If you missed it, yesterday our Toronto International Film Festival preview began with a look at the Gala and Contemporary World Cinema programmes, and if you didn’t know, tickets go on sale tomorrow morning online, at 416-968-FILM or 1-877-968-FILM and at the TIFFG Box Office at the Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor Street—so after you’ve read this, you might want to start queuing.
Today we have our preview of the Special Presentations, Real To Reel And Canada First! programmes, with reviews of Persepolis, When Did You Last See Your Father? Shake Hands With The Devil, Heavy Metal In Baghdad, My Kid Could Paint That, Walk All Over Me and Young People Fucking from Christopher Bird, Amanda Buckiewicz, Ashley Carter, Mathew Katz, Mathew Kumar, Kevin McBride and Jayson Young.
Christopher Bird hands out his second 5/5 to Persepolis and Amanda Buckiewicz hands out Torontoist’s third to My Kid Could Paint That. The miserly Mathew Kumar awards Heavy Metal In Baghdad (pictured above) 4.5/5 (!) despite calling it “[possibly] the most important film about the fallout of the Iraq War yet.”
BY CHRISTOPHER BIRD
Persepolis comes with a high pedigree—based on an acclaimed series of graphic novels, winner of the Cannes Prix du Jury award and target of official complaint from the government of Iran, so going into it you might be prepared for a letdown. If you do, you will be disappointed, because it’s just about perfect—even more so than in the comics. The light cartoony style of the film—an autobiographical narrative of the author’s life as a girl growing up in post-Shah Iran—allows it to shift seamlessly from childish fantasy and adolescent play to horrific war and brutal repression without compromising either side of its story, and indeed the contrasts in tone give the movie even more heft: the funny bits are funnier and the dramatic bits deeper in impact. In technical terms, the animation is just about flawless: beautiful, clean black-and-white lines which when appropriate swerve into absurdist caricatures of prisons, mosques and high-rises. Simply a masterwork in every way that matters. 5/5
Shake Hands With The Devil
BY JAYSON YOUNG
In this film adaptation of Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire’s highly-acclaimed book, director Roger Spottiswoode unflinchingly depicts the monstrosity of Rwanda’s genocidal conflicts. At the centre of it all is Dallaire, Canadian commander of the UN peacekeeping force dispatched to oversee a supposed cease-fire, and the difficult choices forced upon him as the horror unfolds. Roy Dupuis takes an admirable turn as Dallaire, a man torn between his orders and his ideals. As UN support for Dallaire’s mission dwindles, Dupuis remains courageous even as he becomes increasingly desperate. Laughably understaffed, short of funding and rations, Dallaire must essentially take matters into his own hands, and the result takes a toll on him. While Dallaire is a fascinating figure, it would have been nice if less screen time had been spent deifying a Canadian hero, and more devoted to the complexity of the Hutu-Tutsi conflict. Numerous political figures aren’t given any chance to develop, and Deborah Kara Unger’s portrayal of the last journalist left in Rwanda feels tacked on. Still, the film is full of gorgeous scenery juxtaposed with harrowing, haunting visuals. Shake Hands With the Devil is a powerful rumination on the atrocities of war and its effect on the human spirit. 4/5
When Did You Last See Your Father?
BY MATHEW KATZ
Directed by Anand Tucker and based on the book by Blake Morrison, When Did You Last See Your Father? is sure to satisfy your need for a film that explores the relationship between father and son and a film while incredibly British. Everyone’s favourite awkward Brit, Colin Firth, stars as Blake Morrison, a middle-aged, married writer who hates his father (played by veteran Jim Broadbent). The Morrisons are shocked to discover that their patriarch has terminal cancer and a few short weeks to live, and Blake travels from London to his family’s home in pastoral England to be with his father during his dying moments and to re-evaluate their relationship. Broadbent is stellar as the elder Morrison, bringing just enough theatrical eccentricity to the role of a man who puts his own desires before the needs of his family’s. Firth also does an impressive job with such an emotional role, his trademark stiffness showing (mostly) at fitting points. Yet the true star of the show is talented newcomer Matthew Beard, who spectacularly plays Firth’s character as a somewhat awkward and angsty teenager during the film’s extensive flashback sequences. 4/5
Real To Reel
Heavy Metal In Baghdad
BY MATHEW KUMAR
We weren’t very impressed with The Vice Guide To Travel, Vice Magazine’s first toe in documentary water, finding it utterly glib and disposable, which makes it all the more surprising that Vice may have somehow managed to make the most important film about the fallout of the Iraq War yet. Which sounds like ludicrous hyperbole for a film about Vice founder Suroosh Alvi and Vice Films head Eddy Moretti’s struggle to meet, stay in touch with and finally record a demo with “Iraq’s only heavy metal band” Acrassicauda. However, the film’s strength lies in its small scope and distinct disinterest in forcing the bigger picture on the viewer—the story of the lives of the Acrassicauda itself works as a perfect microcosm for the struggles of Iraq’s people and is deeply moving and enraging. Importantly, too, the film works as a better explanation of the healing power of heavy metal than the (dire) Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. Heck, it might not only be one of the best films about Iraq but one of the best films about metal. Period. 4.5/5
My Kid Could Paint That
BY AMANDA BUCKIEWICZ
When 4-year-old Marla Olmstead burst onto the art world, the media scrambled to throw her into the spotlight. But as with any news story, to stay in the spotlight you have to find a new angle. For Marla it meant a 60 Minutes exposé suggesting that her father is the true artist behind her work. For director Amir Bar-Lev, it meant his documentary on Marla, which was halfway through production, had to change direction. My Kid Could Paint That follows Marla’s rise to fame and controversy as told by the journalists who covered it. It explores themes of what constitutes art and the journalist’s role in shaping a story. It also follows Bar-Lev’s struggle to believe the Olmstead family when they deny ever assisting Marla, and his own guilt for being a part of the media machine that was currently destroying the little girl’s life. This movie is insightful, controversial, and extraordinarily well done, and is a must-see for artists, journalists and their critics. 5/5
Walk All Over Me
BY KEVIN MCBRIDE
Walk All Over Me is an enjoyable crime caper involving three characters trying to start new lives. Alberta escapes her troubled small town life by hopping on a bus to Vancouver. She shows up at the door of Celene, an old acquaintance who works as a dominatrix, but has plans to move south and pursue acting. In need of more money than her grocery store job provides, Alberta decides to give domination a try. Her first client is Paul, a real sweetheart. Unfortunately Paul’s past catches up with him, causing trouble for both Alberta and Celene. With an unpredictable storyline, the film is full of originality and suspense, there are excellent comic moments riffing off of the criminal and fetish underworld, and interesting to watch Alberta evolve from a timid girl to a confident young woman. By the end of the film, she dominates. 3.5/5
Young People Fucking
BY ASHLEY CARTER
Produced by Toronto-based Copperheart Entertainment and directed by Vancouver’s Martin Gero (a former student of Ryerson’s radio and television production course), Young People Fucking heads this year’s Canada First! lineup. With a budget of $1.5 million, it takes place entirely in the respective bedrooms of five prototypical, 20-something-ish couples—one long-term relationship, a first date, wannabe fuck buddies, exes, and a threesome. It’s formatted to follow each through the stages of a single sexual encounter, from “Foreplay” to “Afterglow.” What arrives is a hilarious and thoughtful psychosexual study and one of the smarter, dialogue-driven sex comedies to hit the screen in a long time. 4/5