Tuesday, November 9, 2010

BIFF Capsules: Choice Cuts from Days 2 and 3

Carlos: Ostensibly about the notorious Carlos the Jackal Assayas' latest film is more interested in the rise and fall of Cold War terrorism than its most famous poster child. This wasn't immediately clear to me, so I exited the first part feeling a little let down having expected a probing character study and instead having seen what seemed like a stripped-down personal history. However it's clear, particularly as the film moves into its second third, that Clarlos was chosen as a subject because of his connections to a large number of different organizations and countries and because he was active for close to two decades. This allows the film makers to show us how these groups went about their business, how their targets responded and how that changed over time.

The film turns up some rather startling and intriguing details for viewers (like myself) who are not well versed in this particular part of Cold War history. There's the struggle of German anti-Zionists to distinguish, both in action and deed, the difference between what they do and the unforgivable crimes of their country's recent past, there's  the steadily decreasing willingness of governments to strike deals with hostage takers and most strikingly for me, there's the desire for governments to use these small groups in much the same way as earlier nations might have used privateers. In hindsight I suppose this latter action is something that still goes on today but words to the effect of "East German Terrorist Liaison Office" were nonetheless surprising.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives: The wording on the voting cards this year is ensuring that I'm loath to give out the highest possible rating "Masterpiece/Changed my Life". That said I had no hesitation what so ever in tearing that strip for this extraordinary film. The pre-credits scene, in which a buffalo escapes from its herders, establishes a number of the film's strengths right away. The nighttime forest scenes are shot without extensive lighting - resulting in a heady mix of inky blacks and lush, dark greens and the sudden appearance of a monkey ghost in this tableau provokes a sense of awe and wonderment.

The rest of the film makes good on this promising beginning - setting the pathos of a life coming to its end against the warmth of one last family reunion. Such a description might suggest the film drowns in sentiment but the offhand strangeness of it all and the naturalistic, grounded performances ensure it stays quietly moving. While not every sequence can by easily parsed - I'm still not entirely sure of the meaning of the story Boonmee tells in the cave - the power of its images, such as the literal passage of the last of Boonmee's life out from his body, ensures a powerful emotional experience.

Leap Year: This is the film that had me nearly tearing the same rating despite the foreboding description. While it's not by any means a masterpiece it's certainly better then the sole "good" rating - that of "on the money". An intimate, nerve-wracking character study, Rowes film follows a woman's mundane, almost listless days spent writing magazine stories and her nights of increasingly unsettling sex. Despite being set entirely in a single apartment Rowe holds our attention - not just because of the outre sex acts but also by the careful feeding of information through his script which maintains suspense without frustrating by withholding knowledge unnecessarily and by the slow creation of a character who demands our empathy.

Heartbeats: Dolan's second film is a rather thin story of two best friends pursuing the same man. The limited observations in the main story are somewhat filled out by faux interviews with young folk but despite this, and its effortless, amiable wit, it begins to sag a little in the middle. Having said that the stylish camera work and soundtrack did carry this viewer through to the end and I'm looking forward to seeing his first feature later in the festival.

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