Still courtesy of TIFF.
Alright, TIFF programmer Dimitri Eipides: here’s the deal. I don’t know what you think “steampunk” is. But it’s not people genuinely relying on steam in an instrumental way, while eschewing futurist-Victorian aesthetics and coal-powered mech robots. Have you ever even played Final Fantasy VI?
Alexey Uchitel’s The Edge spins a post-Second World War yarn in which Siberian labourers slave away in isolated camps to provide fuel for steam engines. As such, the film pays lip service to the mechanical gods at the creaky heart of most good steampunk fiction, but without much of the fun. When a returned war hero (Vladimir Mashkov) shows up at the camp, chest heavy with medals, his engineering expertise in battlefield repute jeopardizes the already rickety reign of the labour camp’s one-armed commandant. But, you’d never guess, the new guy brings with him a bunch of psychological baggage. This gives way to the film’s most aesthetically inventive scenes, wherein we’re treated to flashbacks of his psycho-trauma in quick-cut vignettes that recall early Russian masters like Eisenstein and Vertov.
The central relationship in The Edge is forged between our hero and a feral German girl (Anjorka Strechel). Their lack of communication provides the set-up for a politically loaded clash of cultures, but it never reaches even the heights of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Darmok,” which plumbs the premise much more fruitfully. When you reach the scene of Verhoeven-inspired casual full-frontal nudity, realized with gratingly un-Verhoeven self-seriousness, The Edge launches itself well off the rails, unable to reconcile its limp fantasy elements with its more sober historical specificity.
Want more TIFF 2010? Torontoist’s complete coverage of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is all right here.