Toronto International Film Festival 2002

A festival report by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 2002 Evelyn C. Leeper

(For a description of what I did right before the Toronto International Film Festival, see my California and ConJose report.)

I spent the time between films writing up my con report (if we had enough time to go somewhere and sit down), or my festival report (standing in line, because I didn't need my notes as much), or eating (fast Asian or hot dogs), or just rushing to the next film.

I can report that the newly opened Dollarama at the corner of Yonge and Charles has cheap bottled water, chilled juices and sodas, and good snacks, all a lot cheaper than elsewhere.

Can someone explain why all the University of Toronto freshmen are parading around chanting, "Oogie, oogie, oogie, oy, oy, oy!"

And here, chronologically, are brief comments on what I saw (or what we wanted to see but couldn't:

S1m0ne: (And, yes, that is the proper spelling, or at least how it was displayed on the screen.) Because we didn't have any films to see Wednesday (because the Festival started on Thursday), we decided to see some films. "S1m0ne" is the latest film from the writer of "Gattaca" and "The Truman Show", and though it got mixed reviews. we all thought it was very good. One problem some people had was that parts were unrealistic (e.g., he couldn't have kept the sound stage that secret), but if you look at it as a satire, or even a fable, then you can forgive those parts. Al Pacino is very good, and though he starts by wishing that he as a director could have complete creative control over his films, there is a great scene when he realizes that this comes with a price: he will never get less than he wants, but he can never get more than he already has either. Rating: 8.0

One Hour Photo: Robin Williams does creepy really well. Unfortunately, I tend not to enjoy movies where people do creepy. Rating: 6.0

Ararat: We hadn't gotten tickets for this, but people had told us that it was actually fairly easy to get in on rush opening night, because a lot of people request tickets and then don't show up. We stood in the rush line for two hours, which probably also helped, and got in, and even got pretty much our usual seats: front right-ish--in this case, the very front row, but since there is a large stage we weren't that close to the screen.

Atom Egoyan introduced the film by saying that a few years ago, he opened the Festival with a film about a school bus going through a hole in the ice, and followed that up with a film about a serial killer, and now "the idea of spending the next two hours [in a film on the Armenian genocide] may not seem very appealing." The producer said this subject was "one of history's best-kept secrets," which came as a surprise to me, as I thought it was reasonably well known.

The film itself was a disappointment, with too much time spent on various current relationship stories only peripherally connected to the main story of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians in 1915. The present-day material, in addition to being somewhat superfluous, was very confusing, and Egoyan's use of a movie within a movie to depict the historical scenes let him pull back whenever the emotion got too strong. Also, there are several scenes when we see what we think is taking place in 1915, and then the camera pans and we see we're on a movie set. So if seeing isn't believing for us, this has the effect of putting eyewitness accounts into doubt, which I don't think was Egoyan's intention. Rating: 6.5

The Conversation: We had hoped to see this, but apparently so did everyone else, and even waiting 45 minutes in the rush line didn't get us in. (Of course, there were no other films opposite it either.) Rating (based on recent viewings): 8.0

Russian Ark: We didn't get tickets for this and didn't even try to rush it, because it had such buzz that we figure it would be very difficult to get into. It's a single-take, hand- held, feature-length walk through the Hermitage musing on Russian history. However, it was described as Tarkovsky-esque, and that made it a little less appealing, and so we opted for an alternate choice instead.

Marius et Jeanette: A love story between two Socialist workers in France, set in an ensemble of other workers. Made in 1997, this was Robert Guediguin's seventh film with the same ensemble cast and crew covering many different eras in twentieth century France, all of which embody Guediguin's view of the rise and fall of Mitterand's Common Front and the subsequent neo- liberalism. Rating: 6.0

Heaven: We didn't get tickets for this, and didn't rush it, because it started at the same time as "Unknown Pleasures", which we had gotten tickets to as a second choice.

Unknown Pleasures: The theater caught fire half an hour into the film. This was a bit of a relief, as the film seemed to be going nowhere. We should have rushed "Heaven".

Secretary: The programming director introduced this film as "very wry, very witty, and shockingly perverse," to which director Steven Shainberg replied, "I waited my whole life to be called "shockingly perverse."

Well, I wouldn't call it "shockingly perverse"--maybe what's "shockingly perverse" in Toronto is merely "titillating" in New Jersey. It's about a secretary's strange relationship with her boss and I don't want to say any more--if by now you're not sure you wouldn't like it, I recommend it.

After the film someone asked about comparisons between it and "The Piano Teacher", to which Shainberg said, "'The Piano Teacher' is the movie I did not want to make. It is creepy, ugly, and depressing--which is a perfectly valid way to make a movie. It's just not the way I wanted to make this film."

He had told his producer he would like to have Angelo Badalamenti do the music, but realized that was impossible. When she reported that Badalamenti agreed, Shainberg asked, "What about the money?" and her response was "He's rich, he did 'Twin Peaks', he doesn't care about the money."

Shainberg said that he makes films with "silent pauses, which I love, which is why some critics refer to my films as slow. F**k 'em!" Asked what "hook" he coukd give someone who had to review this film for a college newspaper, he suggested, "Spanking director makes masterpiece!"

In response to the question of whether this film is misogynistic, Maggie Gyllendhal said that while she accepted that there was a need for all sorts of rules to equalize relations between men and women, it was now time to question whether these rules are still needed. Shainberg said she was the first person to read for the part, but she added that at least ten name actresses turned it down after reading the script. Rating: 8.0

Take Care of My Cat: A South Korean film about five high school girls after graduation and what becomes of them. This is basically a serious film, but there is a lot of humor, and interesting integration of text messaging and other electronic communications that are apparently all the rage in Asia among the young. Rating: 5.0

The Intended: This could best be described as "jungle Gothic" or "Wuthering Heights at an Ivory Station." The great actresses Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker are in it, but the story centers more around the younger lesser-known actors, and is your basic Conradian, the-jungle-causes-decadence tale. (The director said he was a fan of Joseph Conrad.) The director is a signatory to Dogme 95, and his first film was a Dogme film, but this is not. Asked why, he said, "You learn from doing a Dogme film, but there's no point to doing them over and over." And apparently the biggest danger during filming in the jungle was not snakes, but falling spiked durian fruit. Rating: 5.5

Lost in La Mancha: This was going to be a documentary about the pre-production and production of Terry Gilliam's "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote". If that sounds unfamiliar, that's because this became the documentary of how the film crashed and burned during production (Well, actually flooded and floated away.) It's very funny at times, even though it's about a fairly depressing set of circumstances that ended up completely derailing Terry Gilliam's attempt to film "Don Quixote". Considering that Orson Welles had major problems with the same subject, whoever compared it to "the Scottish play" in terms of being jinxed may have been right.

I asked why, if filmmaking was so miserable, Gilliam continued to make films. "I really can't deal with regular jobs anymore," he responded. "Some of us are blessed or cursed with this compulsion to make films, and unfortunately I've one of these mutants." Asked by someone else what he learned from this experience, he said, "Make sure you have enough money." (Actually, it seemed as though his major problem was the health of his star, which money wouldn't solve. He closed with, "All films go through problems. Watching this shows you what filmmaking is all about." Rating: 7.0

Miyazaki's Spirited Away: This is yet another wonderful animated film from Hayao Miyazaki. We saw the dubbed version, which seemed perfectly acceptable--it is for children, after all, though adults will enjoy it too. As Miyazaki said (through an interpreter), "It is a movie for everybody who's ever been ten and for everybody who will ever be ten." Rich in imagery, it borrows from "Alice in Wonderland", "The Wizard of Oz" and even H. P. Lovecraft in addition to traditional Japanese legends and myths. Although Miyazaki says his favorite American animated films are Disney films such as "Country Mouse, City Mouse" and "The Old Mill", this is not very Disneyesque (though it does take place in an abandoned theme park!). Rating: 8.0

Welcome to Collinwood: This is at least the third film version of the story, which was previously done as "Big Deal on Madonna Street" and "Crackers". I chose it because William H. Macy was in it, and he was good, and parts were certainly very funny, but other parts lagged, and George Clooney's name will draw in a lot of people who will then be disappointed in the small size of his role. Rating: 6.5

Bubba Ho-Tep: Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis--don't ask) are living in a nursing home in Texas and team up to battle an Egyptian mummy on the loose. After that description, any review is superfluous--either that makes you want to go see it or it doesn't. Rating: 5.0

Never Get Outta the Boat: This as a substitute that was neither a first nor a second choice, but it turned out to be not terrible. It is the story of a group of men in a drug rehabilitation halfway house. My main criticisms would be that the volume of the sound was way too high--with earplugs it was just about right, and the dialogue was still understandable--and the ending turned into a sermon. Rating: 6.5

Tycoon: This Russian film about the assassination of a Russian tycoon is told in two intermingled threads: flashbacks from his fifteen-year rise to power, and events after the assassination and during the investigation of it. The Russian title is "Oligarch", which I think carries a lot of connotation that "Tycoon" does not. Similar in many ways (and plot points) to "The Godfather", it would be nice to see this get an American release. However, I suspect DVD is your best hope. (Mark thought this was the best film he saw at the Festival.) Rating: 7.5

Ultima Thule et al: This was a series of short films in the "Wavelengths" track of the Festival. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that was the avant garde track and these were basically unwatchable. We even left before the end, something we never do, because they were starting to repeat--that is, a short film by person B would use some of the same very distinctive techniques and props from the short film of person A. None had any dialogue, and one didn't even have sound. These seemed to be like modern poetry--done entirely for other people who do the same sort of work, with no regard for a wider audience. Rating: 2.0

Tuck Everlasting: Based on Natalie Babbitt's book, this is a live-action Disney film about a family of immortals. It seems to have a target audience of young teenage girls, and while beautifully filmed, has too much of people frolicking through woods and fields to music, and too much narration, to suit me. The director (Jay Russell) said that the narration was because the book itself had a strong narrative voice. He also said the film was based on the book rather than made from the book since "I can't compete with your imagination [as you read the book]. You make a much better movie in your mind." Terrence Malick convinced him not to scrap the film at one point and spent many hours talking with him about ideas for how to edit it. Rating: 7.0

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands: If ever an English- language film needed subtitling, it is this one. (Even "Snatch" was more comprehensible.) It was described as "a spaghetti Western set in the Midlands," but except for a few sequences scored with Western music, I didn't see much of that nature. Instead, this is the rather old story of a woman who leaves a man with criminal past for a more boring but stable and loving one, and then the first boyfriend decides he wants her back. It's made somewhat more interesting by the portrayal of the boring new boyfriend as having a somewhat more interesting personality than usual. Still, this is probably skippable. Rating: 5.0

The Four Feathers: Last year there were four sweeping historical epics at the Festival; this year there was only one. This is the third version of the A. E. W. Mason to be filmed, and while it follows the book more accurately than the Errol Flynn version, it also has expressions of pacificism inaccurate for the era, and builds up the part of Abou for more balance or political correctness (Take your pick). It does suffer from at least one loose end that perhaps couldn't be helped, but is annoying anyway. The large battle scenes are generally impressive, though they reminded me of scenes in "The Mummy Returns" and were probably CGI. Rating: 7.0

Big Shot's Funeral: The Festival seems to choose a lots of movies about movies (or Hollywood), or maybe it's just that we do. Last year there was "The Road" (from Kazahkstan), "Je Rentre a la Maison" (by de Oliveira), "How's Your News?", "La Pornographe", and "Mulholland Drive". This year was "S1m0ne" (okay, it wasn't in the Festival), "Ararat" (with its movie within a movie), "Lost in La Mancha", "Auto Focus", and this. Donald Sutherland plays a director remaking Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" in China when he suffers a stroke/heart attack/something and is rushed to the hospital to die. Before he goes, he asks the cameraman filming the "making of" documentary to throw him a "comedy funeral", which rapidly gets out of hand. One question: Donald Sutherland in this film plays a character very interested in China. He also played Norman Bethune in the bio-pic "Bethune: Portrait of a Hero". Does Sutherland himself have a particular interest in China, or is this just coincidence? Rating: 7.5

"The Space Between: This short played before "Big Shot's Funeral". It seems very clear up until the end, when it becomes very unclear as to what happened. Mark's theory of what happened is that the filmmaker saw "Mulholland Drive".

Long Life, Happiness, and Prosperity: This is the third film from this director, all of which are set in the Chinese- American community of Vancouver. Director Mina Shum has also used the same production designer and cinematographer for all three films, giving them almost a feel of being a trilogy. Also, colors are very important; Shum referred to her use as "color dramaturgy." The title comes from a Chinese phrase, and the three aspects are often portrayed as three old men: Lao Tse, Confucius, and the first emperor of China. The main story centers around a single mother and her ten-year-old daughter's efforts to use traditional Chinese magic to bring her luck and happiness. This is, by the way, arguably a fantasy film, since the magic does appear at times to work. The casting was interesting. This one has an ensemble cast including Canadian actress Sandra Oh and Chang Tseng, the "Rock Hudson of Hong Kong." And the actress playing the young girl was apparently a real find, since Shum said she had seen mostly "kids who had been in too many cereal commercials. . . . [Their cuteness] was making me barf." Lee Tai-Tai, a female character, was played by Colin Foo, who apparently works mostly as a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. (He also played the brother of one of the characters, proving his versatility.) Shum said that for the role of Lee Tai-Tai, she found all the Asian actresses she interviewed "too soft." And finally, two actors who played a husband and wife in the film discovered that while they had not worked together previously, their fathers had worked together in theater in Shanghai! Rating: 7.0

The Quiet American: This film was particularly interesting for us because it was filmed in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hanoi, Ninh Binh, and Hoi-An, all places we visited last year, and in fact we missed the filming in Hoi-An by less than a week. (This is not the first United States film in made in Vietnam--that was "Three Seasons".) Watching the backgrounds may have distracted us a bit from the Graham Greene story, but I would say that the film was certainly well done.

Asked about his experiences while filming in Vietnam, Michael Caine (who plays Thomas Fowler) said, "I had lots of preconceived notions and they were all wrong." (Brendan Fraser plays Andrew Pyle. Mark asked if I had problems with that casting, since with the exception of "School Ties", Fraser is known for comedic roles, but since when I see Fraser, I think "School Ties", I had no problem. Other viewers might, though I also suspect there is not much overlap between the audiences for his comedies and for this film.

Caine talked about the difference between a movie star and a movie actor. A star asks, "How can I change the script to suit me?" An actor asks, "How can I change me to suit the script?" "I've gone from being a movie star to being a movie actor in this film," he claimed. (This may have been Atom Egoyan's problem with "Ararat: he had a story about the Armenian genocide which he then seemed to modify to fit his filmmaking style.)

Director Philip Noyce, asked if this was intended as a cautionary tale, replied, "I don't believe that one makes films to be cautionary tales, but they become them." Caine said he thought that "the cautionary tale is don't try to take a twenty-year-old girl away from a sixty-year-old man." An audience member said that the movie seemed to make Pyle more detestable than in the book, but the writer said that the intent was to make Pyle culpable but not detestable. (Apparently the events of 9/11/2001 tend to change people's perceptions of this film, as an article I read later indicated that it was having a lot of problems figuring out how to position itself for an audience.) Rating: 8.0

The Secret Lives of Dentists: This is about dentists only because the original story was about dentists, but they could be in any profession. It's another film about relationships and the difficulties of parenting and having a professional life, though the luxury in which these married dentists lived would seem to ease them a bit. (To make them less able to just hire other people to help with problems, they are isolated at their "country home," which is fancier than many people's only homes.) Rating: 6.0

Auto Focus: I watched "Hogan's Heroes" when it was on, but I certainly never knew the darker side of Bob Crane. Crane was apparently a sex addict and an early adopter of videotape technology, a combination that causes him some difficulty. Greg Kinnear (who plays Crane) said in an interview that if Crane had lived twenty years later, he probably could have gotten a lot more mental help than was available in the 1970s. However, Crane was murdered in 1978, presumably by the man who supplied most of the equipment Crane used and who partied with Crane. (His name was John Carpenter--no relation to the director--and since "Diane Carpenter" was one of the people thanked, I'm assuming that she was a relative who agreed with this assessment.) Rating: 6.5

The Baroness and the Pig: This was not only filmed digitally [sic], but uploaded to satellite from Montreal and then downloaded to a server in the theatre in Toronto. All this is a lot cheaper than making prints, but comes with a price. The problem with new technologies and the simultaneous rise of visual effects is that one can't tell if one is seeing an accidental artifact or a deliberate effect. For example, fast panning seems to cause blurring, but maybe that's intentional. And there were certainly the moire pattern effects that one associates with video of straight lines.

Of course, it's quite appropriate that a film about someone interested in new technologies, Impressionism, etc., is made with new technology. (I realize referring to it as a film is technically incorrect. So is calling the store Tower Records.) And as in the film one issue is learning to deal with new technologies, so in real life. For example, with real film one can do various post-processing to adjust for lighting or make slight color changes, but with video this isn't possible.

The plot involves an American who marries a French aristocrat and tries to start a scientific and artistic salon in Paris. One of her "exhibits" will be a girl raised by (farm) pigs who has been "rescued" and trained as a housemaid. However, when the director was asked about various aspects of this, his response was, "A film is about asking questions, not giving answers." (One wonders why he agreed to a Q&A in that case.) Rating: 6.0

Outcast of the Islands': This was an older film chosen for the retrospective "track" by Matt Damon, who introduced it, but apparently he actually knew very little about it and hadn't read the Joseph Conrad novel on which it was based. In this, he was at least consistent with all the descriptions of the film we have found, which also seem ill-informed. Contrary to them, it is not about a manhunt for a fugitive. There is a fugitive, played by Trevor Howard, but the film is primarily about his being brought to an isolated island paradise to hide out, and the havoc he wreaks there by his presence. I found it to be a bit too full of the travelogue sort of filmmaking that seemed common at the time--showing the film-goer exotic locales and all. Robert Morley as the island's "benevolent dictator" kept reminding me of his character in "The African Queen" even though he played a very different character, and Ralph Richardson seems to be completely out of whack with the rest of the characters. Still, Carol Reed (who also did "The Third Man") makes an engaging film worth watching. Rating: 6.5

The Nugget: Yet another Australian film with quirky Australian characters, but apparently with quirky Australian physics as well. (How much would a gold nugget that size weigh, and could three men just pop it in the back of a truck and drive off?) Three lower-class (and low-class) guys find a huge gold nugget. Chaos ensues. Rating: 6.0

The Best of Times: Contrary to the title, this was a downbeat film about young men in Taiwan getting caught up in the Taipei underworld. It has some bizarre fantasy elements, but not enough to make it of great interest to fantasy fans. Maybe it's Taiwanese magical realism. Rating: 5.0

The Emperor's Club: At first it seems like "Dead Poets Society" with Roman history and classics instead of poetry, but there are some fairly substantial differences. "The Emperor's Club" takes a much more conservative approach to learning, coming down in favor of learning the classics and moral lessons from them. At the beginning, Kevin Kline tells his students at a fancy private school that leaders are remembered for their contributions, not for their conquests and tries to instill in them a sort of "noblesse oblige" attitude. But he is not perfect either, and he must come to terms with that. The story seems predictable, but isn't, another nice touch. My one negative comment would be that the filmmakers added a woman teacher, apparently for the sole purpose of having a woman in an otherwise basically all-male cast.

And, yes, Shutruk-Nahhunte is real and while he may not be in any textbooks, information on him is findable on the Internet through Google. Rating: 8.0

The Man Without a Past: Aki Kurismaki's latest film is about a man who is mugged and waits up with no belongings, no identification, and no memory of who he is, and is the story of how he and the other societal outcasts he meets form a community. There is a echo of Kurismaki's Leningrad Cowboys in some of the musical numbers, but this is a very different film from those. Rating: 6.5

Reno: Rebel Without a Pause: This stand-up routine about the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11 and its aftermath was filmed on October 4, 2001. Whether you find the humor a bit "off" or not probably depends on what you think of New York humor. She does make some good points. For example, she says people ask, "Aren't you proud to be an American?" She replies that being an American wasn't due to anything she did so, no, "I'm not proud to be an American," but she then goes on to explain, "I'm happy to be an American. I'm ecstatic to be an American!" She also talks about how politicians are now saying we must be united, but she points out, "If you're behind a bad idea, then uniting is not a good thing. ... Nazi Germany was frickin' united." And though she decries the loss of civil liberties people are proposing, she also talks about wanting to make a citizen's arrest when she saw a truck with a bumper sticker advocating killing all Muslims without at least acknowledging the inconsistency. This was transmitted via satellite, like "The Baroness and the Pig," though with more technical problems and delay, but was only in Beta-SP rather than HDV. Apparently they are hoping to get a distributor who will pay for the transfer to film, but the result was a very "video" sort of look. Rating: 6.0

The Voice of the Prophet: This short ran before "Reno: Rebel Without a Pause". In it Cyril Resorla, a professional soldier who took a job developing security for Morgan Dean Stanley, was filmed in 1998 talking about the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and what lessons we should have learned from that. We didn't, of course, but of the three hundred or so Morgan Stanley employees in the World Trade Center on September 11, only seven died--including Resorla. Also shown was "Prayer", a silent film showing people around the world praying. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't get it. (I did notice, however, that it didn't show any Jews.)

Happy Here and Now: Incoherent science-fictional (maybe?) film. If I could remember it better, I would say more, but only negatively. Rating: 3.0

Dirty Deeds: This film about American gangsters trying to get part of the action in Australian slot machine parlors in the 1960s is not entirely a comedy, but is certainly full of comedic moments. And it has John Goodman, Sam Neill, and Bryan Brown. What more do you need to know? Rating: 7.0

Max: This is a film that has come under some attack for portraying Hitler as something other than a total monster. In "Max" we see him as a struggling artist having long discussions about art and philosophy with Max Rothman, a Jewish art dealer in post-World-War-I Vienna. Max likes to make pronouncements. On the one hand, he'll say, "I've seen the future. It came straight at us. There's no future in the future." Then later, he'll come out with "I'm motivated by new. New really does it for me." Hitler is trying to find an outlet for his art while at the same time being courted by the National Socialists for his speaking abilities.

All this would be less controversial if it were not, in fact, entirely fictional. There was no Max, and no long discussions about art, and none of the uncertainties about politics shown here. So this somewhat softened view of Hitler does not even have accuracy as a defense.

However, I found the film engrossing because it had a very "alternate history" feel to it--a feeling that had Hitler been treated differently as an artist, things might have turned out very different in European politics. This isn't a new idea in literature--there have been a few stories with this assumption-- but this is the first time it's even been hinted at in film, and I found it very well done. (I suppose my predilection for alternate history makes me more willing to accept a different portrait of Hitler as well.) One obvious anachronism, however, has Hitler telling Max that cigarettes will give him cancer. This was not anyone's view in the 1920s, and almost seems inserted because of all the recent complaints about smoking in movies, but all it is is jarring. Rating: 7.5

Atlantic Drift: Like "The Struma" last year, this is a documentary about a refugee ship during World War II, though in this case with a less tragic ending. This also has less about the researching of the story, and is instead dedicated completely to telling the story of the hundreds of Jewish refugees who escaped Nazi Europe only to be refused entrance to British- controlled Palestine and instead were interred in a prison camp in Mauritius until after the war ended. The British (except possibly Winston Churchill himself) do not come off favorably in this documentary. Rating: 7.0

Teknolust: Tilda Swinton plays a scientist and her three clones. Though obviously science fiction, it is more a study of power and temperament rather than a "serious" look at cloning. (I do not mean, however, that this is a comedy.) Strong use of costume and set design makes it visually interesting, but the special effects are almost entirely dedicated to getting multiple Swindons on screen simultaneously. This is not necessarily a bad thing--the last thing we need are more special effects for the sake of special effects. Rating: 7.0

The Magdalene Sisters: This was based on a recent play/expose of the "Magdalene Laundries"--virtual prisons run in Ireland by the Catholic Church where families sent daughters for being "rebellious". (One of the three main characters is sent there because she became pregnant out of wedlock, but another because she attracted too many boys, and another simply because she was raped by her cousin and was foolish enough to tell someone.) The writer/director said that when he was researching the laundries, "The Catholic Church was not exactly forthcoming." The characters in the film were composites, he said, but all the events are real. Apparently the story of these laundries is fairly well known in Ireland--revelations about them started coming out in the 1970s but the last one was closed only a few years ago. The director was at first hesitant to do this project, because "kicking the Catholic Church is the easiest thing in the world." Of writing he general he added, "The house becomes very clean [when I'm supposed to be writing]." This is a strong film, and many will undoubtedly complain it is too harsh. (Others will probably say it is not harsh enough.) Rating: 7.0

Alive: A futuristic Japanese science fiction film in which a prisoner condemned to death is given a reprieve if he agrees to participate in some sort of experiment in which he is placed in an underground (?) prison (?) with a psychotic killer to live out the rest of his life. Dar, gritty, and not all that interesting, though the set design is worth at least a look. Rating: 5.0

Kedma: This is yet another film about the Middle East situation by Israeli film-maker Amos Gitai. In this one, a group of refugees in 1947 gets off a boat--the Kedma--and is almost immediately sent into a military action to secure certain areas of Palestine for Israel. Gitai gives a somewhat balanced view of things, which seems to concentrate on making both sides look bad, and concludes with his main character giving a long speech on the futility of it all, delivered he staggers along the sides of a convoy of military vehicles driving through the rain. Rating: 6.0

Assassination Tango: Robert Duvall is good as an aging hit man, but unless you're interested in the tango as an art form as well, this film may not work for you. (Contrary to what you might think, it was Duvall who was the tango aficionado before the film--he taught his Argentinian co-star Luciana Pedraza, rather than the other way around.) Rating: 6.5

Together: This Chinese film is the story of a father who gives up everything to help his son, a child prodigy on the violin, succeed in that field. It has some interesting visuals (including one of a skyscraper under construction where the vertical cables make it look like a violin), and some scenes that become even more meaningful the second time through. I hope this gets a release in the United States, though I'm sure it will be only to art cinemas. Rating: 8.0

La Derniere Lettre: This is another worthy film, though somewhat less likely to get a full United States release. It is a one-woman show, with Catherine Samie (a leading actress from the Comedie-Francaise) as a woman living under Nazi occupation and writing a letter to her son. The letter is fictional, based on the Vassili Grossman novel "Life and Fate" that director Frederick Wiseman has wanted to film since 1987, and Wiseman noted the film was not planned as a response to the current French anti-Semitism. As he said in the question-and-answer period, "French anti-Semitism is not particularly new. It comes and goes." Shot in fifteen days for a budget of US$700,000, it uses lighting, camera angles, and lots of close-ups to avoid seeming too static, and was shot as forty-eight sequences to allow this technique. (It was also shot in order; since the actress had done the role a hundred times on the stage, this was the easiest for everyone.) It will play in France, Japan, and New York City, though I assume the latter is as part of a film festival rather than a general release. (Given the nature of the performance, it is impossible to imagine this film being dubbed. If some Philistine does decide to release a dubbed version, run the other way.) Rating: 8.5

A Snake of June: Director Shinya Tsukamoto is best known for the "Tetsuo" films, but leaves the cyber world for this film about sexual compulsions. Very strange, and certainly not for all tastes, yet stylishly done in a bizarre sort of way. Rating: 5.0

Bear's Kiss: One of the new breed of Euro films, this is a Russian/German/Swedish/Spanish/French co-production with the dialogue in English. (It also has good music.) This is a fairy tale about a shape-shifter complete with a circus and all the colorful and strange characters associated with it. (Segrei Bodruv, Sr., directed and Sergei Bodruv, Jr., starred as the shape-shifter. The latter died shortly after the Festival in an avalanche while filming in Ukraine.) Rating: 6.0

Between Strangers: This is worth seeing for the performances by Sophia Loren, Gerard Depardieu, Mira Sorvino, and Pete Postlethwaite (among others), but is rather simplistic. The men are all villains, and the ages for a mother and daughter pair are all wrong. The accents also don't fit together with the characters are described. and everyone seems to talk in quotes. Still, I'd recommend it for the performances. Rating: 7.0

Ken Park: This film has no distributor, nor is it very likely to get one. It certainly has the most explicit sex you are likely to see outside of a hard-core porno film. The director assured us all the actors were over eighteen, but also said that they were basically all amateurs. Somehow I'm not surprised--even if he wanted professional actors, it is unlikely that established actors would perform such explicit acts on camera. Last year's "Le Pornographe" had less explicit acts, and the director said that the only actress he could get for them was an established porno actress. "Ken Park" is supposed to be about teenage angst, or something, but while it may have been well done, I can't say I recommend it. Rating: 5.0

The Sweatbox: A documentary about the making of "The Emperor's New Groove". Personally, I'm skeptical of Disney's ability to make an even somewhat accurate movie about the Incas when they pronounce "llama" as "lama." But the statement I found the most telling in the process was when someone said to the team, "We don't have time to make mistakes." This indicates major management problems. If you're at all interested in the movie-making process as a business rather than as an art, look for this movie. Rating: 7.0

Aiki: Inspirational martial arts film about a paraplegic who becomes a master of martial arts. It's based on a true story, and well done as these things go, but unless you are a fan of martial arts, it probably won't do much for you. Rating: 6.5

Cabin Fever: This horror film features a deadly disease rather than a slasher in a hockey mask or some similar menace, and does so effectively, though at times perhaps over gruesomely for some audiences. Recommended as a frightening and original film. Rating: 7.0

If you're interested in how to take part in next year's TIFF in conjunction with TorCon 3, see]

Evelyn C. Leeper (

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