In Revue: Autobiographical Satire, Running, and Dumb 3D Caves
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In Revue: Autobiographical Satire, Running, and Dumb 3D Caves

Because Toronto’s more movie obsessed than a Quentin Tarantino screenplay (yuk yuk), Torontoist brings you In Revue, a weekly roundup of new releases.

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Elia Sulieman’s as fresh faced and cheery as ever in his new film. Illustration by Chloe Cushman/Torontoist.


In keeping with the theme of this week’s Movie Mondays, we have a lot of new international releases in town this week. We’ve got a little deadpan satire from Palestine, a heart-pounding thriller from Austria, and some blockbusting 3D, er, what-have-you, from Australia. Just consider us your passport to international movie-going. Hey, at least you’d be considering us.

The Time That Remains

Directed by Elia Sulieman
3 ½ STARS


In 2002, Palestinian Christian filmmaker Elia Sulieman set off waves at Cannes with his deadpan comedy Divine Intervention. The film later made headlines after not being considered for Best Foreign Film Oscar, the result of the Academy not recognizing Palestine as a state. (They later reneged on their decision, considering the film in 2003.) The issue of non-recognition is central to Sulieman’s persona, as writer, director, and most of all, as star. And it bubbles up again in his latest, The Time That Remains.
Sketching the contemporary history of the Palestinian minority living in Nazareth from the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 to our present moment, The Time That Remains deftly unfolds with Sulieman’s characteristic restraint, its comic rhythms vacillating between the cheeky and the solemn. After a brief prologue in which a Palestinian cab driver finds himself lost in a rainstorm—leading him to pose the question that hangs over the rest of the film: “Where am I?”—The Time That Remains moves through four vignettes of life in Nazareth. Following Sulieman’s father, Faud (Saleh Bakri), as he transitions from firebrand paramilitary conscript to stoic, chain-smoking patriarch, and later picking up autobiographical scraps of the director himself (played by Zuhair Abu Hanna, Ayman Espanioli, and later by the stonefaced Sulieman himself), the film slow-plays its satire.
There’s nothing as broadly comic as the fatally wounded Santa Claus staggering through Nazareth or the random explosion of a military tank seen in Divine Intervention. (Though a scene in which a Palestinian man paces back and forth in front of a hotel making a phone call, tracked back and forth by tank’s oscillating turret, comes close.) The burlesque of Sulieman’s previous efforts have here mellowed into a less obtrusive, more compassionate strain of satire. This feather touch doesn’t always work. But when it does, as in a scene where IDF curfew-keepers become sucked into the rhythms of a late night rave, the results are strangely intoxicating.
The Time That Remains opened Thursday, February 3, for a limited run at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West). Click here for showtimes.

Sanctum

Directed by Alister Grierson
2 STARS


Executive produced by James Cameron, Sanctum functions rather obviously as a camera test for Avatar 2. Exploring a network of underground caves in Papa New Guinea, Grierson’s film lands somewhere between exquisitely-shot Planet Earth doc and widescreen IMAX extravaganza, mostly forgetting its billing as narrative “action thriller.” You’ll be forgiven for wanting your money back when the seats don’t shake.
Richard Roxburgh (Stealth) stars as Frank McGuire, a thrill-seeking caver conquistador who finds himself trapped between a series of rocks and hard places, along with his twinky son (Rhys Wakefield) and bankroller buddy (Ioan Gruffud), after a tropical storm maroons them two kilometres underground. The film gropes around blindly, trying to string together a story about a hard-ass dad mending a cracked relationship with his kid, but plot and subtext (such as they are) prove entirely incidental.
Sanctum is purely a showcase for the so-called Fusion Camera System Cameron developed to make Avatar. And considering how Cameron has announced his plans to explore the oceans of the planet Pandora in the sequel, it’s easy to imagine that Sanctum was built from the ground up to refine the flashy IMAX 3-D technology.
The 3-D effects are fine, though the murky tones of the underwater caves are further dampened by the glasses. They also fail to service the film’s atmosphere. It’s hard to feel claustrophobic when things are bursting towards you in three whole dimensions. Hopelessly dull and by-the-numbers, Sanctum also serves as a nifty rejoinder to all the naysayers who thought Neil Marshall’s spelunking spooker The Descent would have been better without the monsters. Without monsters, movies like these are all heavy breathing and old rocks. Didn’t Werner Herzog already make a 3D cave movie? Boring.
Sanctum opens Friday, February 4, in wide release. Click here for showtimes.

The Robber

Directed by Benjamin Heisenberg
4 STARS


The Robber is one of the films with a premise so simple and ingenious that it can only come from real life. Roughly based on the life of Austrian marathon runner-cum-armed-robber Johann Kastenberger, Heisenberg’s is less biopic and more mid-octane action flick. (Anyone who claims it’s on the same keel as American actioners hasn’t seen an American actioner since 1978.)
Andreas Lust plays Johann Rettenberger, an ex-con recently paroled after a six year stint for armed robbery. While in the clink, he perfected his regimen as a long-distance runner, down to the impressively taut calf muscles and distressingly gaunt facial structure. After securing a tiny apartment, he reverts to old habits, knocking off a remote bank, decked out in a grey trench coat and rubber mask. Next, he wins the Vienna Marathon. Both acts earn him a measure of celebrity, with magazine articles on his exceptional stamina reflected in news reports of an unidentified thug possessing comparable, maybe even exceptional, energies. After a while, the thrill of the chase proves as vacant as Johann’s own rheumy gaze, leading him to raise the stakes. He begins stealing clunkier getaway cars, knocking over multiple banks at once and shacks up with an old flame (Franziska Weisz), as if to demonstrate that self-destruction alone is insufficient.
The film’s emotional registers may be a bit flat—shuffling between glum, gloomy, dreary, depressing, and back again—but it’s held together by Heisenberg’s exceptional faculty for enlivening the film’s many chase scenes (and it’s extended manhunt sequence). Johann skirts around like David Cross’s Ronnie Dobbs in the old Mr. Show sketch: hiding under trucks, vaulting over fences, and bounding through open windows to evade capture. Despite a masterfully solemn turn by Lust, it’s hard to feel for his pokerfaced sadsack, especially when his status as blithe, harmless outlaw inevitably sours. But the film’s giddy tendency to bask in Johann’s sheer speed and slipperiness is enough to keep The Robber zipping along, one foot after the other.
The Robberopened Thursday, February 4, for a limited run at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West). Click here for showtimes.

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