Friday, September 07, 2007

TIFF 2007: Day Two (One Surprise, One Disappointment)

Les Amours d' Astree et Celadon

There is a famous quip comparing Rohmer films to watching paint dry, and I'll express a preference for narrative any day, so I wasn't expecting much. I found it really interesting, though, my favorite of the festival thus far.

There is a non-stylized representation of the past that reminding me just a little of Bresson's Lancelot du Lac. That style actually makes the characters seem human rather than legendary, and the narrative, while simple, highlighted the complexity of human emotion.

It helped that I've read enough works about the codes that inform Romances to not be baffled by some of decisions that inform the practices of the people within the system--although there were a few places, particularly in the cross dressing in the last thirty minutes of the film that I didn't quite "get."

Overall, though, I liked how it showed that human nature doesn't change much even in the formalized systems that govern human interaction do.

Terror's Advocate

I love documentaries, but I confess this one was a bit of a disappointment. There is always some educational or historical value to the documentaries, but I felt like the film couldn't decide if it wanted to be about Jacques Verges specifically or a more general history of terrorism specifically. It tended towards the latter, which made it a bit too diffuse to have some of the dramatic power or insight that some of the best documentaries have.

I also felt like it suffered a bit from an archivist's dilemma in that it at times seemed to be shaped more by what footage or interviews the compiler had than by a particular vision.

Schroeder directed Reversal of Fortune which I love and which shared some themes with this film, particularly the idea of being confronted with someone whose ways of thinking or approaching life seem to you so very, very strange.

I'm not totally sure, but the film's stance was not actually as sympathetic to the subjects as I would have expected, in part because, at times, Verges can come across as being less idealistic about exploitation and oppression (and how to fight it) than he does as being enamored with his own celebrity.

There is some insight here--especially early on when the film tries to explain how those whose identities are form in the crucible of colonial oppression think only in terms of negatives and cannot think in terms of reform or compromise. There was also a line (I forget who said it) about how revolutions can't always destroy their people, sometimes they have to save them. What I took that to mean is that one weakness of the underlying strategy of terrorism (and/or fighting colonialism through systemic violence) was that it was less successful at giving people alternatives to hated policies or authorities than it was at polarizing and manufacturing dissent. As a result, the sort of revolutionary, violent dissent which the film argues Verges was one of the architects of may have initial success but will ultimately implode under the weight of its own poverty--it can't transform a culture it can only cannibalize it.

That may be a wishful projection of my own opinions regarding terrorist agitation rather than something Schroeder was embedding in the film. (He does feel the need to have a prologue stressing that his views are not necessarily those of the subjects interviewed.) In that sense I wasn't positive if the film was celebrating Verges or using him as a symbol of man's venality in order to suggest that the ideological defenses of terrorism were a pragmatic rhetorical strategy devised by a lawyer and not an expression of political theory advocated by a true believer. I suspect that latter, but as I say, that may be reading too much of my own ideology onto the film.

The parts about Algeria were the most interesting, just from an educational standpoint. The stuff about Carlos and/or some Palestenian politics came across as the most tangential to the film, which could use a good edit, I think.

Overall Rankings Thus Far:
Les Amours de Astree et Celadon
The Brave One
Terror's Advocate


T.C. Truffin said...

Glad to see you made it to Toronto in one piece. I'm enjoying your mini-reviews. Keep em coming.

Russell Lucas said...

So glad you loved the Rohmer film.

Diane said...

What Russ said. That's great news, Ken.