Fandor @ TIFF Update #6: Immoral Tales with Emily Blunt and Juliette Binoche

Too Close for Comfort: Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt share more than just a bed in "Your Sister's Sister"

In rough descending order of preference:

Dark Horse (dir. Todd Solondz)
One of Solondz’s most adventurous features, conceived largely in terms of its main character’s elaborate (if fetid) fantasy life. Abe, played by the doughy Jordan Gelber, wallows in various forms of both self-pity and self-aggrandizement. He’s the most vocal and articulate Solondz creation to date, annotating his actions with near-constant banter (at times, he suggests a darker and borderline-psychotic version of Albert Brooks). In many ways, the tone of the piece harkens back to Welcome to the Dollhouse, but it’s less sadistic and more interested in exploring Abe’s self-destructive streak. – Michał Oleszczyk

ALPS (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Lanthimos’ follow-up to his acclaimed Dogtooth is similarly puzzle-like in its conceptual construct: a small, cult-like group performs as stand-ins of recently deceased people, filling the absence felt by the dead’s families, friends and lovers.  That the performances are given in unconvincingly robotic deadpans doesn’t seem to phase the on-screen audience, but it’s one of several alienating creative choices that Lanthimos leaves us to contend with. Other challenging elements include an elliptical story structure that blurs the line between “fictional” and “real” interactions, as well as a grittier look than Dogtooth, with less reliance on sun-drenched scenes and beautiful young bodies. As with Dogtooth, the premise treads dangerously on the edge of falling into gimmickry, but Lanthimos’ counter-intuitive maneuvering keeps things slippery, a kind of stylistic response to his films’ underlying concerns with the tyranny of convention. Upon one viewing, will need more time to shake out how substantial this is, but I’m already bracing myself for all the lame copycats that are bound to follow Lanthimos’ brave, seductive new model of Euro-art cinema. – Kevin B. Lee


Your Sister’s Sister (dir. Lynn Shelton)
In Humpday, the premise was “beyond gay”; in the new Shelton, it’s “beyond straight”. The core plot of an elaborate erotic triangle involving Mark Duplass grieving his dead brother, Emily Blunt as the brother’s ex, and Rosemarie De Witt as her sister, is not unlike some never-produced “Moral Tale No. 7” by Eric Rohmer. While Shelton’s movie is by no means short on self-reflexive ramblings, it certainly lacks Rohmer’s elegance. Though the dialogue is much more pointed and polished than the stock mumblecore-speak, and has a considerable amount of wit (some mid-coital asides included). Still, once the talk stops and the visuals are supposed to carry the story in the final ten minutes or so, there’s a palpable slump in the pacing that leaves a sour aftertaste. – Michał Oleszczyk

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (dir. Wei Te-sheng)
The most expensive film ever made in Taiwan, this 150 minute epic tells the story of Taiwanese Seediq aborigines fiercely battling the oppression of Japanese occupiers in the 1930s. It’s an awkwardly timed project given the global sympathies directed this year at tragedy-stricken Japan, but this project was years in the making as an attempt to put Taiwan squarely on the map as a maker of global blockbusters. It’s no coincidence then that its story of spiritually endowed forest-dwelling natives fighting technologically superior enemies has strong echoes of Avatar; even the dialogue is in subtitled aboriginal dialect.  Its gritty, ground level view of heroic historical battle has much more in common with Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, but one thing it has over Gibson and James Cameron is a willingness to entertain the moral conflicts of war, especially in acknowledging the cultural intermingling between Seediq and Japanese that blurs the lines of loyalty. However, by the time of the super-violent showdown finale, it’s Seediq all the way, baby.  – Kevin B. Lee

Alois Nebel (dir. Tomáš Lunák)
A strange brew of animation and photography, this Czech adaptation of a series of graphic novels never really comes together. A story of a station agent losing his job around the time of the fall of communism (infused with heavy doses of post-WW2 recollections) is too original to dismiss, yet too unfocused to earn admiration. Since the movie clearly aims at being an immersive aesthetic experience in the vein of Waltz with Bashir, the rough edges are felt all the more acutely. – Michał Oleszczyk

The Moth Diaries (dir. Mary Harron)
The talented Harron (American Psycho; I Shot Andy Warhol) not only directed but wrote the script adaptation of Rachel Klein’s teen goth girl novel, but little of that effort shows on screen. A potentially rich story of a boarding school student (Sarah Bolger) who suspects her classmate (Lily Cole) of being a vampire is turned into a ploddingly pedestrian affair, with effects  like a blood shower and a quasi-sapphic dorm room bloodsucking scene amounting to cheap attempts to be edgy. If someone like Harron can only make an unintended self-parody of the teen vampire flick, then this trendy subgenre may have run its course.  – Kevin B. Lee

Elles (dir. Małgośka Szumowska)
It opens with a ominous succession of several chiaroscuro blow-jobs, and quickly turns into a Cruising-like story of a Paris reporter (Juliette Binoche) investigating the lives of two female escorts – only to discover how much she herself is drawn towards illicit sex. The movie manages to be both lurid and puritanical, with Binoche uncomfortably stuck in an unconvincing role of a journalist thin-skinned enough to go cuckoo after two mildly racy interviews. The sex scenes, which include Binoche’s prolonged masturbation on a tiled bathroom floor, are mostly wince-inducing in their unhappy fusion of soft-core lightning and (supposed) shock value. Szumowska scores many scenes with portentous classical music, and then goes for the kill in a final act of shameless rip-off, when she employs Beethoven’s 7th symphony in a similar way Gaspar Noé did at the end of Irreversible. (Noé’s short We Fuck Alone is quoted earlier on, hilariously, as a piece of stock on-line porn.) A deeply confused movie; possibly the TIFF 2011 nadir as far as I’m concerned. – Michał Oleszczyk

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