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Agora

Alejandro Amenabar (Spain)

**

For director Amenabar ( The Sea Inside), human beings are to God what ants are to mankind - tiny creatures, frenetically busy, casually interesting to observe. But ants, as far as we know, aren't prone to the kind of violent ideologies that gripped fourth-century Alexandria (and, needless to say, grip us today). Back then, newly minted Christians (the new orthodoxy) slaughtered the perceived heretics of the day: pagans and Jews. Among the real-life victims was one Hypatia, philosopher, teacher and mathematician - adroitly played here by Rachel Weisz. An embodiment of all the grace, beauty and wisdom of the age, she is stripped naked and stoned by the howling Christian mobs. Long but, like an ant colony at work, fascinating to watch. M.P.

More Related to this Story

Sept. 12, 1:30 p.m., Roy

Thomson; Sept. 14, 5 p.m.,

Scotiabank 1



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The Art of the Steal

Don Argott (USA)

***

By 2011, if the immensely powerful powers-that-be of Philadelphia have their way, the famed Barnes collection of (largely) post-Impressionist art will be relocated to a brand-new gallery in downtown Philly from its home of the last 80 or so years in suburban Merion, Pa. That this move is entirely at odds with the well-known wishes of the collection's founder, Dr. Albert C. Barnes (who died in 1951), is entirely the point of this documentary by Philly filmmaker Don Argott. As its title suggests, Argott's effort is more polemic/ cri de coeur than dispassionate depiction of the myriad forces and interests battling over the Barnes legacy which, with its 59 Matisses, 69 Cézannes and seven van Goghs, is valued at more than $25-billion (U.S.). Still, while overlong and sporting an irritating soundtrack, it does its agitprop job well and, for the most part, persuasively. J.A.

Sept. 12, 3:15 p.m., AMC 2; Sept. 14, 8:30 p.m., AMC 2; Sept. 19, 2 p.m., AMC 10



Bassidji

Mehran Tamadon (Iran/France/Switzerland)

***½

When those who support the Islamic Revolution in Iran visit the barren frontier between their country and Iraq, and retell stories of how Iranian soldiers and volunteer fighters died, one after another, those people cry. When they talk about Islamic tenets, they sometimes struggle with competing logic or turn on it with accusations, just like adherents of any other belief. The point of this fascinating, patient documentary is that we are all people, bottom line. The director, an Iranian who now lives in France, returns to try to understand the deep, seemingly unbridgeable rift in Iranian society between moderates and hardliners. Interestingly, he focuses mostly on the hardliners, leaving the moderate viewpoint to anonymous questions left insufficiently answered. This seems to turn the film into a documentary intended more for the outside world, in the hope of sparking conversation and to show the thought patterns of centuries-old Iranian views of martyrdom and oppression. Does the film succeed in at least opening up the lines of communication, or does it only highlight the divide? That's something only each viewer can answer. G.D.

Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m., AMC 5; Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m., AMC 4; Sept. 18, 3:15 p.m., AMC 4



Beautiful Kate

Rachel Ward (Australia)

**

Make no mistake: Beautiful Kate is an impressive feature-film debut by Rachel Ward, most famous until now for her appearances in Against All Odds, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and The Thorn Birds. Working as director and screenwriter here, she seamlessly melds character with place (in this case, the Australian outback) to tell a story of forbidden love, tortuous memories, remorse and forgiveness. The acting (including that of Ward's husband Bryan Brown) is mostly pitch-perfect, the dialogue honest, unaffected and often coarse, the detailing palpably authentic. Even the flashbacks work. However, what keeps Beautiful Kate from being completely successful is the (over)familiarity of its central narrative conceit, namely estranged son (Ben Mendelsohn) leaves city with fiancee (Maeve Dermody )in tow to visit crusty dying dad (Brown) at the decaying homestead he hasn't seen in 20 years. Naturally, painful memories surface, bitter words are exchanged while the ghosts of Mendelsohn's dead twin sister (the Kate of the title) and his older brother, a suicide, weigh heavily on all concerned. Working from Newton Thornburg's 1982 novel, Ward throws in some twists to try to freshen up her closely observed domestic yarn but they're not quite enough to elevate the movie beyond melodrama. J.A.

Friday, Sept. 18, 11:30 a.m., Scotiabank

Bright Star

Jane Campion (Britain/Australia/France)

***

It may be a romance involving the greatest of the romance poets, but John Keats isn't the star of Bright Star. Instead, as that title hints, the real subject is the object of Keats's affection - Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Their relationship, unconsummated yet immortalized in the surviving letters, was confined on every side not just by the proprieties of the time but also by the poet's failing health, empty wallet and, no doubt, by his own conflicted nature. All this emerges through Fanny's frank and unblinking gaze, which is precisely where Cornish shines. She speaks eloquent volumes with her eyes, seeing much, feeling much, yet pushed by convention and circumstance to the margins of Keat's brief life. Consequently, at times, her emotions appear to grow out of thin dramatic soil. Mainly, though, it's the exquisite restraint - both of Cornish's performance and Campion's direction - that gives the film its power. Here, as in Keats's work, lyrical beauty is wedded to "easeful death," and Fanny had no place in that marriage, fated to be a poignant bridesmaid. R.G.

Sept. 11, 9 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 13, 9:30 a.m., Scotiabank 2



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Cairo Time

Ruba Nadda (Canada)

**

The pyramids at Giza are glorious. The Nile is magnificent. Cairo's streets thrum with life. If only director and writer Ruba Nadda had delivered a compelling script to go with the travelogue and with Niall Byrne's lovely romantic score. Patricia Clarkson plays a UN diplomat's wife coming to visit her husband in Cairo. He's tied up with another disturbance in Gaza, so a handsome Egyptian, Tareq, escorts her hither and yon. She's plainly smitten, but will she succumb? The tension is entirely too bearable. Michael Posner

Sept. 13, 8:30 p.m., Winter Garden; Sept. 14, 12 p.m., Scotiabank 3



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Capitalism: A Love Story
Director: Michael Moore Narrated by Michael Moore USA

***

From the important documentary filmmaker Michael Moore comes a pitchfork-and-popcorn assault on the "evil" system commonly called capitalism. There are entertaining episodes - Moore drives a Brinks truck to various banks, hoping to get back the money the "robbing' institutions received as a bailout from the calamitous situation they helped cause - but the film suggests that an open rebellion is at hand, and goes so far as to encourage the revolt. There often is enlightenment: Who knew corporations such as Bank of America, Wal-Mart and AT&T took out life insurance policies on their worth-more-dead-than-alive employees? And while Moore's bit on political/banking back-scratching uncovers appalling associations, his highly topical film is confusing in the way it offers "democracy" as an alternative to "capitalism," as if the two systems were mutually exclusive. What Moore is really here attacking is greed, which apparently isn't controversial enough a subject for a big-cause hunter like himself. B.W.

Tuesday, Sept. 15, 3:45 p.m. Scotiabank Theatre



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Carcasses

Denis Côté (Canada)

***

Former Montreal film critic turned auteur, Denis Côté's fourth film in as many years is more a cinematic provocation than a traditional narrative, but it's a distinctly original one, gorgeously shot in the bush southwest of Montreal, with an ear-grabbing mixture of punk rock and Mahler on the soundtrack. Part of the film is a straight-up documentary of a genuinely happy man, Jean-Paul Colmor, a 74-year-old eccentric who collects automobiles, studies Spanish on records and goes dancing every night. Then, abruptly, the film turns into a foreboding drama: Four young adults with Down syndrome arrive at his place, apparently on the run, one of them carrying a rifle. The French title literally can mean "wrecks" rather than corpses, and as for the other links between the two parts of the film, the meaning lies in the gaps. L.L.

Sept. 13, 6:15 p.m., Scotiabank 4; Sept. 17, 9 p.m. Varsity 4; Sept. 18, 3 p.m. Varsity 1

Chloe

Atom Egoyan (Canada)

***

Toronto has never looked more glamorous and sexy than it does here, "playing" itself (and not Manhattan or Cleveland or Chicago) in Egoyan's adaptation of the 2004 French hit Nathalie. With a script by Erin Cressida Wilson ( Secretary, Fur), Egoyan torques the action far beyond the Gallic cool that Anne Fontaine brought to the original. Of course, it's a twisty meditation on desire, repression, sexuality, infidelity and commitment in a cold climate - but the look, pacing and tone owe more to Brian De Palma and Adrian Lyne than Bergman, say, or Antonioni. Julianne Moore is fine (and courageous) as the big-buck Yorkville gynecologist who, convinced that her husband (Liam Neeson), a charismatic, much-travelled university music professor, is fiddling about, hires a gorgeous escort (Amanda Seyfried, of Mamma Mia! fame) to test his loyalty. A sleek film of alluring - and dangerous - surfaces (check out all the glass and mirrors), Chloe should restore Egoyan's lustre at the box-office. J.A.

Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 15, 11 a.m., Elgin

Colony

Carter Gunn, Ross McDonnell (Ireland)

***½

Straight reportage at its purest. Colony tries to get a handle on the recent, very scary problem of disseminating bee populations in the United States. The real responsibility of bee colonies (and beekeepers) isn't honey making, it's in pollinating crops, such as vast fields of almond trees. Beekeepers truck these colonies to farms where they then do their busy work, flower by flower. Wonderfully photographed, the documentary shows how the bees are vital to our own existence. But it does so simply and with restraint. An intriguing, subtle parallel begins to emerge as we meet the beekeepers and scientists surrounding the underappreciated bee industry, as well as a spokesman from a major pesticide producer, which could be leading to the disappearance of bee colonies. It's about the structure and levers of society, how we interact and force our interests on each other. And all the while, there are other small, little understood societies swarming and flying among us. A brilliant, beautiful film. G.D.

Sept. 12, 12:30 p.m., AMC 2; Sept. 14, 9:30 p.m., Varsity 7; Sept. 19, 9:15 a.m., AMC 2



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Cooking with Stella

Dilip Mehta (India/Canada)

***

If you had to sell this film in a hurry, you'd probably say something like: "It's a contemporary, globalized version of Upstairs, Downstairs crossed with The Sting." Don McKellar and Lisa Ray play husband and wife newly arrived at the Canadian high commission in Delhi. She's a diplomat (gorgeous), he's a chef (handsome, gullible) as well as Mr. Mom to their baby girl (adorable). The superb Seema Biswas is the resourceful, religious Stella who not only runs the household (with a kind of coy cunning that gives the film its narrative kick) but instructs McKellar in the finer points of Indian cuisine. The direction by Dilip Mehta (brother of Deepa - they share writing credits here) in this his feature-film debut, is at once relaxed and purposeful and never less than assured. It's sensual cinema, too: Film food hasn't looked this tantalizing since 1996's Big Night. J.A.

Sept. 16, 6:30 p.m. Roy Thomson; Sept. 18, 11:15 a.m., Scotiabank 2

Crab Trap (El Vuelco del Cangrejo)

Oscar Ruiz Navia (Colombia)

***

Films like Crab Trap are the real raison d'être of a festival with international pretensions. They offer the opportunity to "visit," however briefly, countries, cultures, communities the viewer would otherwise remain ignorant of or ignore. Crab Trap, the feature-film debut of Colombia's Oscar Ruiz Navia, is a glacially paced spellbinder about the mostly black residents of La Barra, a destitute, isolated village on Colombia's Pacific coast where the fishery's gone bust and the only economic hope is a madcap scheme by a local landowner to build a beach resort. A lanky, laconic stranger (Rodrigo Velez) shows up, looking to buy a boat that will take him from the coast and back, it seems, to the arms of an estranged lover. In the meantime, he spends his days in Sisyphean labour, cleaning the never-ending detritus that washes up on the village beach. It's a film of striking images, with an aesthetic seemingly beholden to those hypnotic, observational moments Terrence Malick puts in his features. J.A.

Sept. 13, 9:15 p.m., AMC 3; Sept. 14, 9:15 p.m., AMC 5; Sept. 19, 2:30 p.m., Varsity 6

Crackie Sherry White (Canada)

****

Crackie is a small masterpiece of Canadian realism. This feature debut by writer-director Sherry White is set in a bleak Newfoundland that might as well be Siberia, so remote is it from polite, middle-class Canada. Teen Mitsy (Meghan Greeley, in her first and astonishingly good performance) lives with grandmother Bride (Mary Walsh), having been abandoned by her drifting, drunken mother. She needs a home, hearth and love, the same needs as the dog, Sparky (a mutt, called a "crackie" in Newfoundland), she adopts. Mitsy wants to be a hairdresser but can barely keep her little life together. She falls hard for a predatory, moronic local lothario (Joel Hynes) and recognizes the bleakness of her existence. The only transcendence is in bonding, reluctantly, with Bride. (Mary Walsh gives her finest ever dramatic performance here.) Gorgeously made - some scenes are breathtakingly beautiful - this hushed, intelligent movie has no sentimentality and marks the arrival of a major filmmaking talent. John Doyle

Today Sept. 15, 9:30 p.m., Scotiabank 3; Sept. 16, 5:30 p.m., AMC 5; Sept. 17, 2:30 p.m. Varsity 1



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The Damned United

Tom Hooper (Britain)

***

To some, a film about the rise of British football (that is, soccer) manager Brian Clough and his troubled days at Leeds United in 1974 might seem as arcane as championship darts. To others, namely those who spend Saturdays watching Premier League matches, it must sound like pure heaven. In fact, the film is aimed at both and everyone in between. Clough's story is about pure ambition, sport is only its raison d'être. Character actor Michael Sheen (David Frost in Frost/Nixon, Tony Blair in The Queen) carries the film with bracing bravado, as the hot-shot manager rises through the ranks to eventually manage former arch-rival Leeds. The other characters, from the various team owners to Clough's under-appreciated assistant and the scruffy players, are merely bumpers off which Clough's pinball-frenetic personality bounces. Period detail abounds: Players have a spot of tea before a game and smoke without a care. Like the novel by David Peace which dramatized Clough's Leeds days, absolute accuracy isn't the point, and Clough's rare moments of uncertainty and alienation can be a tad heavy-handed. Then again, this is human drama in bunker-like changing rooms and soggy pitches, where viewpoints are as subtle as a knee-crushing tackle. Add an extra star rating for footie fans. G.D.

Sept. 14, 9:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 17, 9 a.m., Scotiabank 1



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Dorian Gray

Oliver Parker (Britain)

**

Say this at least for Parker's risible adaptation of the Faustian tale: It manages to ratchet up Oscar from Wilde to Hysterical. Set in a lazy CGI rendering of Victorian London, the film grossly inflates the delicious subtext from the novel and then stuffs it in our face, daring us not to guffaw at the sight of Dorian - so constantly beautiful on the outside, so insidiously rotting within - enjoying S&M romps with dark-skinned whores of both sexes. Hey, who can help but take that dare? Among the hyperbolic cast, the only one to retain a shred of British dignity is Colin Firth as Henry Wotton, although he cheats a bit, mouthing Wildean witticisms shamelessly trucked in from the writer's other works. Definitely keep the book in your library, but this picture is best confined to the attic. R.G.

Sept. 11, 9:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 13, 12:30 p.m., Winter Garden



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Down for Life Alan Jacobs (USA)

***

Based on a true story, the gritty, wallop-packing Los Angeles-set drama Down for Life follows a day in the life of 15-year-old Latina gang-leader. Some day. Some life. Unflinching (but not gratuitous) in its depiction of domestic violence and girl-on-girl brutality, Down for Life does nothing to glorify a gangsta culture that frowns on anyone leaving the heinous lifestyle. A cameo by Snoop Dogg is hilarious - the rapper is made up like a Zimbabwe-fied Spike Lee - but the star is first-time actress Jessica Romero, who freshly plays the lead role of a troubled student with a talent for writing that could be her ticket for a radically better life, if a mentoring teacher (Danny Glover) has his way. Disturbingly frank, the film assaults its viewers, but in a very effective way. B.W.

Sept. 18, 6:15 p.m., AMC 7



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Excited

Bruce Sweeney (Canada)

**

The Vancouver director who gave us such acerbic serio-comic group portraits as Dirty and Last Wedding returns to familiar ground (after his odd detour with American Venus) with an adult family comedy that's more bold in its premise than in its execution, The hero, Kevin (Cam Cronin), is a strait-laced single guy in his 30s who runs a golf course. The sport of shafts and balls and holes is an obvious corollary for Kevin's premature-ejaculation problem. The problem has cost him a marriage and left him girl-shy for the past eight years, but then he meets an attractive woman (Laura Sadiq) who really likes him and is patient with his problems. Within this 40-Year-Old Virgin-style premise, there are a couple of thinly connected subplots: Kevin's mom (Gabrielle Rose) is comically overbearing. His brother, a recovering addict, shows another kind of vulnerability. None of these issues seems especially relevant to the issue of Kevin's hair-trigger organ, in a film that is so carefully balanced between being comic and serious that it doesn't quite succeed at either. L.L.

Sept. 17, 9:30 p.m. Ryerson; Sept. 18, 2 p.m. Scotiabank 3

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Peter Raymont/Michèle Hozer (Canada)

**

A disappointment. The title and subtitle intimate a fresh, revealing, perhaps even psychoanalytically inspired look at the celebrated Canadian pianist who died, too soon, in 1982 just after his 50th birthday. Instead, the film's mostly a rehash of the external life of Gould using a lot of familiar archival footage. For all his genius and often charming eccentricity, Gould clearly was a complex, troubled individual, but the documentary's explorations of his psyche are perfunctory and banal. Of greatest interest are the interviews with former Gould inamoratas, most notably Cornelia Foss, the American painter who in the late 1960s decamped to Toronto from New York with young son and daughter in tow to be with the pianist. Lovely music throughout, of course, and Gould biographer Kevin Bazzana and Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy provide germane context. But it's too long overall and, finally, unsatisfying. J.A.

Sept. 13, 5:30 p.m. AMC 7; Sept. 14, 6:15 p.m., AMC 7; Sept. 19, 10:30 a.m., AMC 7



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Good Hair Jeff Stilson (USA)

***

The obsession and esteem issues that black people have with their own hair is one humdinger of a head-scratcher. Simply put, Afro-Americans hate the 'fro. Chris Rock's hilarious look at the lucrative industry of hair weaves and hair relaxers and the people (more women than men) who go to great lengths to achieve great lengths will be an illumination to all - including black men, who, we are told, dare not to touch the expensively straightened hairstyles of their women, even though they're the ones footing the bill for the elaborate processes. Rock speaks to talking heads (including Rev. Al Sharpton and poet Maya Angelou), goes to barbershops, travels to hair-exporting India, and chronicles the cutting-edge hairstyling competition that threads this lighthearted documentary. B.W.

Sept. 15, 2:30 p.m., AMC 6; Sept. 19, 9:30 a.m., Scotiabank 3



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Hadewijch

Bruno Dumont (France)

***

The film's name comes from a 13th-century mystic and poet who wrote of her love for God, but French director Bruno Dumont ( L'Humanité, The Life of Jesus) is a contemporary story of fundamentalist extremism in the face of the apparent absence of God. A religious novice and politician's daughter (Julie Sokolowski), is asked to leave the convent for her particularly zealous religious practices. Tortured by her inability to feel Christ's presence, she finds improbable kinship with a Muslim boy and his radical Islamic brother, leading to catastrophic results. In the tradition of Carl Dreyer, Robert Bresson and Ingmar Bergman, Hadewijch is about the dilemma of modern spirituality and specifically about one young woman's struggle for transcendent meaning to her life, against a background of contemporary politics, race, class and terror. L.L.

Sept. 11, 6 p.m., Varsity 8; Sept. 13, 10 a.m., AMC 6; Sept. 19, 4 p.m., Winter Garden

Hotel Atlantico Suzana Amaral (Brazil)

***

A superb feature from the grande dame of Brazilian cinema, 77-year-old Suzana Amaral. Her camera follows an enigmatic, unnamed loner (Julio Andrade) - sometimes he's called "the actor," sometimes "the artist": At one point he describes himself as "an idler" - as he travels without apparent aim through southern Brazil, encountering the good, the menacing and the unusual. He's a kind of a "go-with-the-flow" guy - and the flow without exception puts him into immediate proximity with death. Hotel Atlantico is a decidedly cryptic "adventure" film - Amaral's a master at keeping the viewer off-kilter and uneasy - but its 107 minutes make for a thoroughly absorbing and frequently troubling trip. You'll be thinking "David Lynch" and "Coen brothers" en route, but there are also flourishes that recall Borges, Kafka and Rabelais. J.A.

Sept. 16, 4:45 p.m., Isabel Bader; Sept. 19, 9:15 a.m., Isabel Bader



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Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Brigitte Berman (Canada)

**

Director Brigitte Berman won an Oscar for her 1985 documentary about bandleader Artie Shaw. Now, she returns to the seemingly bottomless well of American celebrity with this overlong (135 minutes) look at the less sybaritic side of legendary Playboy empire founder Hugh Hefner. Berman works hard here to portray Hef in quite another light, as fearless campaigner for racial equality, human rights and what begins to feel like a laundry list of worthy liberal causes. It's no hagiography: Pat Boone and others appear to remind us that the Playboy fantasy world is exactly that, and comes at a steep price. Michael Posner

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



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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



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L'Affaire Farewell

Christian Carion (France)

**½

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.

Sept. 11, 9 p.m., Jackman; Sept. 12, 10 a.m., Isabel Bader; Sept. 18, 10:45 a.m., Cumberland 2

L'Enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot

Serge Bromberg, Ruxandra Medrea (France)

***½

Post-Surrealist cinematic Op-Art gone wonderfully mad: In 1964, the legendary mid-century French director Henri-Georges Clouzot had a seemingly unlimited budget to make the film that would revolutionize cinema. With leading French actress Romy Schneider, Clouzot and his crew worked overtime, experimenting with image distortion and sound collages for a film about jealousy within a marriage. Half a century later, Bromberg and Medrea have made a documentary unearthing this lost footage of a masterpiece that never was. The doc keeps a straight face about a project that was borderline bonkers, especially Clouzot's now wonderfully dated, overly literal surrealism. Confused emotions? Clouzot had a light swirl around Schneider's beautiful face so that her eyes and lips are in dizzying motion. Hyper-obsession? Create a montage of multiple eyes, shot close-up and blinking eerily in the dark. Seen today, it's all pure delight, from the go-go clothes to the carefree archetype of a young married woman. Footage from the director's stunningly hallucinatory street scenes, playing with light as being a force of deception, are pure brilliance. G.D.

Sept. 10, 7:15 p.m., Varsity 1; Sept. 12, 3:45 p.m., Jackman; Sept. 18, 6:15 p.m., Varsity 4



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London River Rachid Bouchareb (Britain/France/Algeria)

***

Sometimes the unthinkable starts in indiscernible doses, like the photocopied missing-person notices we all see suddenly including one for your child. The plot of this subtle, highly involving film is nearly impossible to describe further without giving the whole thing away. Suffice it to say that in the shock of the central-London terrorist bombings of 2005, the insularity of many British lives and views suddenly blew open. And yet, as this clever, touching drama about two families trying to cope with the bombing shows, the end effect was the exact opposite of what the terrorists sought. Instead of pulling society apart, the bombing brought people together in unexpected ways. G.D.

Sept. 17, 9 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 18, 8:45 p.m., AMC 6; Sept. 19, 12:15 p.m., Cumberland 2



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Max Manus

Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg (Norway)

***

It's taken six decades, but northern European filmmakers are starting to look more closely at how their nations responded to the Nazi takeover during the war. Last year, the Danes offered up Flame and Citron, about two legendary resistance fighters. Now comes Max Manus, about a young Norwegian resistance fighter, played by Aksel Hennie, who blew up German ships in Oslo's harbour - among other exploits. (It abridges and adapts the real story - Manus was trained in part in Canada, but that's not here - but it's still a fascinating, well-acted glimpse into a little known theatre of the war.) Michael Posner

Sept. 18, 9:30 p.m. Roy Thomson; Sept. 19, 3 p.m., Varsity 8



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My Tehran for Sale

Granaz Moussavi (Iran/Australia)

***

Moussavi has made a stark, saddening portrait of a swelling youth subculture willing to risk brutal lashings at the hand of the state to live a more liberal life, indulging in drugs, alcohol and banned music to escape the daily repression. The film chronicles the struggles of Marzieh (Marzieh Vafamehr), a young Iranian stage actress forced to work underground and trying to escape to the comparative freedom of Australia with her lover Saman (Amir Chegini). Both give compelling performances, seething with resentment at their stunted lives. Marzieh's exploits have biographical echoes in Moussavi's life - she left Iran for Australia at age 23, returning to risk shooting My Tehran for Sale underground. It is an undeniably courageous effort to document the inward defiance smouldering in many behind a veneer of submission. Shot with documentary-style realism, the trembling camera reminds viewers that the iron fist of the state is never far from the edge of the frame. J.B.

Sept. 12, 11:45 a.m., AMC 7; Sept. 17, 3:30 p.m., AMC 7; Sept. 19, 12:15 p.m., AMC 2

Nanjing Nanjing (City Of Life and Death) Lu Chuan (China)

THREE AND A HALF STARS

The city of Nanjing was destroyed by Japanese forces in 1937 and its inhabitants were killed, raped and mutilated in every imaginable way. The very difficult accomplishment of this film is to show the atrocities in all their physical and psychological horror, and yet to temper that with respect for the dead and with dignity for the world that still must bear witness. Shot stunningly in black and white, the film records the murder and destruction in epic proportions, although the storyline focuses sparingly on only a few characters, including historic figures such as German expat John Rabe, who helped to shelter many civilians in an international safe zone. Considered a likely Oscar contender, this mature, intelligent film has been criticized for its humanist portrayal of Japanese soldiers. That's debatable, for the numbness the Japanese soldiers feel only makes the savagery committed all the more sickening. G.D.

Sept. 19, 6:15 p.m., Varsity 3

The Neil Young Trunk Show Director: Jonathan Demme Starring Neil Young USA Three and a half stars

Early in Jonathan Demme's unrehearsed concert portrait of the artful soul Neil Young, the iconic singer-songwriter speaks backstage about set-lists, reckoning that his versatile band could pull off just about anything. And so the dozen or so songs of Neil Young Trunk Show are an unpredictable offering, from the classics (Cinnamon Girl) to newer grungy rockers (a 20-minute version of 2007's No Hidden Path) to something like Kansas, an unreleased country-tinged track from the mid-seventies, which has Young curiously rubbing his piano, as if in a day dream on stage, after the song is done. The footage was shot mostly with hand-held digital cameras, over the course of two December nights in 2007 at the small Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Pa. The intimate home-movie vibe is Demme's response to his own Heart of Gold (2006), a more conceived piece of concert filmmaking involving Young. Long may this collaboration run. B.W.

Today (Monday), 9 p.m. Yonge-Dundas Square, free outdoor screening.

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai (Thailand)

***

Evil warlords, odious slave traders, ruthless bandits, breathless horse chases, stampeding elephants and in the middle of them all is Tony Jaa, the gravity-defying Thai action sensation who chews up the scenery and everyone in it in this martial-arts-style medieval-era epic. Tien, a feisty young noble, is rescued from slave traders and guided through years of gruelling close combat training by the leader of a bandit posse. Before assuming the top job, Tien seeks revenge on the warlord who slaughtered his parents years ago. Who needs more plot when there's so many exotic kicks to be had? J.P.

Sept. 19, 9: 45 a.m., Scotiabank 2 and 11:50 p.m., Ryerson



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The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith (USA)

***

Military analyst Daniel Ellsberg's Oppenheimer-like disenchantment with what his tremendous intelligence had helped create marked a shadowy prelude to the more notorious Watergate scandal. This new account of how and why he leaked 7,000 pages of top-secret Pentagon documents on the Vietnam War will be gripping to any political junkie. Filmmakers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith found an ideal, if not particularly neutral, narrator in Ellsberg himself, whose gravelly, aspirated voice spins a yarn worthy of a John Le Carré novel. But some of the most revelatory moments come from Egil Krogh, one of the men who set up the notorious "White House Plumbers," now contrite and introspective. And while a public debate about government documents doesn't exactly lend itself to breakneck pacing, there is a heart-pounding sequence as Ellsberg, gone underground, scrambles to get the documents to as many newspapers as possible, while the Nixon government races to get injunctions against them. J.B.

Sept. 11, 7:15 p.m., Varsity 3; Sept. 13, 3:15 p.m., AMC 5; Sept. 16, 5:45 p.m., AMC 4



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My Dog Tulip

Paul and Sandra Fierlinger (USA)

**

You don't have to be a canine connoisseur to appreciate animators Paul and Sandra Fierlinger's latest feature-length film, but it might help. An adaptation of J.R. Ackerley's novel, it's the story of a solitary writer who, rather late in life, adopts a German shepherd named Tulip and, much to his delighted surprise, finds a kind of love hitherto unknown. Alas, as artistically skillful and diligent as the Fierlingers are - more than two years and 60,000 drawings went into the making of the picture - the lack of a genuine narrative pulse weighs heavily. The first half concerns itself largely with Tulip's less than fastidious bowel and bladder habits; the second, with the writer's attempt to find her a suitable stud. The voice-over acting of Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave, Isabella Rossellini and others is flawless, but I was more bored than charmed. Michael Posner

Sept. 13, 8:30 p.m., AMC 7; Sept. 14, 9 p.m., Varsity 2; Sept. 18 3.30 p.m., AMC 7



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My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done

Werner Herzog (USA/Germany)

**

An aspiring actor, fired from a production of a Greek tragedy, continues the part off stage - yep, he kills his mother. The theme is hardly new to Werner Herzog, who has devoted much of his directorial career to exploring that dark point where the creative imagination topples off into full barking madness. Here, though, the bark seems more loud than illuminating, and, at times, more annoying than anything else. As the cops close in on the killer, the film keeps flashing back to the spreading roots of his insanity, a series of sequences that have a weird yet vibrant visual intensity, elusive in meaning but definitely poetic in power. There's a Lynchian feel to these scenes, although that's no coincidence - Herzog is working under the imprimatur of David Lynch the executive producer. If you doubt that, look no further than the sight, posed against a frigid winter landscape, of a dwarf in a tuxedo. Alas, like many a dwarf in many a movie, this one doesn't add up to much. R.G.

Sept. 16, 9 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 17, 5:30 p.m., Varsity 8; Sept. 19, 10 a.m., Jackman



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Partir (Leaving)

Catherine Corsini (France)

***

Kristin Scott Thomas in another acting tour de force, following last year's I've Loved You So Long. Here, she's Suzanne, a mother of two teenagers, living a comfortable life as the wife of a French doctor when she's suddenly hit by an emotional tidal wave: She falls madly in love with Ivan, a Spanish construction worker (Sergi Lopez). The relationship defies all logic, but that's precisely the point of Corsini's script - the force of the passion is utterly irresistible, and Suzanne will surrender everything to answer its call, whatever the consequences. Compelling cinema. M.P.

Sept. 14, 8:30 p.m., Winter Garden; Sept. 16, 9:45 a.m., Scotiabank 2; Sept. 18, 1:45 p.m., Varsity 8

Passenger Side

Matt Bissonnette (Canada)

***

Small but smart, Matt Bissonnette's script follows two brothers, techno-phobic writer Michael and recovering addict, Tobey (Adam Scott and the director's brother, Joel Bissonette) as they drive around Los Angeles for a day. Initially, we think they are in search of drugs but it soon emerges that their quest is of a different nature. In spite of the apparent aimlessness, the movie is never dull. Acting is solid and Bissonnette's sharply written dialogue swings between arch sarcasm and introspection as we learn more about the brothers' family secrets. En route, they encounter several eccentric Angelenos, from a transvestite prostitute to a Mexican worker who has accidentally removed his fingers, but there are no gunfights or chases, and the tone remains Canadian and ironic. By nightfall, we discover the pattern to all this meandering, and while the wrap-up feels a bit hokey, the ride has been a good one. L.L.

Sept. 11, 9 p.m., AMC 7; Sept. 12, 11:45 a.m., AMC 10; Sept. 17, 5:15 p.m., AMC 2



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Phantom Pain

Matthias Emcke (Germany)

**½

For diehard cyclists, any film with a beautiful barmaid mentioning the late Italian racing legend Marco Pantani in conversation in the first few minutes is enticing. And watching the brooding lead (played by Til Schweiger) bed a new woman every other day, while still managing to spend much of his days training on his bike, is wish fulfilment writ large. Yet while the filmmakers genuinely appreciate the nuances of the sport, the troubled, muscular protagonist has nothing like a cyclist's physique. So when he gets into a terrible accident, the element of believability just isn't there. The film is instead all about cool urban melodrama. It's richly photographed and effectively captures how one pursuit (like cycling) can mask life's other rewards. The film gets its second wind with a beautifully shot conclusion that will make even the fittest cyclist's heart flutter. The trouble is that up until that point, this guy's challenges aren't all that convincing. G.D.

Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 18, 3:00 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 19, 4:30 p.m., AMC 6



Police, Adjective

Cornelius Porumboiu (Romania)

****

A young small-town undercover cop's dreary routine gives way to a rebellious spark, becoming a subtle comment on the penetrating legacy of Romania's past as a police state in this quietly riveting, intelligent film from this Caméra d'Or-winning director ( 12:08 East of Bucharest). Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is tailing a teenage pot-smoker and his two friends (one the original tipster) to root out the supplier. His captain (Vlad Ivanov), whom he's avoiding, wants him to close the case and arrest the kid. Beautifully composed scenes and few but memorable exchanges that border on the absurd anchor a deceptively simple story, giving the viewer space to think. Winner of the jury and FIPRESCI prizes in Cannes's Un Certain Regard section earlier this year. J.P.

Sept. 13, 10 p.m. Isabel Bader; Sept. 17, 2:30 p.m., AMC 6; Sept. 19, 9 a.m., Varsity 4



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Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

Lee Daniels (USA)

***

Raw, moving and somewhat akin to having a piano dropped on your head, Precious is a fable of abuse and redemption set in Harlem in 1987. Based on the novel by poet Sapphire (born Ramona Lofton), the film follows the struggle of Precious (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe), an obese, illiterate 15-year-old who has been twice impregnated by her father and is physically and verbally abused by her mother (Mo'Nique), a character who is both sinister and sympathetic. Salvation comes from a gorgeous, angelic teacher, improbably named Blu Rain (Paula Patton), who helps Precious and a group of other young women find dignity and hope through keeping journals. Daniels's direction is all over the map but he gets vibrant performances from his actresses, including singer Mariah Carey as a dowdy, no b.s. social worker. L.L.

Sept. 13, 9:30 p.m. Roy Thomson; Sept. 14, 12:30 p.m. Winter Garden



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Presumed Guilty

Roberto Hernandez, Geoffrey Smith (Mexico)

***

The Mexian justice system is so corrupt and dysfunctional and has been for decades that a Canadian viewer can be forgiven for thinking that a documentary expose of that system might provoke feelings of "been there/know that." But this feature does an admirable, even suspenseful job of shaking one's complacency by focusing on the struggles of a young Mexico City man, Tono Rodriguez, to overturn a wrongful murder conviction from December, 2005, and put an end to his 20-year sentence in one of the country's notorious prisons. The film's co-director, Roberto Hernandez, is a lawyer himself. In fact, he and his partner, Layda Negrete, got involved in Rodriguez's appeal and are prominently featured in the documentary. While it skimps on material about the murder victim, the circumstances of his death and Rodriguez's alleged accomplices in the crime, the film nontheless clearly demonstrates Rodriguez's innocence while anatomizing the injustices meted out by Mexico's police and judiciary. Most gripping is a long, Kafka-esque sequence in which Rodriguez finds himself being retried by the same judge who first convicted him. J.A.

Sunday, Sept. 13, 7 p.m., AMC Sat., Sept. 19, 4 p.m., Jackman Hall/AGO

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

Rebecca Miller (USA)

**

It's the tale of a crumbling May-December marriage, it's the diary of a mad housewife, it's the sins of the mother visited upon the daughter - oh, it's all that and so much less. In the title role, Robin Wright Penn struggles valiantly to lend some emotional conviction to this busy narrative, trying to interest us in the plight of a woman who's left behind her dysfunctional youth to devote herself to "goodness," to becoming the perfect wife to an aging husband. But when perfection inevitably unravels, Penn's performance gets sucked down by the gravitational pull of a top-heavy plot that keeps lurching from the present to the past and back again. The result is fraught with incident but devoid of credibility, and Miller's direction only serves to add further clutter to an already messy business. Somewhere deep in this mound of melodrama, there's a good film gasping for breath and waiting to escape - too bad it gets suffocated. R.G.

Sept. 15, 6:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 17, 11:45 a.m., Scotiabank 1



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A Prophet

Jacques Audiard (France)

***

This first-rate prison drama follows the criminal career of a young Arab inmate in a French jail. Echoing The Godfather, it's a tale of a man who goes from humiliation to twisted triumph in a prison world where normal co-operative social values are turned upside down. Nineteen-year-old Malik el Djebena (Tahar Rahim) enters jail on a six-year stretch and immediately finds himself forced to kill a fellow Arab by the reigning Corsican crime boss. Soon, Malik becomes the despised servant of the Corsicans, learning their operations from the inside, while gradually forging ties with the Muslim hoods who make up the other major prison group. Stretched over years, the film is sometimes bewildering in outlining the complex alliances and rivalries between the gangs and their bosses, but Audiard's sensationally directed set pieces and the quietly compelling performance by Rahim hold interest throughout. L.L.

Sept. 13, 6 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 15, 2:45 p.m., AMC 3



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The Road

John Hillcoat (USA)

***

Like No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy's The Road cries out for a screen adaptation. Hillcoat's answer to that cry is respectfully faithful to the text and skillfully evocative of its postapocalyptic setting - a frigid world of ashen snow where crops have failed, buildings stand empty, cars are rusted hulks, all energy has withered, and no birds sing. There, foraging for scraps and dodging ravenous cannibals, a father and son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) head south to a grey sea, carrying between them the flickering flame of decency and the dying embers of love. The two principals are superb, and the direction is resonant in its very restraint. But there's still something missing, the quality that gave the novel both its gravitas and its near-unbearable poignancy. Which is? Simply the rhythm, the texture, the faint Biblical echoes of McCarthy's prose. With them, The Road is an odyssey; without them, it's a journey. R.G.



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Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags

Marc Levin (USA)

***

An expertly crafted HBO documentary on the American garment industry contained within a few blocks of midtown Manhattan, from turn-of-the-century sweatshops to the mid-century rise of family businesses to today's current shell of an industry. The major touchstones are all here, with a trove of archival footage. There's the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911, which saw 146 workers burned alive or killed jumping to the street below - a disaster which led to unionization. There's the rise of the eccentric owners in the schmatta, or rag, business, often from Jewish and Italian backgrounds. But now - following the rise of celebrity designers by the 1970s, the union-busting of the 1980s and the globalization of the 1990s - jobs have headed to ghastly sweatshops overseas, disseminating the workaday garment manufacturing industry in New York. All that's left is marketing, hype and widespread unemployment. The documentary frames this as an omen of where many industries are headed. But what of successful independent designers and emerging smaller-scale clothiers, accessory companies and shops? That's outside this film's scope, which is focused squarely on the big picture. G.D.

Sept. 14, 5 p.m., AMC 10; Sept. 16, 5:15 p.m., AMC 2

A Serious Man

Joel and Ethan Coen (USA)

***

This is every bit as dark as No Country for Old Men, but a whole lot funnier. The Coens have set their black comedy in the cookie-cutter suburbia of the late sixties, then centred it around the travails of a latter-day Job called Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). A math professor entwined in his very own "uncertainty principle," he's a nebbish struggling to become a mensch, and failing miserably, beset on all sides by a geometric progression of calamities and humiliations - a wife who leaves him, kids who ignore him, a brother who tries him, rabbis who patronize him, colleagues who deceive him, doctors who diagnose him, neighbours who tempt and torment him. Yes, his deck of deuces can definitely seem stacked, and the parable suffers on occasion from an artifice more clever than convincing. At times, we too need Job's patience, but there's enough lively wit and bleak wisdom to see us through. Just as satisfying is Stuhlbarg's performance. At the eye of life's dreck-storm, and on screen almost continually, he's a meek marvel, serving up a lesson in humility that the humble would do well to skip. R.G.

Sept. 12, 9 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 14, 9 a.m., Scotiabank 1

Sept. 13, 5:30 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 14, 3 p.m., Scotiabank 2



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Stolen

Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw (Australia)

***

A cause célèbre at its world premiere in Sydney, Australia, earlier this year, Stolen is a dramatic and complex exploration of modern slavery, not to mention a fascinating study of the perils of documentary filmmaking. The project didn't start out that way. While investigating the cause of the Polisario Liberation Front, an organization representing the Sahrawi people and their struggle for an autonomous Western Sahara, the filmmakers uncover evidence of a form of entrenched slavery in a Polisario-controlled refugee camp where they are filming. Their shift in focus puts them in the centre of a still-evolving international story and forced to address questions about their techniques, timeline and translations. J.P.

Sept. 16, 7 p.m., AMC 10; Sept. 18, 4 p.m., Jackman



Tales of the Golden Age

Hanno Hofer, Razvan Marculescu, Cristian Mungiu, Constantin Popescu and Ioana Uricaru (Romania)

***

Cristian Mungiu, who won the Cannes Palme d'or in 2007 for his drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, wrote all the stories in this portmanteau film, directed by him and four other filmmakers. These darkly humorous stories are based on urban legends about Romanians finding resourceful ways to deal with life under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. The first and funniest story is about a village preparing to impress a visiting diplomat, which leads to everyone in town trapped on a spinning carousel all night. Another tells of a near-disaster when photographers, who are assigned to doctor a photo of Ceausescu, make an embarrassing error. The final film, entitled The Air Sellers, concerns a couple who concoct a plan to defraud apartment dwellers out of their empty bottles. In order to suggest the confusion and disinformation of the period, the producers have declined to identify which director made which film. L.L.

Sept. 15, 8:45 p.m., AMC 3; Sept. 16, 2:45 p.m., AMC 3

Tanner Hall

Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg (USA)

***

Jane Austen meets Mystic Pizza in this accomplished, autumn-hued coming-of-age film from a first-time co-writing, co-directing duo. Like the aforementioned 1988 film, the success of Tanner Hall hinges on the delightful, nuanced performances of four emerging talents. Three privileged young women return to their ivy-covered school for final year, all on the cusp of discovering the complex power of their sexuality. A disheveled, aggressive newcomer (the fabulous Georgia King) attaches herself and plays a game of subtle manipulation to mask her own private pain. Comedians Amy Sedaris and Chris Kattan kill as the school's resident quirky adults. J.P.

Sept. 14, 7 p.m., Isabel Bader; Sept. 17 a.m., Elgin; Sept 19, 5:15 p.m., AMC 7

The Time That Remains

Elia Suleiman (Britain/Italy/Belgium/France)

**

Just in case you thought he was merely a filmmaker and not also a cultural theorist, Palestinian-Israeli director Elia Suleiman's latest incursion into the minefield of post-1948 Arab-Israeli relations comes with the subtitle Chronicle of a Present Absentee. The semi-autobiographical film is based on Suleiman's father's diaries and mostly takes place in a representation of his family home, with 20-year leaps forward in time indicated by alterations to the bare-bones set design. Meant as a kind of wry portrayal of the daily lives of Palestinians in Nazareth, everything that worked in his film Divine Intervention falls flat here: Suleiman seems to think that cutting to his silent, expressionless face constitutes not only humour, but a cinematic style in and of itself. Mark Peranson

Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m., Isabel Bader; Sept. 18, 1:30 p.m., Scotiabank 2



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To Die Like a Man

Joao Pedro Rodrigues (Portugal/France)

****

Set in Lisbon's flourishing drag-queen demimonde during the late 1980s, Joao Pedro Rodrigues's latest foray into the gay body politic is a sensitive and transfixing look at Tonia (Fernando Santos), a veteran transsexual under pressure from her younger junkie boyfriend to make her adopted gender something permanent. At the same time, she is stricken by an illness, and the impending end causes the Catholic Tonia to confront her fate (and her relationship with her son). Completely eschewing spectacle, Rodrigues achieves moments of pure magic. To Die Like a Man retains the feel of a kind of melodramatic 1950s musical, with Fassbinder-like melancholy replacing camp. Mark Peranson

Sept. 16, 5:30 p.m., Scotiabank 4; Sept 17, 8:45 p.m., Varsity 6; Sept. 18, 12:30 p.m., Varsity 6

A Town Called Panic

Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar (Belgium/France/Luxembourg)

***

You don't need 3-D glasses to get head-spinningly surreal stop-motion animation, just some crazy Belgian directors manipulating characters that look like cheap toy figurines and that sound like they're all on uppers. Based on the cult TV hit, Panic (the first stop-motion feature selected for Cannes) is episodic but just manages to sustain its story. The well-meaning but feeble-minded Cowboy and Indian accidentally order 50 million bricks after deciding to build Horse (the film's "manly" hero) a BBQ as a gift. The house is crushed, rebuilt, but then pointy-headed dudes from a parallel undersea world start stealing the walls. The trio encounter all manner of bizarre places and beings as they try to rescue the walls - there's no place like home! J.P.

Sept. 18, 11:59 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 19, 3:45 p.m., AMC 3



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The Trotsky

Jacob Tierney (Canada)

***

Don't give up on The Trotsky - it's one of those rare movies that starts weakly but soon gets better. Much better. The conceit has a Jewish teenager in Quebec (Jay Baruchel) convinced that he's "the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky," a down-with-the-system radical determined to fight the oppressors and organize the oppressed. And where else to begin than at the Winter Palace that is his local high school? Sure, the premise takes some swallowing, but the rest of the yarn goes down a treat. Tierney lets the farce bubble nicely, then spices the concoction with hints of satire, sprinklings of wit and a liberal measure of charm. Sometimes, when openly quoting his directorial betters, he's even brave enough to poke fun at himself. What's more, I'm willing to lay a small wager this is the only film in the entire fest that manages to blaze a narrative path from Sergei Eisenstein to Ben Mulroney. R.G.

Sept. 11, 9 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 13, 12:45 p.m., Scotiabank 3





The Young Victoria

Jean-Marc Vallée (Britain)

**

With successful films about Elizabeth I ( Elizabeth) and Elizabeth II ( The Queen), the royal biography wave continues with The Young Victoria, written by Julian Fellowes ( Gosford Park) and directed by Canada's Jean-Marc Vallée, of the Quebec coming-of-age hit, C.R.A.Z.Y. There's nothing crazy about this film, a prettily produced (partly by the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson) but dramatically tepid account of the plucky young queen (Emily Blunt). We watch as she struggles for independence from her overseers, gets into hot water through her friendship with Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) and eventually finds a good political partner and husband in her first cousin, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). In an effort to improve on history, the film actually has Albert taking a bullet for the Queen during one of the assassination attempts against her. We are not amused. L.L.

Sept. 19, 6 p.m., Elgin; Sept 19, 8 p.m., Roy Thomson



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Valhalla Rising Nicolas Winding Refn (Denmark)

***

Among some cognoscenti the only thing better than a good gladiator movie is a good Viking movie. And TIFF has one of the best in Valhalla Rising, a Danish-Scottish co-production helmed by Copenhagen native Nicolas Winding Refn. This film has it all - brutal action, memorable mugs, atmospheric music, brooding landscapes, spiritual desolation, a palpable sense of otherness. Mads Mikkelsen plays One Eye, an enigmatic, speechless warrior whose demonic fighting skills have made him legend in Viking circles. The only relationship he has is with a young blond boy who brings him his daily gruel and water. They eventually take up with a gang of Christianized Vikings determined to sail to the Holy Land to "reclaim His land in His name" and live like princes. However, after a long ocean journey, their boat pulls up in a menacing territory that bears no resemblance to Palestine. Refn's saga doesn't entirely escape the hokum seemingly endemic to the Viking genre, but it comes pretty damn close. Odin be praised! J.A.

Sept. 13, 2:30 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 15, 4 p.m., Winter Garden; Sept. 19, 12:15 p.m., Scotiabank 3



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Videocracy

Erik Gandini (Sweden)

***

Italian authorities have already banned the trailers and TV ads for this documentary, thereby confirming its thesis that, under Prime Minister/media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has become a quasi-fascist nation of mass-media zombies where political power and the power of television "are one and the same." Gandini's disturbing, blackly funny film isn't an attack on or even a biography of Berlusconi, who owns Italy's three biggest private broadcasters and its largest magazine and book publisher; it's an anatomy of the deleterious effects of Berlusconi-ism on Italian society. There's plenty of footage, of course, of the ever-smiling Berlusconi (who delivers this great quote: "Dedicating 50 per cent of your time to make Italy a credible nation is extremely hard work.") but Videocracy is at its creepiest when it's on the trail of guys like Lele Mora, a Mussolini-loving pal of the PM and Italy's most powerful TV agent, and Fabrizio Corona, a cruelly handsome paparazzo/extortionist-turned-celebrity. J.A.

Sept. 15, 10 p.m., Varsity 3; Sept. 17, 8 p.m., Varsity 1; Sept. 19, 2:30 p.m., Varsity 4

Vincere

Marco Bellocchio (Italy)

****

The recent revelation that Benito Mussolini had a first wife and secret son has inspired a number of Italian TV movies, and now Marco Bellocchio, who has spent a lifetime bulldozing Italian institutions like the family and fascism, proves a natural fit for this salacious saga. Vincere is an operatic tour de force about the struggle of Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) to have her son's paternity recognized. With the womanizing Il Duce coming of age as a newspaper publisher, it's easy to read Vincere as a trenchant critique of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, but Bellocchio's triumph is foremost a moving portrait of a driven woman who would not compromise. Mark Peranson

Sept. 15, 5:30 p.m., Varsity 8; Sept. 18, 8:30 a.m., Scotiabank 2





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The White Ribbon

Michael Haneke (Austria)

****

Haneke ( Code Inconnu, Caché) once more probes hidden evil behind apparently well-ordered lives in this startlingly shot black-and-white film set in Austria in 1914. Winner of the Palme d'or at Cannes this year, the film is a multicharacter portrait of an apparently peaceful German village in the months leading up to the First World War, recalled by a former school teacher in the village. A series of strange and violent incidents happen in the town, whose most prominent citizens include a baron who employs half the community, a zealous pastor and a corrupt doctor. Sexual repression, patriarchal authoritarianism and various forms of abuse control the women and children, but gradually it becomes apparent that the children are not only the victims, but perhaps the perpetrators of some of the crimes. What actually happens remains ambiguous, but we know this generation will grow up to commit much worse offences. L.L.

Sept. 12, 5:15 p.m., Scotiabank 1; Sept. 18, 1 p.m., Scotiabank 4



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