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Precogni-TIFF, or The Festival in My Head

Tuesday, September 10   


Lost in La Mancha – The only documentary that I’m seeing at Toronto, this one is wild enough to be fictional. Tracking the demise of Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated Don Quixote project, La Mancha manages to make us feel what might have been had the project been fully realized, but mostly shocks us with the various reasons why it wasn’t. Gilliam himself comes off rather well – you can almost feel the passion that he poured into the project - and the professionalism around the set is heartening… but it all is used to set up the inevitable and dreadful series of disasters that start once shooting starts.   


Spider – If not the unimpeachably great film that Amy Taubin suggests (she included it on her submission for this year’s all-time Sight & Sound poll) Cronenberg’s Spider is a solid and troubling minimalist look at a schizophrenic man. The smug makers of A Beautiful Mind, who bragged about their fidelity to the actual horrors of the disease while accepting their Oscars, should check this out, because it makes ABM look positively like a cartoon. Cronenberg’s subjective camera keeps us locked into the point of view of poor Spider (Ralph Fiennes, who deserves mucho praise for his work here), and the film’s horror builds not out of special effects shots or gore, but from the slowly dawning realization that for him, this is all that there is.   


Sweet Sixteen – Ken Loach does social realism better than just about anyone, so when he turns his gaze onto the teen drama – surely one of the most genres of film drama that’s most typically disconnected from reality – you have to wonder if he can maintain his style. The answer, for the most part, is a resounding yes, and the film, despite its bleakness plays a lot faster, funnier, and looser than Mike Leigh’s latest. Sitting in another slowly growing subgenre – the subtitled English language film – this Scottish flick is similar to Leigh’s film also in its somewhat pat wrap-up. Still, for most of the running time, this is top-notch stuff.   


Blissfully Yours – I haven’t seen much Thai cinema, so I don’t know if there’s much of it like Blissfully Yours, but I doubt it. There doesn’t seem much like this film anywhere. The opening credits take about 1/3 of the running time to show up. The film is sometimes scratched to achieve an aesthetic effect, and the general tone fluctuates between a sleepy idyll and a more frenzied eroticism that feels… well… blissful. It’s not quite a great film, since it’s a bit too laid back to achieve anything great, but it’s definitely a distinctive and memorable one.   


Aiki – The son of Shohei Imamura directed this rather conventional tale of a triumph over adversity set in the Japanese martial arts world. For the first half of its running time it’s a bit slow going, but it does improve a good deal as it wears on until it reaches a climax that has some surprising power. It’s not quite the radical work you’d expect from the guy who wrote the screenplay for Takashi Miike’s Audition, but it’s definitely a solid piece of work.   


My Little Eye – Wow, this came out of nowhere! The festival book described this roughly as Blair Witch meets Big Brother, but that does little to describe the sheer invention that powers this scary little horror flick. It makes us voyeurs in its reality show setting, and then, when things go bad, punishes us for wanting to look so closely. This definitely works better than similar films like Series 7: The Contenders.


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