Late Teens, Early Twenties. Films Reviewed: Heartbeats, Bran Nue Dae, Never Let Me Go, Catfish

There’s a surprising variety in the films about people in their teens and early twenties that played at the Toronto Film Festival. I’m looking at a few of them, plus one odd duck from outside TIFF that fits the category too. Like most coming-of-age or college movies, these have love, crushes, and passions; followed by some big revelation or shock that shakes their hopes and beliefs to their very foundations.

Each of these movies, though, has a twist that makes it just a little different from the usual teen or college movie. One has a gay element; one involves indigenous people as the main characters; one takes place in an alternate reality from the one we live in; and one is based mainly on the difficulties of using facebook – and, no, unfortunately, I’m not reviewing that Social Network movie that’s opening today – I’m reviewing the other facebook movie.

Heartbeats

Dir: Xavier Dolan

Quebecois Xavier Dolan, who directed, wrote, and starred in his great debut film, J’ai tue ma mere / I killed my mother,

(about a gay teenager and the problems he has with his mother) is back with his second triple-threat movie, called Heartbeats or Les Amours Imaginaire. In this one best friends Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri), both become infatuated with a good-looking, intelligent, rich, and personable newcomer to Montreal, Nicolas (Niels Schneider). Neither wants to admit they like him, but each of them secretly schemes how to win him over. Nicolas, in the meantime, flirts with them both — he loves being the centre of attention and adulation. The tension and competition between the two friends grows until it explodes during a trip the three of them take to a house in rural Quebec.

It’s not a bad movie — it’s a light-hearted farce, well acted, and interesting. It just felt like a bit of a let-down after his much more dramatic, entertaining, and moving first film. If only Dolan could have kept it as just the three-character story. But instead he adds very long scenes of people shopping, of long pillow conversations in dim light with their various sex partners; and periodic scenes of talking heads of unidentified montrealers giving their views on sex, relationships, and break-ups.

To me it seemed like a good 45 minute film, but with lots of filler to stretch it out into a feature film. OK maybe that’s not fair. Dolan may be 21, but he puts in as many cultural, literary, and filmic allusions as a well-established filmmaker. He’s not playing around, I assume, and there must be some reason for all the less interesting scenes. But still, the movie could have used more of the story – which was great! – and less of all that extra stuff, which was… just not very interesting. It broke up the flow, it didn’t add to it.

The characters were all fun to watch, and the acting was great by all three, plus a hilarious cameo by Anne Dorval – she’s amazing. (She was the mother in J’ai tue ma mere.) Enjoy Heartbeats as a light, pleasant comedy, and leave it at that.

Bran Nue Dae

Dir: Rachel Perkins

Another pleasant diversion is this Australian musical – yes, a musical – that played last year’s Toronto Film Festival. 50 years ago: Willie, an aboriginal kid who lives in a shack with his deeply religious mom in Broome – a small town in Western Australia — likes a cute girl with a great voice who sings in the local bar. But she’s hanging with a greaser. He gets sent to a residential school, where kids wear uniforms and learn religion. He rebels much to the dismay of a priest, Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush). Willie makes his way back to Broome, chased by the priest, and falls in with a hobo, who says he’s his Uncle Tadpole; but he’s a trickster, who does things like throwing himself in front of a car to get money or maybe a free ride. They encounter a tough floozie in a roadhouse, a German guy and his Aussie hippie girlfriend looking for his Dad for some reason, in a VW bus in the outback. They all set out to reach Broome. The movie traces all the characters’ adventures, punctuated by songs and dances, as Willie makes his way back home to see the girl he longs for.

It’s not bad for a low budget movie… its very distinctly Australian, cute, funny, with a cast that’s largely made up of indigenous people and pacific islanders. Some of the songs are better than others. Interestingly, the young woman with the great voice apparently won Australian Idol a couple years ago. It takes place in the past but the whole movie also has a bit of a dated feel to it – it could be because it toured the country as a play for 20 years before it was made into a movie. But if you like musical comedies, or want to learn about a very different, yet oddly similar, culture; or if you just want to a good old fashioned-type story with all the hidden identities and plot turns, and you approach this without grand expectations, you just might enjoy Bran Nue Dae.

Never Let Me Go

Dir: Mark Romanek

It’s 1983 somewhere in England. So you expect to see skinheads marauding on the streets, people in bright colours and funny haircuts listening to the latest Duran Duran album, pop culture everywhere. But no. This is a different England than the one you’re used to. Three kids at an exclusive English boarding school called Hailsham, grow up as close friends. Tommy (Andrew Garfield) gets bullied because he’s easy to tease – he’s got an anger problem. Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is kind and mature but a bit plain, while tall, beautiful black-haired Ruth (Keira Knightley) is a bit selfish.

They, and the other kids, live an isolated, sheltered existence, never really seeing the world outside the experimental school. No fighting. No bad manners. They’re raised from a young age to be Carers and Donors (wonder what that means… hmmmm…). The movie shows them realize what their purpose is in life, in their duty toward the country that takes care of them. They are there to provide medical help – their whole existence, once they graduate, is to care for the ill and elderly, who often live to be well over a hundred. But Hailsham grads are a special case, and it is said, that some can break loose from their inevitable fate. The three friends, Kathie, Ruth and Tommy decide to try.

This one is not a light diversion. It’s a depressing, demoralizing downer of a movie. It’s pretty interesting, an adaptation of the British writer Kazuo Ishiguro (the author Remains of the Day) ‘s disturbing science fiction novel. It’s a tender, moving film, showing the trade-offs a society goes through for the greater good, a sort of an alternate reality set in the past. Great acting, kinda creepy story.

Catfish

A “documentary”

Nev, a photographer in NYC discovers that a little girl, Abby, in small-town Michigan is making paintings of his photos – and sending them to him. He communicates with her, her mother, and her beautiful older sister Megan.

Nev and Megan’s long distance relationshipm via facebook, telephone and texting, takes on a sexual dimension. Although they’ve never met face to face, they feel like they’re together. But when she emails him some obviously pirated music tapes, and claimed she was the singer, Nev begins to suspect something is not right. So he and his buddies, the so-called documentary makers, drive out to Michigan to confront her.

I felt really misled by the advertising for this movie – they claimed it was a Hitchcockian thriller. Well it ain’t. It’s a not-very-good low-budget pseudo-documentary about social networking, I’d rank it slightly above “Bridezilla” (the notorious youtube forgery about a bride whose hair goes bad on her wedding day) that might work online, but feels like a rip-off on the big screen. Instead of Catfish, this movie should be called Red Herring… or maybe Shaggy Dog.

And, finally, starting this weekend and running for one week is the Toronto Palestine Film Festival. It’s playing a wide variety of films, like “The Time that Remains”, a semi-autobiographical story by the well-known director Elia Suleiman, about the fate of Palestinians who remained in Israel, from 1948 to the present; two films on the noted poet Mahmoud Darwish; and “Aisheen: Still alive in Gaza”, a documentary shot just two weeks after the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2009. There is also a panel discussion with Palestinian filmmakers, as well as a traditional Palestinian breakfast, catered by a Toronto chef. Lots going on from October 2nd to the 8th at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival – check out details, tickets, prices, and times, at tpff.ca.

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