Editor's Note: We can't all make it to the Toronto International Film Festival (which is too bad, since it's where some of the best films of the next year will be shown). But CT has the next best thing: daily updates during the Festival from our critic Ken Morefield. Stay tuned for the next week for capsule reviews and reflections on some of the world's most important movies.
The Past (Le passé), directed by Asghar Farhardi
Violette, directed by Martin Provost
Young & Beautiful (Jeune & jolie), directed by François Ozon
The Double, directed by Richard Ayoade
Day three of the festival featured two strong films and two relative disappointments.
Everything about The Double spiked my anticipation. Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska are some of my favorite actors. The material is a loose adaptation/update of a Dostoevsky novella. But the film played like a cross between Brazil, The Office, and Body Double, and it never settled on the tone it wanted to convey. The material was too heavy to play for whimsy, while the style was too hammy to be truly disturbing.
Martin Provost's Violette similarly left me confused about its message. The story of Violette Leduc provides a rich character portrait, and Emmanuelle Devos gives a great performance. But while Provost's Seraphine was a tremendous film about great art being produced at great cost, Violette's ending feels both too abrupt and too triumphal. I was left wanting more Simone de Beauvoir and less Leduc.
François Ozon's Young & Beautiful, by contrast, takes a familiar, almost clichéd story, and manages to make it seem new. After a listless first sexual experience, Isabelle (Marine Vacth) begins earning money by turning tricks. Meant in part as a bracing reminder of the constant inducements young women face to capitalize on their sexuality, it never glorifies sexual license. In fact, the film is a bracing reminder that whatever its surface allures, sex has deep emotional consequences that novices both underestimate and are ill equipped to deal with. Despite that theme, the film's explicitness will probably exceed the comfort level of many Christian viewers.
The leaves my recommendation for the day: Asghar Farhadi's much anticipated follow up to his Academy-Award winning A Separation. The Past begins with an Iranian man, Ahmad, coming to France to sign divorce papers. His soon-to-be ex-wife is living with another married man, whose wife is in a coma after a failed suicide attempt. Her daughter is acting out, as is the new lover's son. Farhadi said at the film's Q&A session that "uncertainty" was a major theme in the film. He also suggested that it is thematically and culturally significant that everyone in the film except Ahmad apologizes at one point or another for the hopeless emotional and moral quagmire the extended family finds itself in. One of Farhardi's strengths as a writer is that he is able to show people at their best as well as their worst. A sadness permeates The Past (as well as A Separation) as we see well-meaning decisions go astray or be misconstrued. The result of the constant failure of these gestures is a sense of pessimism resignation—the accumulation of past bruises is just too much to be overcome. Yet the decency and glory of fallen humanity is that it keeps trying. (Special thanks to Sophie Gluck & Associates for their assistance to Christianity Today in getting to this screening.)
Kenneth R. Morefield is an Associate Professor of English at Campbell University. He is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, Volumes I & II, and the founder of 1More Film Blog.