On the Scene at the Toronto Film Festival: 'Barley,' Bong, and Borat
I just want you people to know: When I narrowly miss a screening of Volver because of a scheduling snafu, when I’m feeling hypoglaecemic and half-blind and vaguely icky after watching three movies in a row, when I’m at my lowest… I come to you. And you give me strength.
So let’s start my Day 1 analysis with what I did get to see: The Wind That Shakes the Barley was my Irish breakfast. It’s the story of an increasingly bloody insurgency and an increasingly desperate occupation that’s worn out its welcome — total escapism, in other words. Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney (pictured) play brothers, the former a thinker, the latter a doer — they’re the Che and Castro of the post-WWI Irish uprising. Committed to ousting the hated Brits (who’ve unleashed their thuggish “Black and Tans” on the restless population), the nascent Irish Republicans wade deeper and deeper into the sludge of guerrilla resistance, meeting their oppressors’ savagery “with a savagery of our own.” We all know where that leads, and it’s not down Moral Clarity Lane. I’ll confess that, to me, Ken Loach’s beautiful and relentless film, with its crisscrossed moral tripwires, feels more like very good, very impassioned diorama sociology than a breathing human story. But perhaps that’s his angle, to keep us at a goodly remove: He takes bites out of his characters’ humanity, and people are reduced to positions: a hill to be taken, a message to be sent. This is Loach’s Battle of Algiers, and it’s easy to see how it grabbed the Palme d’Or in these late days of stumbling hegemonies and the moral and socioeconomic vacuums they leave behind them.
Which, oddly, brings me to The Host, a Seoul-set monster mash that’salready a bit hit on its native soil. It is, quite simply, SouthKorea’s Godzilla, filtered through SARS, the Sunshine Policy, and KungFu Hustle. Like Japan’s atomic lizard, director Joon-Ho Bong’s rivermonster is animated by fear and loathing of an opaque and indifferentWest, an alien entity that fecklessly dumps toxic chemicals from itsmilitary bases into the water supply and responds to the resultinghealth crisis with a fascist crackdown. Ah, but there is no healthcrisis: There’s only the monster itself, a bounding, almost goofy CGIleviathan that Bong springs on us over and over — yet it never getsold. The story, which revolves around the adventures of one“contaminated family,” undergoes so many snap tone changes — hilarityto melodrama, horror to political harangue — you’ll feel nicelywhiplashed by the end, as if George Romero were in his prime again.
It was quite a change of pace after Climates, a Turkish relationshipdrama with a unique structure: Bookended with the story of thesympathetic female character, the center is abandoned to her lover, anaging cad and grad-student man-child (writer-director Nuri BilgeCeylon) committed to nothing but his own emotional immobility. Ceylon’salmost time-lapse shots of falling faces and collapsing moods have aneorealist patience that’s seldom seen anymore, even in neorealism’slatter-day descendents. However (and I’m sorry to report this) there’sno river monster. None. Even in the background, even as an extra in astreet scene. I checked.
I’ll never know if Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make BenefitGlorious Nation of Kazahkstan has a river monster, because theprojector broke. But more on that later. I’ll hit the highlights: Borat(Sascha Baron Cohen, in deep character) arrives in woman-drawn cart(which also carries a donkey); movie starts, projector breaks; MichaelMoore attempts to fix it; Moore and director Larry Charles take thestage, do an informal Q&A; Borat appears, compares Kazahk andCanadian camera equipment, says film was assembled with “finest horseglue,” offers to “sex” several audience members. There were hints of aninsurgency from the rowdy crowd. A full report to follow soon — Igotta go check out the much-buzzed about Journals of Knud Rasmussen,and, to be blunt, reader, I’m still in the knud myself.