Toronto International Film Festival
A festival report by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 2000 Evelyn C. Leeper

We attended the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) from September 7 through September 16. This was the festival's 25th anniversary.


[This is basically unchanged from the description I wrote two years ago, so if you read that you can skip this.]

Registration for this festival is like nothing else I've registered for. There are several ways of buying tickets: a festival pass (good for up to fifty films), a thirty-coupon book, a ten-coupon book, or individually. The cheapest per-film is the Festival Pass (C$278.20, up from C$240.75 two years ago) and we got those. This was not all that difficult--I called the box office and gave them a credit card number. For out-of-town folks they hold the passes in the office. But I also had to order a programme book (C$29.95, up from C$26.70) with courier service (C$50, up from C$35). Now, we would get the programme book in any case, but why courier service?

Well, TIFF has grown to be the fourth largest film festival in the world (only Cannes, Venice, and Berlin are larger), and one can't wait until one arrives to order tickets or none will be available. So you must order tickets the day the box office starts selling them.

Okay, the package arrived promptly on August 30. The programme book is 400 pages long and has 319 films (up from 311 two years ago). The order form is a magazine-sized booklet with two dozen pages that need to be filled out. The process is complicated by the following facts:

Okay, someone must have a computer program that could do this, but we didn't. So here's our process:

This process took eight hours.

But wait--we're still not done!

Now we had to transcribe all this onto the real, color-coded, bar-coded form by writing "1" on the first-choice block for each of our films (for one ticket, since each pass requires a separate form), and "1" on the second-choice block for those couple of places where there was a clear second-choice.

And then we had to highlight the titles of the first-choice films in yellow and the second-choice films in green.

I am not making this up.

(Though the last part with the colored highlighters was only recommended, not required.)

The transcription I did at the airport waiting for our flight to Chicago for the World Science Fiction Convention (separate report available on request), and it took fifteen minutes per form.

And when we arrived at the hotel in Toronto, I went down to the business center and FedExed the order forms back to Toronto so they would get there in time (US$27).

Even with all that, we expected that we probably would not get all our requested tickets. We ended up ordering 46 each, so we could add at least four films if we can find any open time slots. We had pretty much decided that we will not try to do both midnight showings and 9:00 showings the next mornings, and since all the major, major films are shown in limited "gala" showings at night not on the festival pass and then early the next morning, the morning shows are the only time to see them.

Why don't they allow fax or Web orders? Well, they do have fax orders, but they charge an extra C$0.75 per ticket for them, because they have to type in the code numbers instead of scanning the pages. And though they have an extensive albeit poorly designed web site, they don't do Web orders.

We arrived in Toronto September 5 and picked up our tickets. We discovered that we had gotten all but three of our choices Mamet's State and Main, The Weight of Water, and How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog). We then went over the board to see what we could get instead of our choices and filled them in, bringing us back up to 46 each. (I had described the "Festival Pass" as the "no-eat, no-sleep pass." With our dropping of midnight shows, I think we will get more (i.e., enough) sleep this time.) Mark and I are seeing 44 movies together, and two each separately. The hardest decision was between Pandaemonium and Alexander Nevsky with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and full chorus.

There were ten shorts ("Preludes") shown before the films in honor of the festival's twenty-fifth anniversary. The best was "The Heart of the World" (by Guy Maddin), a beautifully realized take-off on old Soviet films from the 1920s with a little German Expressionism thrown in. It's the story of scientist Anna, who is in love with brothers Nikolai and Osip, and who while studying the earth's core discovers that the (literal) heart of the world is going to have a heart attack. (I'm not the only one who liked it. The second time we saw it, it got applause when it started.) Another good one was "A Word from the Management" (by Don McKellar) which is the thoughts of a festival volunteer regarding the attendees. One that had a touch of unintentional irony was "Camera" by David Cronenberg. It was to be projected with the wrong lens (anamorphic instead of regular) the first time I saw it, but someone said that a few years ago he was very upset when the festival projected his M Butterfly with the wrong lens, so I wouldn't have been surprised to discover that he had purposely filmed his short so that it looked the same. But later I saw it projected correctly, so it is just that someone has again done this to a Cronenberg film! And "See You in Toronto" (by Jean Pierre Lefebvre) was first projected so that the bottom line of all the subtitles was lost below the screen. Others included "24 fps" (by Jeremy Podeswa), "The Line" (by Atom Egoyan), "Legs Apart" (by Anne Wheeler), "Prelude" (by Michael Snow), and "This Might Be Good" (by Patricia Rozema). The worst, which was already being booed by the second morning of the festival, was "Congratulations" (by Mike Jones), about three washed-up actors and how they are called back for one last job promoting the festival. It ends with a fish being gutted and cleaned.

France, Benoît Jacquot

A strange film to start with, and not one that will play at your local multiplex. It's about the Marquis de Sade during the period he was imprisoned by the French Revolution. The director introduced it by saying that "Sade is a name that has become a noun, but a noun without a face, and this film is an attempt to give the noun a face." Unfortunately, I don't think it succeeds it that, as the philosophy of Sade is only obliquely expressed or implied by writers Jacques Fieschi and Bernard Minoret. It is quite good in its set design, costumes, and classical music by Poulenc and others, though. In French with English subtitles. 0 (-4/+4).

USA, Jon Shear

A sort of 90s' After Hours that incorporates urban legends before taking a sharp turn into something else. Promising first film by Shear, with sometimes hard-to-follow edits in a non-linear film. One problem is that in the dark scenes, characters can be confused for one another. Marc Anthony Thompson's music adds to the uneasy tone. +1 (-4/+4).

The Grifters
UK, Stephen Frears

An oldie but a goodie. This film is more about grifting in general and the type of personality that a grifter must have than about these particular grifters. Great performances by Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening, J. T. Walsh, with script by Donald Westlake based on the Jim Thompson novel. This should probably be seen in a double feature with David Mamet's House of Games. +3 (-4/+4)

The Legends of Rita
German, Volker Schlöndorff

Biographical look at Rita Vogt, a German 1960s terrorist conned with the Red Army Faction, who is forced to hide out in East Germany under different identities. Rita is an idealist who wants to bring about a perfect socialist state, even though everyone around her wants out. Though she is helped by many people in East Germany, the fall of the Berlin Wall is the pivotal event of the film and her life. Schlöndorff and screenwriter Wolfgang Köhlhaase do a better job of helping the audience comprehend a little-understood philosophy than Jacquot did in Sade. In German with English subtitles. +2 (-4/+4)

Shadow Magic
China, Ann Hu

A fictionalized account of the coming of motion pictures to China, and the beginning of the Chinese film industry. In the question-and-answer period after the film, the director said, "Chinese cinema has to rise from its narrow sense of nationalism to a broader sense of internationalism." And one of the sequences certainly underlined this, when in 1902 a audience of Chinese in Beijing see films of Westerners and comment, "I never thought of them as having families--I though they were just soldiers," "They seem to have feelings," and "They even seem to have a sense of humor." Hu shows the (presumed) reactions of the first Chinese audiences as well as the first Chinese cinematographer. Although parts are obviously false (I doubt one man reinvented the zoopraxis in two days), it is a wonderful paean to the history and power of film. (When the film of the woman in the veils dancing ran along with phonographic accompaniment, I got chills.) In English and Mandarin with English subtitles. +3 (-4/+4).

To Die (or Not)
Ventura Pons

A gimmicky film of short vignettes that owes a lot to Frank Capra (as one character even comments early on). Based on a stage play, this film looks at life and death and their implications. Though the director (both in the film in the question-and-answer period) decried a belief in a personal God, parts of his film could be interpreted as supporting it. Pons uses color and camera styles to distinguish among the various choices made by characters, or fate, in the film. In Catalan with English subtitles. +1 (-4/+4).

Best In Show
USA, Christopher Guest

Another look at show business by the writer/director of Waiting for Guffman. This film is to dog shows as Smile and any number of more recent films is to beauty pageants. Eugene Levy and an ensemble cast portray quirky dog owners hoping to win the Mayflower Dog Show. The movie is damaged, though, by a giant overdose of the boorish announcer (played by Fred Willard). Though he probably has no more screen time than the other characters, it's all concentrated in the last half and became painful to watch. Even so, this is recommended for dog lovers everywhere. +2 (-4/+4).

Japan, Junji Sakamoto

A look at pain and isolation, which the audience seemed determined to see as a comedy long after the brief initial humor had vanished. Masiko has lived a sheltered life in her mother's dry cleaning shop when circumstances force her to go into the world. Initially unprepared, she learns to cope as she moves from one identity and situation to another. (This bears some similarity to The Legends of Rita.) At times painful to watch, this is a good film without being enjoyable. In Japanese with English subtitles. +1 (-4/+4).

The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz
UK, Ben Hopkins

Weird. As far as I could tell, the premise is that some spirit (Thomas Katz, though the name is never used in the movie, where I think he is only called "No") from the underworld (?) comes up to our level and starts takes over various people in a sort of daisy-chain (a la Fallen). Reality breaks down and other strange occurrences ensue. With its odd editing, black-and-white cinematography, and resolutely British stiff-upper-lipness during the end of civilization, this film has a certain fascination, but is definitely not for everyone. However, it might become a minor cult classic. Almost impossible to rate, but let's say 0 (-4/+4).

US, Mia Trachinger

Two Eastern European refugees take jobs as street-corner bunnies. Apparently the city has decided to put people in pink bunny suits on the corners for passersby to come up to, tell their troubles to, and get some comfort from. But the "bunnies" have their own problems, and this film is not a comedy, but a drama about alienation and isolation. (It actually ties back to a line in an earlier film--Urbania (?)--where a character says that he stopped going to his psychiatrist because he felt strange talking about his problems to a woman who had survived Auschwitz.) +1 (-4/+4).

Walk the Talk
Australia, Shirley Barrett

The story of a man with a plan. Joey Grasso is a great believer in self-help, self-actualization, and motivational concepts. He figures that if he can dream it, he can make it happen, no matter how unlikely. His latest plan is to take a mediocre club singer and make her a star, and he won't let any setbacks deter him. This film is similar to other Australian films about quirky people, such as Muriel's Wedding, but also related to films about the quest for stardom such as King of Comedy. +2 (-4/+4).

UK, Stephen Frears

Yet another look at a poor working-class Catholic family in 1930s British Isles. Stephen Frears makes this rise above the similarities, though, in part by adding the political subplot of the British Fascists, and in part by the endearing title character, a seven-year-old boy. (In another twist, Frears sets this in Liverpool, so the Catholics are actually British, while the Irish immigrants are Protestant.) Frears also gives an unusually balanced portrayal of the Catholic clergy, showing the priest as being compassionate and more interested in wrong-doing than in ritual sin, as well as showing the "eternal hellfire" side. The ending is a bit contrived, but overall this is a film worth seeing. +2 (-4/+4).

Tell Me Something
Republic of Korea, Chang Younhyun

A graphic murder mystery, with our hero policeman trying to track down a serial killer. It all makes sense until the last five minutes, when it gets completely confused again and leaves the audience wondering just what the solution was. This, combined with the graphic violence, makes this a film not for everyone. In Korean with English subtitles. +1 (-4/+4).

Time and Tide
Hong Kong/China, Tsui Hark

A high-speed action film, but very confusing, with shifts backward and forward in time and between Hong Kong and South America. Admittedly, the flow of the final high-action finale was marred by not one, but two projector failures in the last ten minutes. This was in the "Midnight Madness" track and is more suited to that than to a mainstream audience. In Chinese with English subtitles. 0 (-4/+4).

Chasing Sleep
USA, Michael Walker

A strange enigmatic film. At least part of this must be hallucinations, but none of us could agree on which part. Jeff Daniels is a husband whose wife fails to come home one day. The film takes place almost entirely in his house, with only about half a dozen actors. Walker gives us lots of shots of water-damaged walls, dripping pipes, and broken plumbing, without much explanation why. This is a film for art house audiences only. +1 (-4/+4).

Ginger Snaps
Canada, John Fawcett

A modern version of the werewolf story. This version (bearing at least some similarity to Suzy McKee Charnas's 1989 short story "Boobs") has a girl who is bitten by a werewolf at the same time she is going through puberty. The film is a combination werewolf/teenage revenge flick which the Canadian audience really loved, and women may identify with the main character's situation more than with the (male) werewolves in previous werewolf films, but which is just average for other audiences. (The only earlier female werewolf Mark could think of was She Wolf of London.) +1 (-4/+4).

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Taiwan, Ang Lee

Beautifully realized martial arts love story. This film has been advertised as "from the director of Sense and Sensibility," but it seems closer to his Ride with the Devil. Lee uses an interesting structure here, in many ways the exact reverse of traditional Hollywood structure. This departure from Hollywood style shows up in Lee's choice of music as well, and in the ending. (One reviewer I talked to called this "subversive." I don't know about that, but it was certainly refreshing.) The action sequences were choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping, who did the sequences in The Matrix, and are much better realized than that film. All the elements fit together perfectly to create a marvelous vision. I don't think Ang Lee has made a bad film, or even a just average one, but this is his best yet. (His films include The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman, and The Ice Storm, as well as those previously mentioned.) This was a very popular film--someone who was in the rush line at 8:15 said she was the third to the last to get in for the 9:30 showing--and the winner of the People's Choice Award. +3 (-4/+4).

The Contender
USA, Rod Lurie

A political drama with an emphasis on script (also by Rod Lurie) rather than action. This is the story of a vice-presidential confirmation hearing and surrounding activities. Excellent performances by Joan Allen as the nominee (she also played Pat Nixon in Nixon--will she ever be in the White House as other than an adjunct to a President?) and Gary Oldman (whom no one recognized--the man is a virtual chameleon). Sam Elliot was his usual self, and Jeff Bridges was acceptable as the President. The film suffered a bit from a "set piece" speech at the end, as well as a scene that I thought completely undercut the message. (And I think Lurie does some unconvincing hand-waving to set up a situation--the House Judiciary Committee being involved--that is basically unconstitutional.) Fans of this genre will see similarities to The American President, as well as to Seven Days in May, and even Inherit the Wind, but it is not just a copy of them. +3 (-4/+4)

The Goddess of 1967
Australia/Hong Kong/China, Clara Law

Road movie about a Japanese man who comes to Australia to buy the title character (a Citroën DS) and the blind girl who may or may not own it. She wants him to take her someplace five days' drive into the Outback, and off they go. It has nice scenery, and it gives a history of the DS, including a quote by Roland Barthes ("It is obvious that the new Citroën has fallen from the sky"), but otherwise is nothing new. +1 (-4/+4).

Austria, Florian Flicker

The story of a hold-up gone wrong. Andreas is behind in his alimony payments and decides to hold-up a tailor shop to get the money. But something goes wrong and he ends up trapped there with the owner and a customer. The rest of the film is composed of the strange conversations and incidents that befall them. It is amusing at times, though not precisely a comedy, but ultimately only an average film. In German with English and French subtitles. +2 (-4/+4).

Chinese Coffee
USA, Al Pacino

Two men in a room arguing about the artist's struggle. Al Pacino is a writer who is broke and goes to his photographer friend (Jerry Ohrbach) to try to collect money Ohrbach owes him and to get comments on his latest novel. There are a few flashback scenes outside the room, but this is basically a claustrophobic dialogue. I liked it, but I like this sort of thing in general. The dialogue is more theatrical and less naturalistic than that of My Dinner with Andre. +2 (-4/+4).

Shadow of the Vampire
USA, E. Elias Merhige

Highly fictionalized story of the filming of F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu. This film assumes that the actor Max Schreck really was a vampire. Great cinematography which segues nicely between standard footage and imitation 1922 Nosferatu footage. Murnau expounds a lot on cinema (speaking of the local extras, for example, he says, "They don't have to act. They just have to be."), but Merhige (pronounced like "marriage") said that all the dialogue was fictional. This has great performances by Willem Dafoe as Schreck and John Malkovich as Murnau; the only weak touch is Cary Elwes. This is a must-see for fans of cinema, especially silent cinema. +3 (-4/+4)

The Stranger
Austria, Götz Spielmann

A small-time drug dealer tries to make a big score, but arrives in Vienna just after all his contacts are arrested. His girlfriend and a taxi driver get involved in trying to move a kilo of cocaine without getting arrested or killed. This is competently done, but nothing special. In German with English subtitles. +1 (-4/+4)

The American Nightmare
US/UK, Adam Simon

Documentary about (North) American horror films of the 1960s and 1970s, focusing on George Romero, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, and Tom Savini. (Yes, I know Cronenberg is Canadian, and his films of that time were Canadian. I didn't name the film.) Simon takes the premise that their films reflected trends or events in the real world and intercuts interviews with the directors and others to illustrate this. While some connections are obvious--for example, Night of the Living Dead has scenes and elements that directly reflect the civil rights movement--others are less clear and less clearly explicated. It probably would have helped had I seen all the films discussed. Look for this on the Independent Film Channel. +2 (-4/+4)

France/Haiti/Belgium/Germany, Raoul Peck

Biopic of Congolese Patrice Lumumba. The film was well-done, but didn't provide enough background for the different political factions involved, and also assumed a knowledge of the Belgian colonial period to understand fully the irony in many scenes. (The Belgians were the most brutal of the colonial powers in Africa--Mark Twain wrote extensively and strongly against them.) The audience for this is probably mostly in Europe and Africa, though if dubbed it might reach a wider audience in the United States. In French with English subtitles. +1 (-4/+4)

Germany/Canada, Renny Bartlett

The third biopic of the day (assuming you think of Shadow of the Vampire as a biopic). I had somehow thought this would be a documentary, but it wasn't even a very informative biopic, spending very little time on Eisenstein's films and a lot of time on his living rather aimlessly in Mexico for several years, and on how wacky (wacko?) he was. (At one point, for example, he shaves half his head.) I guess we're supposed to sympathize with Eisenstein's attempts to get around Soviet censorship, but it really just seemed a muddled script with no focus. +1 (-4/+4)

The Uncles
Canada, Jim Allodi

Shot-on-digital-video lightweight film about two brothers whose developmentally challenged sister wants a baby. It has some message about choices and direction in life, but on the whole is just a run-of-the-mill story, and the digital video transfer results in a washed-out, unfocused image, especially in the outdoor scenes. 0 (-4/+4)

USA, Sally Field

The worst mainstream film of the festival. (Songs from the Second Floor was worse, but clearly fell into the category of alternative cinema which tends to be worse anyway.) It wasn't incompetently made, and that was the problem--it was good craft on the service of bad art. WARNING: THERE ARE MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD. My major complaint is that Minnie Driver's character is despicable, but you're supposed to sympathize with and root for her. She psychologically scars several people, physically scars one, rejects and seems to actively dislike her daughter, and in general expects everyone's life to revolve around her and her problems. Oh, and she also reveals to her daughter Vanessa that she, not her friend who has raised Vanessa, is her "real" mother--and her friend, who wasn't even consulted is happy about this. I could go on (on a trivial level, the contest boasted "fifty contestants from the fifty states" and every American beauty contest I've seen has contestants from the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands at least), but let's just say there's even more wrong than that. We had hoped for something on the level of Michael Ritchie and Davis Belson's Smile, a much better and more biting look at beauty pageants. (Odd note: This film takes place in Naperville, Illinois, and the friend in it talks just like the student from Naperville in the television version of Wendy Wasserstein's Uncommon Women and Others. I've been to Naperville and people don't talk that way, so I wonder if this was a reference.) -1 (-4/+4)

Japan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa

A Japanese adaptation of Mark McShane's novel Seance on a Wet Afternoon. The film was well made, but doesn't have much special to offer Western audiences, especially those familiar with the previous film version of this story. (There is some additional ambiguity about the veracity of mediums.) Obviously, Japanese audiences may find more to appreciate, since I don't think there has been a Japanese version before this. In Japanese with English subtitles. +1 (-4/+4)

The Yards
USA, James Gray

Another gritty story of corruption in the big city, in this case involving the New York Transit Authority contracts. James Caan, Mark Wahlberg, and Joaquin Phoenix give good performances, and the cinematography is quite striking at times, but the story is not new, and the development fairly mundane. James Gray's first film was Little Odessa. +1 (-4/+4)

La moitié gauche du frigo
Canada, Philippe Falardeau

A mockumentary of an unemployed Montreal engineer and his search for a job. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out what is real here, in particular whether the attitudes expressed by the filmmaker character in the movie are indeed the attitudes of the real filmmakers. (From the question-and-answer session, they seem to be, at least about the corporate attitudes toward profit and down-sizing.) At times funny and at times depressing, the film's style sets it apart from the usual man-out-of-work film, though I suspect it won't find a United States distributor because it is subtitled and too Canadian. +1 (-4/+4)

Two Thousand and None
Canada, Arto Paragamian

A great small film, with John Turturro as a paleontologist who finds that he has a month to live. It sounds somewhat like the Alec Guinness film The Last Holiday, but director/writer Paragamian treats the same premise in a different style and with different purpose, and of course Turturro is always wonderful to watch. Witty, touching, and at times just plain strange, this film is worth looking for. +3 (-4/+4)

USA, Bryan Johnson

A very strong, at times harrowing, film. The basic premise of this film--a children's clown who is having problems making ends meet and decides to branch out--sounds amusing, but the film quickly takes a sharp turn into Texas Chainsaw Massacre territory with an extremely long and graphic terror sequence (Steve Gravestock describes it as "one of the most shocking extended and depraved film sequences in recent memory"). Kevin Smith is one of the executive producers, he and "Jay" are in this, and lots of local references are included so it will almost definitely play in my (and their) home area of Red Bank, New Jersey, but it will not be nearly as popular as their earlier films. For one thing, I can't see this as getting anything but an NC-17 or being unrated. It is not without artistry or craft, but ultimately I can't say that I recommend this film. 0 (-4/+4)

Possible Worlds
Canada, Robert Lepage

A story of alternate realities. George Barber seems to slide from one version of the world to another. Each time he meets the same woman--in one she's a researcher, in another a stockbroker, and so on. He seems to be trying to achieve something and using these parallel worlds to boost his chances, but very little is what it seems in this cold and remote film. There are some interesting science fiction ideas, but not really anything new in this latest of the recent spate of films (e.g., Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor) about the nature of reality. 0 (-4/+4)

Fast Food, Fast Women
US/France, Amos Kollek

A film about looking for love. The main story has a waitress and a British ex-pat taxi driver dating, but also having a series of misunderstandings that keep them apart for as long as the film demands it. One of the waitress's diner's elderly couples is also trying to start a relationship with a widow, and other characters are also in search of a partner. As with many films seen here, this film is okay, but nothing special, as the characters' misunderstandings all seem contrived for the script, and the resolution is certainly artificial. +1 (-4/+4)

Hey! Ram
India, Kamal Haasan

Fictional film set in the religious violence before and after the partition of India. The main character becomes involved in a plot to kill Gandhi, but the greater story is that of the ongoing enmity between Hindus and Muslims in India. Most of the songs were left in from the Indian release, though the director does not like the requirement to include them. (He used less pop music and more serious music for them than most directors do.) Haasan focuses on an individual (also played by Haasan) and the events he personally experiences, rather than attempting to tell the story from multiple points of view or an omnipresent camera (as in Bombay). Some of the nuances may be lost of United States audiences, such as the clues that names and dress give about who is Hindu and who is Muslim, but it is still a very powerful film about the period. In English, Hindi, Tamil, and other languages with English subtitles. +3 (-4/+4)

Men of Honor
USA, George Tillman, Jr.

Based on the true story of the first black deep-sea diver in the United States Navy. Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Robert De Niro are both good in this well-crafted film, but the film suffers from a certain predictability in the script, as well as the inclusion of too many obstacles and coincidences. Even if they are all true, they make the script seem very contrived. (Who was it who said, "Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be believable"?) This will be popular for its inspirational message and for its diving sequences. +2 (-4/+4)

The Monkey's Mask
Australia, Samantha Lang

A lesbian hard-boiled dick film. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that.) How could one resist a film which reveals (in the words of Kay Armatage) "the surprisingly seamy underworld of poetry," parts of which recalled the literary world of Crossing Delancy? Jill begins by investigating a young poetry student's disappearance, then continues her investigation when the girl turns up murdered. In the course of this investigation, she begins a steamy relationship with Diana, the girl's poetry professor. Fans of Dam Spade and Philip Marlowe should like this. +2 (-4/+4)

The Wedding
France/Russia/Germany, Pavel Lounguine

Yet another film about the goings on before and during a major family get together. There really isn't anything new here unless you're interested in a look at the only semi-functional post-Soviet Russian society. 0 (-4/+4)

Republic of Korea, Im Kwontaek

Historical drama based on an 18th century epic done with Pansori introduction and narration. The story is about a woman of the kasaeng caste who is married to a nobleman. The nobleman is forced to leave her behind when he travels to Seoul, and the new governor insists that as a kasaeng it is her turn to submit to his demand that she become his mistress. This is basically a melodrama with some beautifully realized set and costume design. Pansori is an art-form similar in sound to Peking opera, and because there is so much of it, most Westerners will find this film hard on the ears. +1 (-4/+4)

The Most Fertile Man in Ireland
Ireland, Dudi Appleton

Semi-science-fictional story. Based on the (true) fact that men's sperm counts are decreasing in Europe, the script postulates Eamon, a shy virgin in Belfast who discovers (in a rather unlikely way) that he has sperm guaranteed to make a woman pregnant in one try. He confides this to a co-worker, who convinces him to start up a business "servicing" women who haven't been able to conceive. (For some unexplained reason, in the film this adultery is considered better by the churches than artificial insemination.) Though he initially works within his own Catholic community, he is soon discovered by a Protestant gang determined to make use the Protestants aren't outnumbered by the Catholics. Except for a sequence of his visits to both Catholic and Protestant homes, there isn't much here, even considering the premise. 0 (-4/+4)

The Dish
Australia, Rob Sitch

Wonderful film about the (mostly) true story of the role played by the radio telescope at Parkes, Australia, in the Apollo 11 moon landing. The telescope was originally one of the backups for the live television transmission from the moon, but when the schedule changed, it became the primary. One of the other Australian directors said that it seems as if all Australian films had to be about quirky characters, and this has its share, but it also has the magic of the space program (a lot of original NASA footage was used) and the problem-solving element of Apollo 13. Sam Neill is the "name" star, but the rest of the cast puts in excellent performances as well. (Note: This came in second in the People's Choice Awards.) +3 (-4/+4)

UK, Julien Temple

Amadeus-style telling of the intersecting lives of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Though some of what is depicted is true, much is not (e.g., Coleridge was interrupted by an insurance salesman, not by Wordsworth, while writing "Kublai Khan"). The best parts of the film are the visualizations of Coleridge's poetry. The worst part is probably the use of the pop song "Xanadu" over a very strange end credits sequence with Coleridge in a modern amusement park. +2 (-4/+4)

Australia, Alan White

Tale of an insurance scam in Australia. The director spoke specifically about how he wanted to make a film set in corporate Australia instead of the usual "quirky Australians" film. He did this, but the film doesn't stand out as particularly great. Still, it is an interesting character study of the three main characters. +1 (-4/+4)

La moitié du ciel
France, Alain Mazars

"Exposé" of the Chinese adoption market. A French woman goes to China to adopt a baby and runs afoul of both the legitimate and illegitimate adoption channels. According to the film, the Chinese are conflicted about the whole situation of abandoned girl babies, so the adoption process is very tricky and involved with "saving face," while unscrupulous agents try to get the maximum amount of money out of rich foreigners who want to buy babies. My understanding is that even people who go through the best agencies have problems, so I think this film is not overstating its case. +1 (-4/+4)

How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog
USA, Michael Kalesniko

Yet another film about someone who doesn't like children being forced to deal with one. The parts about writing are funny, but the main story is nothing new, and the end is not very satisfying. Kenneth Branagh and Peter Reigart give good performances. +2 (-4/+4)

Songs from the Second Floor
Sweden/Denmark/Norway, Roy Andersson

The worst of the festival, at least for us. The film is a series of disjointed vignettes with a couple of recurring characters in some, but not all, of them. The filming style is at times interesting--Andersson starts each scene with everyone motionless and gradually adds motion, though the characters in the background usually remain relatively motionless. There are also strange scenes involving crucifixes, but unless that's really what you're looking for, skip this. In Swedish with English subtitles. -2 (-4/+4)

General tips: It takes ten minutes to get from the Cumberland to the Varsity. The Uptown is the most likely theater to run late; the Cumberland is the least. The Varsity 8 is not stadium seating and hence bad for subtitles. Zyng is a great place to eat/wait before seeing a film in the Uptown if it's raining, because you can watch through the window to see when the line starts moving, then just pop out onto it. Rabba has sandwiches and other prepared food twenty-four hours a day.

Evelyn C. Leeper (

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