More short takes on Toronto viewings: Eran Kolirin's THE BAND'S VISIT (4-stars) is a surprisingly apolitical comic fable about what happens when a small Egyptian police orchestra accidentally gets stranded in a remote Israeli town. Focusing entirely on the relationships between the band members and the locals they must deal with for a night, the film is humorous, touching in spots, and completely understated. At times the approach is so minimalist and deadpan that it may try the patience of some viewers, but stick with it and you'll end up with a most rewarding crowd pleaser. Too bad it's so new as to be unavailable for the upcoming 9th Central Florida Jewish Film Festival in November--or is it?
Ole Bornedal's THE SUBSTITUTE (4-stars) is one of the real treats of the festival. Playing in the Sprockets Family Zone program, this sci-fi/horror/family thriller (!) from Denmark stars director Paprika Steen as a new 6th grade subsitute teacher. Her behavior is a bit odd however, and soon the kids are in a race against time to convince their parents that "Ulla" is actually an evil, malicious alien from another planet. Good special effects, nice pacing, and frequent comic relief help make this a winner of a genre film that my kids would absolutely love...even with having to read subtitles.
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (5-stars) from director Craig Gillespie (MR. WOODCOCK !?!) seems to be a unanimous winner amongst festival-goers. I can't imagine what the pitch meeting was like for this one: Ryan Gosling plays a maladjusted, delusional recluse who's in love with his life-size plastic love doll, and the whole town where he lives goes along with it because they care about him. Yeah, right. Yet somehow this scenario plays out just beautifully, with wonderful supporting performances from Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer as his brother and pregnant sister-in-law, Patricia Clarkson as the small-town doctor/psychiatrist, and Kelli Garner as an office co-worker with a special interest in Lars. The story is rich in comic moments, and you'll be amazed and moved by how much the community (not to mention the audience) comes to care about the inanimate "Bianca." And after HALF NELSON, Gosling has done it again and turned in another astonishing performance--he really is that good.
Buddhadeb Dasgupta's THE VOYEURS (2-stars) tells the non-compelling story of a young man from the country who moves to the sprawling and urban Kolkata to work with his friend. The friend is a computer jock and is trying to get a surveillance camera installation business going. When he secretly puts a hidden camera in the apartment of the beautiful neighbor next door, a strange and ultimately tragic series of events unfold. Dasgupta tries to throw in everything into the plot, including commentary on AIDS education, the press, terrorism, police brutality, voyeurism, love, and God knows what else. THE VOYEURS does happen to feature an absurd beatdown (complete with silly sound effects) by a dwarf film director of his overweight lecherous producer. This jaw-dropping sequence instantly brought to mind the now classic clip on You Tube of Part 2 of the Indian midget break-dancing in that old film and then climbing the guy's tie to smack him around. So it wasn't a total loss...