Sunday, September 09, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Four

THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION (John Zaritsky, 2007, Canada)

I’m a sucker for stories like this. Without thinking too hard I can recall a program on The Discovery Channel and an episode of “The Dog Whisperer” that are similar and I loved them both. THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION shows the healing power of animals on the wounded human soul. Starring a handful of convicts from Canon City, Colorado, THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION documents the Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP) wherein wild mustangs are tamed and trained for adoption. The parallels between the men and horses aren’t difficult to see. Their stories are beautifully intertwined under the big Colorado sky. The audience can’t help but have hope for men and beast. The WHIP program teaches the convicts (all volunteers from the prison) patience and empathy. They see the consequences of their actions, becoming better human beings. In a way, the men are taming themselves as much as they’re doing so for the horses.

THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION is best described as “touching.” Each horse tamed and every con rehabilitated makes the heart swell. We’re witness to post-ranch life for man and horse alike. While some of them may still be in jeopardy of recidivism, for the most part they’ve all gone on to better, more productive lives. Well-paced and satisfying, THE WILD HORSE REDEMTION impressed me immensely.

CHRYSALIS (Julien Leclerq, France 2007)

A by-the-numbers cop movie with sci-fi elements, this French policier felt very tired than being the fresh, slick thriller it so wanted to be. Loud gunshots, car crashes and fist fights are utilized as an attempt to break up the monotony of the script by Leclerq, Nicolas Peufaillit, Franck Philippon , and Aude Py (yes, it took four people to write this film when it felt like one person could have written it in their sleep).

Plugging into the generic lead role this time out are Albert Dupontel as David Hoffman, the take-no-prisoners cop who’d rather get the job done right than follow procedure. Hoffman looses not only his partner in the opening gun battle but his wife as well. Now it’s personal…times deux. He’s partnered with the well-meaning newbie Marie Becker (Marie Guillard) and the two work to find the truth behind a series of deaths. Of course, these murders are ultimately tied back to the fateful opening gunfight and to the plot of Doctor Brugen (Marthe Keller) helping her daughter regain her memories after a tragic auto accident.

The large, gleaming neon sign points out the insidious mucky-muck plot device of a terrible weapon that’s fallen into the wrong hands. Think “Project Janus” of JUDGE DREDD or any other number of government-funded weapons that have gone awry. This time it’s a set of head gear that can download, erase, or implant memories into a subject. As government stooge Patrick Bachau (producer of CHRYSALIS) explains to his niece, Marie, the Chrysalis machine could be used to implant the memory of a fervent jihadist into innocent minds to create an army of terror killers. Likewise, a powerful business man could go on living forever by putting his mind into a younger body. If you just thought of FREEJACK, you’re not alone.

The only scene missing from CHRYSALIS is the rewriting of Hoffman’s memories and his struggle to maintain his identity. (That might not be in the film but the scene of him handing over his gun and his badge is!) Rather, Hoffman’s mind is wiped. This may actually be a good thing as it removes the demons of his haunted past and allows Maria the chance to be the weak protagonist for a while. Things shake out just as you know they will. There’s even a “the media will love this” scene with Guillard and Bachau at the end.

CHRYSALIS isn’t a bad film so much as it’s misleading. It’s a light snack that pretends to be a three course meal.

YOU, THE LIVING / DU LEVANDE (Roy Andersson, 2007, Sweden)

Told in a series of intertwining vignettes that often involve dreams and music, Andersson’s film is drier than Aki Kaurismaki. I found myself laughing quite a bit and enjoyed this slow-paced SLACKER-like film.

VEXILLE (Fumihiko Sori, 2007, Japan)

I can’t give a fair review to this film as it managed to put me to sleep after fifteen minutes. What I saw looked and felt like the filler storyline animation between levels in a videogame. It looked nice but was emotionally bankrupt. At least when videogaming a viewer gets invested in the characters and care if the live or die. VEXILLE didn’t have this. “I couldn’t dig it and I left,” to get a coffee in the hopes of shaking off the stupor this film left me in.

PERSEPOLIS (Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi, France, 2007)

Based on the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, this biographical tale of growing up in Iran is a simple animated film in the way that Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a simple comic book. That is to say, it’s not simple at all. Rendered beautifully in black and white (for the most part), this French-language film explores the life of Marjean during the days of the Shah of Iran’s deposing and the years of political unrest and religious fundamentalism that followed.

PERSEPOLIS provides several historical lessons (presented like puppet shows) during its 95-minute running time though it never comes across as preachy or dogmatic. As an American growing up at approximately the same age, the story of Iran from my perspective couldn’t be more different showing just how much the U.S. media tainted my perceptions. For me, the Shah was an innocent victim and the Ayatollah Khomeini (absent from PERSEPOLIS) was the Great Satan. While the U.S. doesn’t escape just vilification (background images include a skull-faced Statue of Liberty), the majority of the film is the growth and adventures of Marjean as an Iranian fish in Austrian waters and as a free-willed woman in a fundamentalist homeland.

Insightful and delightful, PERSEPOLIS is a must-see.

MY ENEMY’S ENEMY (Kevin Macdonald, 2007, France)

I never consider myself worldly or well-learned until I see a “No Duh Documentary.” I’m not an expert on the U.S. policy of hiring and protecting Nazi war criminals but MY ENEMY’S ENEMY didn’t manage to tell me anything that I didn’t already know about the recruitment of “The Butcher of Lyon,” Klaus Barbie, and his post-WWII life in Bolivia. Barbie’s greatest hits include the deportation of 44 children to a death camp, the murder of French Resistance leader Jean Moulin, backing several South American putsches, and teaching the U.S. a thing or two about effective torture methods (some still being used today).

This French/UK documentary showcases quite a few skeletons from the U.S. closet but spends more time demonstrating how the French government refused to bring Barbie to justice for several decades thanks to the post-WWII French government’s comprisal of unsavory Vichy loyalists on whom Barbie held dirt.

Another damning indictment of wrong-headed decisions made out of greed and alleged anti-communist fervor, MY ENEMY’S ENEMY holds more answers to Americans who just can’t fathom why our country is so despised in the international arena. A truly enlightening film.

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