Back to IndieWire

TIFF, Day Five: Villeneuve’s ‘Enemy,’ Reichardt’s ‘Night Moves’ and the Overstuffed ‘August: Osage County’

TIFF, Day Five: Villeneuve's 'Enemy,' Reichardt's 'Night Moves' and the Overstuffed 'August: Osage County'

Sometimes you shouldn’t listen to people you’re standing
next to in line, no matter how charming you find them. 

I spent quite a long time outside the Elgin
last night standing next to a delightful young couple from Sudbury (which ought
to have told me something, as it seems to be a country-bumpkin punchline to a
number of jokes) who were spending their vacation at TIFF, had chosen a very
eclectic program, and (this should have been the second tipoff) had liked
everything they’d seen so far.  Their
enthusiasm for “Half of a Yellow Sun,” plus its stellar cast
(Chiiwetel Ejiotor, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose), source material (a novel
that won the Orange Prize), and setting (Nigeria during civil war), convinced
me to start the day with it.

Even the best actors are lost without a decent script.  “Half a Yellow Sun” seemed stodgy,
cliched, and clunky to me — a soap opera roundelay of barely-comprehensible
infidelities, set against underexplained political conflict. I didn’t get it.

Up next, Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy,” chosen
because I was impressed with both “Incendies” and
“Prisoners.”  Well, the guy has
never made the same movie twice — though all three are dark, both in subject
matter and look. “Enemy” is based on a novel by the
Nobel-Prize-winning Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago — original title,
“The Double,” possibly not used because there’s another movie this
year with that title, based on Dostoevsky’s novella (and also showing at TIFF),
starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska.

We’ve come a long way from the days of Bette Davis playing
twins in “A Stolen Life” and Hayley Mills, ditto, in “The Parent
Trap” — technically, anyway.  When
history professor Jake Gyllenhaal meets his mysterious double, a small-parts
movie actor, in “Enemy,” the effects are seamless.  (It’s more distracting that screens all over
the Scotiabank had regularly broadcast the knowledge, all week, that Gyllenhaal
is a member of Swedish royalty.) It’s fun to watch a story that’s recognizably
set in Toronto while you’re in Toronto — even if the take is of a rather
soulless, dull Toronto. I find “Enemy” stylish, disturbing, and
intriguing — although thin — right up to its final shot, when I leave, mildly
dissatisfied, but not at all unhappy to have spent an hour-and-a-half in its

I line up for the next movie, Kelly Reichardt’s “Night
Moves.” I am of two minds about Reichardt.  People have always adored her personally, and
I was charmed by her persona the other day during her onstage conversation with
Spike Jonze, but I’ve never quite been fully convinced by her films.  I came late to “Old Joy,” and expected
more because of the delirious critical acclaim it had been greeted with. “Wendy and Lucy” seemed heartfelt,
and certainly knew what it was about, but seemed thin, especially in comparison
with, say, the Dardenne brothers’ “Rosetta.”  

“Meek’s Cutoff” was elegant, and
elegantly ambiguous — probably my favorite of Reichardt’s work. “Night Moves” is about a group of
three eco-terrorists (Reichardt objected to the term “terrorist” when
Jonze used it the other day — she preferred “activist” — but I
think when making and blowing up a bomb is involved, “terrorist” is
the correct term) who get together to explode a dam, thereby making people
think about “killing salmon in order to use their iPods 24 hours a

The burst dam creates collateral damage, causing one of the
trio to have second thoughts about their actions, and  another member of the trio to have second
thoughts about his safety and security. 
Reichardt has learned her Hitchcock lessons pretty well, and her trio of
actors — Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Saarsgard, and Dakota Fanning — are all
interesting and entirely believable, although the last violent twist in the
tale seems out of left field. “Night Moves” won the Grand Prize this week at the Deauville
American Film Festival over 13 other films, including “All is Lost”
(which won the Jury Prize) and “Fruitvale Station.”

Back in line outside for “August: Osage County,”
where I spend most of an hour chatting with a woman who buys films for a couple
of Swedish public television stations. 
I’ve seen the Pulitzer-prize-winning Tracey Letts play, in the roadshow
version starring Estelle Parsons, which took over 3 1/2 hours (including two
intermissions), so I know what I’m in for. 
I figure I might as well see it with a full house; if I didn’t see it in
Toronto, I might never get around to it. 
So here I am.

I’m surprised at this Press & Industry screening to see
Cameron Bailey, the Artistic Director of TIFF, on stage with a mike.  He reminds us to turn off our phones, and
says that’s why he’s here — not.  He
introduces director John Wells, who says that he was lucky enough to see the
play on Broadway, and that they finished the film on Friday.  I sense the presence of Harvey Weinstein,
lurking in the shadows by the theatre entrance, with his usual entourage. Talk about your nine-hundred-pound
gorilla!  Not only do I not remember this
kind of show of force any other year, I have been told by many directors that
they are specifically not supposed to be present at the P&I screenings,
before or after.

“August: Osage County” is part of a genre I call
Eugene O’Neill Simon: horrible secrets revealed by constantly fighting unhappy
families, with jokes.  Meryl Streep is
gunning for yet another Oscar (fine by me), surrounded by many other name
actors (most noticeably up against her, Julia Roberts) who deliver varying
degrees of performances in varying styles. Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper acquit themselves well; Juliette Lewis
and Dermot Mulroney, less so. Julianne
Nicholson has her moments; and there’s the omnipresent Benedict Cumberbatch,
being (kinda) Southern. Abigail Breslin
doesn’t do much. It’s an overstuffed lox of a movie. This kind
of thing is more impressive onstage, when the very liveness of it makes it move
like a fast train.

I once again try on my party girl persona, at the low-key
(by the time I get there) but charming Fandor party: there’s lots of nice nosh
(classy meats and cheeses, fruit, nuts), a swell assortment of pins, and a big
announcement:  Fandor, which I think of a
Netflix for smart people (i.e., cinephiles) is now available in Canada.  I chat with two attractive young girl
journalists, one from Poland, the other of Middle East extraction, but living
in Toronto.  The Polish girl can write in
English “from the scratch”; the Iranian asks me what I’m looking forward
to, and throws a tiny tantrum when I respond with what I’m planning to see
tomorrow at 9 a.m., “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and
Her,” a duo of 90-minute movies about relationship troubles, told from the
two sides of the couple. 
“Why,” she says, “is everybody talking about this — it’s
a first film from an unknown director!”

I feel a trifle sandbagged — and don’t
even bother to say “Well, probably a lot of people are intrigued by the
cast: Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.” 
Instead I say, “Honey, I’ve been coming to Toronto so long that I
used to look forward to the new Rohmer, the new Chabrol, even the new
Godard.  And the new Wong Kar Wai or John
Woo.”  Ou sont les Tsui Harks

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Festivals and tagged , , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox