September 15, 2009

2009 TIFF Bytes #1.5

Too long for Twitter, too brief for the capsule page, some quick takes on films screened at this year's TIFF:

White Material (d. Claire Denis)
This is Claire Denis' very own
Gone with the Wind, and she seems to denote it as epic by shooting it in 2.35:1 widescreen. Headstrong Maria (Isabelle Huppert) struggles to keep the Vial coffee plantation operating in the midst of an African civil war despite accumulating exit cues. Her entire workforce heeds the evacuation call she chooses to ignore. She finds a severed animal's head among the beans. Her son (Nicolas Duvauchelle) goes mad after a brush with the rebels. Highly sought-after resistance fighter The Boxer (Isaach de Bankole) takes up residence in the Vials' shed far too conspicuously. And still she remains undeterred. One of Denis' most fascinating protagonists, Maria is an interloper everywhere she turns: a white woman in Cameroon, a divorcée living on the estate of her ex-husband (Christopher Lambert), the boss of a plantation she has no formal stake in; Denis subverts the paternalism of shit like I Dreamed of Africa, as you'd expect from the director of Beau Travail and Chocolat. But I have to admit, for all its indisputable richness of theme and craft, I found it a little tedious and just didn't connect with it; Walter's final words for Public Enemies ("It doesn't mean a thing to me") rang unfairly in my ears. No matter: Denis already made one for me this year (the lovely 35 Shots of Rum), and I am content to have discovered that Lambert is aging into a far more interesting actor than he ever was in his youth. **½/4

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