TIFF Round-up #1: Brothels, Bikes and 2x Cronenberg on the Couch

In rough descending order of preference:

Whore’s Glory (dir. Michael Glawogger)
Glawogger completes a loose trilogy deeply immersed in depicting everyday toil around the world: Megacities, Workingman’s Death and now this vivid but non-judgmental exploration of brothel life in Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico. Each setting bears a visual trademark: in Thailand a glass panel displays a dozen girls at a time to affluent johns from around the world; in Bangladesh a snaking hallway connects dozens of prostitutes, each with their own room, forming a village unto itself; a nonstop parade of SUVs prowl the Mexican outskirts for whores. In each locale, Glawogger’s camera absorbs so many intimate details of the day-to-day drudgery of prostitution, interviewing girls, madams and johns alike, that one marvels at what it took to gain such degrees of access. The only regrettable element are the musical impositions of rockers PJ Harvey and CoCo Rosie on the third world proceedings; Glawogger does so much to immerse us directly in these worlds that it’s a puzzle why he leans on the music to convey meaning. – Kevin B. Lee

Watch Michael Glawogger’s Workingman’s Death on Fandor:

A Dangerous Method (dir. David Cronenberg)
David Cronenberg adapts Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure with little effort to cinematize its stage-bound origins; all the action lies in Hampton’s exquisitely wrought dialogue that charts Carl Jung’s emergence from the shadow of Sigmund Freud. Viggo Mortensen admirably conveys Jung’s conflicting modes of quasi-Oedipal ambition and self-doubt in the face of Fassbender’s Freud, whose relaxed self-assuredness forms its own kind of tyranny. But it’s Keira Knightley who gives a brave if bizarre turn as Jung’s neurotic patient-turned-protégé/lover. Her initial appearance as a shrieking, chimp-faced wreck invites derision, but as Jung and Freud devise ever more sophisticated language to gloss over their primal jealousies and urges, Knightley’s oddball mannerisms bear witness to all the behavior that can’t be reduced to words. A great film about the violence inherent in human understanding.- Kevin B. Lee

AKA History of Sex. Distinctly Cronenbergian, remarkably restrained attempt to dissect the raging, willfully suppressed libido of one Carl Gustav Jung – in terms provided by his mentor, Sigmund Freud. The clash of intellectual titans is played out as a perverse theater of repression, momentary release and growing sense of irresolution. Keira Knightley provides a veritable twitch-a-ton of a performance that is so violently at odds with Michael Fassbender’s super-composed Jung (starched and scrubbed even while climaxing), that one has to admire Cronenberg’s shrewdness in casting the leading parts. Viggo Mortensen (a phallic cigar never leaving his mouth) makes for an almost fatherly Freud, in a surprisingly controlled and dignified turn – Michał Oleszczyk

Elena (dir. Andrei Zvaginstev)
Something of a surprise from the religiously-minded faux-Tarkovsky of today, Zvagintsev’s latest is a moral meditation on class divisions in contemporary Russia. As we follow the eponymous wife of a wealthy ailing man, while she tries to secure money for her no-good grandson, Zvagintsev takes one unexpected stylistic turn after another. Our notions of the characters’ moral standing change by the minute. The movie’s biggest virtue lies in its total lack of cynicism – the same material in the hands of, say, Ken Loach would probably play as a cautionary tale of a justified class retribution. Zviagintsev is more interested in moral and metaphysical ambiguities, and doesn’t gloat over the evil that he depicts. – Michał Oleszczyk

Footnote (dir. Joseph Cedar)
Brewing resentment between two Talmudic scholars – the doggedly dispassionate father and his academia-superstar son – reaches a high point when one of them is mistakenly bestowed with the Israel State Award, and the other decides to keep the knowledge of the mistake to himself. The Footnote is a story of two morally serious men in a silent struggle for each other’s respect. It asks a question not often heard at the movies – namely, is a life of unrecognized dedication by definition futile? The movie manages to be both grave and witty, its moral focus and playful tone strangely dependent upon each other (in that respect, Cedar resembles Alexander Payne and Footnote at times feels like a slightly more portentous version ofElection). Two powerhouse performances – by the perpetually-frowned Elia Kazan-lookalike Shlomo Bar-Aba, and the hirsute Lior Ashkenazi – make the movie as exciting as any Talmudic whodunnit you’re likely to see this year. – Michał Oleszczyk

Le Havre (dir. Aki Kaurismaki)
Though this film isn’t quite a masterpiece, Kaurismaki deserves the title of a master. Long graduated from days cribbing from Robert Bresson and Yasujiro Ozu, he makes the world of this film thoroughly his own, with its uniformly poker-faced cast slouching their way through life’s bittersweetness. Here a bohemian shoeshiner harbors an illegal child migrant from Africa in search of his parents. The film wears its social liberalism on its sleeve, turning its story into a fantasy of secular salvation populated by an irresistibly ragtag ensemble. Dangerously close to humanist pandering, Kaurismaki earns his keep simply in the way he films people, juxtaposing harsh lighting that suggests a world of perpetual Sunday morning melancholy with rigid profiles of faces resilient. Even everyday objects like drinking glasses on a bar seem to shimmer with life’s ebullience. – Kevin B. Lee

The Kid with a Bike (dirs. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
The Brothers Dardenne continue their brand of high-octane hand-wringing with yet another juvenile in peril: this time a boy, given up by his loutish single dad to a foster mother, finds a new father figure in a drug dealer. First-time boy actor Thomas Doret doesn’t deseve an Oscar so much as an Olympic medal for what the Dardennes put him through: in contending with rough elements in his neighborhood, he bikes, runs, climbs, brawls, and bashes heads with a baseball bat; he’s an adolescent Bourne franchise in the making. Le cinema Dardenne remains as well-oiled a machine as ever, milking the imperiled child premise and tough-love salvation trope for all the ruthlessly effective drama it can deliver. And this film’s copping of yet another Cannes prize for the duo promises little change in the formula for the near term. – Kevin B. Lee

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