A harried day with barely enough time to grab a bite between two movies. The last day of the fest for many was yesterday, so there remain a few of the more obscure (read: Canadian) flicks to work one's way through. You end up with interesting synergies, with my back-to-back nature films a happy coincidence, followed by the Devil-Devil films. Seeing two back-to-back well received Canadian films, shocking to some perhaps, but a good sign indeed as the Canadian waters are usually dangerous places to tread indeed, unfortunately. Did get six films under my belt, nice to be back up to the normal pace.

Chacun Son Cinema
The Cannes festival commissioned 33 films from some of the world's most renowned and respected filmmakers to craft their take on the nature of cinema. This mish-mash of styles can be quite energizing when done well, with each small film playing off one another in a collision of ideas.

Unfortunately, only a few films step up to the lofty task. David Lynch, for example, couldn't get his in on time to screen as part of the main selection, so his ridiculous and incoherent mess is the first short, as a giant pair of scissors dominates the screen and other crazy crap goes on, seems even more rediculous than it normally would. This surreal and masturbatory offering still manages to be better than some of the more cloying and precious films included in the program.

Still, there are some true gems among the selection. Kitano's One Fine Day is a delight, as is the similarly silly film by the Coen Brothers (another star turn by Brolin!). Walter Salles' was joyful and exuberant, two people clapping and singing an ode to a land far away in a place called Cannes. Lars von Trier, meanwhile, shares the same dream of any serious festival filmgoer, to inflict violence on that person beside you who's trying to make a deal and won't shuttup to just enjoy the movie. As for Canadian inclusion, Cronenberg's At The Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World was as enjoyably understated as its title is long, while Egoyan's contribution was a pompous, self-aggrandizing mess.

In the end, this hit-or-miss format made for an overall positive experience, with the added benefit that those that were most egregious were bound to be over in only a couple minutes, a nice respite from normally future length atrocities that can populate the festival circuit in all their ponderous and pretentious glory.
Directed by: Various
Grade: B+
Encounters at the End of the World
Yet another brilliant film from Werner Herzog, this one seeing him give a warts-and-all look at the continent of Antarctica. His dry narration is as inquisitive and sarcastic as ever, pointedly referencing more pedestrian looks at South pole, mere "penguin" movies designed to show a pristine environment as some form of pretty exoticism.

The encounters are more than the usual cast of animals, ice sheets and driving wind, they're the PhD's driving loading equipment, the linguistics experts tilling soil in the greenhouse. The south is where a large number of very intelligent, very interesting "misfits" have carved out a life at the bottom of our planet.

Herzog carves humour and beauty out of the banal exercise of practicing white-out navigation, a blindfolded follow-the-leader game that's as ridiculous as it is riveting. The silly, scowling masks and sheer inability of the members to keep to a straight line underscore the real dangers of life in the Antarctic.

With Herzog's view of the pole we see muddy streets and fuel dumps, sad looking bars and friendly outsiders, each with a story to tell. It's a testament to his art that Herzog's films continue to find the beauty in the banality of everyday life, even in a place as remarkable as the End of the World. An amusing, amazing personal document of this trip, and a joy to watch.
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Grade: A
La Citadelle Assiégée
One of the pleasures of any serious film festival is that you'll encounter films from all over the world. It becomes easier with time to note particularities about certain films from certain countries. France certainly isn't some hidden treasure of cinematic charm, its contributions to the cinematic art are obviously as established as any country in the world. Still, there's a particular style of French nature documentaries, popularized on this continent by the likes of March of the Penguins, that seems to be be common to all that play over here.

Unfortunately, this common theme is a sometimes comedic, sometimes offensive anthropomorphism that permeates the entire tale, as if simply showing the comings and goings of the natural environment is not enough without the added drama of passion, corruption, moral decay, etc. With March we has penguins who felt "inconsolable loss", with editing making us feel that the birds were almost weeping with angst over the death of a young member. The point is not to debate about whether or not an animal can have feelings, but instead a dismissal of the apparent need to equate these creatures as having human characteristics in order to be interested in them.

This anthro-metaphor is all over the Besieged Citadelle - it's a termite mound, after all, not an actual castle. The poetic license of these metaphors are stretched pretty thin when the entire film is nothing less than a showcase of the good (light coloured) termites versus the evil (black) invading ants. I'm not exaggerating here, this is an insect conflict with narration written by someone who's read far too much Nietzche to be writing kid-oriented nature fluff, let alone feeding into the anti-imigrant policies that have plagued France for decades.

The macro photography is quite excellent, and the details we get into the inner workings of the colonies is quite extraordinary. However, the booming drums, the whip pans and rapid cuts to foster some sort of adrenaline-fueled extravaganza make it more than a little over the top.

Some fine nature footage is hampered by the desire to recreate Massada or Zulu in bug form, it's indeed unfortunate that this tendency to make animals be like people continues to plague popular French nature docs. Here's hoping they take a page out of the BBC's book in the future, and tone down this irritating factor.
Directed by: Philippe Calderon
Grade: B+
Walk All Over Me
A quirky film about an accidental dominatrix, some Quebéquois gangsters, and a fluffy little tale of robbery set in the mean streets of the Vancouver suburbs. Sobiesky plays a girl forced to leave her hockey playing boyfriend to crash in the swank pad of her former baby sitter. She soon discovers the nocturnal S&M-ployment of her former guardian, and decides to dip her fishnet stocking'd feet into the waters of professional submission and domination.

Literally bursting from a corset, painted up like a cheap whore, the protagonist meets her first John in the mall food court. Going back to his place, they soon encounter Rene and his hired goons. Things of course go from bad to worse, and the film settles in to a straight-ahead caper film, complete with punch-ups, subterfuge, and torture scenes.

It's all of course a bit over the top, but the film does work quite well, and presents itself as a low key, charming offering. It's hardly a revelation of cinematic import, but it's at least entertaining, a breezy bit of fluff that's superior to many other Canadian films that screen at TIFF.
Directed by: Robert Cuffley
Grade: B-
Shake Hands with the Devil
Romeo Dellaire experiences in Rwanda have proven to be fodder for a diverse, multimedia examination over the last several years. First came the autobiography, a confessional of his demons and the horrors that he witnessed. Secondly came the extraordinary documentary of the same name, where he returns to the scenes of the crimes he witnessed, reconnecting with Rwanda years after political stabilization.

The documentary, exemplary as it was, nonetheless was reflecting on past events, using talking-head interviews with survivours to tell their stories. A fiction film, meanwhile, can recreate the past with sometimes startling verisimilitude, but often runs the risk of plowing over the truth in favour of plot, pacing and dramatic urgency that is the hallmark of any traditional movie. As a very effective device, the film uses Dellaire's confessions to his therapist to go deeply into the past, bringing up ghosts that continue to haunt him.

What's remarkable about this third Shake is that it succeeds without resorting to bombast or banality. It's a very Canadian film in many ways, subtle, intelligent, and bordering on the unremarkable. Yet its this very quiet, subtle retelling that's all the more effective. There's no gung-ho in this telling, just the quiet commitment of someone that tried to make a difference when the world looked the other way.

The compelling images were actually shot again in location in Rwanda, and the visuals are often spectacular. The vistas are uniquely foreign, as the usual African locales that stand in for such trouble spots are of course topographically different than where this story actually took place. The performances are top notch, save for a clichéd and unnecessary inclusion of the normally quite excellent Deborah Unger as Emma, a photo journalist trying to provide context to the situation. The film rides on the shoulders of Roy Dupuis, and he's simply extraordinary, completely inhabiting the character with a quiet rage.

This film is sadly destined to fly under the radar, as it's almost too good, to honest to the story to have a hook on which to sell it. This is no adrenaline ride, nor is it some angsty, showy look at a man being broken mentally. This is Dellaire's story, warts and all, and it deserves a far larger audience than it is likely to receive.
Directed by: Roger Spotiswoode
Grade: A-
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawk bring their A-game to this wonderful caper/character piece by veteran Director Lumet. Cut together in a masterful back-and-forth of time, slipping in and out of chronological order in a way that never feels forced or precious, this is a wonderful example to younger filmmakers about how tastefully such fragmented structure can be presented.

As a planned robbery of their parents' jewelry store goes horribly awry, the two bothers are forced to find a way to come to terms with the events of their own creation. Albert Finney's role as the father is a bit overwrought, but Marissa Tomei is note perfect, with one of the finer onscreen introductions in recent memory. Besides the eroticism of her entrance, she's captivating and tough as hell throughout, a fine performance from this actor that's often dismissed as a one hit, one oscar actor.

There's a steadiness to the telling that is refreshing, a competence of the entire production that belies the capable direction of Lumet. There's a terrific freshness about what superficially seems to be old hat, an old school, 70s style film that's miles ahead of much cheaper imitators.
Directed by: Sydney Lumet
Grade: A-