Toronto International Film Festival 2003 - UPDATE #7
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
UNITED KINGDOM/92 MINUTES/GALA
Here's a tough film to categorize. Code 46 is a futuristic drama that wavers between annoying pretentiousness and sheer brilliance. The storyline involves an inspector (Tim Robbins) sent to investigate a mysterious death, where he meets a young factory worker (Samantha Morton) and begins an affair with her. Director Michael Winterbottom packs Code 46 with some astounding visuals, aided by the use of odd-looking locations. The problem is, though, we're never really given any context for anything that exists in this future. Characters make reference to the "outside" and "inside" - a way of keeping the city separate from its surroundings, presumably - but the difference between the two is never mentioned. There are many other examples of this (including a problem with the sun that requires cars to be sprayed with some kind of liquid before venturing into the outdoors), and Winterbottom's refusal to explain the many innovations inherent in his vision of the future is baffling. Still, there is a lot worth recommending about Code 46 - the performances by the two leads, for one. Robbins and Morton do a nice job of keeping things grounded, and turn their characters into incredibly sympathetic figures. The moody score by David Holmes perfectly complements Winterbottom's stark style, while the use of a Coldplay song in a pivotal sequence might just be the best use of a pop song in a movie ever. The bottom line is that I really liked Code 46, though I'm not quite sure I fully understood it. After all, the titular Code 46 is referred to in the film and we're able to basically infer what it is - but we're never told exactly what it stipulates (which essentially sums up the maddening extent to which things are left unexplained).
The Republic of Love
Directed by Deepa Mehta
CANADA/UNITED KINGDOM/95 MINUTES/GALA
It seems fitting that The Republic of Love marks Deepa Mehta's first film since Bollywood/Hollywood, as it partly deals with the kind of idealized love that Bollywood movies are famous for. Set in Toronto, The Republic of Love stars Bruce Greenwood as Tom Avery - a successful radio personality that's had little success in his love life. After meeting the beautiful Faye (Emilia Fox) at a party, though, the two begin a relationship that's initially quite blissful - but as tends to be the case with romantic movies of this ilk, it's not long before something breaks them apart. The Republic of Love is a cute little movie that remains entertaining because of the two stars, both of whom give incredibly charismatic performances. We're really rooting for this couple to succeed, and that's essentially what makes or breaks a flick like this. Mehta takes her time in setting up the story, but the film picks up once Tom and Faye meet. Instances of fantasy inserted by Mehta into the story are too over-the-top to really be effective, while moments of comedy (such as the woman with a toe fetish that Tom dates) aren't entirely necessary. Still, the easy charm of the two actors more than makes up for any faults the film might have.
Directed by James Cox
USA/104 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
The true-life events behind Wonderland - involving porn star John Holmes' involvement in an infamous murder - purportedly inspired Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights. But unlike that film, Wonderland revels in sleaze and unpleasantness; director and co-writer James Cox is seemingly uninterested in giving us a single compelling character. Instead, the movie is filled to the brim with obnoxious and annoying figures - exacerbated by Cox's hyper-kinetic directorial style. Val Kilmer stars as Holmes, and it's impossible to deny the fact that he gives an electrifying performance. But we're never really given a reason to care about Holmes, despite Kilmer's exceedingly energetic screen presence. Set in 1981, the film follows a few months in the life of Holmes as he becomes involved with a group of drug addicts (including Josh Lucas' Ron and Dylan McDermott's David). Along with his teenaged girlfriend (played by Kate Bosworth), Holmes tries desperately to extricate himself from this self-destructive lifestyle - but the brutal murders of his druggie cohorts prevents that from happening. Cox has chosen to present this material in the most over-the-top fashion you can imagine, from twitchy visual gimmicks to non-linear storytelling. But all his tricks become distracting after a while, and we're left with a movie that's filled with scarcely developed characters. Virtually the only aspect of the film that does work is the acting; every role has been filled almost to perfection. Even the ordinarily one-note Lisa Kudrow manages to deliver an effective performance as Holmes' concerned ex-wife. Wonderland isn't a bad film, really - it's just wholly unnecessary.
Directed by Soren Voigt
GERMANY/82 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Here's an odd one. The heroine of Identity Kills, a woman named Karen (Brigitte Hobmeier), spends much of the first hour veering between behaving oddly or complacent. Director Soren Voigt (who purportedly allowed his actors to improvise much of their own dialogue) refuses to allow Karen to become a figure that the audience cares about; in that opening hour, we learn virtually nothing about the woman. She's essentially a person without an identity of her own, which is the point I suppose. But when she's mistaken for a potential job applicant, Karen finds herself enjoying the prospect of assuming someone else's life. This sets into motion a chain of events that will eventually culminate in a somewhat shocking closing ten minutes. If Voigt's intent was to portray the dull everyday minutia of most people's lives, he's certainly succeeded. As we watch Karen deal with her abrasive boyfriend and struggle in her repetitive job, we become acutely aware of how miserable her existence must be. It's only when she's offered the chance to become a completely different person that Karen seems to become alive. It's an intriguing concept for a film, and Voigt's minimalist directorial style effectively compliments the tone - but the whole thing probably would have worked better as a short.