film festivals

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PIFF - Day Two

With a few exceptions, PIFF does a superb job selecting documentaries. In fact, looking back, I would say that overall, the docs I saw were for the most part outstanding, and the narratives, generally uneven. Day Two at PIFF was documentary day, with three docs being the order of the day.

Chris & Don: A Love Story (USA; 90 min.)
directors: Tina Mascara and Guido Santi
documentary

This was the film that Chlotrudis co-presented at Ptown, and I was very pleased by the nearly packed house at the Crown & Anchor. CHRIS & DON: A LOVE STORY beautifully tells the story of the thirty-year relationship of author/poet Christopher Isherwood and artist Don Bachardy who was thirty years Isherwood's junior. With Bachardy still living, the film tends to focus more on him, but Isherwood certainly gets his share of attention. All of the issues you might imagine in a relationship with such disparate ages are present, and because Isherwood was a diarist, the access to his most personal thoughts and even video footage is well utilized here. Just thinking about the fact that these two men first met when Don was 16 (they became a couple when he was 18) you can't help but ponder his entire adult identity being shaped by Isherwood. The main point of struggle was certainly Don's search for an identity when partnered with such a talented and well-known figure. I'm sure that if Bachardy had not found his creative talent as an artist, their relationship would never have survived.

Mascara and Santi blend live interview with Don and others who knew the couple, with Isherwood's video footage and readings from his diaries, as well as recreations of some key points in their lives. They shape out of this unconventional, decidedly non-traditional relationship a romance for the ages, with grace, style, and a passionate heart. 5 cats

American Teen (USA; 95 min.)
director: Nanette Burstein
documentary

I was intrigued to see this documentary focusing on the lives of teens today that has been the subject of much praise and controversy on the festival circuit. Burstein spent a year immersed in an Indiana community, seeking out and spending time with a group of teenagers that embody the well-known archetypes (or perhaps that should read stereotypes) made popular by the film THE BREAKFAST CLUB. Unfortunately, AMERICAN TEEN just didn't work for me, and the more people I talk to, I've been finding that it either clicks with people, or it doesn't, but even the people who love it can see the artifice and manipulation that turned me off of the film.

I'm not against staged scenes, recreations, or scripted sequences in documentaries. They can certainly enhance a non-fiction film and make it more entertaining. The problem with AMERICAN TEEN is that the film isn't really honest with its audiences. As thing progress, it becomes increasingly obvious that some of the scenes are staged, and eventually you begin to believe that the teens being depicted in the film might actually be characters, or 'actors' representing archetypes, rather than kids being represented in a documentary. Burstein has sought out (or created) such blatant stereotypes in order to fulfill a publicity department's dream and tapping into the early-80's John Hughes zeitgeist that I was instantly reminded of James Frey and his fictionalized memoir. To further this feeling the storylines in AMERICAN TEEN follow such startlingly scripted paths that you'd think a team of Hollywood screenwriters were coaching the action.

Those people who I've spoken two who enjoyed the film totally bought into the PRETTY IN PINK/THE BREAKFAST CLUB vibe that TEEN apes even while acknowledging the manipulation. While I was at first perplexed and disappointed as I watched AMERICAN TEEN, as time has passed I'm still perplexed but now somewhat annoyed. The film's marketing is trying to further underscore the character-like nature of the subjects, and the inauthenticity of the film has begun to grate on my nerves even more. 2 cats

The Axe in the Attic (USA; 110 min.)
directors: Ed Pincus and Lucia Small
documentary

I have been waiting for Lucia Small, director of MY FATHER, THE GENIUS, to make another film; curious to see what direction she would take after the intensely personal examination of her father's life and its affect on his family. I was not expecting THE AXE IN THE ATTIC, a road-trip across America with co-director Ed Pincus, in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and the resulting diaspora that occurred, displacing scores of people whose homes were destroyed in the storm. What makes ATTIC different from other films or reports on Katrina's aftermath is the way the filmmakers insert themselves into the film, constantly questioning their roles and responsibilities while shooting the film; asking questions of themselves that viewers of documentary films often ask of the filmmakers without being able to get an answer.

Pincus and Small focus on approximately 50 people in the film, pared down from the hundreds they interviewed on their road trip. These stories, powerful and moving all, are intercut with images of the devastation, and scenes where the filmmakers debate the social responsibilities of the country and the individual, and how this disaster affected them each personally. ATTIC is an elegant work, and one that I would encourage everyone to see. It's wonderful to see Small continue her fine filmmaking career, and again, makes me eager to see what she will do next. 4 1/2 cats.

After the film, a group of us headed to Level at the Commons for a filmmaker reception. We were late arriving, and much of the crowd had thinned out, but a batch of Chlotrudis members, myself, Scot, Beth Curran, Beth Caldwell, Dan McCallum and his partner Jon, spent the next couple of hours with director Lucia Small and her associate producer Emma, Boston Phoenix film critic and Chlotrudis-pal Gerry Peary, and Central Productions CEO Mike Bowes. We even got a few clues as to what Lucia might be working on next!

TIFF Opening Night Film Announced

Beth, you picked the right movie, but not the right night! Paul Gross' PASSCHENDAELE will open this year's Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, September 4. Gross, well-known to American audiences for his roles on television's "Slings & Arrows" and "Due South," and to Chlotrudis members for his roles in the films WILBY WONDERFUL and MEN WITH BROOMS, directed, produced, and stars in this historical romantic drama set during World War I. Gross plays Michael Dunne -- a man injured in France who comes home to Calgary. However, a romance with a nurse inspires him to go back to France to protect her younger brother, who is embroiled in the third battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele.

TIFF traditionally opens with a high-profile Canadian film. Last year Jeremy Podeswa took the coveted spot with his FUGITIVE PIECES. Gross' PASSCHENDAELE will make it two historical drama in a row. Beth had pegged this film as the festival closer, with Egoyan's ADORATION as a possible opener. This is the first announcement for this year's festival which runs September 4 - 13. The official website for this year's festival will go live on June 27th. Thanks to Cinematical for the tip!

Cannes 2008 Line-Up Announced

Twitch has the first official line-up announcement for the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, and there are some interesting films from the Chlotrudis point-of-view. ADORATION is Atom Egoyan's first film since 2005's WHERE THE TRUTH LIES. In his latest work, Atom shifts his attention to high schoolers and in a logical progression from his fascination with video, he looks at how kids' relationships are affected by the Internet. ADORATION stars Scott Speedman, Rachel Blancard, and Arsinée Khanjian. Charlie Kaufman, writer of such mind-bending films as ADAPTATION and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, will be screening his directorial debut, SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK. Other Chlotrudis-worthy directors include Nuri Blige Ceylan (CLIMATES), Arnaud Desplechin (KINGS & QUEEN), Lucretia Martel (THE HOLY GIRL), Wim Wenders (WINGS OF DESIRE), Ji-Woon Kim (A TALE OF TWO SISTERS), Jia Zhangke (THE WORLD) and Stephen Soderbergh (BUBBLE).

Here's the full list:

Competition
Nuri Bilge Ceylan - Three Monkeys (Turkey-France-Italy)
Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne - Le Silence De Lorna (France-Belgium)
Arnaud Desplechin - A Christmas Story (France)
Clint Eastwood - Changeling (US)
Atom Egoyan - Adoration (Canada)
Ari Folman - Waltz With Bashir (Israel)
Philippe Garrel - La Frontiere De L’Aube (France)
Matteo Garrone - Gomorra (Italy)
Charlie Kaufman - Synecdoche, New York (US)
Eric Khoo - My Magic (Singapore)
Lucretia Martel - La Mujer Sin Cabeza (Argentina-Spain)
Brillante Mendoza - Serbis (The Philippines)
Kornel Mondruczo - Delta (Hungary-Germany)
Walter Salles & Daniela Thomas - Linha De Passe (Brazil)
Paolo Sorrentino - Il Divo (Italy)
Pablo Trapero - Leonera (Argentina-South Korea)
Wim Wenders - The Palermo Shooting (Germany)
Jia Zhangke - 24 City (China)
Steven Soderbergh - Che (US-Spain-France)—one four-hour competion title comprised of Guerrilla and The Argentine

Out of competition
Steven Spielberg - Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (US)
Mark Osborne and John Stevenson - Kung Fu Panda (US)
Ji-Woon Kim - The Good, The Bad, The Weird (South Korean)
Woody Allen - Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Spain-US)

Special screenings
Marina Zenovich - Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (US)
Wong Kar-wai - Ashes Of Time Redux (Hong Kong-China-Taiwan)
Daniel Leconte - C’est Dur D’etre Aime Par Des Cons (France)
Marco Tullio Giordana - Sangue Pazzo (Italy-France)
Terence Davies - Of Time And The City (UK)

Midnight Screenings
Emir Kusturica - Maradona (Spain)
Jennifer Lynch - Surveillance (US)
Hong-Jin Na - The Chaser (South Korea)

Independent Film Festival of Boston Announces 2008 Festival Line-Up

The Independent Film Festival of Boston has announced its festival line-up for when it returns to the Somerville Theatre, the Brattle Theatre and the Coolidge Corner Theatre April 23 - 29, 2008. Opening the festival is TRANSSIBERIAN, the latest from director Brad Anderson (NEXT STOP, WONDERLAND; HAPPY ACCIDENTS) starring Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, and Ben Kingsley. Anderson, his screenwriter Will Conroy and the cast will be in attendance at the opening night premiere. Closing the festivities on Tuesday, April 29 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre will be Werner Herzog's environmental documentary ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD.

The Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film will be co-presenting two films at the IFFB, both from our neighbors to the north. On Friday, April 25 and Sunday April 27, join us for another tour de force performance by the talented Ellen Page who stars in THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS a visual extravaganza directed by Bruce McDonald. Chlotrudis will also welcome Guy Maddin to town for his magnificent autobiographical, pseudo-documentary, MY WINNIPEG. It screens on Monday, April 28.

Read the IFFB's official announcement below:

The Independent Film Festival of Boston (IFFBoston) today announced the films that will be featured at the 2008 Independent Film Festival of Boston. The sixth annual festival will be held April 23-April 29, 2008. This year, to meet the demands of its growing audience, IFFBoston has expanded its slate to include 96 films. The festival, complete with over 150 film screenings, filmmaker Q&A sessions, panel discussions, visiting filmmakers, parties and events will showcase the works of filmmakers who seek to create films that are life changing, thought provoking and expose aspects of life in new and revealing manners.

TRANSSIBERIAN directed by Brad Anderson, written by Brad Anderson and Will Conroy, and starring Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, and Sir Ben Kingsley will open the festival on Wednesday, April 23rd at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. This marks a return to Boston for Brad Anderson, who previously shot his features NEXT STOP WONDERLAND and SESSION 9 in the city. Brad Anderson, Will Conroy, and cast will be in attendance for the Opening Night screening.

ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD directed by Werner Herzog, will close the Independent Film Festival of Boston on Tuesday April 29th at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.

Two feature length films will be making their World Premiere at the Independent Film Festival of Boston this April. The first, TWELVE, brings twelve of Boston’s brightest young filmmakers together on a collaborative project wherein each of them directed a segment of the film, each in a different month of the year, with the other 11 directors always serving as their crew. The directors who make up the twelve are Scott Masterson, Seanbaker Carter, Andy McCarthy, Garth Donovan, Luke Poling, Noah Lydiard, Megan Summers, Brynmore Williams, Joan Meister, Marc Colucci, Jared Goodman, and Vladmir Minuty.

The second film having its World Premiere at the festival is MEADOWLARK, an autobiographical documentary by first-time filmmaker Taylor Greeson, which simultaneously explores issues of faith and sexuality while confronting the violent murder of the filmmaker’s brother.

Special guests attending the festival include Famke Janssen, Guy Maddin, Harmony Korine, Harlan Ellison, Mary Stuart Masterson, Jay McCarroll, Chris Eigeman, Brad Neely, Harry & The Potters, and many more to be announced in the coming weeks.

Discounted passes are available on the festival website, http://www.iffboston.org, through March 31st. Individual tickets will be available on the website starting April 1st. There are film-only passes, party-only passes, and Chrome passes which grant access to all films and parties available.

INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON 2008 OFFICIAL SELECTIONS:

Narrative Features
AUGUST EVENING, directed by Chris Eska
BALLAST, directed by Lance Hammer
BEAVER TRILOGY, directed by Trent Harris (Buried Treasure screening)
BIG MAN JAPAN, directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto
BLOOD CAR, directed by Alex Orr
THE CAKE EATERS, directed by Mary Stuart Masterson
FLASH POINT, directed by Wilson Yip
FROWNLAND, directed by Ronnie Bronstein
GOLIATH, directed by David Zellner & Nathan Zellner
JETSAM, directed by Simon Welsford
MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY, directed by Barry Jenkins
MISTER LONELY, directed by Harmony Korine
MOMMA’S MAN, directed by Azazel Jacobs
MONGOL, directed by Sergei Bodrov
MY EFFORTLESS BRILLIANCE, directed by Lynn Shelton
MY WINNIPEG, directed by Guy Maddin
NATURAL CAUSES, directed by Alex Cannon, Paul Cannon, and Michael Lerman
THE NEW YEAR PARADE, directed by Tom Quinn
PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND, directed by Daniel Barnz
PING PONG PLAYA, directed by Jessica Yu
PINK, directed by Alexander Voulgaris
SAVAGE GRACE, directed by Tom Kalin
SEVERED WAYS: THE NORSE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA, directed by Tony Stone
STUCK, directed by Stuart Gordon
TIME CRIMES, directed by Nacho Vigalondo
THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS, directed by Bruce McDonald
TRANSSIBERIAN, directed by Brad Anderson (Opening Night Film)
TRIANGLE, directed by Ringo Lam, Johnnie To, and Tsui Hark
TURN THE RIVER, directed by Chris Eigeman
TWELVE, directed by Scott Masterson, Seanbaker Carter, Andy McCarthy, Garth Donovan, Luke Poling, Noah Lydiard, Megan Summers, Brynmore Williams, Joan Meister, Marc Colucci, Jared Goodman, and Vladmir Minuty
VEXILLE, directed by Fumihiko Sori
WOODPECKER, directed by Alex Karpovsky

Documentary Features
AMERICAN TEEN, directed by Nanette Burnstein
AT THE DEATH HOUSE DOOR, directed by Steve James and Peter Gilbert
CRAWFORD, directed by David Modigliani
DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH, directed by Erik Nelson
ELEVEN MINUTES, directed by Michael Selditch
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, directed by Werner Herzog (Closing Night Film)
FRONTRUNNER, directed by Virginia Williams
THE GREENING OF SOUTHIE, directed by Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis
INTIMIDAD, directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin
JOY DIVISION, directed by Grant Gee
JUMP!, directed by Helen Hood Scheer
LIFE. SUPPORT. MUSIC., directed by Eric Metzgar
THE LINGUISTS, directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger
LIONESS, directed Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers
MEADOWLARK, directed by Taylor Greeson
NERDCORE RISING, directed by Negin Farsad
NOT YOUR TYPICAL BIGFOOT MOVIE, directed by Jay Delaney
PUBLIC ENEMY: WELCOME TO THE TERRORDOME, directed by Robert Patton-Spruill
SAVIOURS, directed by Ross Whitaker and Liam Nolan
SECOND SKIN, directed by Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza
SECRECY, directed by Robb Moss and Peter Galison
SEX POSITIVE, directed by Daryl Wein
SONG SUNG BLUE, directed by Greg Kohs
VERY YOUNG GIRLS, directed by David Schisgall
WE ARE WIZARDS, directed by Josh Koury
WILD BLUE YONDER, directed by Celia Maysles

Short Films
APOCALYPSE OZ, directed by Ewan Telford
AQUARIUM, directed by Rob Meyer
A CATALOG OF MY ANTICIPATIONS, directed by David Lowery
CHIEF, directed by Brett Wagner
DOXOLOGY, directed by Michael Langan
THE DRIFT, directed by Kelly Sears
THE EUROPEAN KID, directed by Ian Martin
THE EXECUTION OF SOLOMON HARRIS, directed by Wyatt Garfield and Ed Yonaitis
FILM MAKES US HAPPY, directed by Bryan Wizemann
GLORY AT SEA, directed by Ben Zeitlin
HEARTBEATS, directed by Vincent Coen
IF A BODY MEET A BODY, directed by Brian Davis
I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE, directed by Cam Christiansen
I LOVE SARAH JANE, directed by Spencer Susser
JACKSON WARD, directed by Matt Petock
KIDS + MONEY, directed by Lauren Greenfield
LA CORONA, directed by Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega
LARRY (THE ACTOR), directed by Brett Portanova and Eric Poydar
THE LONELY BLISS OF CANNONBALL LUKE, directed by Levi Abrino
MAN, directed by Myna Joseph
MAYBE IN THE SPRINGTIME, directed by Mai Sato
MR.P, directed by Jake Vaughan
PEPPER, directed by Harry McCoy
PRIMITIVE TECHNOLOGY, directed by Bo Price
THE PULL, directed by Andy Blubaugh
THE RAMBLER, directed by Calvin Reeder
REORDER, directed by Sean Garrity
SAFARI, directed by Catherine Chalmers
SANGIT SENYOR, directed by Alan Lyddiard
SAVE THE WORLD, directed by David Casals-Roma
SIKUMI (ON THE ICE), directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean
SPIDER, directed by Nash Edgerton
34x24x36, directed by Jesse Epstein
TONY ZOREIL, directed by Valentin Potier
WELL-FOUNDED CONCERNS, directed by Tim Cawley
WOMAN IN BURKA, directed by Jonathan Lisecki

Panel Discussions

  • Collaborative Screenwriting Presented by Zhura.com
    A discussion with screenwriters and other industry professionals on the benefits of collaboration featuring Amy Fox (Heights) and Will Conroy (Transsiberian)
  • Distribution 2.0
    A discussion with some of the companies on the cutting edge of film distribution featuring representatives of Spout.com, Current.com, Indiepix, and Ourstage. Moderated by Amy Dotson of the Independent Feature Project (IFP).
  • Comics to Film/ Film to Comics
    A presentation by “Robot Stories” writer/director and writer of the hit comics The X-Men and World War Hulk, Greg Pak.

The Independent Film Festival of Boston will reach a diverse audience by incorporating a number of venues in the greater Boston community including:

  • Somerville Theatre in Davis Square
  • Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square
  • Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline

Filmwise, MIFF Ends on an Unpalatable Note

As tasty as scrambled eggs and beer might be, it sounds fairly unpalatable to me, and so was the Chilean film the title of which, SCRAMBLED BEER, took its name. It was our last film of the festival, and was also a last minute switch. Tuesday night also featured a film from the Philippines, which at the time drove me nuts (not in a good way) but with some distance has grown on my considerably.

SLINGSHOT (Philippines; 86 min.)
director: Brillante Mendoza

Mostly on Bruce’s recommendation, I decided to catch Brillante Mendoza’s film SLINGSHOT, after skipping it in Toronto. Being half Filipino, I do like to catch films from the Philippines when possible, but generally I haven’t had much success with enjoying them. SLINGSHOT is a fascinating film, one that drove me nuts while watching it… I believe I even told Scot that I thought it was the most annoying film I’d ever seen, but upon reflection, it’s really quite remarkable, and displays Mendonza’s talents quite well. The action of the film takes place during Holy Week, and touches upon themes of religion, politics and poverty. The opening scene is frantic and loud as the police raid a large building where dozens of poor families live. Everyone has their claim to innocence, but these pleas fall largely on deaf ears as the police route most of the buildings male inhabitants and haul them into prison for the night. The next day, most of the men are released and return home, but we soon discover that there isn’t a whole lot of innocence among the lot of them.

Of course, that’s the theme of the film, as campaigning for local elections is in full-swing, and we see various politicians dropping all semblance of propriety and buying votes… literally handing money out in public square to obtain votes. At street level, we see that most of these people will do whatever they have to do to make some money. One man must con another man to pay a third man who is collecting money to pay off his debts to a fourth, and so on. While the constant fighting, shrieking and mayhem that goes on throughout much of this film is incredibly grating, the film is so realistically shot that you sometimes forget you are watching a narrative. There is something so immediate and raw about this footage that you can’t help but be drawn in. Mendoza captures life on the poor streets of the Philippines in a remarkably vivid and realistic way. 3.5 cats

SCRAMBLED BEER (Chile; 88 min.)
director: Cristobal Valderrama

After reading the synopsis of this film (something about a cross between a buddy film and a time travel film) Scot decided he wanted to see SCRAMBLED BEER. So we exchanged tickets for BLUE EYELIDS, which we’d already purchased for this one. I was game; I’d never seen a film from Chile before. It’s such a skinny country! Well, for me, scrambled eggs and beer just don’t go well together.

Vladimir is basically an irredeemable lout. From the moment we meet him he is shown to be a boor, a cad, and a slob. Things get worse from there. After being evicted, he moves in with his friend Jorge and his girlfriend Monica, who clearly is repulsed by Vladimir. After their first day in the new apartment, Vladimir wakes up the next morning with Monica in bed next to him, suddenly filled with passion for him. Despite his shock, he welcomes this new attitude, until he finds out that somehow three weeks have passed since he went to sleep the night before. Things get even more confused when he wakes up the next morning two weeks earlier. He starts to suspect that Fedora, a creepy neighbor who also happens to be a witch, might be involved. So while things sounds a little wacky and confusing, hold on, because suddenly, just over half way through the film, a twist is introduced the radically changes the tone and expectations for the viewer.

Sadly, none of this is handled very well. The comedy is broad and obvious; something that actually might feel right at home in a multiplex. The characters, especially Vladimir, are so unappealing and obnoxious that it’s hard to really root for any of them. Finally, the sudden revelation comes out of nowhere and despite itself, almost makes the film a little interesting. It saved it from a 1 cat film for me. I can now give it 1.5 cats.

Overall, the Miami International Film Festival is a great vacation choice for a film buff. The weather in early March is beautiful, the film selection is great, and for us, the accomodations were perfect (thanks to Chlotrudis member Richard Alleman for the loan of his apartment!) You can't get much better than hitting the beach every day then watching movies every night. As far as drawbacks go, every film festival I attend just makes me admire the amazing organizational feat that the Toronto International Film Festival accomplishes every year. The queues were thoroughly disorganized in Miami, and I feel that is one of the single most important things to do right from the public's perspective. On a larger scale, Miami has a terrible service industry. I can't recall a single satisfying encounter with waitstaff in restaurants. Even if things started off well, by the end of the experience, things had devolved. Gratuities are included in the bill at most restaurants in Miami Beach, and I feel this just takes away any incentive for servers to care. Still, I would attend the Miami International Film Festival again in the future.

Sunday Night Movies in Miami

If there was a theme to Sunday night's films, it would have to be carrying our dead or our absent loved ones. In POSTCARDS FROM LENINGRAD, two children living in Caracas, Venezuela, must invent stories about their absent parents who are revolutionaries in a political struggle. In Zhang Yang's GETTING HOME, a man literally carries the body of his dead friend back home to his family.

POSTCARDS FROM LENINGRAD (Venezuela/Peru; 90 min.)
director: Mariana Rondón

In her introduction, director Mariana Rondón thanked the countries of Venezuela and Peru for funding her film, then commented on how POSTCARDS FROM LENINGRAD was a singularly Venezuelan story. In 1960's Caracas, revolutionaries struggle against a political regime. Two children tell stories of growing up with revolutionary parents through a lens of romance and innocence. Rondón wonderfully combines dramatic and comedic narrative storytelling; faux docementary; and comic book style hand-drawn animation over live action to tell this darkly funny, yet serious story of a very volatile time and culture.

At first POSTCARDS FROM LENINGRAD was confusing; Rondón jumps around in time without warning, and the two children narrate their stories as if they were comic book characters. There is none of the political nuance to explain the whys of the conflict. Gradually however, the story becomes clear, peppered with fabulous sequences of the various characters lives. Family scenes around the Venzuelan New Year are lively and telling; especially when Teo, one of narrators' parents, returns home and is subsequently captured by the government and imprisoned. A sequence 2/3 of the way through the film, depicting a group of female, revolutionary, college students committing an act or defiance is perfectly executed in groovy, 60s style, bringing together split screens, animation, music and narration sublimely. Rondón is a talented filmmaker whose work deserves broader exposure. I have no idea what kind of distribution POSTCARDS FROM LENINGRAD will receive, but I can only hope it makes it to Boston. 4/5 cats

GETTING HOME (China/Hong Kong; 110 min.)
director: Zhang Yang

Straddling the sublime and the ridiculous, young, Chinese director Zhang Yang explores the bonds of friendship in GETTING HOME. Benshan Zhao (HAPPY TIMES) plays Zhao, an aging factory worker whose co-worker and drinking buddy dies unexpectedly far from home. Zhao is determined to fulfill a promise he made to his friend, to return him to his village for burial. Operating with limited funds, and carefully trying to pass his deceased companion off as drunk or comatose, Zhao begins a series of cracked adventures is his attempt to complete his task, and along the way, he learns the true meaning of friendship and finds a path for his life.

Zhang, director the popular Chinese films SHOWER and QUITTING, starts things off on a silly note, and throughout the film there is an understandably absurd quality to the proceedings. Gradually Zhang starts to introduce more serious themes, yet in a way that fits in with the established tone of the film and never seems overly heavy-handed. Sure there's a little schmaltz, but it's not overdone like in a Hollywood film. While he doesn't take the experimental risks that he did in QUITTING, GETTING HOME is an entertaining and lovely film. 3.5 cats

MIFF: Saturday Night Movies

Saturday night featured one of the most unusual films of the festival, and one of the best - and not necessarily the ones I would have expected. It also found us walking the pedestrian mall at Lincoln Road, an experience that makes navigating the mobs in Times Square seem rather tame. Yikes!

ESTÔMAGO - A GASTRONOMIC STORY (Brazil/Italy; 112 min.)
director: Marcos Jorge
This lively black comedy examines the nature of power as it relates to food. Raimundo Nonato comes to the big city from the "jungles" of Brazil - no money, no place to stay - and wanders into a cafe where he orders the fried chicken snack and gets in trouble with the owner when he can't pay. The two work out a deal where Nonato will wash dishes in exchange for board. Diner owner Zulmiro soon discovers that Nonato has a talent for cooking and teaches him how to prepare some of the diner's staples. Within days, the place is packed, and Nonato's food is universally praised. Soon he is scooped up by the local restauranteur, Giovanni, who further instructs Nonato on the finer arts of cooking, including wines, and shopping at the market for a restaurant. As Nonato's fortunes rise, so does his relationship with Íria, a local prostitute with a jones for good food.

Director Jorge intercuts Nonato's story with scenes from the present day where he is embroiled in a power struggle in prison. He enters his cell of a dozen or so prisoners at the bottom of the ladder, but as his culinary skills provide gourmet meals for his cellmates, he slowly finds himself off the floor and into the bottom bunk, then rising higher and higher until he is directly below the cell's leader.

Jorge deftly deftly juggles the two stories, Nonato's rise to power in prison, and the reason he's in prison in the first place. The acting is appealing, especially João Miguel as Nonato, and Fabiula Nascimento as Íria. The black comedy is skillfully handled, and the build-up to Nonato's initial downfall well paced. I hope this film gets a release Stateside, and if it does, it comes highly recommended. 4 cats.

DISENGAGEMENT (Israel/France/Germany/Italy; 117 min.)
director: Amos Gitai
Israeli director Amos Gitai has clearly put together an accomplished work in DISENGAGEMENT, but it's one that requires a little more knowledge of political situation there than I possess to fully appreciate it. After a terrific, yet nebulous opening sequence with Uli (Liron Levo), an off-duty, Israeli police officer and an unnamed Palestinain woman (the marvelous Hiam Abbass) sharing a cigarette, some conversation, then a kiss while on a train, the action jumps (back?) to Paris, where a French woman of Israeli background (Juliette Binoche) stands a bedside vigil as her father dies. Her adopted half-brother Uli arrives, and after some slightly offbeat conversation and particularly bizarre flirtation, the two join their late father's lawyer (Jeanne Moreau) for the reading of the will. There Binoche's character discovers that a daughter she had given up at birth, was living in a camp in the Gaza strip, and that her father had visited her several times. As a police officer, Uli was returning to Israel to move the settlers in Gaza out, and his sister decides to return with him to find her daughter.

With some outstanding visuals and some powerful scenes, Gitai illustrates the difficult task of the Israeli police having to forcibly move Israeli citizens off the Gaza strip. He also shows how ill-prepared the police are, and how easily such a sensitive task can be bungled. Binoche's character is a bit of a cypher, acting a little mentally touched at first, then finding her ground when on the hunt for her daughter. It was nice to see Dana Ivgy (OR, MY TREASURE) playing Binoche's daughter. A strong film, but a little too obtuse for me. 3 cats.

My Favorite Films in 2007

Okay, it’s taken me a little longer than I’d planned to get this Top 10 together, but here it is. As usual, I couldn’t stop at just 10, and my list expanded to 15 top films of the year. I also created a Top 10 Festival films that have yet to receive theatrical release.

Top Films of 2007 (with theatrical distribution)

  1. PROTAGONIST (Jessica Yu) – Jessica Yu’s documentary is compelling, intelligent, layered, funny, suspenseful… all the things a great movie should be. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever had a documentary as my favorite film of the year, but that just tells you how impressed I am by this film.
  2. LINDA LINDA LINDA (Nobuhiro Yamashita) – As far as sheer crowd-pleasers go, LINDA LINDA LINDA tops the list. Japanese high school girls in a power-pop, rock ‘n roll band, led by the comic genius of Du-na Bae. And one of the most infectious songs in a movie ever. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
  3. AWAY FROM HER (Sarah Polley) – Sarah Polley’s feature directorial debut is a masterful look at Alzheimer’s disease, crowned by an elegant performance by Julie Christie. Add to that the outstanding support from Gordon Pinsent, the grossly underrated and amazingly talented Kristen Thompson and source material in the form of an Alice Munro short story, and you’ve got a winner.
  4. LARS & THE REAL GIRL (Craig Gillespie) – A quirky town comes together in support of one of their emotionally troubled citizens in this melancholy, sweet, and hysterical film. Ryan Gosling completely overcomes my personal bias against him and wins me over completely. Support work from Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, and especially Patricia Clarkson is like the best cream cheese icing on the moist, delicious cake.
  5. JUNO (Ivan Reitman) – Sure, it has crossed over and is raking in the dough. Sure, some people say it’s not truly an indie, but a powerhouse backed by an astronomical marketing budget. JUNO is a great film. Diablo Cody has written a strong, funny screenplay, and the preternaturally talented Ellen Page brings Juno to beautifully sublime life. I’m not sure anyone else could have taken Juno and imbued her with the depth and complexity that Ellen Page brings in such a subtle and gorgeous way.
  6. THE WAYWARD CLOUD (Tsai Ming-Liang) – In this sort-of sequel to Tsai Ming-liang’s masterpiece, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? we see two emotionally distant, isolated people tentatively find each other only to be confronted with a climax that will either tear them hopeless apart, or perhaps cement their relationship. All that, and it’s a musical too!
  7. WAITRESS (Adrienne Shelly) – Adrienne Shelly comes into her own as a director with this sadly sweet portrait of a young woman trapped in a dead-end relationship, and now facing an unwanted pregnancy. Shelly imbues her screenplay with humor and a gravity that keeps the sweetness from becoming too cloying.
  8. I’M NOT THERE (Todd Haynes) – Todd Haynes’ sprawling pseudo-biopic of Bob Dylan is not perfect, but it’s so exciting in its audaciousness that I am compelled to include it on my year-end list. Six different actors portray different aspects of Dylan’s personae to form a fascinating mosaic of the sphinx-like celebrity. Ambitious and largely successful.
  9. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson) – Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, left me with giddy with excitement for hours… even days after seeing it. This portrait of a man obsessed, played with perfect, over-the-top bravura by Daniel Day-Lewis is so flat-out weird, it almost feels like a trick that the critics are all praising it and urging mainstream audiences to go take a look. And it has spawned a cultural quote which, taken out of context, is just insane, “I drink your milkshake!”
  10. MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (Noah Baumbach) – I wasn’t a terribly huge fan of Noah Baumbach’s THE SQUID & THE WHALE, but something about this intensely introspective study of a pair of dysfunctional sisters clicked with me. And I love seeing Nicole Kidman in great movies. She needs to find more of them. Or maybe I just included it to irritate Hilary.
  11. THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS (Isabel Coixet) – Sarah Polley showed her directorial skills, but I always thrill to see her well-documented acting ability, and Isable Coixet’s THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS gives her plenty of opportunity to strut her stuff. Despite the severe dialogue misstep in the penultimate scene of the movie, every other aspect works to perfection. And it’s a wonder of story-telling and acting when 7/8 of the way into the film, Polley performs a lengthy monologue that completely changes the tone of the film and drives it through your heart.
  12. THE BUBBLE (Eytan Fox) – Eytan Fox is an intriguing filmmaker, whose work I always love but doesn’t quite translate to a masterpiece. THE BUBBLE is certainly his closest yet, about three young friends living in Tel Aviv and how even in their bubble of apolitical life, the political conflicts around them intrude. A beautiful look at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the way a new generation views it.
  13. I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE (Tsai Ming-Liang) – Tsai Ming-Liang is the master of telling stories about isolated people using images and very few words. I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE is gorgeous in its simplicity. The subtle touches of humor accent the somber stories almost to the point of absurdity, and this audacious mix rewards viewers every time.
  14. GRBAVICA: THE LAND OF MY DREAMS (Jasmila Zbanic) – In a fashion more straight-forward but no less powerful, Zbanic covers similar ground to Coixet in THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS. The horror endured by thousands during the Balkan Wars is easy to overlook or forget globally, but daring filmmakers such as these two amazing women won’t let these historical facts fade into obscurity. By focusing on a fractured mother-daughter relationship, Zbanic shows the aftermath of this war and how it affects survivors in the most personal of ways.
  15. THE KIING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (Seth Gordon) – In what is surely the most entertaining film of the year, Seth Gordon explores a sub-culture of video gamers that is filled with stereotypes, both reinforced and smashed. There’s good, there’s evil, and there’s a titanic conflict of epic proportions in this intensely enjoyable documentary.

Other films that almost made the top list, but I couldn't squeeze them on: ONCE, BRAND UPON THE BRAIN, RED ROAD, DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, EXILED, FAY GRIM, and STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING.

Best Festival Films of 2007 (not yet released theatrically in the U.S.)

  1. THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS (Bruce McDonald) – If Ellen Page grounded the sitcom antics in JUNO, she unites the visually hyperactive, fragmented mosaic that is THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS lifting it to dramatic heights. What’s it like to be literally in the mind of a troubled young adolescent? Bruce McDonald and Ellen Page give us a peek in a film that blends visual and aural over-stimulation in a way that reminded me of a cross between LILYA 4-EVER and PI.
  2. JELLYFISH (Shira Geffen; Etgar Keret) – In one of the most masterful uses of magical realism and whimsy in film, this Israeli import looks at disappointment is a way that is powerfully moving and contemporary using a variety of unique storylines to tell a coherent tale. Chlotrudis co-presented this film at the BJFF after several of us saw it in Toronto. I can’t wait for everyone to have a chance to see it when it is released Stateside this spring.
  3. MONKEY WARFARE (Reg Harkema) – Bitingly humorous, and surprisingly moving, MONKEY WARFARE is grounded by the performances of its two talented leads: Don McKellar and Tracy Wright. Add to the mix a fresh performance by Nadia Litz, and Harkema’s terrifically spot-on screenplay, and you’ve got all the workings for a unique and entertaining film.
  4. MY WINNIPEG – All of Guy Maddin’s considerable talents come together in this faux documentary of the city of Winnipeg, that is actually something of a memoir of Maddin himself. MY WINNIPEG successfully combines Maddin’s fantastical visuals with his offbeat humor to create a piece of work that Chlotrudis will be proud to co-present at this April’s IFFB (hopefully along with THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS).
  5. THE VISITOR (Thomas McCarthy) – McCarthy follows-up the Chlotrudis success of THE STATION AGENT, with a film that elegantly examines the politically-charged topic of illegal immigration in a way that focuses on the personal and familial relationships that suffer as a result of deportation. Richard Jenkins is phenomenal as the understated lead, and Hiam Abbass, so divine in so many international films is a wonder in a rare American production.
  6. A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE (Nobuhiro Yamashita) – In a series of episodic tales, this gently beautiful adaptation of a popular Japanese manga focuses on a small group of school-age children living in a tiny village. With an innocence rarely seen in contemporary society, GENTLE BREEZE will take you away on a soothing zephyr to a land that may seem hopelessly imaginary, yet somehow manages to exist.
  7. BREAKFAST WITH SCOT (Laurie Lynd) – This Canadian adaptation of a young adult novel explores family dynamics when the family in question has two dads and an unexpected child. This sweetly funny film manages to avoid most film clichés even while it uses them to tell a story that reaches beyond sexuality to appeal to any film viewer.
  8. BRICK LANE (Sarah Gavron) – Talented filmmaker Sarah Gavron offers up her first feature narrative with such a command of film language that you might be tempted to think she’s been at this for a long time. If there is a drawback in this adaptation of an internationally best-selling novel, it’s that the screenplay doesn’t take more chances, but Gavron certainly does, focusing in on the heart of the story of a family of Indian immigrants struggling to make their lives in England.
  9. HELP ME EROS (Lee Kang-sheng) Tsai Ming-liang’s perpetual leading man, Lee Kang-sheng, is not only an accomplished actor, but a talented filmmaker as well. Lee wrote and directed HELP ME EROS, a powerful portrait of a man calling out for help as he spirals out of control, indulging in heavy marijuana smoking and sexual antics after losing his fortune in a bad stock market decision. Like his mentor, Lee mines the territory of alienation with masterful assurance, and gives us a cinematic conclusion that will take your breath away.
  10. PLOY (Pen-ek Ratanaruang) – This follow-up to the magnificent LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE explores many similar themes and employs a more subtle dreamlike quality that serves to both confuse and tantalize the viewer. With the principal characters suffering from jet lag, the introduction of the adolescent Ploy into their lives causes major seismic shifts that have either startling effects on their lives, or at the very least, their dreams.

Other festival films worth looking for upon release: PING PONG PLAYA’; AN AMERICAN CRIME; AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL

Toronto Day 8 - Farewell Film Festival

Eight days is a long time to be spending watching movies, and I saw a respectable 24 films in that time frame. A little lighter than previous years, but I am getting older, and there were people to see and hang out with (far more important to me). Even though we were leaving Friday evening, we did manage to squeeze in two more films, and while we started the day with something of a dud, we did end the festival on a high note.

PHILIPPINE SCIENCE (The Philippines; 118)

director: Auraeus Solito

cast: Elijah Castillo, Gammy Lopez, Eugene Domingo, EJ Jalorrina, Shayne Fajutagana

Drawing on his own experiences as a science geek in high school, director Auraeus Solito draws a sweet film about an accelerated science and math high school in the Philippines. Solito caught my eye at 2006's Provincetown International Film Festival with his film about nascent gay desire, THE BLOSSOMING OF MAXIMO OLIVEROS which maintained a facade of innocent even when exploring the gritty streets of Manilla. In PHILIPPINE SCIENCE, Solito jettisons the grit (despite the inclusion of the atmosphere of martial law of the time) and the result is very similar to an after school special.

Like FAME, PHILIPPINE SCIENCE is broken up into four parts, freshman, sophomore, junior and senior. There's a core group of students, and each year focuses on a different set. The issues that arise vary: Freshmen, don't waste your time on a girlfriend if you want to be in the Top 5; Sophomores, just because you can't cut it at Philippine Science, doesn't mean you're still not a winner... etc. Unfortunately, while the screenplay is a little clumsy, much of the acting is incapable of lifting the film higher. There are a few good performances, especially the woman who plays the freshman year science teacher, but many of the actors playing the students seem fairly amateurish. Still, I always enjoy seeing films from The Philippines, the country where my mother was born and raised.

I'M NOT THERE (USA; 135 min.)

director: Todd Haynes

cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julianne Moore, David Cross

There's been a lot of buzz about Todd Hayne's Bob Dylan biopic, especially after it's debut in Venice. Those who know me know that I am not a fan of the biopic, but ever the experimenter, Haynes turns the life of Dylan into something magical, complex, and mind-boggling. In I'm not there, seven stages of Dylan's is portrayed by six different actors, including a woman (Cate Blanchett) and a young, African-American boy (Marcus Carl Franklin). The different Dylans aren't literal representations of the legendary singer/songwriter, but representative of his persona at the time. Haynes offers scenarios that attempt to give some possible insight into a celebrity whose evolution challenged everyone, especially his truest fans.

I'm not sure if being a fan of Dylan, or knowing next to nothing about him will serve you better at this film. I knew next to nothing and I loved the film. I don't feel I know all that much more about Dylan after seeing the film, but that's not why I went to see the film. As a film, Haynes challenges the viewer visually, aurally, and through the intricate screenplay he co-wrote with Owen Moverman. There are touches of his earlier films peeking through in I'M NOT THERE, in fact, with this film it seems that Haynes wanted to correct the missteps he took with VELVET GOLDMINE.

A word about the acting. The hype is true. Cate Blanchett is simply phenomenal. As Haynes said in his introduction, Blanchett took a bit of stunt casting and elevated it to such heights that you can't imagine anyone else playing the part. She's that good. Franklin is also terrific as the young, rail-traveling Dylan, and Christian Bale gives an astonishingly strong performance as the man-of-the-people Dylan of the early 60's. British actor Ben Whishaw captures his part well, and Heath Ledger does a pretty good job with one of the lest interesting incarnations of Dylan. The weak link, both performance-wise and screenplay-wise is Dylan the legend as played by Richard Gere. Gere just doesn't have the complexity or range to pull off the role. Other actors put in great turns in supporting roles. These include the divine Charlotte Gainsbourg as Dylan's wife, Julianne Moore as the folksinger (re: Joan Baex) who discovered him), Bruce Greenwood as a British journalist, and Michelle Williams as Coco (Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick.

Technically and artuflly, Haynes wins all the way through. His use of music, both Dylan's and others complements the film marvelously. After such stellar films as POISON, SAFE, VELVET GOLDMINE, and FAR FROM HEAVEN, I'M NOT THERE is a natural and accomplished progression comining an ambitious stretch and a prodigious talent. While I don't think I'M NOT THERE is going to be a universal crowd-pleaser, it's a strong piece of cinematic art that shouldn't be missed.

After the movies wrapped, Scot, Beth and I met Tracy Wright for one last farewell dinner. We spent a lovely late afternoon chatting and reminiscing about the festival. This year's festival was certainly the most stress-free and relaxed festival for me, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I will post pictures from the Q&A's that I attended soon.

TIFF Day 7: The Asian Invation (+1)

So I'm slowing down. I've been back from Toronto for one week and I'm having trouble getting the last two days of reviews posted! Isn't it annoying how life intrudes? Anyway, I should get these last reviews out before the weekend is out, and then I'll try to get some pictures from the Q&As up.

Thursday was another four-film day, but fortunately we were able to sleep in a bit. No trip to the box office, and a first film at 12:30 p.m. This was originally going to be a three-film day, but a late addition of A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE, Nobuhiro Yamashita's follow-up to LINDA LINDA LINDA at 9:15 p.m. brought us up to four.

RECLAIM YOUR BRAIN (Germany/Austria; 141)

director: Hans Weingartner

cast: Moritz Bleibtreu, Elsa Sophie Gambard, Milan Peschel, Gregor Bloéb, Simone Hanselmann

I was really looking forward to Hans Weingartner's follow-up to the 2005 Chlotrudis Buried Treasure winner THE EDUKATORS. Imagine my disappointment when RECLAIM YOUR BRAIN fell far short of the high bar Weingartner had set for himself with his previous film. The premise is good: after a devastating automobile accident, a wealthy, high-powered, drug-addicted TV executive realizes that the crap reality shows that he is producing provide little to no value to their viewers. He investigates the rating systems and along with a ragtag bunch of misfits, discovers a way to circumvent the ratings system and educate the masses. Okay, I got a little glib toward the end, because Weingartner ends up taking the low road just about every chance he can. In fact, the story ends up being borderline morally reprehensible as the protagonists end up manipulating society as much as the "villains" of the piece.

Production values are terrific. The film opens with a high-energy sequence that takes road rage to new levels. Lead actor Moritz Bleibtreu (RUN, LOLA, RUN) crackles with dangerous energy as he swaggers and smashes his way across the city, snorting obscene amounts of cocaine and swinging a baseball bat. It's too bad that after this manic opening scene, things start to wind down, and credibility becomes strained. By the end of the film I just couldn't stop rolling my eyes.

HELP ME EROS (Taiwan; 103 min.)

director: Lee Kang-sheng

cast: Lee Kang-sheng, Yin Shin, Jane Liao, Dennis Nieh

Lee Kang-sheng should be familiar to any fans of director Tsai Ming-liang: he has starred in all of the director's films. With HELP ME EROS, Lee offers his second directorial effort that while clearly influenced by the work he has done with Tsai, is a strong, elegantly-made film all on its own.

Lee plays Ah Jie, a young man who finds himself living in poverty after he loses all the money he'd amassed on the stock market. He passes his days in a in a pot-induced haze smoking the spoils of his carefully tended closet-greenhouse. His cries for help are heard through the telephone helpline operator named Chyi, but he rejects her after finding out that she is overweight. He becomes involved with a betel nut girl (a fascinating Taiwanese cultural curiosity where young attractive, scantily-clad women operate neon-lit convenient store booths on busy roadways, delivering cigarettes and lottery tickets by sliding down fire poles to the waiting consumers) but as their sexual escapades become increasingly meaningless he pushes her away. The film ends with a remarkably filmed closing scene that, had we been able to stay for the Q&A I certainly would have asked him about filming. Lee could do worse than to follow in his mentor Tsai Ming-liang's footsteps, and if HELP ME EROS is any indication, he's well on his way.

SAD VACATION (Japan; 136 min.)

director: Shinji Aoyama

cast: Tadanobu Asano, Eri Ishida, Aoi Miyazaki Joe Odagiri, Yuka Itaya, Ken Mitsuishi

Despite an intriguing, adept cast, and some skillful camerawork, Shinji Aoyama's SAD VACATION has a little too much plot to be entirely successful. In fact, more than once I wondered if this film was a sequel and I had missed the first part. Multiple characters and scenarios are mentioned as if we are expected to know their backstories, but apparently we don't. Similarly, several plotlines are inexplicably dropped mid-film without explanation as if to be continued in a later film. Perhaps this is Aoyama's supposition; that we are being dropped into the middle of a story that isn't going to be tidily wrapped up by film's end, but it makes for somewhat frustrating viewing.

The marvelous Tadanobu Asano stars as Kenji, involved in some shady dealings that land him in hot water with a gang, and in possession of a Chinese orphan. When his path serndipitously reunites him with the mother that abandoned him as a child, he embarks on a complicated scheme of revenge that causes him to jettison any sort of concern for those around him. There are several other plot threads weaving in and out of this main story, and they do add some depth and interesting character, but are ultimately a bit extraneous. If SAD VACATION were the second part of a trilogy, I think it might work better.

A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE (Japan; 121 min.)

director: Nobuhiro Yamashita

cast: Kaho, Masaki Okada, Yui Natsukawa, Koichi Sato, Hiromasa Hirosue

Thank Goodness Nancy mentioned in casual conversation over lunch one day that she would be seeing the new film by the director of LINDA LINDA LINDA. What? How did I miss that? Such is the bane and the beauty of TIFF. There are so many films you're bound to miss some (even miss knowing about some) that you want to see; but through conversations and interactions, you often find out about them and are able to rearrange things to see them. Such is the case with Nobuhior Yamashita's A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE.

Based on the manga series written by two women called Tennen Kokekko, the film takes an sweet look at life in a tiny Japanese village in the country where there live six kids who go to school in the combined primary and middle school. The oldest, an eighth grader named Soyo Migita who loves taking care of the younger students is nervous about the arrival of a boy her age moving to the village from Tokyo. He's dripping with urban cool and she assumes they will fall in love, yet when she meets him, her infatuation turns to disappointment when faced with his clumsy, insensitive behavior. Naturally, you know they will be holding hands soon.

Like the manga it was based on, GENTLE BREEZE is very episodic, telling lovely tales of innocence in a village that seems too good to be true. There's the story about the slightly scary, but ultimately benevolent ghost on the bridge; the class trip (for the two eighth-graders) to Japan; and the group trip to the nearby festival. It's all very sweet and lovely, yet in a way that avoids the cloying, Disney-feel of American films. It's a welcome portrait of a girl's world; something we see so little of on film.