Toronto International Film Festival 2003 - UPDATE #8
Directed by Rodrigo Bellott
As far as I know, Sexual Dependency is the first movie to be shot entirely in split-screen (with the exception of one short sequence). And, as it turns out, there's a reason it's never been attempted before. The device turns out to be nothing more than an eye-catching gimmick presumably designed to attract interest at film festivals such as this one. The split-screen effect does nothing to advance the plot, and is more of a distraction than anything else. The film's lack of a linear narrative is exacerbated by the fact that there isn't a single compelling character to be found, unlike stylistically similar movies like Short Cuts and Magnolia (which were chock full of intriguing figures). Director Rodrigo Bellott does an acceptable job of presenting these five stories, but in not giving us anyone to care about, Bellott essentially winds up shooting himself in the foot. Initially, Sexual Dependency seems as though it might just have something, as the first character we meet is a poor Bolivian girl that's eventually raped at a party. Her plight was certainly heartbreaking, but the film quickly segues into a Larry Clark-esque look at a group of immoral teenagers as they spend the night partying. And it's all downhill from there. If Bellott's intention was to fill the screen with truly repugnant characters, he's succeeded. We're never given a single reason to care about any of these people, which turns the film into a grueling and arduous experience. That's not the worst of it, though; just when it seems things can't get any worse, the movie shifts gears completely and focuses on an interminable monologue given by a black college student that was raped. Her lengthy diatribe, in which she talks about her loss of identity after the rape, is one of the most pretentious things you're ever likely to see outside of a feminist rally. It stops the movie dead in its tracks, and completely kills any momentum it had been building up (not that there was all that much, really). Sexual Dependency does, however, boast an appearance by former Home Improvement actor Zachary Ty Bryan as an arrogant jock. His presence is enough to raise interest for a little while, but really, this is the sort of arty movie that one tries to avoid during a film festival.
Directed by Bernard Shakey
As a director, Neil Young should probably stick to his day job. Working under the pseudonym of Bernard Shakey, a name he often assumes, Young's taken the songs from his latest album and fashioned a movie around them (or is it the other way around?) The story has something to do with a small town called Greendale, where the Devil (no, really) hangs around causing trouble and a young girl named Sun Green decides to become an environmental protester. There's no actual dialogue in the film; Greendale is 87-minutes of wall-to-wall Young tunes, with the characters occasionally mouthing his lyrics. On a musical level, it works primarily because of Young's ample talent as a musician. The songs collected in the film (and on the accompanying soundtrack) are exceedingly enjoyable - provided you like that sort of thing (grunge rock crossed with folk music). But as a director, Young's got about as much talent as Ed Wood - with none of the enthusiasm. The whole thing's been shot on grainy, hand-held 8mm (presumably), giving the movie a decidedly unpleasant look. Watching Greendale is like watching your old home movies set to Neil Young's music, except you don't know any of these people. Still, despite the fact that Young makes Kevin Smith look like Paul Thomas Anderson, the film remains watchable due to the catchy and memorable tunes. But really, you'd probably be better off picking up the Greendale soundtrack and using your imagination to provide accompanying images.
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
CANADA/90 MINUTES/PERSPECTIVE CANADA
Nothing takes a premise that might have worked as a 10-minute short film, and expands it to an hour and a half. Two idiotic friends (played by David Hewlett and Andrew Miller) successfully wish away the world, and find themselves in an endless white void - with their house the only remaining element of civilization. Director Vincenzo Natali - whose debut film was the inventive and intriguing Cube - is clearly having some fun here, with his only goal presumably to make as ridiculous and outrageous a film as he possible could. And, in that respect, he's succeeded - but Nothing's premise is so slight and the two central characters are so unlikeable, the movie winds up becoming dull awfully fast. The screenplay (written by Natali and Miller) is geared towards a very specific sense of humor (think The Three Stooges), so it's the sort of thing where you either go with it or you don't. I didn't.
Directed by Takashi Miike
JAPAN/129 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
When talking about a film made by Takashi Miike, it goes without saying that it's weird; that's a given. Gozu certainly falls under the "weird" category and then some, but the problem is, it's not terribly entertaining. The story has something to do with a young yakuza who finds himself in the middle of a nightmarish, Lynchian town where women serve up their own breast milk as a beverage and a man with a cow's head isn't an uncommon sight. And as bizarre as that stuff is, the last 15-minutes makes what came before it look like The Sound of Music. I don't object to the oddities that Miike's populated his film with; no, the reason Gozu fails is because it's a bore, plain and simple. Miike presumably expects us to be amused by how wonderfully off-the-wall everything is, but without a single compelling character, it's impossible to ever become involved in the story. Still, there is that last 15-minutes, which really does have to be seen to be believed (and trust me, try and catch this with an audience; their reaction almost makes this mess worth sitting through).