TIFF 2012: Smells Like Teen Spirits

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As I’ve mentioned in previous years, sometimes I purposely choose films of a given theme on a festival day, and sometimes it’s just a coincidence that I wind up attending screenings that share some kind of common thread. The latter was the case yesterday, as I wound up with two very different movies about teenagers.

First up was The Deflowering of Eva van End(6/8), a darkly twisted but simultaneously quirky and cute Dutch dramedy about a mousy, bookish girl named Eva (Vivian Dierickx), her dysfunctional, well-to-do family and the misadventures that ensue after the arrival of a seemingly perfect German exchange student named Veit (Rafael Gareisen). Blonde-haired, blue-eyed and possessing a New Age-y maturity well beyond his years, Veit promptly sets about “fixing” the assorted problems in the lives of these disconnected family members… but with each course correction comes some sort of calamitous consequence. And, all the while, a silent but smitten Eva does her best to impress their ridiculously thoughtful houseguest.

Rich and intricate in its characterizations and storytelling, The Deflowering… feels a bit like Wes Anderson meets Todd Solondz in tone. Not nearly as bleak as they typical Solondz offering, and not quite as goofy or odd as something from the mind of Anderson. The performances were solid, the cinematography sharp and the art direction an exercise in careful, but subtle, detail. Director Michiel ten Horn’s first feature made for a strong and memorable cinematic debut, and I kind of hope it doesn’t wind up being remade in America.

It’s too late to hope for the same thing when it comes to my second film of the day. The wonderfully wacky and unexpectedly moving Spanish comedy Ghost Graduation (7/8) has already had the rights for an American remake sold. To Will Smith’s production company. I’ll admit I let out an audible groan when that factoid was announced at the post-screening Q&A.

I’m not sure why anyone thinks this great little movie needs to be remade in English – as it stands, it’s a terrific tribute to ‘80s-era teen comedies and would translate just fine for North American audiences. Alas. But I digress…

Director Javier Ruiz Caldera’s lively and colorful film centers on a quintet of teenaged ghosts, who died during a fire in their high school’s library while in detention in 1986 and who have haunted the campus ever since, unable to move on to the afterlife. Enter teacher Modesto (the wonderful Raúl Arévalo), who’s been able to interact with ghosts since he was a boy and who, as a result, has been fired from multiple jobs for seeming to be insane. But when he lands a gig at the dead teens’ alma mater – becoming the first person in more than 20 years to actually be able to see them – his mission becomes clear: help each of them with whatever “unfinished business” they had on Earth so their spirits can be at peace.

With a super-entertaining cast of characters, Ghost Graduation tips its hat – in a big way – to the entire John Hughes oeuvre, down to the archetypal (if deceased) high schoolers (the jock, the geek, the tramp, etc.), location (that school looks like something out of Ferris Bueller) and music (all ‘80s, all the time!). I spent much of the screening smiling, and even got teary a few times. I wasn’t alone, either, as I heard more than a few people sniffling and blowing their noses by film’s end. Director Caldera was in attendance for a pretty adorable Q&A session afterward – apologizing for his English he said, “I’m not as stupid as I sound.” (Awww!)

Again, it was a delightful, feel-good entry and one that I encourage folks to seek out in its existing form before Hollywood gets its hands all over it.


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