It's just that in this day and age I hardly think it requires boldness or courage to say that there is no one righteous, nay not one. I think the thing I find tedious about Ball's work is that I'm supposed to feel sympathy for characters based on how bad (or conflicted) they feel about their faults instead of based on whether or not they ever really explore or consider the possibility that transformation is possible.

I suppose there are some generic reminders here that the world is a broken place that are not incompatible with truth but likewise don't pass (in my minority opinion) for insight.


Russell Lucas said...

Can't wait for that PERSEPOLIS review (and for the film itself).

Elizabeth said...

Your assessment of Alan Ball is right on target.