Toronto International Film Festival 2006 - UPDATE #2
The Prisoner Or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair
Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker
GERMANY/USA/54 MINUTES/REAL TO REEL
The new film from Gunner Palace filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, The Prisoner documents the treatment of an Iraqi journalist at the hands of overzealous American soldiers. Along with his three brothers, said journalist was suspected of plotting the assassination of no less than British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The siblings eventually wound up at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, where they were physically and mentally tortured for months - though there was evidently no evidence against them. It's a straight-forward and far-from-surprising story that's punctuated with comic book elements, including cartoonish illustrations, pointed sound effects, and distinctly broad chapter breaks. And although the movie is ultimately hurt by the familiarity of the story - ie is anybody still shocked that American soldiers are arrogant and abusive? - Epperlein and Tucker's subject is a fascinating speaker and it's hard not to be drawn into his admittedly horrifying tale.
Un Dimanche à Kigali
CANADA/118 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Another year, another Rwandan drama. Un Dimanche à Kigali has its work cut out for it following similarly-theme festival favorites Hotel Rwanda and Shooting Dogs, though the movie is never quite able to match the emotional intensity or sheer power of either of those efforts (admittedly, there is nevertheless quite a bit here worth admiring). Luc Picard stars as Bernard, a journalist/filmmaker in Africa working on an AIDS documentary when he finds himself falling for local waitress Gentille (Fatou N'Diaye). The story is largely told in flashback, as Bernard recalls his forbidden romance with Gentille and the danger that emerges after the Hutus begin slaughtering the Tutsis (though Gentille is technically a Hutu, she's lumped in with the Tutsis due to her caucasian features). Un Dimanche à Kigali generally focuses on their relationship and leaves the various atrocities to the background (think Titanic, except set in Africa). It's an interesting choice that isn't always successful; the film's uneven structure and distinct overlength - problems that are exacerbated by the almost complete lack of chemistry between Bernard and Gentille - ultimately prevents Un Dimanche à Kigali from adopting the distinctly compelling qualities of its forebearers.
CANADA/105 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATION
Though it gets off to a fairly engaging start, Congorama is ultimately undone by its meandering structure and distinctly unfocused vibe. It's a shame, really, as the film features an extremely compelling performance from Olivier Gourmet, who effortlessly steps into the shoes of a likeable schlub and often comes off as a French-Canadian Paul Giamatti. Gourmet stars as Michel, a fledgling inventor who travels to Montreal after learning that he was actually adopted. There, he encounters a fellow inventor and the two soon find themselves inextricably drawn together. Director Philippe Falardeau's reluctance to employ a linear storyline ensures that Congorama never quite adds up to a completely satisfying endeavor, although there are a number of extremely intriguing and downright compelling elements within the filmmaker's screenplay. The whole thing just keeps getting weirder and weirder, to the extent that the various events in the film start to feel awfully random - though it does become clear that Falardeau is working towards a cathartic conclusion (the film's payoff is almost but not entirely worth the buildup). Congorama is ultimately undone by its frustratingly uneven structure, and while there's no overlooking the effectiveness of Gourmet's performance, the movie simply can't sustain the viewers interest throughout its 105 minute running time.
Hans-Joachim Klein: My Life as a Terrorist
Directed by Alexander Oey
NETHERLANDS/70 MINUTES/REAL TO REEL
As one of the terrorists who stormed the Viennese OPEC Headquarters in 1975, Hans-Joachim Klein was vilified by the press but celebrated as a hero by various left-leaning politicians and celebrities (Simone Signoret, for one). Hans-Joachim Klein: My Life as a Terrorist documents Klein's various misadventures and experiences as an anarchist, and places such antics into context via discussions of his less-than-wholesome upbringing. Filmmaker Alexander Oey relies primarily on conversations with Klein to propel the movie forward, though Oey does punctuate certain stories with stock footage (ie news coverage of that infamous day in '75). But as fascinating as the opening 15 minutes are - in which Klein recounts his experiences working alongside the notorious terrorist Carlos the Jackal - the movie is ultimately undone by Oey's decision to offer up an all-encompassing look at Klein's life. While some of Klein's tales are undoubtedly quite interesting, there's also a distinct feeling of repetition within the proceedings (and at a running time of just 70 minutes, the movie often feels longer than it needs to be). In the end, it seems likely that Hans-Joachim Klein: My Life as a Terrorist will hold more appeal for history buffs than casual viewers - although the movie does succeed as an introduction to Klein and his exploits.
Acts of Imagination
CANADA/88 MINUTES/CANADA FIRST
Though well made and exquisitely acted, Acts of Imagination never quite becomes the searing drama one would imagine it's supposed to be - something that's due primarily to the aimlessness of Michael Springate's screenplay. The story revolves around Jaroslaw (Billy Marchenski) and Katya (Stephanie
Hayes), Ukrainian immigrants (and siblings) who each having their own problems finding their place within Canadian society. Katya, in particular, seems to be suffering from some kind of a mental illness and believes that their mother died under suspicious circumstances. Director Carolyn Combs infuses Acts of Imagination with a jittery sensibility that reflects the tone of Springate's screenplay, while the film's dialogue generally walks a fine line between authenticity and staginess - with the natural, unforced performances often ensuring that the film remains grounded in reality. But the real problem here is that neither of these two characters are terribly compelling or even likeable, and as such, there's not a whole lot within Acts of Imagination to hold the viewer's interest.
Jim Brown and Gary Burns
CANADA/86 MINUTES/REAL TO REEL
Directed by Jim Brown and Gary Burns, Radiant City documents the inherent flaws of the contemporary suburban system via interviews with prominent planners and philosophers. The film also follows the Moss family - a prototypical suburban brood - as they justify their feelings (both positive and negative) towards their sleek, faceless neighborhood. Infused with a quick pace and colorful visual style, Radiant City is successful as both a documentary on the suburbs and an intimate look at the ups and downs of an admittedly quirky nuclear family. This is despite the fact that the filmmakers are essentially preaching to the choir, as virtually nobody actually likes living in the suburbs. Were it not for the inclusion of a jaw-dropping twist towards the film's conclusion, Radiant City would have certainly ranked as one of the best documentaries playing at this year's festival.