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Ryo Kase (#110 of 4)

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 Phoenix, Tokyo Tribe, & Hill of Freedom

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Toronto International Film Festival 2014: Phoenix, Tokyo Tribe, & Hill of Freedom
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: Phoenix, Tokyo Tribe, & Hill of Freedom

Christian Petzold and Nina Hoss collaborate on yet another fine quasi-thriller with Phoenix, about a concentration camp survivor, Nelly (Hoss), who undergoes facial reconstruction surgery for a wound and emerges unrecognized by Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), the husband who gave her up to the Gestapo. Well, not entirely unrecognized: He thinks she looks just enough like his presumably dead wife that she could pose as Nelly in order to receive her hefty inheritance. The performative scenes that result from Johnny’s coaching elicit yet another spellbinding performance from Hoss, who always makes Nelly look as if she wants desperately for Johnny to see that it’s her while also dreading what will happen if he figures the truth out. Further, the film uses this setup to make a keen, occasionally funny comment on the male gaze, as Johnny knows every small detail of his wife’s body and movements, yet cannot put together the whole image of Nelly now that it no longer exactly matches up to his idealized memories.

New York Film Festival 2012: Like Someone In Love

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New York Film Festival 2012: <em>Like Someone In Love</em>
New York Film Festival 2012: <em>Like Someone In Love</em>

Of all the extant versions of the popular Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke American songbook standard “Like Someone In Love,” filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami goes with the Ella Fitzgerald version from 1957, playing the song twice throughout his new film of the same name. As ever, the divine Ella brings a thrillingly immaculate richness of voice to the song, enhanced by Frank De Vol’s lush full-orchestra arrangement surrounding her. In short, it oozes passionate yearning, which, by stark contrast, isn’t the quality one would take away from Kiarostami’s film. If anything, the emphasis in Like Someone In Love is on the “like” rather than on the “love.”

Whereas his last film, Certified Copy, managed an airy quality that elevated his intellectual concerns with authenticity or the lack of it in art and life into something genuinely soulful and sensual, this Japan-set, Japanese-language follow-up reworks those concerns into something just as visually scintillating but ultimately more downbeat. Instead of a quarrelling couple-that-may-or-may-not-actually-be-a-couple, there’s a young college student, Akiko (Rin Takanashi), who, through her side gig as a high-class escort, meets an elderly writer/translator/former college professor, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). And the scenic Italian countryside of Certified Copy has given way to Tokyo’s chilly, impersonal metropolis.

Cannes Film Festival 2012: Like Someone In Love

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Cannes Film Festival 2012: <em>Like Someone In Love</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2012: <em>Like Someone In Love</em>

Continuing the international road show he began with Certified Copy, Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami transplants his customary techniques to the soil of Japanese culture with unquestionable success. Kiarostami’s latest plays polyphonies on the twin themes of simulation and dissimulation. Named after an Ella Fitzgerald torch song heard on the soundtrack, an equally appropriate alternative title would have been It’s Only Make Believe. Characters in Like Someone In Love step into various roles as whim and necessity dictate. What at first seems ingenuous, and even playful, grows progressively darker and more ominous, until the shattering finale reveals exactly what the stakes have been in this particular game. Like Someone In Love may bear some of the superficial markings of a comedy, even a romantic comedy Kiarostami-style, but make no mistake, by its final moments the film becomes a startling dissection of masculine jealousy and the capacity for violence.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Restless and This Is Not a Film

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Restless</em> and <em>This Is Not a Film</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Restless</em> and <em>This Is Not a Film</em>

Restless: “Been to any good funerals lately?” Youth, beauty, and death have long been Gus Van Sant’s recurring motifs, but in this terminally whimsical tale of romance between morbid cuties, the elements don’t so much flow together into a stirring whole as coagulate into fatuous prettiness. A dreamy orphan (Henry Hopper, channeling Papa Dennis’s brooding ’50s period) and an ailing gamine (Mia Wasikowska, taking the obligatory spin in the Manic Pixie Dream Girl carousel) are the teens flirting with the Reaper, meeting cute at a funeral and cementing their love by visiting morgues, drawing critters at the cemetery, and laying down on chalk outlines. Along for the ride is the affable ghost of a WWII Japanese kamikaze pilot (Ryô Kase), always ready to drop earnest bromides (“Death is easy. Love is hard”) while on the soundtrack Danny Elfman unloads music box after music box of goo. Working with a warm if pasteurized visual palette, Van Sant gives free rein to his Romantic side, lending the characters an anachronistically intense yearning that hints that they’re in limbo not just between spiritual states, but between centuries. The results are not without drifting specks of poetry, but mostly suggest a fuzzy remake of Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer starring the cast of Twilight.