By Leonard Klady

Confessions Of A Film Festival Junkie — TIFF40

It’s a tradition that my first TIFF pic is Cannes’ Palme d’or winner. Dheepan is unquestionably potent stuff as one would expect from Jacques Audiard, whose filmography includes The Prophet and Rust and Bone.

The title character is a former Tamil Tiger who’s escaped Sri Lanka in an unusual way. He’s been bundled with a woman and a young girl and told to pose as a family. It works well enough to get them to France where he becomes a caretaker at a housing complex outside Paris that proves to be a war zone of a different stripe with Arab and French gangs involved in a bloody war for supremacy over drugs and protection. The film has its share of violent truths without overshadowing the social and humanitarian elements that provide gravitas. It’s hard to quibble about the politics involved in its festival kudos.

Another Cannes winner, Son of Saul, is also worthy. The Hungarian film that’s likely to make Oscar’s foreign-language short list, follows a member of the Sonderkommando – the unit of primarily Jewish concentration camp prisoners assigned to shepherd new arrivals into the gas chambers and clean up afterward. It’s saved from the grisly ashes by Saul’s quest to find a rabbi and perform final rites. The picture is incredibly accomplished for first time filmmaker Laszlo Nemes (a protégé of Bela Tarr) and owes a debt to its cameraman Matyas Erdely who conveys mayhem in long, unbroken tracking shots and via lighting gives a strong taste of soot, dirt and death.

Another film, the German Victoria, is actually done in a single continuous shot; something electronic cinema allows that the 35mm-shot Saul could not do even if it wanted to. It’s a long night in Berlin with a group of young, bad boys and the transplanted Spanish girl of the title. Hijinx escalate into something considerably darker and the “gimmick” strains to be fresh and valid and mostly succeeds though when it meanders you might find yourself looking for the little cheats.

And walking back to the Holocaust, there is Atom Egoyan’s Remember about a survivor who has pledged to find and kill the German officer who murdered his family. Other than the usual hurdles, there’s the fact that early-onset dementia necessitates precise written instructions from a fellow internee and conspirator. And then there’s the complication that there are four known men who share the assumed name of the villain. Ultimately it’s all grounded by another stunning performance by Christopher Plummer and there’s an “honest” twist which sends everything back on its heels.

Fortunately I stumbled upon an unknown titled Spear, based on a dance drama from Australia. Steeped in Aboriginal history, its focus is on a young man’s journey to the big city and conveys largely through image and movement a proud history and a cruel saga of submission and abuse. I’ve been told that the director and co-writer Stephen Page is considered a wunderkind in theater circles and he’s certainly created a singular film experience with one of the most spectacular and delightfully unexpected dance numbers smack in the middle of it all.

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“Well, actually, of that whole group that I call the post-60s anti-authority auteurs, a lot of them came from television. Peckinpah’s the only one whose television work represents his feature work. I mean, like the only one. Mark Rydell can direct a really good episode of ‘Gunsmoke’ and Michael Ritchie can direct a really good episode of ‘The Big Valley,’ but they don’t necessarily look like The Candidate. But Peckinpah’s stuff, even the scripts he wrote that he didn’t even direct, have a Peckinpah feel – the way I think there’s a Corbucci West – suggest a Peckinpah West. That even in his random episodes that he wrote for ‘Gunsmoke’ – it’s right there.”
~ Quentin Tarantino

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~ Hideo Kojima