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 Face of Love, directed by Arie Posin
The Liberator, directed by Alberto Avelo
Therese, directed by Charlie Stratton
Friday featured a trio of great performances in (only) good movies.
Arie Posin shared with the audience that The Face of Love was inspired by an incident that happened when his widowed mother saw a man who looked like her deceased husband. Posin's mother didn't follow her deceased husband's double, but the film imagines Nikki (Annette Bening) doing so. She eventually finds Tom (Ed Harris) working as an art instructor at a local college. So far, so good; the situation is ripe with possibilities.
Unfortunately, the one the script chooses is a tired movie cliché: the lie at first sight. For the next hour, they develop their relationship only to have us (and Nikki) wonder if he will find out the truth (you think?) and just how much it will hurt their relationship when he does.
In order to accommodate behavior that even the script seems to realize makes no sense whatsoever, the film forces Nikki to move from grief to Vertigo-like obsession. Why? Tom is direct, accepting of emotional complications, and clearly willing to help Nikki heal if that is what she wants. What does she want? She tells another character that she "needs" him, and the film hints that her premature jettisoning of all artifacts relating to her former husband has retarded her grieving process. So how does having a living picture help?
Harris and Bening have charm to burn, and the best scenes are the ones in which they talk honestly about their feelings and what it means to love at a certain age. A movie in which she told him straight off would have opened the door for a frank and tender examination of the interplay between love and grief. Instead we get television-like near misses as the neighbor (Robin Williams) comes to use the pool and Nikki's daughter calls while Tom is in the shower.
It would be nice to see a love story about people over fifty, would it? The Face of Love could have been that if it hadn't been so afraid of letting Nikki, like Tom, speak the truth.
Édgar Ramírez is terrific as Simon Bolivar in The Liberator, Alberto Arvelo's biography of South America's most revered founding father. It's hard to live in a place for any length of time and not come to love it just a little, and my three years growing up in Bogota complicated my emotional response to the film. Most Americans won't know the names of the places where battles are won, and I expect the film relies a bit more than it should on the expectation that names like Boyacá and Carabobo come with the same prefigured significance and emotional resonance as Gettysburg and Agincourt.
In some places they do and will, but The Liberator wants to at least make a play for audiences in Norteamerica, and that requires either giving Bolivar a personal (rather than just political) history or boiling down South American historical politics to something recognizable and embraceable, akin to William Wallace shouting "Freedom!" The film tries to do both, and maybe it succeeds. Early on we are told that South America will never unite because there are too many factions and they don't trust each other, so there's your thirty second history class. Another structural problem is that the film ends in a very strange place, meaning that those who have only assimilated the boiled-down history the film has given them are likely to leave scratching their head about just what Bolivar achieved.