September 7, 2012, TIFF! Love Stories in French. Movies Reviewed: Amour, Rebelle, Rust and Bone PLUS Comrade Kim Goes Flying
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
TIFF 2012, the huge film festival that starts tomorrow, is readily apparent in downtown Toronto. People here are usually withdrawn and polite. But with so much glitz and glamour in town, everyone wonders if that person in dark glasses is really an actor or director. Usually I’m anonymous — I’m a radio broadcaster — but suddenly every passerby around the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Hyatt Hotel (that’s where the TIFF registration offices are) seems to study my face… just in case I am famous.
If you’ve never been there, let me tell you a few things about it, First, it’s huge, with more than 300 movies from 65 countries playing over the next ten days. I just saw a totally surprising film from one of those 65 countries: North Korea!
I wandered into one unusual film today, Comrade Kim Goes Flying. It’s a comedy-drama about a young coal miner’s daughter with her head in the clouds. She wants to be a trapeze artist, so she goes to Pyonyang to spend a year near the circus. It’s a fascinating glimpse at an idealized vision of North Korea where everyone is rich, well-fed and ecstatically happy just to mix cement or dig up coal. The characters have unusual lines that sound like: “But the willpower of the working class will always save us, Comrade Secretary!” And yet, it works as a classic hollywood drama, something like Rocky. It just goes to show you that (although not all the movies are perfect), even picking a film at random might lead to an unexpected surprise.
So don’t be intimidated by the magnitude of TIFF. Just find a few you really want to see, pursue them and you should be able to land a screening. Check online (tiff.net) at 7 am to see what new tickets are on sale.
Today I’m going to talk about two great French language movies. One’s an Austrian film about an elderly French couple who choose to live out their lives in their own home; a Canadian film about a child in central Africa torn from her home to fight in a war; and a Belgian single father and MMA boxer who might end up making a new family with a legless Orca trainer.
Georges and Anne, a retired married couple in their eighties (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva) have a nice apartment, attend concerts, read books, share meals, and generally just enjoy their lives. They used to teach classical music and are pleased to see their former pupils becoming musical superstars. Life is peachy until one day… everything changes. Over lunch Georges tells Anne the sat shaker is empty, expecting her to refill it. But, instead, she just sat there, unresponsive. Although she later snapped out of whatever it was, it shook up the power dynamic of their traditional roles. Soon, following doctors’ tests, they discovered she is ill. But Anne makes Georges promise never to send her back to a hospital. She wants to live at home.
She entrusts her future with Georges – he’s a monster sometimes, she says, but a very kind one.
Gradually, she begins to deteriorate, physically, mentally and in her ability to communicate, due to a debilitating stroke. Georges is unrelenting in his devotion to her, but is heartbroken watching the formerly regal pianist, Queen-like even, slide from a connoisseur of Beethoven’s Bagatelle in G minor to a child chanting sur le pont d’avinon. Anne is deeply humiliated by her failure at maintaining perfection. She doesn’t want anyone seeing her in that state. Isabelle Hupert appears occasionally as their sanctimonious but ineffectual daughter, but most of the movie is just the two of them in their apartment. Like a lost pigeon that flies into their home, Georges realizes he holds both the power and the responsibility over the fate of his wife.
Austrian director Michael Haneke’s movies (Funny Games, White Ribbon, Cache) are always demanding, but often just thumb their collective nose at the characters, as if to say there is no morality, and even if their were people are just selfish, evil hypocrites. (Haneke’s a bit like Lars von Trier.) That’s why I was surprised by the level of love and despair apparent in this (mainly) uncynical movie. And the acting by the two stars is absolutely flawless.
Amour is a crushingly devastating study of love, age and death. Unforgettable.
Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is a young girl, about 12 years old, living with her parents in a village central Africa. But she’s torn away from that life when a rebel army passes through and whisks her away to fight against the government. But she’s haunted by what happened to her parents, and they appear for her now, as painted white ghosts of the dead. They warn her whenever government troops are about to attack. Komona thinks they appear whenever she drinks “magic milk”, the baby formula she squeezes out of plastic bags. Word gets out and the local military leader takes her under his wing, as a protected one, since, he believes, she is a witch with magical powers.
She is schooled by another boy, a storyteller known as Le Magicien (the magician: Serge Kanyinda) who knows which shamanistic talisman to use, and how to place them, just so. He is albino and hence an outcast from his village, a witch, but also a target of bounty hunters. He wants to marry her (he’s maybe 14), but first she sends him off on a wild goose chase – well, actually a white rooster chase. If he can find her one of those, she’ll believe in his valour. The two of them escape from the rebel camp and its leader, the violent but superstitious rebel leader (Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien), and make their way back to her home village.
Their picaresque journey is mystical, absurd and surprising, with children’s games and lovely scenic shots interspersed with terrible violence on her slow trip home to face her ghosts.
These are three original, loving movies.
Rebelle, Amour, and Rust and Bone are all playing at the Toronto Film festival this year – go to www.tiff.net for details, showtimes and tickets.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .