This is the seventh of Jack Hughes’ reports from the 2005 Toronto Film Festival.
The Matador (Richard Shepherd)
A thin contrivance that somehow hit the Festival jackpot as a gala presentation, this under-nourished comedy stars Pierce Brosnan (relishing the opportunity and almost carrying the picture) as a self-described “psychopathic but not psychotic” hitman and Greg Kinnear as a struggling businessman who crosses paths with him in Mexico; as in the recent L’homme du train, their utter lack of common ground provides the impetus for a bizarre rapport (although, Brosnan reminds the other, “just because we shared a laugh doesn’t mean I’m not unsavoury.”) Events later lead to a second meeting, on Kinnear’s suburban home turf, after Brosnan has fallen on hard times. Most of the (isolated) laughs come from convoluted Brosnan asides such as: “I look like a Bangkok hooker on a Sunday morning after the Navy left town” (which, if you try it out, is much easier to write than to deliver). That aside, the movie feels very musty – it could almost have been one of the lesser Lemmon-Matthau comedies (a variation on Buddy Buddy) and seems at least one rewrite short of completion, particularly as regards the rushed ending.
L’Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
The Dardenne brothers won a second Cannes Golden Palm for their latest film – the first was for Rosetta in 1999. According to the programme book, the inspiration for the new film was a young woman who the directors observed frantically pushing a pram, and their films all convey a disciplined adherence to documentary-style realism. Their last film The Son gained some amused fame for the amount of time the camera spent pointing at the back of its protagonist’s head; it was as scrupulous in following the quotidian details of his work, which is his self-definition and ultimately a means of redemption for another troubled character. One gets the impression that the Dardennes would consider conventional notions of cinematic beauty to be merely frivolous, but the danger has been that their films might become more interesting as anthropological exhibits – like staring through the fence into a monastery – than as aesthetic works. L’Enfant does nothing to dispel this thought, and since the film’s sociological content is mostly trite, it generally offers little more than easy entertainment, at which I must say it’s rather too effective for its own higher-minded good.
The main character is a young ne’er-do-well, living through petty crime, whose girlfriend has just given birth to a baby boy; without consulting her, he sells the child into black market adoption, gets it back when she freaks out, but then finds himself in serious debt to the thwarted buyers. The character is portrayed as something of a lovable rogue, but he’s clearly an embodiment of an ethical and educational environment gone horribly wrong (it’s pretty easy to decode the duality in the film’s title – the title of The Son worked in much the same way). The social critique has to be largely inferred though, through such things as the film’s merely minimal trace of any institutional intervention. It resembles a knowing antithesis to The Son in this regard, and in the way that the character may be partly adrift because of having nothing better to do; this is a somewhat conservative stance though, another respect in which the Dardennes seem to me something less than humanist pioneers. Given that L’Enfant also has a soft, indulgent ending (although the easily seduced will regard it as redemptive), that second Palme d’or seems generous indeed.
Mary (Abel Ferrara)
Ferrara’s fiery movie seems to have one overriding point: Mel Gibson is full of s***. Although Gibson himself is only mentioned once, it’s impossible to imagine that Mary would have been made if not for The Passion of the Christ; Ferrara clearly finds obnoxious the self-righteous authoritarianism that surrounded that film, and considers Gibson himself merely a narcissist. He dramatizes this via an arrogant actor-director (played to the hilt by Matthew Modine) whose own Jesus film is attracting heated protests, and whose co-star (Juliette Binoche) has undergone a spiritual conversion and moved to Israel. Forest Whitaker plays a Charlie-Rose like TV interviewer who’s conducting a series of interviews on the nature of faith (with real-life interviewees, Zelig style); meanwhile he’s cheating on his pregnant wife. The object lesson is that faith arises out of lived experience and properly takes a multiplicity of forms; any claim to objective truth is generally repellent on its own terms and ignores the contradictions in the Gospels and other historical texts. Ferrara conveys this in a turbulent dialectical manner; some would see the film as being something of a mess. Echoes of his classic Bad Lieutenant emerge in Whitaker’s ultimate spiritual agony, but for the most part the film belongs to the sleeker Ferrara of his later films like The Blackout and New Rose Hotel. It’s intriguingly turbulent, and seemingly persuasive as a handy survey of current theological thinking; on the other hand the project seems inherently rather petulant.
Entre ses mains (Anne Fontaine)
Fontaine’s last film Nathalie played the festival as a gala a couple of years ago. It’s about a woman who facilitates an affair for her husband, and at times it explores the structure of desire in subtle ways; the closing twist though couldn’t be more clearly signposted, and the film suffers from distinct repetition and artistic narrowness. Nathalie stars Fanny Ardant, Gerard Depardieu and Emmanuelle Beart, perhaps an inappropriately prestigious cast in the circumstances, making the movie’s small virtues seem like water off their plush backs. Fontaine’s new film uses much less high profile actors, and achieves far greater success. It’s about a young married insurance claims officer who becomes involved with a vet – initially he seems quirky and his attention to her is diverting, but his idiosyncrasies gradually become disturbing, perhaps to the point of identifying him as the serial killer who’s terrorizing the town. Nothing very new to that outline perhaps, except the woman’s profession, and that seems significant: insurance’s function as a mitigator of risk and accidents illuminates the film’s examination of contrasting (but of course also interconnected) emotional strategizing. He avoids his pain by spreading his relations thin; she seeks to hedge the predictability of her generally happy marriage. This premise becomes darker and darker, so that what starts as a light observational diversion becomes intensely primal and traumatized. Entre ses mains suggests that Fontaine is capable of major work, although the thesis of this particular film, despite its exemplary execution, ultimately feels just a little too narrow for it to be categorized as that.