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Love Exposure (#110 of 3)

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.

Venice Film Festival 2013: Gerontophilia, Tracks, & Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

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Venice Film Festival 2013: <em>Gerontophilia</em>, <em>Tracks</em>, & <em>Why Don’t You Play in Hell?</em>
Venice Film Festival 2013: <em>Gerontophilia</em>, <em>Tracks</em>, & <em>Why Don’t You Play in Hell?</em>

Mahatma Gandhi is—and always has been—many things to many people, but a sex symbol? In Canadian provocateur Bruce LaBruce’s bluntly titled Gerontophilia, a hugely enlarged rendering of the Indian politician’s visage looms, wall-mounted, over the bed of young protagonist Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie). It’s a sly sight gag, pointing both to the ostensibly straight Lake’s burgeoning desire for aging male flesh, and functioning as a subversive re-contextualization of the familiar. This goes for the subject matter, which has been addressed in films like Hal Ashby’s evergreen Harold and Maude, but still remains a taboo—as does LaBruce’s work. Anyone familiar with the director’s thematically transgressive, sexually explicit canon (No Skin Off My Ass, Skin Flick) might be expecting a result even more startling than usual given the premise, but Gerontophilia may be his most formally conservative film to date.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012: The Land of Hope and Penance

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Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>The Land of Hope</em> and <em>Penance</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>The Land of Hope</em> and <em>Penance</em>

One hates to begrudge an artist the freedom to explore the possibilities of their medium, but a pair of films by two of Japan’s most aesthetically radical cult directors have given me pause. Known respectively as conjurers of kaleidoscopically risqué fantasias and severe J-horror parables, spiritual brothers-in-arms Sion Sono and Kiyoshi Kurosawa have recently begun experimenting with more conventional genres and modes of narrative presentation. Kurosawa was the first to make the move in 2008 with Tokyo Sonata, a quietly devastating film about economic hardship and familial strife. Besides succeeding marvelously on its own terms, it also proved that the transition from genre constructs to dramatic classicism could unfold rather seamlessly. Sono, meanwhile, has reached a dizzying level of creative drive over the last few years. Beginning in 2007 with his underground classic Love Exposure, Sono has pushed furiously against the tides of convention and good taste with such alternately invigorating and infuriating works as Cold Fish, Himizu, and Guilty of Romance.