From Iceland — Critic's Pick

Critic’s Pick

Critic’s Pick

Published September 30, 2013

Future My Love
(Dir. Maja Borg)
Anglo-Swedish experimental filmmaker Borg is first seen hitchhiking with a sign that says, ‘VENUS.’ Her destination is the Florida redoubt of utopian futurist Jacques Fresco, a spry nonagenarian who preaches sustainable design, an end to the “monetary system,” and a new society of technological abundance. Over a truly perplexing grab-bag of wonky interviews, obscure archival footage, images of industrial waste and urban alienation, and black-and-white 8mm footage of her muse Nadya Cazan, Borg’s voiceover muses on society at the conceptual level and recounts a possibly real-life love affair. Like all utopians, Fresco believes in social engineering; in this loopy, lovely film, Borg muses on the rational future, and our irrational attachments to the past.
The Missing Picture
(Dir. Rithy Panh)
The Paris-based Panh has made several documentaries about his native Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, whose regime Panh, unlike the rest of his family, survived. That backstory becomes the explicit focus of Panh’s newest nonfiction film, even as his memories remain, by design, elusive. Superimposed over flickering archival footage or arranged in meticulous tableaus, hand-carved clay miniatures—hundreds of them—stand in for his family, Khmer Rouge soldiers, and fellow labour-camp internees in black-inked uniforms, the marks of the carving tool ever more defined in their ribcages. This account of a genocide takes on a daring beauty, giving Panh’s lost family, and millions of others, a dignity in their victimhood.
Mistaken For Strangers
(Dir. Tom Berninger)
Matt Berninger, lead singer for The National, writes moody, elliptical songs about the minor disappointments that add up to a life. Failure is also the subject of his younger brother Tom’s documentary—though here failure is abject, visceral slapstick. Matt invites Tom to join the band’s tour in support of 2010 commercial breakthrough “High Violet,” as a roadie-slash-fly-on-the-wall-documentarian. After he’s fired for incompetence on both counts (actual interview question posed to drummer Bryan Devendorf: ‘Have you—how many, like—how many, like, what kind of—if you’ve done drugs, how many drugs, what kind of drugs and how many drugs have you done?’), the film becomes a document of its, and Tom’s, salvaging.
Tom At The Farm
(Dir. Xavier Dolan)
For his fourth(!) feature, 24-year-old French-Canadian auteur Dolan adapted Michel Marc Bouchard’s play. He also edited the film, and stars as city-mouse Tom, who travels to the dairy farm that was the childhood home of his closeted lover, Guy, dead at 25 for reasons never explicitly given. The atmosphere is damp and autumnal, a fog that never quite lifts, even as considerations of urban and rural life, and repressed and expressed sexuality, play out in Tom’s just barely sexless dominant-submissive relationship with Guy’s butch, homophobic brother. Motivations weaken as the third act goes psychodrama, but Dolan’s direction is stylish, his little flourishes of virtuosity complicating but not compromising the tone of implication.
Two Lovers
(2008, Dir. James Gray)
Gray and his new film ‘The Immigrant’ are honoured at RIFF, an excuse to screen his previous effort: a contemporary melodrama inspired by Dostoyevsky’s ‘White Nights,’ starring Joaquin Phoenix, a miracle of innocent volatility as a man torn between his parents’ hand-picked choice and the troubled goddess across the way (Gwyneth Paltrow). Gray’s films are explicit in the manner of classic drama yet still multi-layered, and so richly shot—genre heirlooms rooted in three-dimensionally evoked, deeply unglamorous white-ethnic Brooklyn. Here, the Russian-Jewish community of Brighton Beach, with its gray, wet winds coming in off the ocean, and warm, smothering interiors, is a lifelike, ironic setting for drama that’s never quite dreamy.

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