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Toronto International Film Festival 2013 - UPDATE #1

The Past
Directed by Asghar Farhadi

Directed by Asghar Farhadi, The Past follows Bérénice Bejo's Marie as she attempts to juggle her current lover (Tahar Rahim's Samir) and her visiting ex-husband (Ali Mosaffa's Ahmad) over the course of a few especially eventful days. As was the case with Farhadi's previous film, 2011's A Separation, The Past progresses at a deliberate (and palpably methodical) pace that heightens its atmosphere of authenticity - with the movie's slice-of-life feel perpetuated by an opening half hour that's almost entirely devoid of context (ie the viewer is forced to piece things together mostly through inference and snippets of dialogue). The uniformly strong performances - Bejo is, in particular, quite good here - go a long way towards keeping things interesting even through the film's more overtly uneventful stretches, and there's little doubt that The Past grows more and more engrossing as it progresses into its revelation-heavy midsection. It's just as clear, however, that the movie begins to demonstrably run out of steam once it passes a certain point, as Farhadi, to an increasingly exasperating degree, stresses the hopelessly uninvolving circumstances surrounding a periphery figure's life-threatening medical condition - with the filmmaker's procedural-like sensibilities ultimately transforming The Past into an especially dull episode of Law and Order or CSI. The inclusion of several incongruously over-the-top instances of melodrama certainly doesn't help matters, and it does, as a result, become virtually impossible to work up any interest in or sympathy for the various characters - which ultimately cements The Past's place as a sporadically intriguing, undeniably well acted, yet terminally misguided piece of work.

out of

For No Good Reason
Directed by Charlie Paul

Ralph Steadman is perhaps best known as the artist responsible for illustrating many of Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo news stories, and For No Good Reason is a career-spanning documentary that covers Steadman's early days through to his collaborations with Thompson, William S. Burroughs, and Terry Gilliam (among others). There's little doubt that For No Good Reason stands as a solid primer to Steadman's body of work, and yet it's just as clear that the movie never quite becomes as engrossing or even interesting as one might've expected - as filmmaker Charlie Paul has employed a haphazard structure that grows increasingly frustrating as time progresses (ie the movie seems to contain an almost equal amount of fascinating and pointless stretches). Paul's decision to pepper the proceedings with animated stretches, which surely sounded good on paper, proves relatively disastrous, with the distracting and superficial nature of such moments standing in sharp contrast to the effectiveness of comparatively simple sequences (eg Steadman creates an abstract painting from scratch). It does, as a result, become increasingly difficult to care about any of this, and by the time the movie arrives at Steadman's political activism, the viewer has all but entirely checked out - which is a shame, really, given the massive potential of the subject matter.

out of

Directed by Sebastián Lelio

An extremely low-key character study, Gloria follows a fiftysomething divorcée (Paulina García's Gloria Cumplido) as she attempts to shake up her run-of-the-mill existence by embarking on a relationship with a recently-separated man named Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández). Filmmaker Sebastián Lelio has infused Gloria with an exceedingly subdued feel that proves an appropriate match for his and Gonzalo Maza's uneventful screenplay, with the movie's watchable atmosphere perpetuated primarily by García's riveting turn as the title protagonist - as the actress steps into the shoes of her mousy character to a degree and completeness that is, from start to finish, utterly engrossing. The deliberateness of the pace is, however, occasionally a problem; García's stellar performance remains a highlight, yet the actress is essentially asked to carry the proceedings and, despite the effectiveness of her work here, Gloria does suffer from a few less-than-captivating stretches (eg there's a long sequence wherein Gloria attends a dinner party). The film's second half, in which a series of personal difficulties start to take their toll on Gloria, undoubtedly fares somewhat better than the first, while the upbeat, feel-good finale goes a long way towards ensuring that Gloria concludes on a high note - yet it's ultimately clear that the movie is never entirely able to rise up to the level of García's consistently striking central performance (ie this is essentially nothing more than a sporadically engaging actor's showcase).

out of

Don Jon
Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon follows affable New Jersey bartender Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) as he's forced to put aside his womanizing ways after falling for a beautiful local named Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson). Gordon-Levitt, making his filmmaking debut here, has infused the early part of Don Jon with a propulsive and thoroughly watchable feel that's heightened by the writer/director's charismatic turn as the central character, with the dynamic visuals and strong supporting cast, which includes Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, and Tony Danza (!), perpetuating the movie's impressively engrossing atmosphere. It's only as the narrative settles into its rather conventional midsection that one's interest begins to wane, as Gordon-Levitt suffuses this stretch of the proceedings with a series of traditional romcom elements (ie there's a consistent emphasis on the questionable pairing of Gordon Levitt and Johansson's respective characters). The movie's final half hour, which is devoted primarily to Don's efforts at battling an addiction to online porn and his unlikely friendship with Julianne Moore's Esther, feels just as shaky and underdeveloped, with, especially, the Moore subplot, despite a typically fine performance from the actress, not faring nearly as well as one might've hoped (ie the trajectory of Don and Esther's relationship, from everything we know about the former, simply doesn't ring true). It's clear, too, that Don Jon suffers from a second half that just isn't as tightly-plotted as the opening half hour (ie it's kind of aimless), which ultimately cements the film's place as a sporadically electrifying yet altogether uneven directorial debut for Gordon-Levitt.

out of

Young & Beautiful
Directed by François Ozon

A typically slow-moving drama from François Ozon, Young & Beautiful follows rebellious teenager Isabelle (Marine Vacth) as she loses her virginity one summer and, a few months later, begins working as a call girl in Paris. It's an unabashedly salacious premise that's employed to consistently subdued effect by Ozon, with the movie's deliberately-paced opening half hour, which is devoted primarily to Isabelle's leisurely summertime exploits, demanding a fair amount of patience from the viewer. The surprisingly engaging atmosphere, then, is due mostly to Ozon's strong direction and a seriously impressive central performance from Vacth; there is, however, little doubt that Young & Beautiful improves considerably once the action shifts to Paris, as the viewer is, to an increasingly prominent degree, drawn into Isabelle's fascinating (yet almost inexplicable) double life. (Ozon doesn't, interestingly enough, reveal the character's reasons for prostituting herself until well past the halfway mark.) It's not until the narrative takes a dramatic turn at around the one-hour point that Young & Beautiful begins to slowly-but-surely wear out its welcome, as the decidedly meandering nature of the movie's final stretch ensures that the viewer has checked out long before the end credits roll - with the only real respite arriving in the form of Charlotte Rampling's late-in-the-game appearance as the wife of one of Isabelle's former clients (ie the actress provides the film with a jolt of much-needed electricity). The end result is a watchable yet uneven effort from Ozon, with the movie ultimately fitting right into the filmmaker's almost uniformly passable yet underwhelming body of work.

out of

The Invisible Woman
Directed by Ralph Fiennes

Directed by Ralph Fiennes, The Invisible Woman details the secretive (yet scandalous) relationship between Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and a 17-year-old actress named Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones). It's clear immediately that Fiennes isn't looking to reinvent the wheel here, as The Invisible Woman, for the most part, unfolds exactly as one might've surmised based on the premise - with the movie's less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by an unconscionably deliberate pace and a narrative that's almost comically underdeveloped. (Fiennes' dynamic performance remains one of the only overtly positive attributes within the otherwise interminable proceedings.) The viewer is, for the most part, forced to wait in vain for something of consequence to occur, and yet Fiennes, working from Abi Morgan's screenplay, shows little interest in offering up any elements of interest and instead emphasizes the characters' plotless musings and exploits - with the astonishing lack of passion or chemistry between the two protagonists compounding the movie's relentlessly stodgy vibe. It's worth noting, too, that The Invisible Woman only grows more and more uninvolving as it progresses, and there's little doubt that the endless final stretch just isn't able to pack the tearjerking punch that Fiennes has clearly intended - which ultimately confirms the movie's place as a hopeless waste of time that has little to offer even the most ardent of Dickens fans.

out of

© David Nusair