I’m afraid I don’t have much to say about Miss Bala, apparently Gerardo Naranjo’s breakout work, and to my mind, his weakest by a mile. Tentative boy-girl interplay infused the violence of Naranjo’s previous effort, I’m Gonna Explode, with gentle irony; here, Naranjo maintains an amorphous, all-encompassing dread. Virtuoso tracking shots, technically as remarkable as anything Naranjo has done, serve to reinforce identification with Laura’s (Stephanie Sigman) bitter endurance and bear witness to creative acts of violence. Little more than a receptacle for abuse, she appears saintly alongside a procession of brutal criminals and corrupt policemen. Naranjo is skilled, but Miss Bala is not what I’d hoped to win him mainstream recognition. D
The opening of Joseph Cedar’s Footnote recalls Certified Copy, as Uriel Shkolnik’s (Lior Ashkenazi) tribute to father Eleizer (Shlomo Bar-Aba) is set against a protracted scowl from the latter. Doubts of Uriel’s sincerity are quickly rewarded: his private account of Eleizer differs sharply from the public. That’s all the better for Cedar’s Cannes award-winning screenplay to remain mysterious about Uriel’s martyr-like commitment to his father, and refrain from resolving the big dilemmas it tackles.
But so much academic filibustering is a bad fit for Cedar’s TV-style direction and talking head setups, substituting broad strokes for much immediacy. It doesn’t help that Professor Grossman (Micah Lewensohn), Eleizer’s rival, is an irrational monster, making Uriel, vain from the outset, a hero whenever convenient for the movie’s game plan. C
If TIFF promises one constant, it is a plethora of unusable notes. During Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet, I’d scribbled on my notepad, somewhat embarrassingly, “Pure cinema—one can just as easily imagine a literary equivalent as a cinematic equivalent to Eliot or Joyce.” Which I’d have been prepared to stand by, prior to discovering that Planet adapts a short story by Tom Bissell, a young author originating from my hometown, Portland, Oregon. (According to Willamette Week’s current cover story, Bissell “[spends] his time on video games and bad movies.” I bristled before I grokked their meaning.) I haven’t read Bissell’s work, but Loktev’s film suggests inner turmoil like few films can or do: it spoils nothing to tell that much of the second half consists, essentially, of watching young engaged couple Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael García Bernal) listen to the sound of their own voices. Their hike guide Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), alternately sinister, incomprehensible and pathetic, is made to feel unwelcome in the subtlest of ways, especially by Nica, who initiates sex with Alex in their tent, with Dato presumably right outside. We’re fully prepared for Dato’s comeuppance, but under the tutelage of movies where sadistic jokes and a whiff of racism translate to villainy, could never guess how unexpectedly it arrives. But then Loktev’s understanding of the complex cycles through which people process guilt, love and fear is never less than acute or surprising. A-
Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene has ambition in spades, but I seem to be nearly alone in finding it squandered. The premise, which recalls my friend Dan Sallitt’s far superior All the Ships at Sea, hinges on the indoctrination process of a violent cult led by Patrick (John Hawkes) and its effects on Martha / Marcy May / etc. (Elizabeth Olsen). Martha’s post-cult behavior, which freely mixes trauma and social retardation, doesn’t sit well with Martha’s sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who loses it when Martha punctures their bubble of upper-middle-class respectability, or her boyfriend Ted (Hugh Dancy), totally resistant to Martha’s presence and inclined to lecture her being normal. The movie’s problems start with Lucy and Ted’s unmediated ostracism and continue with Patrick, whose formal manner, contrasted with his hangdog subjects, has a certain appeal, but is never properly emphasized: Durkin’s style, albeit sometimes low-key, betrays a preference for sensationalism and weirdness over character observation. C