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 Police Officer's Wife, directed by Philip Gröning
A Promise, directed by Patrice Leconte
Blind Detective, directed by Johnnie To
A Wolf at the Door, directed by Fernando Coimbra
If you had told me before the festival started that my favorite film from Day 8 would be a Hong Kong riff on a buddy cop movie, I probably would have replied that "anything is possible." But I wouldn't have believed you.
My (snobbish) bad.
In Johnnie To's latest, Andy Lau plays the titular Blind Detective with a rare combination of cheek, humor, and narcissistic bravado. He is hired by a rich female inspector to help him close a cold case. American movies rarely mix comedy and crime, but To's film does so exceptionally well, and it throws in some romantic comedy to boot. Chong (Lau) visualizes the crimes and gains insights by reenacting them to understand better what he can't see. Director To sometimes shows the crime as it is visualized in Chong's head, a device that ought to play like a gimmick but instead breathes life into the criminal procedural. The wild and often sudden shifts from slapstick to serious also work far better than they should.
Most of all, though, there is the partnership at the center. Sammi Cheng's Ho is a unique take on the generic female cop role. She is both Watson to Chong's Sherlock and Archie Goodwin to his physically incapable Nero Wolfe. Chong's disability and Ho's emotional vulnerability make for some interesting twists on gender stereotypes.
At TIFF there are so many prestige films, it can be easy to forget that it is okay for movies to be entertaining. Boy, was Blind Detective fun.
Fun is about the farthest word from describing Philip Gröning's The Police Officer's Wife, a three-hour portrait of marriage purgatory. Gröning's last film, Into Great Silence, was one of those friendship dealbreaker sort of films, so passionate were its admirers. The Police Officer's Wife shares with that film a pace that would have to be double to aspire to "leisurely,"; I saw more walkouts at that screening than any other in the festival.*
It's not a bad film, though, and I have to wonder what those who walked out were expecting. Organized into fifty-eight (or maybe fifty-nine?) "chapters," each which could be a short film unto itself, Wife chronicles with elaborate detail the ugliness beneath the domestic façade we project to the world. I did find the third hour a little hard to take, since once the core of the story had revealed itself there was not much to do but wait to see which version of its one and only possible ending the film would deliver. Some will discuss the meaning of the last chapter and whether or not (and when) the film moves from the literal to . . . something else.
Ultimately, the conclusion of the plot was, for me, irrelevant. Gröning's achievement is in his visuals; I contend the viewing experience wouldn't be changed substantively were it a silent film. Still, three hours is a long trek for material this dark.