VIFF 09: Day 2 10/03/2009
Day 2 was another mixed experience at the festival, and the best highlight for me wasn't even a film. At a screening of the film, Mother, my friend Kurt noticed that writer/director Charlie Kaufman was in the audience. After some nervous deliberation, we decided to approach. So as not to attract unwanted attention, we each were discreet and said just a quick few words and shook his hand. Considering he is responsible for what may be my favourite film of the decade (Synecdoche, New York), this was rather exciting. The same can't be said for all the films we attended.
The Headless Woman
Directed by Lucrecia Martel
Up first was The Headless Woman, a film that did not meet my expectations which were brought on by its phenomenal trailer. Even so, it was still very solid. Although it was one of those films that I appreciated from beginning to end, but felt detached from. I was impressed with its formalism and how subtle it was, but I couldn't help but be disconnected from The Headless Woman. Part of the reason may be its comments on Argentinian culture, which went right over my head. Of course, this is not a flaw of the film, but a result of not being as informed as needed. Nevertheless, it may not be one of the very best films of the year, but it is one I reccomend.
Directed by Joon-ho Bong
After the slow and contemplative Headless Woman, it was nice to sit back and enjoy an intelligent thriller. If Hitchcock was Korean, Mother might be a good example of what his work may have been like. It begins with an incredible opening shot in which the protagonist, a mature woman played by Hye-ja Kim in a remarkable performance, awkwardly dances alone in a field. The "who-dunnit" plot is alternately intriguing and boring, giving into convention far too often. Also, the silliness, apparent in many South Korean films, undermines the serious elements of Mother. Thankfully it has many strong moments and scenes and is overall very entertaining. By the end, it gives a bit to think about as well. The final shot even manages to top the opener.
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Oh boy. I wasn't expecting much and I was still let down. I was hoping for a fun and fancy-free time at the theatre. Not too much to ask for, right? It turns out Imaginarium is the worst film I've seen all year; The worst I've seen since Repo! The Genetic Opera, in fact. Heath Ledger and Christopher Plummer struggle but do their best with their poor material; as do Ledger's replacements (Johnny Depp, Jude Law and especially Colin Farrell). Every other performance is nothing short of wretched. Tom Waits, Verne Troyer and every other supporting actors fail to make anything work. Young leads Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield are especially awful. Cole is used, misused, and overused. If Garfield didn't prove to the world he was in the wrong occupational field in the overpraised Boy A, he certainly does it here. He is nothing more than annoying, like the kid who never shuts up that you want to kick in the shins.
Gilliam's intentions are completely at odds with the methods of filmmaking employed. He seems to want to pay tribute to the power of imagination, but relies on cheesy CGI that ruins any chance of a saving grace. In the very few inspired moments of Imaginarium, props, costumes, and set design are what impress. A forest made out of fake, wooden trees, and the Imaginarium vehicle prove that creativity with real life objects is far more successful than weak, lazy effects. Gilliam also seems to want to express his love for the power of storytelling, yet he fails to tell a good one himself.
Unfortunately this is Heath Ledger's final film, and while it is a failure, we will always have his great performances to return to (Monster's Ball, Brokeback Mountain, The Dark Knight).
posted by adam cook