Toronto Day 2: Catching Up

I'm going to try to do a little catch-up here, with reviews from the three films I caught yesterday.

CHANCUN SON CINÉMA (France; 119)

director: Theo Angelopoulos, Olivier Assayas, Bille August, Jane Campion, Youssef Chahine, Chen Kaige, David Cronenberg, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Manoel de Oliveira, Raymond Depardon, Atom Egoyan, Amos Gitai, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Aki Kaurismäki, Abbas Kiarostami, Takeshi Kitano, Andrei Konchalovsky, Claude Lelouch, Ken Loach, David Lynch, Nanni Moretti, Roman Polanski, Raúl Ruiz, Walter Salles, Elia Suleiman, Tsai Ming-liang, Gus Van Sant, Lars von Trier, Wim Wenders, Wong Kar-wai, Zhang Yimou

Omnibus films like PARIS JE T'AIME have been popping up a lot lately. CHANCUN SON CINÉMA was commissioned to honor the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. Thirty-three world class directors each contributed a three minute film celebrating the love of cinema. What more perfect omnibus for a Chlotrudis member could there be? Naturally, as is the case with all films of this type, some of the offerings are brilliant, others are good, and a handful needn't have bothered. Fortunately in this case, the brilliant and the good far outweight the needn't have bothered.

Part of the fun of this film was in seeing how quickly I could identify the director of any given piece. I was pleasantly surprised at how adept I was at this identification. Highlights include Olivier Assayas' (DEMONLOVER) twist on the purse-snatching moviegoer; Jane Campion's (THE PIANO) surreal look at one cinema's uninvited guest; David Cronenberg's (THE HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) twisted and satrical comment on television journalism; Atom Egoyan's (WHERE THE TRUTH LIES) look at movie viewing in a mobile world; Aki Kaurismäki's (THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST) deadpan (go figure) look at the factory theatre; Takeshi Kitano's (DOLLS) wry look at the Japanese country cinema; Nanni Moretti's (THE SON'S ROOM) sweet diary of a film viewer; Elia Suleiman's (DIVINE INTERVENTION) absurdist take on a filmmaker's visit to the local cinema; Zhang Yimou's (HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS) adorable take on outdoor cinema; Lars von Trier's (DOGVILLE) hilarious revenge on the talkative filmgoer; and Walter Salles' (CENTRAL STATION) standout false ending that should have concluded the program instead of Ken Loach's amusing but curious choice that made an interesting comment on cinema.

PLOY (Thailand; 107)

Director: Pen-ek Ratanaruang

Cast: Lalita Panyopas, Pornwut Sarasin, Ananda Everingham, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Phorntip Papanai

At first, Ratanaruang's latest film PLOY seems nothing like his previous film, the dreamily divine LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE. A Thai couple have just arrived back home for a funeral after spending the last 10+ years living in the States. It quickly becomes apparent that their relationship has seen better days, despite their physical closeness on the plane and in the taxi to the hotel. When Wit leaves the hotel room to get a pack of smokes, and ends up spending the next hour or so in the hotel bar befriending the nubile, teenager Ploy while his wife Dang wanders restlessly in their room, it becomes evident. While looking for the luggage key in her husband's suit jacket, Dang discovers a piece of paper with a woman's name and phone number on it; her brow furrows and we wonder if after 7 years of marriage this is it.

When Wit invites Ploy up to the couple's room while she waits for her mother to pick her up in a few hours, things enter LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE country, where dreams and reality collide and intermingle. Are the housekeeper and the bartender really having steamy sex in one of the empty guest rooms? What about the brutal twist that delivers Dang to an abandoned garage in fear of her life? Ratanaruang doesn't provide any easy answers, but that doesn't make PLOY any less a joy to watch. High marks for the three principal cast members too. Together they erased any disappointment that the lack of Tadanobu Asano created.

AMERICAN VENUS (Canada; 81 min.)

director: Bruce Sweeney

cast: Rebecca De Mornay, Jane McGregor, Matt Craven, Nicholas Lea

Social satire is a tricky thing to pull off, but I had high hopes for AMERICAN VENUS after happening upon Sweeney's previous film THE LAST WEDDING, which took a critical eye to marriage. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite manage to pull it off, a fact I don't blame on his script or direction, but rather on the inability of star Rebecca De Mornay to successfully pull it off.

De Mornay plays Celia, a fiercely driven mother and ice skating coach to Jenna, who after botching her chance at the National's, wants only to get far away from her family (especially Mom) even if that means leaving the country. Despite Celia's best attempts, Jenna does hightail it to Vancouver, but when Celia shows up unexpectedly at her door, the subsequent week unspools as a living hell. Deprived at the border of the handgun that gives her so much comfort, Celia spends much of the week unwilling to leave her daughter in Canada, and simultaneously searching desperately for something that she can shoot.

De Mornay bites into Celia with career-reviving vigor, but the beauty of a good satire is when the players play it straight. Celia's mugging and tetanus-stiffened walk turn Celia into a parody of a monster-mother that negate the potential strength of Sweeney's screenplay.