Belated reviews of TIFF 2013 Films

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Le Grande Bellezza
So let's get to it, the list of films I'd seen from best to not really all that great.

1. Le Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty; Sorrentino): An absurd, energetic, sumptuous feast for the senses, the like of which you'd think Italy no longer produces. This is old school spectacular film making (yes, think La Dolce Vita, any Fellini film really), and yet its relevant modern examination shows just how timeless classic films are. As it is Italy's entry for Foreign Oscars, I can only hope that by some miracle the Academy sees the film and votes for it. My eyes were dancing in their sockets.

2. La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 (Blue is the warmest colour; Kechiche): The more you read about this film, the less you'd probably like it. Well, at least that's what happened to me. There's something very off putting about this whole behind the scene gossip regarding the alleged tortured artistic process they went through. But I must remember the first time I sat down to watch the film. It was emotional, if I may put it lightly. Nay, it was a flooded experience. Adèle made it happen. Without her raw vulnerability, this would have just been an exploitative exercise (sorry Kechiche). However, unlike many of the films with strong female leads, the coming-of-age storyboard for the main characters is strong enough to withstand critical examination (thanks Kechiche). See it, not for the long lesbian sex scene (well, if you must), but for the vicarious experience of falling absolutely, resolutely, carnally in love.

3. Poziția copilului (Child's pose; Netzer): I don't know what's going on Romania but there are great films coming out of its woods every year, each astonishes in its own way. At its core, here is a journey to redemption, which really starts with accepting responsibility and the pain that comes with it. Character-driven and naturalistic in its unfolding of events, Călin Peter Netzer's film boasts a handful of strong, unexpected performances. Again, I hope the Academy sees the film and votes for it (Romania's entry), though, just like Beauty, this somewhat demanding film has no chance in hell of winning.

4. Tian zhu ding (A touch of sin; Jia): Holy magnolia, Jia went off the ledge. He's not known for bloody films so it's a bit of a surprise to see the seemingly inexplicable violence that ensues in each tableau. The characters are connected by magic, or flu virus, whichever the touch of evil maybe. Jia himself sees the film as a bit of a fantasy, as he uses the "wuxia" form as the backbone for his broad strokes. He does not explain the motivations too much - it's almost like you're reading breaking news on crimes. You know the details, the parties involved, the fear, but you don't know exactly why it has to happen just then. There's a surreal quality to the picture, so you are removed somewhat from what happens on screen, but not far enough that you leave untouched. It's a difficult but worthwhile film to see, especially if you're a Jia Zhangke fan.

5. Soshite chichi ni naru (Like father like son; Koreeda): There's a casual, no fuss style about this film. I am a huge fan of Koreeda, so naturally I ate this up. The man showed up to his own premiere in sweat pants, running shoes, and a long sweater. How can you not love him? For someone who captures such exact performances from children, you'd think he'd be aces at being a dad. He confessed, however, that he was much more like the aloof father in the film. Maybe that's why he wanted to put in that ending, which was the tidiest that I've seen from him. I must admit though, it is a lesser film from Koreeda. I enjoyed it, but it didn't shake me like his previous ones (After Life, Nobody Knows). They can't all be monumental I guess.

6. Kaze Tachinu (The wind rises; Miyazaki): There's not much to say about the film, other than everything you'd expect from Miyazaki minus the fantasy part is in the picture. There's a love story, but don't expect any overflow of emotions. He has to be the gentlest film maker there is. Even his earthquake is warm. It's definitely a "mature" film, but it is a smaller jewel in his studded crown.

7. Le Passé (The Past; Farhadi): It's a mildly disappointing follow up to the amazing "A Separation" by the promising Iranian director, Farhadi. You can see the intricate dramatic plot deftly being worked out on screen, but the sum of its weight is less than its parts. There's a general sense of "so what?" by the end of the film. I think he still got the human drama right. He just needs a different story, and a little less beating around the proverbial bush.

8. Blood ties (Canet): I don't know why I went to see it - I hated Canet's Little White Lies, and thought he was very mediocre as a director. Well, I live to regret it, because now I can't remember anything good about it. Oh, Clive Owen was decent. That's about it.

9. Moebius (Kim): I rarely ever get the sense that a director is just screwing with me, but watching Moebius, I really thought Kim Ki-duk did just that. Let me describe the film to you: it's a silent film (as in: no dialogue) about desire that involves incest, masturbation by way of physical pain, and castrations (Freudian impulses galore!). The drama is so beyond ridiculous that you can only laugh at what's on the screen. I'm sure that's the intended effect, but I don't qualify this as a valuable way of spending my time. If you're in for good ol' shock value, then you're in the right screening. Just don't expect too much depth, despite what the director believes he's bringing to the equation.

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