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A Few Days in Toronto

Only Lovers Left Alive
Quai d'Orsay
The Last of Robin Hood
Fading Gigolo

The good, and the bad, and the films you’ll never see

Is this any way to run a film festival? I don’t know the answer to that. This was my 26th time at the Toronto International Film Festival, and in that time it has grown like an insect subjected to radiation in a 1950s science-fiction movie. Perhaps not exactly monstrous, but certainly gargantuan.

One year I saw 63 movies at TIFF and felt qualified to make comments about the festival as a whole. But I was young then and willing to run up a 10-day hotel bill on my credit card. These days you can’t even plan to go up a day at a time: If you want to arrive in Toronto early enough to catch any of the morning films, you either have to leave by 5am or plan on spending three hours on QEW for what should be a 90-minute trip.

If you want an overall assessment of TIFF, go someplace that has a staff of writers willing to collaborate on such a project, like Variety. I go up, see whatever’s playing when I’m there (avoiding the movies that are just going to be in local theaters anyway—why anyone would stand in a rush line to see Rush or Prisoners or Don Jon utterly mystifies me), and hope that I wander into something good.

Luck was not with me this year, as I only saw one film that I loved: Bertrand Tavernier’s Quai d’Orsay. To the best of my knowledge this is the first comedy in the filmmaker’s nearly 50-year career, a very funny political satire on the order of The Thick of It and Veep. The title refers to the Paris street where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located, and where a young writer has just been hired to work on “language.” That he eventually figures out what that means is in no part due to the minister, played by Thierry Lhermitte as a pompous force of nature: He enters and leaves room with such force that papers fly off the desks. The specifics of the political situations may be vague to American viewers, but the ridiculous workplace situations are universal.

At the other end of the spectrum was the British comedy The Love Punch, a movie which achieved the considerable task of being as bad as its title. Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson star as a divorced couple who have to join forces to get his company (and her retirement fund) back from the evil French hedge fund manager who destroyed them. This involves pretending to be Texas millionaires, stealing a $10 million diamond, and other sitcom plotting too stupid to bother my longterm memory with, all accompanied by music that beats you about the head with its leaden whimsy.

Fading Gigolo stars John Turturro as a florist who becomes a gigolo at the suggestion of his friend, a retired book stare owner played by Woody Allen. That’s right, Woody the pimp. Turturro also wrote and directed the film, and while I’ve enjoyed his other efforts as a filmmaker (Mac, Romance and Cigarettes), they always seem to peter out before the movie is over. This one starts out well—if Allen didn’t write his own dialogue, it sure sounds like he did—but fades in an uncomfortable mix of sentiment and farce.

The Last of Robin Hood stars Kevin Kline as Errol Flynn, which had to happen sooner or later. Too bad it didn’t happen sooner, when Kline was still young enough to emulate Flynn at the height of his swashbuckling charisma. Instead it focuses on the last two years of his life and his affair with 16-year-old Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning), as abetted by the girl’s mother (Susan Sarandon). If you enjoyed Behind the Candelabra, you’ll love this, which will probably premiere on cable rather than theatrically.

It’s been awhile since Jim Jarmusch had a hit, even by the limited definition of that term in the “indie” world. His last film, The Limits of Control, barely even got a theatrical release. As a fan I hate to be so cynical as to suggest that his new film was designed to be more audience friendly, but why else would he make a movie about vampires? Of course, the bloodsuckers in Only Lovers Left Alive (Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt) are immortal hipsters, who name-drop the famous still-cool people they’ve known over the centuries and lounge around dark buildings listening to music from Jarmusch’s record collection. It has its moments—nighttime footage of ruined Detroit streets, and a lot of the music is pretty good even if you wish the movie didn’t insist on showing off its taste so much—but at two-plus hours it way overstays its welcome.

As for the movies unlikely ever to be screened at a theater anywhere near you: Kim Ki-Duk’s Moebius is a dialogue-free comedy or horror movie (I couldn’t figure out which it was going for) that starts with a boy being castrated by his mother and then gets weird; Mission Congo documents Pat Robertson’s involvement in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, when he apparently used money raised for relief efforts to fund gold-mining operations in the Congo; 1982 is a powerfully acted drama about a Philadelphia family torn apart by the introduction into the city life of crack in the early 1980s; from Palestine, Giraffada is a family story about a 10-year-old boy, the son of a veterinarian who works at the only zoo remaining in the Palestinian West Bank, who struggles to save the life of the zoo’s remaining giraffe after its mate is killed in a bomb strike.

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