By Mike Caccioppoli
The Tillman Story (USA 2010)
Directed by Amir Bar-Lev
If you’re not already incensed about the way the U.S. government has handled the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq I can tell you that after seeing The Tillman Story you will be. Tillman, the NFL star who decided to enlist in the military was killed in action on April 22, 2004. At first the military told his family that he was killed by the enemy but it was later revealed that it was friendly fire. As Tillman’s family and the soldiers that were there with him when he was killed are interviewed we become aware of a huge cover up that traces all the way up the ladder to George W. Bush. The Tillman Story will make you incredibly angry at the way our government spins a story to fit their own needs and in the process does not return the loyalty and respect that our soldiers give to it in spades. You will also get to know the real Pat Tillman once and for all. An infuriating but great film.
Run If You Can (Germany, 2010)
Directed by Dietrich Bruggemann
There has been a lot of talk at the festival this year about the recurring “3-way” theme that we’ve seen in several films. Run If You Can is the latest film that skirts this theme but in a different way than other films I’ve seen. It’s about Ben, a wheelchair bound young man who along with his new aid Christian, falls in love with pretty cello player Annika. Ben has lots of issues especially since he can’t perform in bed the way he used to before his accident. Director Dietrich Bruggemann has a compelling story to tell and his actors do a fine job especially Robert Gwisdek as Ben. The film goes on a bit too long though as some of the same notes (Ben’s jealousy of Christian, his own psychological issues) are played out in at least one scene too many. While the film could have benefited from some editing it’s still a more than worthy first effort from Bruggemann.
Angel at Sea (Belgium/Canada, 2009)
Directed by Frederic Dumont
Outstanding film about a boy who is obsessed with the well being of his mentally ill father. When Bruno (the always superb Olivier Gourmet) tells his 12 year old son Louis (Martin Nissen) that he’s going to kill himself, the boy can’t stop worrying about him and it begins to take its toll on him emotionally and psychologically. Angel at Sea is a film that truly understands the torment that a family must go through when a loved one is mentally ill and how we know so little about how to deal with it. It’s also a moving portrait of a boy who loves his father so much that he feels his pain and makes it his own. Stunningly shot and brilliantly acted.
Double Take (Belgium/Germany/Netherlands, 2009)
Directed by Johan Grimonprez
It’s hard to describe this film because I don’t think that it even knows what it is exactly. Archival clips from Hitchcock movies, interviews with the great director, old Folger’s coffee commercials and the “kitchen debate” between Nixon and Khrushchev are mixed in around a fictional account of Hitchcock meeting his “doppelganger” back in 1962. There’s also a real Hitchcock look alike thrown in as well. The old clips are great if you are a Hitchcock fanatic and the coffee commercials are a blast. Even the cold war stuff is interesting but the sub-plot involving Hitch and his double is a real buzz kill and doesn’t go anywhere. I think much was on the mind of director Grimonprez and it gets kind of exhausting trying to figure out where he wants to go with all of it.
Imani (Uganda/Sweden/Canada, 2010)
Directed by Caroline Kamya
The first film from Uganda to arrive at SIFF isn’t a very good one. Following several different characters as they go about their daily lives the film does show us a part of the world that we haven’t seen much on screen before but there isn’t anything of interest going on in the script as dramatic tension is no where to be found. The three story lines don’t go anywhere so it’s hard to really have any interest in these characters lives. I’m glad Uganda is on the cinema map now but I hope their next effort is more involving.
Cherry (USA, 2010)
Directed by Jeffrey Fine
Cherry is a coming of age story that kind of misses the mark at being a great film in that genre but is still a worthy entry. When Aaron heads to college he finds himself in the odd situation of falling for an older female student as well as her 14 year old daughter. His unique relationship with them is at the heart of the film and while there are a few interesting scenes in which Aaron is forced to confront his desires, instead of delving deeper into the possibilities and complexities of such a relationship the film heads in the more mainstream direction of other coming of age films as Aaron must deal with his smothering mother and a demanding professor. The performances are solid and Kyle Gallner is extremely likable in the lead role. But when Aaron embraces both mom and daughter at the films end and one of then says to him “This is what you always wanted isn’t it?” I wanted to scream out..Yes!
Undertow (Peru, 2010)
Directed by Javier Fuentes-Leon
Miguel is a married man who is about to become a father but he’s also involved in a side affair with Santiago. Living in a small town he is afraid for anyone to know about his “other” side. When Santiago drowns he mysteriously remains in town as a ghost that only Miguel can see. Undertow is at its most fascinating when it makes parallels between Miguel’s paranoia surrounding his homosexuality and his ability to see and interact with his dead lover who he can now do things with out in the open since nobody else can see him. There is a sense though that the film could have done much more with this idea but there aren’t enough scenes between the two lovers and too many scenes involving the townspeople’s intolerance of Miguel’s situation, all of which we’ve seen before. However the cinematography is outstanding and the heart of the film shines through because of the performances of the two leads.
Gordos (Spain, 2009)s
Directed by Daniel Sanchez-Arevalo)
This film about a group of obese people trying to lose weight is sometimes touching and often very funny but in the end there is just too much going on with too many characters and sub-plots for the film to hold together. As they all struggle with self image and their partners range from grudgingly supportive to downright obnoxious, the film makes some smart observations about how our relationship issues can effect our eating habits. The main problem is that the film is ambitious to a fault, as it begins to become increasingly difficult to figure out what the filmmakers really are trying to say. The biggest accomplishment is by the actors who seemingly lost tens of pounds instead of opting for make-up in order to give the film a more realistic feel.
I Killed My Mother (Canada,2009)
Directed by Xavier Dolan
Hands down one of the best films of the festival. Dolan wrote the screenplay when he was 17 and acted and directed it at 21. Hubert (Dolan) is a gay teen who simply doesn’t get along with his mother (the brilliant Anne Dorval). It gets to the point where their screaming matches become so intense that it wears both of them out. When his mother has had enough of Hubert she decides to send him to a boarding school even though he’s about to turn 17.
The mother-son struggles are so fiercely acted out by Dolan and Dorval, their chemistry so electric that it’s as though they are truly mother and son. Dolan scripts these arguments with a bravado that is both funny and achingly cutting at the same time. What’s truly amazing is how Dolan, at such a young age, wrote characters so full and rich and ultimately true to life. It would have been easy for a 17 year old to turn the mother into a domineering bitch, and while she can be that at times, she’s also loving and willing to forgive her son’s many transgressions and insults. She’s also given of the most heartfelt and emotionally devastating lines I’ve heard in a very long time. When Hubert, on his way to the bus that will take him to boarding school yells at his mother, “What would you do if I died today?” she says after pausing for a moment, “I would die tomorrow.” Hubert, as with much of what his mother has to say, doesn’t hear her.
With all of the shouting that goes on throughout the film (some have said it’s “too loud” but if you’ve ever had a real argument with your mother you will understand that this criticism is ridiculous) it ends on a very quiet note that shows how two people could understand each other so well that sometimes words aren’t necessary. Even when they are necessary it’s not the words that really matter but the emotions beneath them.
Xavier Dolan has made a remarkable first film and it leaves us in awe of what he may accomplish in the future.