TIFF ’12 – Day Four: Around the world in four movies

Luke Evans in No One Lives.

Countries’ idiosyncrasies seep through their movies, not always in obvious manner. Argentinean thrillers are reliable and dark, Spanish horror is elegant and Swedish dramas are rather inert (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo doesn’t qualify). Even though most films at TIFF try to break the formula, its like adding a bit more salt to a well-worn recipe.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. There is some comfort to be found in a big American shoot-em-up or a long-haired Japanese ghost. It’s what they do.

In The House (France): Since his memorable debut in 2000 with Water Drops on Burning Rocks (the movie that gave us Ludivine Sagnier), Francois Ozon has only grown as a filmmaker. Even his failures are fun (last year’ Potiche). In the House is probably his finest work alongside 8 Women, a thriller disguised as a comedy of manners.

A disenchanted teacher (Ozon regular Fabrice Luchini) finds some motivation in Claude, a talented kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Initially the relationship is purely academic, but soon Claude’ subject of choice –a middle class family- turns into an obsession for all those involved. Considering that the matriarch of said clan is Polanski’s muse Emmanuelle Seigner, it’s understandable.

This is not a feel-good Dangerous Minds type of film. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The often hilarious story has a very dark heart. Is this a teenage caper or a tale of sociopaths finding each other? Besides the intriguing premise, In the House deals with the influence of art in everyday reality. According  to Ozon, is far more prosaic and penetrating than one could imagine. My favorite film of TIFF so far. Four French poodles.

Painless (Spain): In the tradition of The Orphanage and The Others, Painless is one classy Spanish horror movie. Problem is, it confuses creepy with scary. Following a car accident that killed his pregnant wife, a surgeon discovers he has months to live unless receiving compatible bone marrow. Things go from bad to worse when the most obvious donors, his parents, reveal he is adopted.

Along with the physician never-ending misfortunes, we are told the story of a group of kids who cannot feel pain. This being the 30’s in a war-ravaged Spain, the children end up in the loony bin where a German expat experiments with them. The stories intersect in rather predictable fashion, but the journey is intriguing enough.

Even though there are a number of being-there-done-that elements in Painless (do we need another movie about the horrors of civil war in Spain? There has only been thousands!), the film grabs you and never let go. Painless succeeds in establishing that monsters are not born, but created, often with the best intentions. Three screaming prairie dogs. Will somebody shut them up?

Blondie (Sweden): Here is a harebrained attempt to make a Dogma film fashionable. The outcome is predictably flat, as the whole point of Dogma is to accentuate realism. Loosely inspired by Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration, Blondie follows three sisters (a model, a doctor and a student) as they return home for their mother 70th birthday. Since the girls have some major issues they refuse to deal with, recriminations start flying from the get go.

None of the sisters’ problems seem that insurmountable (panic attacks, mild cocaine addiction, adultery), so all the whining gets tiring very quickly. Some sad interstitials a la Lars Von Trier mixed with generic pop music are source of unintended hilarity. Since the protagonists are unspeakably gorgeous, Blondie is more watchable than it should, but for all the wrong reasons. One and a half gawking prairie dog.

No One Lives (United States): The Midnight Madness program at TIFF concentrates most of the horror films in the festival, and are not the traditional kind. No One Lives subvert some of the laws of the genre, particularly in the superb initial third. A seemingly normal suburban couple runs into a band of professional thieves, just fresh from a massacre. In the background, the police searches fruitlessly for pretty rich girl kidnapped months ago. You think you know what’s going on, but let me assure you, you don’t.

The sickest of a fairly large collection of psychopaths makes Hannibal Lecter look like the Hambugler. While it’s fun to pit evil against bigger evil, eventually the proceedings become repetitive, the movie loses its edge and turns into a run-of-the-mill gorefest. Some sideeffect may occur, like you won’t be able to look at Luke Evans (The Three Musketeers) the same way again. Three prairie dogs inside a fatter prairie dog.

Random notes:

* Beware of the new wave of horror films: The titles are design to throw you off the scent.

* Run into Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) in an elevator. Had a brief chat regarding his upcoming film The Sapphires. Really nice guy.

* Nick Cassavettes attempts to become his father in Yellow. Fails.

Follow me on Twitter: @jicastillo

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

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