Toronto International Film Festival – Day Nine: I’ve Been Around the World…

This is the last of my dispatches from TIFF. Theoretically, there are still two more days of Festival. In practice, the press screenings are over and outstanding journalists must fight the crowds for tickets for the last public showings.

Having seen around forty movies in the last nine days I wouldn’t dare to make a final balance, considering I missed 150 other flicks. Instead, I’ll dedicate my last column to films from around the world that more likely than not won’t reach the mainstream.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff Who Lives at Home (USA): The one with the best shot to hit a cinema near you. The likable Jason Segel is the aforementioned Jeff, who is as pathetic as it sounds. Inspired by the movie Signs, he leaves his mother’s basement hoping to find his destiny. As stupid as his motivation is, Jeff becomes tangled in his brother Pat (Ed Helms) marital drama. With strong supporting roles courtesy of Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer, Jeff Who Lives at Home is everything My Idiot Brother wanted to be: It’s actually funny and has a purpose. Written and directed by the Duplass brothers (Cyrus), the film boasts a strong script and good performances, but would it kill these guys to hire a decent cinematographer? They seem to have blown their budget crashing a Porsche. Three and a half cheapskate prairie dogs.

Las Acacias (Argentina): I’m not big on minimalistic cinema, but this Argentinean film has a certain charm. A truck driver with the social skills of an elephant (occupational hazard) agrees to take a Paraguayan woman and her daughter to Buenos Aires. As they make way to the capital, the driver’s armor begins to chip away. The end. Seriously. There are no accidents, kidnapping, drugs or any of the usual plot devices we are so used to. The takes are very long and the dialogue is kept to a minimum. Thankfully, the actors and the toddler are singularly expressive (the director acknowledges lucking out with the baby, a charming infant with enormous eyes.) Las Acacias is a film filled with understatement but too little ambition. Extra points for showing the real Argentina, as opposed to the touristic one. Two and a half ice road prairie dogs.

Michael (Austria): Kids regularly have a terrible time in festival movies. Michael is the controversial portrait of the daily life of a pedophile. The pervert in question is a solitary man with a job and a minimal social life (true embodiment of the banality of evil). The highlight of his day is going home -a well disguised fortress- and entertain himself with the nine year-old locked in the basement. The film prevailing trait is a clinical frostiness. Michael takes special care of not showing anything but suggesting enough. It succeeds admirably: The abrupt sight of bunk beds made me physically ill. The film was inspired by the case of Josef Fritzl, who locked his daughter in the cellar for 24 years, and it demands from us to pay more attention to the welfare of our fellow human beings. Michael is not a pleasant experience, but a necessary one. Three and a half sick puppies.

That Summer (France): French movies are having a bad festival. Following the unwatchable Low Life, That Summer is slightly more tolerable, mainly thanks to Monica Bellucci (with standard Bellucci nudity). An unemployed actor becomes embroiled in the life of Frederic (Louis Garrel), a celebrated painter who is, uh, super intense. His wife (Bellucci) wants to leave him and his friends can’t stand him, but they all remain at his side because maybe his moodiness is a byproduct of his genius. At least Frederic dies (this isn’t a spoiler: His demise happens at the beginning of the movie.) Garrel, who also wrote this piece of garbage and convinced his dad to direct it, is another French pretty boy who wants to become the next Guillaume Canet (Little White Lies) with not an ounce of his talent. Also, I think Garrel attended the squinting school of acting. One tormented prairie dog.

Lucky (South Africa): If one day my kid refuses to go to school, I’ll show him this movie. The protagonist, an eight-year old AIDS orphan, goes through hell in order to attend a learning institution. After his mother passes away, Lucky (that’s his name) lands at his uncle’s house in Cape Town. The relative is a Dickensian villain and the kid is reluctantly adopted by an old Indian woman who warms up to him. Lucky is a bit in-your-face (just look at the title), but the determined kid and the cantankerous grandma are compulsively watchable. The depiction of a society where nobody takes responsibility for homeless children is a lot less uplifting. Three prairie dogs wiping their tears before anyone notice.

It has been a blast to write this blog. Can’t guarantee I’ll back next year: I have a wedding to attend (my own). TIFF is like a parallel reality, where you can cross paths with Harry Knowles, talk movies with your favorite film critic (in my case, Movieline’s Stephanie Zacharek), and run into Sarah Polley and not know if she’ll recognize you from an interview two days ago (it was weird, we looked at each other, but neither said hello). I may take a break of watching movies for, um, a couple of hours. I heard good things about Ryan Gosling’ latest.

Tomorrow: Sleep… and Melancholia.

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.