Sept. 12, 2 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 14, 9:30 p.m., AMC 7; Sept. 19, 12 p.m., Scotiabank 1
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Terry Gilliam (Canada/Britain)
Veteran imaginarian Gilliam's third film with writer Charles McKeown is a fantasy cum morality tale revisiting the broad themes, frenetic high energy and visual treats of their previous collaborations ( The Adventure of Baron Munchausen, Brazil). Set in modern London's bleak corners, the film follows grizzled Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), whose motley sideshow transports volunteers through a flimsy mirror into the surreal limits of their imaginations (Gilliam's first serious work with CGI). A centuries-old wager with Mr. Nick (Tom Waits) finds Parnassus facing the loss of his daughter (Lily Cole) on her 16th birthday, while the efforts of slick-talking amnesiac Tony (Heath Ledger) to modernize the act creates further complications. It's a testament to the creative will of Gilliam, who modified the script after the death of Ledger mid-production to include "behind the looking glass" performances from Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, creating a tribute without compromising the story. J.P.
Sept. 18, 6:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 19, 2:30 p.m., Elgin
J'ai tué ma mère
Xavier Dolan (Canada)
A precocious 20-year old tripling as writer, director and star, Dolan earned critical plaudits for his film at Cannes this spring, and it's easy to see why. Set in today's Quebec, this is essentially a love/hate story between a divorced mother and her gay son. Mainly hate at the outset, as the twosome suit up for their daily shouting matches - one a high-school kid suffering from an acute case of teenage angst, the other a suburban philistine hardened to her offspring's verbal tirades. Riveting at first, their fights threaten to dwindle into tedium, but Dolan rescues us in the third act when, without once stooping to sentimentality, he taps into the bedrock of affection beneath the volcanic anger, a love much harder to express but no less deeply felt. The result is a film rather like its young protagonist - erratic yet sensitive, screaming trouble and talent at high decibels. R.G.
Sept. 15, 9:30 p.m., Isabel Bader; Sept. 17, 3:45 p.m., Scotiabank 2; Sept. 18, 4:30 p.m., Varsity 5
Christian Carion (France)
Much like the Soviet Union which serves as the stark but stunning backdrop, this film of many magnificent moments is plagued by its own inconsistencies. Carion is first and foremost a short-film director, and he steers the film through some beautiful passages. But a film that revels in a vivid recreation of late Soviet Moscow flits back and forth to a near caricature of the Reagan White House that fails to make the grade. And the excruciating suspense of an early encounter with the Soviet authorities is not repeated later in the film when essentially the same device is employed at a snowy border crossing. Nevertheless, compelling acting by the leads carries the day, with Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) and Pierre (Guillaume Canet) delivering stellar performances across multiple languages. The overall effect is more than satisfying, but the film has a hard time sustaining its strongest moments. J.B.
Sept. 16, 5 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 18, 2:30 p.m., AMC 6
Le jour où Dieu est parti en voyage
(The Day God Walked Away)
Philippe van Leeuw (France)
The cinema continues to be lured back to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, usually trying to dramatically encompass the enormity of the tragedy (think Hotel Rwanda). Philippe van Leeuw has taken the inverse approach. His film is spare, with few characters, no music and long stretches of silence sparring for ascendancy with the sound of chirping insects. The film focuses on one woman's flight from the carnage unfolding around her. Often, the atrocities are committed just on the other side of a wall - we hear it, and the imagination runs wild with gruesome images. And much of the film is composed of long, steady, wide-angle shots which convey a sense both of isolation and lurking danger. The unnaturalness of the acts being committed is made crystal clear by the natural beauty that surrounds it. The result is an intensely personal, psychological tale, and one which highlights survival as much as massacre. J.B.