Toronto Dispatch: Lee and Cronenberg Bare All; McCarthy Shows Heart

by Anthony Kaufman
September 9, 2007 3:35 AM
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I hadn't planned on blogging from Toronto, but once a clogger, always a clogger:

Naked Bodies

While lesser films than their previous efforts, Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" and David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" expose the human body in scenes of wonderous audacity -- they are the most indelible sequences involving nudity I've seen in some time. Much has already been made of the deserved NC-17 rating for "Lust, Caution," and thank god, Universal has let the scenes stay because they make the movie. Late in the picture, it's the sexual powerplay between the two characters that gives the movie an enormous jolt -- a moment of exhilirating simultaneous orgasm doesn't hurt either. Like the fight sequences in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the sex scenes in "Lust, Caution" push the story into increasingly feverish and complex directions. Explicit, yes, but utterly necessary, to depict the use and abuse, or l'amour fou (depending on how you look at it), between the characters. If it's true that women are grooving on these scenes, I'm not sure what that says about feminine desire, but cinematically and dramatically, they are the heart of a lustrous movie that takes its own sweet time.

Cronenberg's most conventional film (ever?), "Eastern Promises" nevertheless includes one sequence that saves the film -- a stunning 8-minute intimate action extravanganza that features Viggo Mortensen buck naked in a London bathhouse and kicking ass. Never before have I seen a nude man perform such bracing brutal acts of violence. Cronenberg -- king of body horror -- has slipped in a delirously Cronenbergian sequence into a movie that isn't sure what it's about. There's a story about Naomi Watts's miscarriage-grieving nurse, Russian gangsters, a dead prostitute and her orphaned baby, but it seems like Cronenberg has made the movie for one reason, and one reason only: Mortensen's body. Tattooed and tight, matured, but not yet old, it is a picture of the male physique that is pure adrenaline. He's surely be a hands-down winner and "Golden Boy" in one of Guy Maddin's man pageants in his exquisite and hilarious "Cowards Bends the Knee"-like auto-psycho-pseudo-biography doc "My Winnipeg" (a Toronto highlight).

The Heart of Tom McCarthy

With "The Visitor," actor-director Tom McCarthy delivers an equally sensitive and beautifully crafted follow-up to "The Station Agent." Even the most cynical viewers will drop their guard with this story of a sullen academic widower who stumbles upon two illegal immigrants living in his New York apartment. Political without being preachy, tender, without being sentimental, "The Visitor" exposes the frustration of the average liberal American to do anything to stop their country from destroying itself and its ideals. McCarthy could have fleshed out the story of his immigrants -- a charming man from Syria; his attractive girlfriend from Senegal, but I think he focuses on his middled-aged white protagonist to give his audience -- who, let's face it, will probably also be white and affluent -- someone to latch onto. But it also locks them into his ultimate powerlessness. I don't think "The Visitor" is a movie that tries to activate its viewers, in the way that many recent political dramas have set out to do. Rather, it taps into a profound sense of weakness, a sympathy that many have for the less fortunate, but one that can only go so far. His protagonist remains mostly on the fringe of the drama, an outsider to the ways of political misfortune; and even when he finally explodes, all he can muster is an unsophisticated cry of desparation no more than a child's.

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