The following short reviews of films opening on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival are by James Adams, James Bradshaw, Guy Dixon, Rick Groen, Liam Lacey, Gayle MacDonald, Dave McGinn, J. Kelly Nestruck, Johanna Schneller and Brad Wheeler. The star ratings are out of four.
You Are Here Daniel Cockburn (Canada)
"Have you heard about the dictionary for masochists?" asks a character in You Are Here. "It has all the words in it. They're just not in any particular order." That maddening notion, roughly speaking, sums up Canadian filmmaker and visual artist Daniel Cockburn's first feature film. Less a narrative than a series of interlocking thought experiments, You Are Here is thoughtful, clever, confusing, unsettling and, perhaps, just a little bit frustrating. Cockburn is a devotee of Jorge Luis Borges, whose mind-bending metaphysical leanings are apparent in the film's various threads, such as a laborious experiment showing how the mind understands language, or an archivist (played masterfully by the late Tracy Wright) desperately trying to make sense of a breadcrumb trail of found objects. It all feels as though a dash of the surreal has been woven into moments of banal human experience to see how far reality bends before it snaps. J.B.
Sept. 15, 5 p.m., AMC 10; Sept. 17, 7:45 p.m., AMC 2; Sept. 19, 4:15 p.m., AMC 10
Blue Valentine Derek Cianfrance. (USA)
The ghost of John Cassavetes hovers over this tough-minded portrait of a working-class couple's marriage, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. The film cuts back and forth over several years, marking the dissolution of their relationship. Gosling plays Dean, a housepainter, and Williams is Cindy, a medical aid. The scenes in the present (shot in intense close-ups) show us an immature husband and a wife who has retreated into a shell struggling through the rituals of a marriage, while the past scenes - shot with more perspective and coherent focus - show the affection and tenderness that brought them together. Dean and Cindy can be frustratingly obtuse but Gosling and Williams bring a painful authenticity to this portrait of intimacy turned to alienation. L.L.
Sept. 15, 6:15 p.m. Ryerson; Sept. 15, 12 p.m. Varsity 8
Modra Ingrid Veniger (Canada)
Modest and appealing, this Before Sunset-style drama follows 17-year-old Lina (Hallie Switzer) and a male school friend, Leco (Alexander Gammal), who accompanies her on a trip to her family's hometown of Modra, Slovakia. Both teenagers are nursing emotional wounds - she's just been dumped by her boyfriend, his mother has recently died. Old World scenery and music and a non-professional cast give the Slovakian interlude the quality of a breezy travelogue (marred by the precious inclusion of an enigmatic mute magician). The easy, natural performances from the young actors are refreshingly realistic: They come across as awkward, curious, empathetic and, mostly, a pleasure to hang out with. L.L.
Sept. 15, 8:30 p.m., AMC 3; Sept. 17, 2:15 p.m., AMC 2; Sept. 18, 5:15 p.m., AMC 2
The Bang Bang Club Steven Silver (Canada/South Africa)
It is 1994 South Africa. Nelson Mandela has just been released from prison, and all hell is breaking loose on the streets in the months leading to the end of Apartheid. Based on the true story of a group of photojournalists, known as the Bang Bang Club for being in the thick of the gunfire, it's the story of four men who risked life and limb to show the world the wretchedness of a civil war that was ripping apart a country. Ryan Phillippe, Taylor Kitsch and South Africans Neels Van Jaarsveld and Frank Rautenbach play the heroic foursome (two of whom won Pulitzers for their riveting photos) whose images shocked the world awake. G.M.
Sept. 15, 9:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 16, 9 a.m., Varsity 8
I Wish I Knew (Hai Shang Chuan Qi) Jia Zhang-ke (China/Netherlands)
Jia Zhang-ke's documentary on Shanghai, commissioned for this year's World Expo there, employs interviews and painterly location shooting to tell a story of how China's most populous city was shaped, over the past 70 years, by a series of historical traumas, including the Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese Civil War and the Cultural Revolution. Similar in its use of oral history to Jia's last film, 24 City, it gains momentum, and its appeal to film buffs, in the second half during a detour that deals with films set in Shanghai and takes us to exile communities in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Throughout, actress Zhao Tao wanders through the urban landscape as a representative of the city's meandering soul. L.L.
Sept. 15, 9:45 p.m., Scotiabank 4; Sept. 17, 5 p.m., Jackman
A Screaming Man (Un homme qui cri) Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (France/Belgium/Chad)
Modest, but quietly powerful, A Screaming Man (which took a jury prize at Cannes) begins with a middle-aged pool attendant named Adam, a former swimming champion, now a proud employee in a tourist hotel in Chad's capital. When new owners decide to promote Adam's assistant, his adult son, to his job, he's left with the humiliating job of gate-keeper. As the army pushes the citizen to contribute either money or sons to the war effort against rebel insurgencies, Adam chooses to send his son. The initial calm of the film builds gradually, until reports of war on the radio suddenly become an immediate reality. Throughout, characters are artfully framed against their environment, with the hotel pool as a kind of centre of calm and the desert outside the city as its war-torn opposite. L.L.
Sept. 15, 6:15 p.m., Bell Lightbox 2; Sept., 16, 4:45 p.m., Isabel Bader; Sept. 19, 6 p.m., AMC 6
Route Irish Ken Loach (U.K./France/Belgium/Italy/Spain)
Veteran British social-realist director Ken Loach's new conspiracy thriller focuses on private security companies, and the struggle of former guard-for-hire Fergus (Mark Womack), back in his hometown of Liverpool, trying to find out the truth about the death of his friend, Frankie, killed on Route Irish, between the Baghdad Airport and the Green Zone. When he is given a cellphone with incriminating evidence on it at the funeral, Fergus begins to find out about the company they both worked for, and finds his own life in danger. Full of fury and good intentions, Route Irish is a disappointment, unconvincing as a thriller and heavy-handed in depicting the dehumanizing effects of war. L.L.
Sept. 15, 9 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 18, 3 p.m., Ryerson