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Toronto International Film Festival 2004 - UPDATE #2

Wilby Wonderful
Directed by Daniel MacIvor

Wilby Wonderful follows in the footsteps of films like Short Cuts and Magnolia - particularly the latter - as it features a wide cast of lonely, miserable people. Writer/director Daniel MacIvor does a wonderful job of establishing this small town - called, coincidentally enough, Wilby - to the extent that we feel like we know the place by the time the movie's over. The cast is uniformly superb, but Paul Gross especially deserves kudos for playing way against type as a scruffy and nondescript cop who's just trying to do the right thing. And as expected with a movie of this ilk, there are certain characters that are far more intriguing than others (ie Sandra Oh's Carol never quite becomes much more than an twitchy annoyance, despite Oh's surprisingly effective performance). MacIvor proves to be a much more effective screenwriter than director, though his low-key style quickly proves to be an ideal match for the material. In the end, Wilby Wonderful is an engaging - though not entirely memorable - look at small town life.

out of

Directed by Jonathan Caouette

Famously made for less than $300, Tarnation often feels more like an art school project than an actual film due to director Jonathan Caouette's chaotic sense of style - which generally seems like it'd be more at home in a Nine Inch Nails video. The film deals with Caouette's family, specifically the systematic mistreatment of his mother and how that impacted on his life. Using old home movies and pictures, Caouette's assembled a collage documenting the timeline of events (including his mom's multiple stints at psychiatric hospitals and Caouette's foray into the world of underground filmmaking). The movie's style is distinctly anarchistic and disorienting - to the extent that it's not difficult to imagine certain audience members lacking the patience to sit through the whole thing. Because of Caouette's heavy reliance on oddball visual techniques - split screen, graininess, repetitive footage, etc - Tarnation is either engrossing or headache-inducing. Yet there's no denying that Caouette's tragic life is great fodder for a film, particularly as one terrible thing after another befalls his family. Having said that, it seems fairly obvious that the movie would've been far more effective had Caouette reigned in some of his over-the-top directorial choices.

out of

Directed by Olivier Assayas

Clean is one of those movies that's admittedly very well made, but ultimately fails to engage the audience throughout. This is partly the fault of an overlong running time that's packed with needless subplots, but what it really comes down to is the fact that the central character just isn't all that intriguing. Maggie Cheung stars as Emily, a Yoko Ono/Courtney Love type who's dating a popular and talented musician named Lee. Emily's life is thrown into disarray when Lee dies of an overdose, and she's consequently sent to jail for heroin possession. Six months later, Emily emerges from prison determined to get clean and start her life over so that she may be able to take care of her son - who is currently being looked after by Lee's father (played by Nick Nolte). Director Olivier Assayas imbues Clean with the sort of jittery style that seems to be de rigeur with films of this type, though it is undeniably effective. Assayas, who also wrote the film's screenplay, does a nice job of getting under Emily's skin, while Cheung becomes this woman to such a degree that an Oscar nomination seems inevitable. Nolte delivers an unexpectedly subtle performance, ensuring that - at the very least - the acting keeps us somewhat interested. But Assayas' wandering eye leads to a number of superfluous sequences, something that's particularly true of Emily's attempts to contact famed musician Tricky (the inclusion of this utterly pointless subplot is absolutely baffling). Yet despite its problems, Clean remains worthwhile thanks primarily to the performances and Assayas' appropriately gritty style.

out of

Directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic

Though it begins with a lot of promise - the film opens with the end credits, while a coffin is moved ominously through a dark cavern - it soon becomes evident that there's not much more to Innocence than an intriguing sense of style. The story involves a young girl who awakens from a coffin, only to find herself trapped within the confines of a mysterious school for girls. Nobody questions their presence there, though it seems clear that none of these girls arrived voluntarily. Writer/director Lucile Hadzihalilovic admittedly imbues the film with an intriguing look -it doesn't come as much of a surprise to learn that she's Gaspar Noe's "life partner" - but the film's plot isn't nearly substantial enough to warrant such an overlong running time. Much of the film's first half seems to consist entirely of the little girls frolicking; ie swimming, dancing, playing with hula hoops, etc. It doesn't take long before this bizarre structure becomes interminable; the audience is left wondering what the point of all this is. About the only thing that keeps us going is the mystery surrounding this bizarre place, but even that aspect of the film is unsatisfying (without getting too far into spoiler territory, let's just say that those hoping for a concrete explanation will be sorely disappointed). As a filmmaker, Hadzihalilovic has potential - though Noe could probably teach her a thing or two about matching intriguing visuals with a compelling story.

out of

Midwinter Night's Dream
Directed by Goran Paskaljevic

Midwinter Night's Dream tells the simple story of an ex-convict who comes home after 10 years, only to find two squatters in the form of a woman and her autistic daughter. Though Lazar (Lazar Ristovski) initially plans to kick out Jasna (Jasna Zalica) and Jovana (Jovana Mitic), he changes his mind after seeing the squalid conditions of the shelter they are to move into. This is the sort of movie one can imagine Hollywood remaking down the road with George Clooney and Julia Roberts, though there's no doubt that the various rough edges in Filip David and Goran Paskaljevic's screenplay would be excised. Director Paskaljevic imbues the film with the feel of a documentary, eschewing fancy camerawork in favor of a more naturalistic style. This is echoed in the performances, which are suitably subtle; Mitic is so effective it's hard not to wonder if she's actually autistic. And though the film does go on for a little longer than necessary, there's no denying the power of these three characters and their newly formed makeshift family.

out of

© David Nusair