Micmacs: To judge from his films, Jean-Pierre Jeunet couldn’t tie his shoelaces without first devising a Rube Goldberg contraption of toothpaste, waffle makers, and jars full of bees to do so. Jerry-rigged doodads dominate the Gallic auteur’s new clockwork confection, which retains some of the anti-militarism of A Very Long Engagement while scrambling to outdo the sugary excesses of Amélie. The prologue, with its collision of disobedient landmines, prison-like schools, and a video clerk (Dany Boon) with a bullet in his noggin while classic film noir plays on his telly is breathless in its one-idea-per-shot inventiveness. Unfortunately, it takes no time for the inventiveness to turn antic and oppressive as the hero sets out to take down a pair of nefarious ammunition magnates with the help of a gang of adorable junkyard dwellers, and an onslaught of balloon-thought puns, contortionist gamines, and lavishly wasteful camera movement is unleashed. The one clear feeling is that Jeunet hates the human damage of warmongers and that he hates parting with his goony gizmos even more.
Trash Humpers: After Jeunet’s wantonly prettified toy cities, Harmony Korine’s pageant of belligerent grubbiness is almost welcome. Almost. Like Gummo, it’s explicitly offered as an act of vandalism, with creatures ignored by the rest of society and cinema taking over the spotlight and tap-dancing all over notions of “taste.” The joke is that the adolescent hellions from his debut have become rubbery prunefaces, wearing grotesque geriatric masks that turn them into hideous parodies of horny retirement-home troglodytes. Korine’s world is a squalid stage, his characters are shock-artists channeling madness into performance: People hump trash bins (and trees and fences), smash TVs with hammers, molest dolls, deliver monologues, fill the air with cackling mantras and Beavis and Butt-Head giggles, and basically act like the Manson family shooting their version of Cocoon. (Mock-porno/snuff VHS graininess is the aggressively ugly aesthetic, complete with tracking problems.) Some of it has a grimy elation, but in the end the wrinkled masks serve mainly as a metaphor for a spastic enfant terrible in danger of aging without maturing.
Lourdes: Miracles are the most difficult things to depict on screen, according to Godard, who posited Hitchcock and Dreyer as the only ones able to pull it off. Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner’s tour of the titular sacred site may not be invited into the pantheon just yet, but her balance of earnestness, irony, gravity, and wry humor is consistently captivating. Lourdes here is a tranquil, teeming playground. People go to confessionals, watch inspirational videos, tell each other their dreams, pray for miracles, and look on in envy as someone else gets them. Part of a group of pilgrims, the wispy, wheelchair-bound heroine (Sylvie Testud) isn’t after wonders but people to meet (she unfavorably compares the city to Rome). A seemingly wondrous event takes place, though she remains, as one biddy puts it, “not as pious as she might be.” Suspense grows, coolly but firmly: “The Lord giveth…” Composed with an eye for telling gesture within crowded frames and anchored by Testud’s emotional purity, it’s a modest but trenchant investigation of the spiritual.
To the Sea: A discovery and a revelation, Pedro González-Rubio’s micro-budget seaside idyll shows how swollen and synthetic many of the festival’s pricier entries are. Straddling the line between fiction and documentary with as much tenderness and sensuality as Robert Flaherty’s works, the film takes three real individuals—separated couple Jorge and Roberta and their young son Natan—and has them not so much “play” themselves on screen as add their innate essences to González-Rubio’s vivacious play of nature, people, and camera. Set in the Mexican-Caribbean reef of Chinchorro, where Jorge stays with Natan before the boy moves to Rome with his mother (“I’m unhappy with your reality, you’re unhappy with mine” is how Roberta sums up the end of the couple’s romance), it provides lambent views of underwater crustaceans, the boy’s graceful bond with a white egret, and the vérité spectacle of seawater splashing the lens as a great barracuda is wrestled onto a boat. Immersive yet as fluid as the ocean, it’s a movie André Bazin would have loved.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 10—19.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.