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TIFF '10: Day 5 

Cave Of Forgotten Dreams
Director/Country/Time: Werner Herzog/USA/95 min.
Program: Real To Reel
Headline: Priceless art in the world’s most exclusive gallery
Scott’s Take: When it was announced that Herzog was premiering a new documentary at Toronto (in 3-D!), Cave Of Forgotten Dreams immediately become the event of the festival (or close to it) for a lot of people, including myself. And I had the pleasure of seeing it under ideal conditions: In the new Bell Lightbox theater (brief impression: lovely venue, a line-management headache), with Herzog and his producer accompanying a print (or digital package, as it were) that was completed just 15 hours earlier. A product of his boundless curiosity, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams looks at the marvels inside the Chauvet caves of Southern France, a setting nature preserved so perfectly that cave paintings from nearly 30,000 years ago have suffered little-to-no deteriorating effects. Back in June 2008, Judith Thurman wrote a piece about it in The New Yorker, but she never actually saw the cave in person, due to restrictions that have limited all but a handful of scientists, archaeologists, and other researchers. But Herzog being Herzog, he gained a rare permit to bring his cameras into the Chauvet cave—four hours per day for one week—to document these extraordinary drawings from the Paleolithic era, including dramatic scenes of horses and clashing bisons, and even a rendering of a woman’s lower half. Working with his History Channel partners, Herzog is in Encounters At The End Of The World mode, acting as a tour guide through an otherworldly place while baffling scientists with abstract philosophical questions. In the process, he ponders the roots of artistic representation, proto-cinematic storytelling, and the possible birth of “humanness.” Cave Of Forgotten Dreams has much to recommend it: Herzog’s half off-the-wall/half-profound queries, a delightfully unexpected coda, a single scene that alone justifies the 3-D process, and the opportunity to see what so few have seen. Yet it lacks the freewheeling inquiry of Herzog’s best documentaries, and his compulsion to scan every inch of the cave walls (and twice more for good measure) gets tedious at times, plagued by a ruinous dirge of a score. Still, if we’re looking for cinema to take us someplace new, that’s a standard the film clearly meets.
Grade: B

Cold Fish
Director/Country/Time: Sion Sono/Japan/144 min.
Cast: Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Denden, Asuka Kurosawa
Program: Vanguard
Headline: Holy shit, Cold Fish.
Noel’s Take: There are dark movies, there are grim movies, and then there’s Cold Fish, one long, unflinching wallow in the muck of human desire. Mitsuru Fukikoshi stars as the meek owner of a tropical fish store, who meets a much more successful fish-slinger (played by Denden) when his daughter gets busted for shoplifting in a nearby store. Denden offers the girl a job, and asks for a favor from Fukikoshi in return: that he pretend to be his partner in a deal to breed rare fish for 10 million yen a pop. Before Fukikoshi even has a chance to say yes or no, Denden has him in a room with the prospective client; and not too long after that, the client is lying dead on the floor, poisoned. Director Sion Sono opens Cold Fish with jittery jump cuts and bursts of noise and color, but then slows the movie down to the pace of a classic noir. Sono is too infatuated with process at times; Cold Fish wouldn’t need to be two-hours-and-twenty-minutes long if there were a few less long scenes of corpses being dragged out to Denden’s remote “disposal unit.” But for the most part, Cold Fish moves with the inexorable pull of a nightmare, as Fukikoshi keeps getting in deeper and deeper with Denden. (The two leads’ relationship is reminiscent of Kyle MacLachlan and Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet at times.) Make no mistake, though: this is one fucked-up nightmare. Denden is of the great villains in movie history, glad-handing his way into people’s lives before bullying them into committing horrible acts—acts that, on some level, Denden’s victims actually want to commit. (And just so we’re clear, this includes graphic rape, dismemberment and child-slapping. This movie is not very nice.) Sono’s exploring a number of themes here, from gender and generational clashes to the notion of being “made invisible.” But I was most struck by Fukikoshi’s fascination with astronomy, and the idea that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old, and has 4.6 billion years left before it dies. What’s more disturbing here: that we’re now on the downward slope, or that we’ve got so much goddamn time left to go?
Grade: B+

Dirty Girl
Director/Country/Time: Abe Sylvia/USA/99 min.
Cast: Juno Temple, Jeremy Dozier, Milla Jovovich
Program: Discovery
Headline: Where festival buzz goes to die
Scott’s Take: This was a last minute schedule change on my part, done in response to the news that The Weinstein Company had paid $3 million—a princely sum in the current buyer’s market—for the rights to this debut feature. The acquisition turns out to be history repeating itself: Weinstein has essentially bought Happy, Texas again. If you’ll recall, Happy, Texas was one of the most notorious Miramax overbids, picked up in a Sundance feeding frenzy for $10 million; when it finally landed in the real world, to middling-to-poor notices, the film grossed short of $2 million. The two films have several things in common: A grotesquely stereotypical vision of a Southern small-town life, a sentimentality that burbles through the broader-than-broad comedy like acid reflux, a wealth of scenes that would never ever ever fucking happen in any world resembling our own, and the presence of one William H. Macy. Set in the ‘80s—beware the brutal soundtrack cues— the film stars Juno Temple as the Dirty Girl of the title, a trailer-trash nymph who’s worked her way through all the boys in high school; Jeremy Dozier plays a plump gay outcast who partners with her in class and eventually becomes her friend. The two travel, Little Miss Sunshine-style, from their Oklahoma hick-town to California to find the daddy that Temple never met. Along the way, she helps him come out of his latent homosexual shell, he helps her pick up the pieces of her crumbled self-worth, and together, they do their level best to annoy the bloody hell out of me for an hour and a half.
Grade: D-

Director/Country/Time: Xavier Dolan/Canada/102 min.
Cast: Xavier Dolan, Monia Chokri, Niels Schneider
Program: Special Presentations
Headline: What sophomore slump?
Scott’s Take: Ah, the impetuousness of youth! Last year, at the tender age of 20, French-Canadian writer/director/star Xavier Dolan took the festival scene by storm with I Killed My Mother, a rough-hewn but winning and extremely promising debut feature. A year later, he returns with Heartbeats, a stunning confirmation of his precocious talent, and a major advance, technically if not otherwise, from the first. Currently, he wears his influences too much on his sleeve—you can tell from Heartbeats that he’s been obsessing over Wong Kar-wai, In The Mood For Love especially—but so did P.T. Anderson in his early films, and I’m confident that Dolan will grow find his way, too. Still, there are worse filmmakers to rip off than Wong, and Dolan’s story of desire and unrequited love goes beautifully with all that slow motion. (And a “Quezás, Quezás, Quezás”-like use of the French-language version of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang.”) Dolan and Chokri star as best friends who fall for the same man, a preening, curly-haired Adonis played by Schneider. The three go to parties and restaurants together, with the friends, now quietly bitter romantic rivals, making their play on a man too consumed with narcissism to pick up the signals. The original (much better) title, Les Amours Imaginaires, speaks to the creative (and sometimes delusionary) nature of desire and the way it drives these young romantics to desperation and sabotage. It’s a little too neatly drawn, but Dolan’s passion and vitality suffuses every frame, and makes me optimistic for his future—and the future of cinema, for that matter. I love Heartbeats even more than I like it.
Grade: B+

I Saw The Devil
Director/Country/Time: Kim Jee-woon/South Korea/143 min.
Cast: Lee Byung-hyun, Choi Min-sik
Program: Special Presentations
Headline: Revenge is a dish best served slow
Scott’s Take: Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy may have set the standard for operatic mega-revenge stories, but his countryman Kim Jee-woon (the gifted director of A Tale Of Two Sisters and The Good, The Bad, The Weird) does his level best to top him with I Saw The Devil, an extremely gruesome—like Ichi The Killer-level gruesome—shocker that only sickos (like me!) could appreciate. Executed in high style, and with a narrative coherence that sometimes eludes Kim, I Saw The Devil opens with a serial killer (Oldboy’s Choi) murdering the wrong woman. Her fiancé (Lee) happens to be a bad-ass secret agent who receives the news stoically, then sets about finding the perpetrator himself and making sure he pays dearly for the crime. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game I don’t want to say anything more about, since one of the pleasures of I Saw The Devil is a revenge plot that twists and turns and escalates in tension as it unfolds. By now, the notion of the revenge-seeker becoming a monster in pursuit of a monster is old hat, no more so than in Korean films like Park’s, where the theme is often front and center. But I Saw The Devil is less about that than the immutability of evil, which can’t be transformed or obliterated, but simply exists, cold and black, as a force of absolute destruction. Though a welcome streak of dark comedy makes it more palatable, this is an undeniably tough movie to watch at times; several moments triggered widespread gasps and moans (and some walkouts) during the Press & Industry screening. But damned if it isn’t riveting from the word “go,” a nasty piece of work for those who can stomach it.
Grade: B+

Director/Country/Time: François Ozon/France/103 min.
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini
Program: Gala
Headline: Vive le femme!
Noel’s Take: François Ozon made his reputation in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s as one of his French filmmaking generation’s most gifted, eclectic and prolific stylists, though lately though he’s seemed more interested in the “prolific” part. Potiche (loosely translated as “trophy”) brings Ozon back to the colorful, energetic retro-homage of his musical 8 Women, and as such is his most likable movie in nearly a decade. Set in 1977—which gives Ozon license to evoke the era through music, fashion, decor, and a kind of sitcom breeziness—Potiche stars Catherine Deneuve as the upbeat wife of uptight factory owner Fabrice Luchini. When Luchini has a heart attack during a labor dispute, Deneuve takes over and improves both the lot of the workers and sales of the company’s umbrellas, all while renewing an acquaintance with an old lover, the town’s leftist deputy mayor Gérard Depardieu. Funny, twisty, and at times bittersweet, Potiche is a fluffy good time, but not entirely insubstantial. Ozon (and Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, the writers of the play this movie is based on) have a lot of fun with the dubious paternity of various characters in the movie, in part because Potiche is essentially French farce, and in part because it’s trying to say that people should be nicer to each other, because we are all brothers—in some cases literally.
Grade: B+

The Promise: The Making Of Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Director/Country/Time: Thom Zinny/USA/85 min.
Program: Gala
Headline: Tonight I’ll be on that hill, ‘cause I can’t stop
Noel’s Take: Even though this doc will be on the fancy Darkness box set that’s coming out (and will be purchased by me) in November, I’m too big of a Springsteen fan to let a chance to see The Promise on a big screen pass by. If I’m being honest though, I can’t say that the movie gains much from a larger picture and louder sound. There are only a few fragments of concert footage in The Promise, and though director Thom Zinny has plenty of clips of Springsteen and The E-Street Band rehearsing and recording the songs for Darkness (including some that have never been released, and some that are radically different from their final versions), the clips are decidedly lo-fi, and, again, fragmented. So The Promise isn’t exactly The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Movie. It’s still a treat for Springsteen fans though, as Zinny talks to The Boss and his employees about the tumultuous Darkness sessions, which began with lawsuits from Springsteen’s fired manager and ended with Springsteen fighting to release a record that was much starker than the heavily orchestrated Born To Run. The movie also shows the two contradictory sides of Springsteen: the perfectionist who’d spend an entire day trying to figure out why Max Weinberg’s drums didn’t sound right, and the freewheeler who’d end each day of recording by pulling Miami Steve Van Zandt aside for an impromptu rehearsal of a dozen new song ideas he’d come up with overnight. It was a very creative time for Springsteen between 1976 and 1980—the period that covers Darkness and The River—as he whipped up and tossed out songs that likely would’ve been massive hits if he’d just finished them and released them. But Springsteen, he explains now, was working hard not to be a hit-machine, because he wanted to stay true to “what I had of value… in my core.” It was an admirable stance, though when I think of all those unreleased songs, I tend to agree with Van Zandt: “It’s a bit tragic, in a way.”
Grade: B+

Tomorrow: John Carpenter, John Cameron Mitchell, Vincent Gallo, Gregg Araki, Catherine Breillat and Apichatpong Weerasethakul all return.