Toronto International Film Festival ’11 – Day Two: It’s Okay to Be Kinky

If yesterday was a day full of surprises, today was mostly a disappointment, with three masters of cinema underperforming.

The biggest letdown was David Cronenberg’ A Dangerous Method. It’s by no means a terrible movie, but it dismisses the most fundamental law of cinema: Show, don’t tell. I certainly have nothing against “talkies”, but in this case the dialogue is so abstract it wouldn’t hurt to have a psychology major.

The film focuses on Carl Gustav Jung (Michael Fassbender) and the two relationships that forged his approach to psychoanalysis: His frenemy Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Freud was first Jung mentor. Their rapport deteriorated as Jung refused to accept sex as the sole trigger in human behavior. Some of Jung areas of study were way off (telepathy, paranormal activity), but he introduced death as a second force shaping the human psyche. Yes, I’m simplifying. No need for angry letters.

As conceptual heavy as it is, whenever Jung and Freud argue, A Dangerous Method sizzles. Sadly, is not all about them. Jung cures Spielrein of hysteria using Freud methods. Soon he takes her as his disciple and lover. If Spielrein were just the catalyst for Freud and Jung rivalry, it would work fine, but her persona is given too much importance. Worst: Keira Knightley goes all Pacino on us. She not only chews the scenery. She regurgitates it, spits it and chews it again. It’s completely distracting.

Director David Cronenberg has always enjoyed exploring the darkest corners of one’s mind. In this case, the intention is superior to the outcome. I’ll give Cronenberg this. He manages to make spanking sexy. Two and a half prairie dogs engaging in risky behavior.

I have never been a big Pedro Almodóvar fan. Could be because I’m a guy, but I also find his cinema mannered and convoluted. The Skin I Live In is his most enjoyable flick since Matador, but keep in mind I’m not his target audience.

Once Almodóvar go-to guy, Antonio Banderas returns to the realm as Robert, a plastic surgeon who has developed a unique type of synthetic skin. His guinea pig is Vera (the gorgeous and often naked Elena Anaya), a mysterious woman he keeps under lock at home. This -being an Almodóvar movie- has a massive back story I’m not going to spoil here. Suffice to say it involves kidnapping, rape, revenge and a thief dressed like a tiger. In other words, your standard Almodóvar flick from the Eighties with modern-day production values.

It’s often argued that the Spanish filmmaker understand women like no other director in the business. That may be true, but I’ll tell you this: He doesn’t understand straight men. Some scenarios are just not going to happen. That said, The Skin I Live In is so demented it’s entertaining, even though the intrigue is over early on and the only question left for the denouement is who is craftier: The doctor, his creature or the maid. Three fabulous prairie dogs.

This wouldn’t be a film festival if a movie doesn’t bore you to tears. It’s the case of Aki Kaurismaki alleged comedy La Havre. Kaurismaki has many defenders who just love his minimalistic ways, but there is a difference between low-key and mind-numbing.

An aging shoe shiner receives an African refugee in his modest home. Given the reigning paranoia on the matter (some French newspapers believe him a member of Al Qaeda), it takes an entire neighborhood attuned to the immigrant pledge to protect the kid from the police overreaction. Ironically, the detective in charge of the manhunt would rather be in pursuit of real criminals as opposed to harmless teenagers.

In typical Kaurismaki fashion, bone-dry sense of humor mixes with deadpan performances, old-fashioned framing and zero artistic direction. There is no excuse to be so unexciting: La Havre is such a broad critique, it doesn’t add anything to the discussion. Two undocumented prairie dogs.

Tomorrow, a movie from the motherland, the Chilean flick Year of the Tiger. Also, how Gus Van Sant is really like.

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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