My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (Werner Herzog, USA/Germany)
Werner Herzog had never been an easy director in a narrative sense, and that’s a large part of the grandeur that sits behind some of his greatest films, i.e. Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo. And while My Son, My Son revels in absurdity far more the those two classics, the quarrelsome search for identity its hero (Michael Shannon) takes on is nearly as jarring and effective.
Shannon feels perfect for the role of Brad, a strange young man who kills his mother with a sword and then takes hostages in his L.A. home (don’t worry, all of this is revealed early on). This incident is a frame for the rest of the film, which attempts to explain Brad’s actions the same way Eugene Ionesco tried to explain existentialism – by being very existential.
Which is to say this film will be hard to sit through for most. There are many laughs at supposedly serious scenes and wonderful visuals where there perhaps should not be any (at an airport in Calgary for example). But then that’s always been Herzog’s way – to find wonder everywhere and anywhere amongst the travesty that is human life. Big words, sure, but not for this director. The film is also “presented” and produced by David Lynch, so do not be surprised by double the strangeness that goes on with both auteurs at the helm.
7 out of 10
Bright Star (Jane Campion, Australia)
Jane Campion’s opus on the short, tragic life of poet John Keats is gorgeous and well-cast and well-acted and well-enough written (by Campion), but there’s something missing. It all feels like an outline of some great romance that may have been very romantic when it happened in real life between John Keats (played by a charming Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (played by Abbie Cornish). Here it looks romantic, just as the movie looks incredibly beautiful (shot by Greig Fraser), but the feeling does not seem to move past the aesthetic.
People are talking Oscar for this film and in regards to the acting and the cinematography, it is certainly welcome. Personally, this critic would love to see the fabulous Paul Schneider get some Academy love. He plays Keats’ best friend, and ill-advised adviser-of-sorts.
6 out of 10
Ondine (Neil Jordan, Ireland/USA)
The only other film at TIFF this year that can compete with the lush cinematography of Bright Star is this one, shot by Christopher Doyle (who was behind the stylish Paranoid Park). Set on the east coast of Ireland, Colin Farrell plays Syraceuse, a fisherman who nets a beautiful woman (played by Alicja Bachelda) straight out of the ocean. And who is this woman? Syraceuse’s spunky daughter Annie (newcomer Alison Barry) thinks she’s a sea creature, something like Circe. Annie’s also determined to prove her belief.
Farrell doesn’t know what to think and, it appears, he rarely knows what to do about most things. A recovering alcoholic with an ex-wife who still drains the drink, Syraceuse seeks refuge on the sea and in the church, using the resident priest (a reliable Stephen Rea) as more of a psychologist.
Romance ensues, premeditating the conflict which involves a mysterious man running around the small seaport town looking for the “water baby” (what Syraceuse’s ex calls his new girl), who calls herself Ondine, an easy (but not quite concrete) mythological, aquatic reference.
The thing that wanes here is the story and the pay off, which both let down slightly towards the end. Everything becomes a little too straightforward for a film with much delightful weirdness going on, from the writing to the shot selection to Farrell’s odd, and oddly fascinating, performance. Neil Jordan has still got it, but one wishes he had it all the way until the end of this one.
7 out of 10
Mr. Nobody (Jaco van Bormeal, Finland)
According to Belgian director Jaco van Bormeal, that’s what we all are: nobodies. Or anybodies. Nemo Nobody (a fantastic Jared Leto) is about to turn 118 years old; he is the last mortal living on earth. It is the year 2092 and the whole world is waiting for Nobody to die. Humans can now replicate and rejuvenate cells in this future and are fascinated by the way the world used to be.
This world is just a small part of this epic, however, which muses on our the lives we live and how we decide to live them. For Bormeal (who also wrote the film), decisions are everything: right, left, this way or that. It all comes into play here, as the old Nobody (who is played by Leto with an incredible, and impressive, amount of makeup done to his appearance) struggles to coherently recall his past to a journalist (played by character actor Daniel Mays). There are multiple histories going on here, and all of them hinge on two crucial choices young Nemo was forced to make as a child: the first choice was which girl-Anna, Elise or Jeanne-the second which parent – dad (Rhys Ifans) or mom (Natasha Little).
What happens is all relative to the choices made. If Nobody did, in fact, make them. Leto plays several different versions of Nobody, and his female companions do as well. The women are not particularly well-written considering the amount of screen time given, because it appears Dormeal is focused nearly entirely on Nobody. The only actress who stands out is Juno Temple, a young star in-the-making.
Taking from fare like The Butterfly Effect and all movies to do with time and dimension, this film may exceed them all in its exhaustive (and near-exhaustive stylization) of fate and choice and control. It feels like a second showing film, so stay tuned for another overview upon its release. But I enjoyed this viewing just fine.
8 out of 10