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.

Friends from France, directed by Phillipe Kotlarski and Anne Weil
Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer

I may well be the only person in North America who walked into Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin stone cold, but I think I will be the better for it in the long run. In these days of advance screenings and preproduction gossip, I hardly know what constitutes a plot spoiler any more—particularly when dealing with actors or directors who have an enthusiastic fan base.

Under the Skin was one of those films that I hated through all 108 minutes only to walk out of the theater entertaining the notion that I had totally misjudged it. Scarlett Johansson plays Laura, who spends most of the film hunting for men and finding them surprisingly easy prey. What happens when she gets the men back to her place is . . . not entirely clear. It involves a lot of nudity (mostly male), and some of the most impressionistic use of sound and silhouette you are likely to see in a commercial film. Glazer said of his process in adapting Michael Faber's novel that he sought a "language [that] communicates visually how [Laura] feels."

That explanation makes a lot more sense at the end of the film than it does at the beginning, but whether the average viewer wants to sit through a film twice to preserve the value of allowing a story to reveal itself only gradually is an open question. The way in which Under the Skin riffs subverts its genre conventions—by presenting us with scene after scene that is both utterly familiar and (because of the gender reversals) strangely alien—is also thought-provoking.

Glazer also had some interesting comments about the way the film was shot, particularly in the unconventional placement of cameras and apparent openness to some improvisation to give the pick-up scenes a naturalistic feel. I think it is a film that will be discussed for a long while and could become a fan-favorite . . . at least among those who make it all the way through.

If Under the Skin started slow and finished strong, Friends from France had the opposite problem. The first hour of the historical drama about French cousins in Odessa trying to help repressed Jews at the height of the cold war reels viewers in with a deft portrait of a moment in time and then collapses into a conventional and somewhat trite love triangle.

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The film is filled with smart touches and psychological nuance at the start, particularly in the way that it delineates the complex motivations of Carole and Jérôme. They are motivated in part by idealism, but like much of the idealism of the young, it is tempered with strains of longing to look, feel, and be publicly perceived as righteous. Each suffers from middle-class, first world guilt, which is especially complicated when one's group status is determined by how much one has been persecuted. Does Carole want to help fellow Jews, or does she want a story she can publish? Will Jérôme risk his own safety when asked by a refusenik to go beyond smuggling chocolate and razors and receive a manuscript that could land him in jail?

The film goes off the rails a bit, however, when sexual tensions between Carole and Jérôme are exacerbated and lead to jealousies and the inevitable love triangle (quadrangle)? Much of contemporary world cinema is less concerned with America's squeamishness about sex and nudity in movies, and I hate to make that my central objection to a film that is not pitched at the sort of audiences who would find it objectionable. I bring it up here because Friends from France might otherwise be a good film for schools to give students a glimpse at life in the Cold War Soviet Union. TIFF CEO Piers Handling remarked at how deeply the film captured the mood and feel of the time period that he recalled from a visit to the Soviet Union during that time period.

Also, the film has a very cynical ending, hinting that the more selfish human motives are not just mixed with the altruistic ones but predominate over them. It was a film that I was happy to see but can't really recommend unless someone has a particular interest in the subject matter.

Tuesday marked the halfway point of the festival, which is usually the time where the intellectual realization that you can't see everything really sinks in. With over two hundred and eighty films at the festival, the painful truth is that you will miss more good films than you see. A successful film festival experience entails managing that disappointment by trying to predict which films are mostly likely to be available soon. It's fashionable to think that everything winds up on Amazon or Netflix eventually, but before I came I reviewed the catalog from the 2006 festival and was surprised at home many films, even from the Gala or Special Presentations programs, were not readily available. One of my favorite films from last year's festival, Mike Newell's Great Expectations, still hasn't hit American theaters.

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Some films already have U.S. release dates. The regret at missing Don Jon, Gravity, Blue is the Warmest Color, and Dallas Buyer's Club is assuaged by the assurance that they will be at theaters and on "for your consideration" DVDs before too long. Other films, like Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley documentary or Steven Frears's Philomena were a little harder to let go, even though the reputation of their directors makes an eventual screening highly likely. I'm already regretting missing Hateship Loveship, Liza Johnson's adaptation of an Alice Munro short story featuring Kristen Wiig. "Had we but world enough, and time . . . "

On deck: Daniel Radcliffe plays a young Allen Ginsburg; Frank Pavich chronicles Alejandro Jodorowsky's failed attempt to film Dune, and Lech Walesa gets a biopic. [Note: 1982 and The Liberator are still on the schedule, although pushed back. A conflict kept me from the new Claire Denis film, which has already been picked up for U.S. distribution after a strong showing at Cannes.]

Day 1: Closed Curtain
Day 2: The Last of the Unjust and Mission Congo
Day 3: The Past, Violette, Young & Beautiful, and The Double
Day 4: Watermark, Can a Song Save Your Life?, and Belle
Day 5: Devil's Knot, Night Moves, and The Dark Matter of Love

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.