Sooner or later at every TIFF, it happens. After a string of good-to-great movies, and just when I start to think maybe I’ve lucked out and chosen nothing but winning films, my streak comes to an end – sometimes abruptly (i.e., I get up and walk right out of the theater halfway through the screening because I’m that disappointed), sometimes much more gradually (i.e., as the film unspools, I begin to realize that I am enjoying it less and less with each passing minute).
And, at TIFF 2012, that kind of moment happened yesterday. Twice.
I had been really looking forward to Lore (5/8), and it was getting fantastic pre-fest buzz. A few days ago, it had also been announced as Australia’s official entry for the best foreign-language film category at the next Academy Awards. And, as a result, maybe my expectations were too high. After all, I’d walked out of director Cate Shortland’s last TIFF entry, Somersault, several years ago, so perhaps I should have tempered my hopes a smidge before walking into the Ryerson for the screening.
To be fair, there’s a lot about Lore that’s great. The story is set in Germany in 1945, just after the Allied victory, and centers on its teenaged heroine (Saskia Rosendahl, in a breathtaking debut) – who’s the daughter of an SS officer and whose entire world literally comes crumbling down around her as the war ends. When her parents are sent to prison, Lore and her young siblings head out on foot across the country in the hopes of finding refuge with their grandmother in Hamburg. Along the way, the staunchly-loyal-to-Hitler-but-entirely-sheltered-to-the-realities-of-Naziism Lore begins to discover the truth about the war, her father and what life will be like moving forward. And, when she and her brothers and sister encounter a young man named Thomas (Kai Malina), she’s forced to confront head-on what she believes.
The acting is top-notch, the story compelling and, for the first 2/3 of the film, I was riveted. And then, suddenly, in its final third, the entire movie completely unravels. One moment, characters are on a train being asked for papers… the next, they’re sitting on a huge, deserted beach in the middle of nowhere, without any hint of how or why they arrived there. And it just went downhill from there, with a conclusion that doesn’t feel as much like an “ending” as it does a cessation of the storytelling. As the film began to wind down, I felt confused and dissatisfied, and with many more questions than answers. As much as I’d wanted to love Lore, I left the theater feeling a little cheated by the lack of clarity and resolution in its final act.
Unfortunately, things didn’t improve at my second screening of the day, director Chen Kaige’s Caught in the Web (4/8), which I stuck through to the end even though I wanted to leave multiple times. I’d very much enjoyed this director’s work in the past, so I kept hoping the film would come together, tighten up and start, you know, getting good. But it didn’t.
Set in modern-day China, and tackling the issue of the consequences of technology’s omnipresence, the film revolves around a viral video of a young woman on a city bus as she seemingly refuses to give up her seat to an elderly man. But, as with life, there’s more to the story than what you see. Too bad that doesn’t stop a determined news producer, the angry wife of the bus girl’s boss and the general public at large from latching onto the video and virulently condemning its initially anonymous subject all over the internet.
As the consequences begin to multiply, and interest in the video reaches a fever pitch, our ailing heroine retreats further and further, seeking protection by, of all people, the news producer’s boyfriend. The title of this movie is oddly fitting, given the labyrinthian plot and the various threads ensnaring all its characters… but the whole thing just felt really sloppy, loose and poorly acted. I found all the characters unlikable in some way, and was surprised that so many of the women onscreen were portrayed as either naive, nasty or negative, while the male characters were heroic, compassionate and sensible. I was not engaged in the proceedings and kept waiting for some kind of revelatory moment that would tie everything together in a way that would redeem all that came before… but that moment never arrived.
As an aside, WTF is up with the Elgin theater’s segregated ticket-holders lines??? Much to my shock and dismay, I discovered yesterday that there’s a new practice in place there this year: one line for regular ticket holders, and one line for anyone with a VISA Gold, Platinum or Infinite card… with the latter line being let in to the theater first. Now, I get it – VISA is sponsoring that venue and they want to recognize their elite cardholders by offering them this perk. Fine. But shouldn’t they be letting the rest of us know about this new policy before we buy a ticket? Had I known, I guarantee you I wouldn’t have bothered with any films at this theater.
As it was, I arrived at the Elgin one hour before my screening, so I was maybe the 80th person in line. Hooray! And then I saw the second line, and watched that line grow and grow and grow, eventually rendering me somewhere around the 400th person in line. What’s the point of getting there early if several hundred people will be allowed to cut in front of you because they have a better VISA card? How is that fair if we’re not informed ahead of time so we can judge for ourselves whether it’s worth the hassle? Sorry, Elgin, but I won’t be patronizing you in the future if this policy sticks. And boo on TIFF for implementing it in the first place.