Monday, September 21, 2009

Toronto 2: Follow-Ups

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 12:57 PM

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This is, appropriately, the second of Nicolas Rapold's reports from the Toronto International Film Festival, which wrapped up this weekend. A final dispatch is coming tomorrow.

The Beat That My Heart Skipped was a rare satisfying movie of its kind—a character strikes an attitude that looks great as he burns out—but it seemed a tough feat of finesse for director Jacques Audiard to follow (and star Romain Duris certainly hasn't). Audiard's new prison picture, A Prophet, also centers on a charismatic slacker with a ruthless streak, played by newcomer Tahar Nahim. Young thug Djebena (Nahim), an Arab in the multicultural stew of a French prison, is brutally recruited by a Corsican gangster as a lackey. The film tracks with Djebena from cringe to swagger as he works his way up by his wits, leveraging his go-between status and furlough privileges. The vigor of his climb, and Audiard's glide from scene to scene, makes up for plot holes and profligate length.

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Non-fans of Edge of Heaven prefer to think of Fatih Akin, another director whose next move was closely watched, as "the director of Head On [and Crossing the Bridge]." His latest, Soul Kitchen, atones for sins of self-seriousness with strenuously madcap comedy: a lovable Greek (Adam Bousdoukos) struggles to hold on to his Hamburg schnitzel joint, pines for his German girlfriend who's gone to China, and fends off a dopey excon brother (Moritz Bleibtreu). Akin keeps the film boisterously bumping along at a good clip, toggling among trials and tribulations such as a conniving real-estate vulture and self-destructive perfectionist chef. The shaggy Bousdoukos has a sitcomic reliability, naturally affable as the stubborn-but-good-hearted type. It's entertaining enough, albeit embarrassing when it's not, but it appealingly never bows under the class and culture friction at the core of its conflicts.

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Conflict boils in Between Two Worlds, understandably enough for the director who hails from Sri Lanka (which is now facing the aftermath of a bloody civil war). The country's travails formed the backdrop to Vimukthi Jayasundara's spectacular debut The Forsaken Land, but in his new film, the division between contemporary and past realities is porous. Opening with a man falling from the sky, and terrifying riots roiling a city, the film soon turns into a folk-tale-like journey across the verdant countryside. Someone recites a story that suggests the heaven-sent stranger is a king in disguise, but if he's a moral savior, deliverance is slow in coming. Gorgeous but enigmatic and naggingly unfulfilling, Between Two Worlds suggests a clash between the unbidden, mundane violence of human affairs, and visions burped up by a betrayed land.

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Lastly, Mia Hansen-Løve's Father of My Children is inspired by the story of independent film macher Humbert Balsan, who over several decades produced work by Youssef Chahine, Claire Denis and many others. While some reviews have treated this bit of information as a spoiler, given Balsan's suicide, the busy professional life of the movie's stand-in (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, as Gregoire) feels so real and lived-in that its sudden end is still a shock and, really, integral to the film. The urbane Gregoire juggles projects, massages egos, and gets in cuddly but insufficient QT with his family of two cute kids, a gradually impatient wife Sylvia, and disaffected teen. His ceaseless talking, on and off cellphones, is the film's oxygen, until it's not; even time seems to slow a little in its absence. The second half of Løve's film deals with the imperative for Sylvia and her children to regroup, and it's a mundane yet moving process, bravely anticlimactic. Father of My Children eventually feels a little too cut loose, but in its way it's one of the more realistic films about such desperate events to come along in a while.

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