TJFF 2012 Roundup: The good, the bad, and the ugly

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With the 20th Toronto Jewish Film Festival now behind us, it’s time to look back at all the films screened and determine which were the good, the bad, or the ugly.

The Good

OSS 117: Lost in Rio

The most complimentary thing you can say about Michel Hazanavicius is something everyone acknowledged after his Oscar-winning 21st century silent film, The Artist – Hazanavicius knows his cinema. OSS 117: Lost in Rio boasts endearing performances and successfully taps into the nostalgia for 1960’s cinema. This is the spoof that the Austin Powers trilogy wished it could be. Just don’t expect this spy film to be revelatory.

The Day I Saw Your Heart

Although wildly imperfect, The Day I Saw Your Heart magically conciliates its flaws with French charm. From any other country, this film might not have worked, but because it’s French, it does. It’s clearly unfair, but, as Julie Delpy might say, c’est la vie.

Off-White Lies

Although from wildly different genres, Maya Kenig’s Off-White Lies shares many thematic concepts with Luc Besson’s The Professional. As a study of turbulent kinships, Off-White Lies shakes off all notions of tabula rasa, and, instead, embraces the mantra of que sera sera.

My First Wedding

From the beginning, My First Wedding feels distinctly familiar, but like that crazy uncle you only see at family gatherings, it’s peculiar enough to make you laugh. The disastrous wedding is on par with that in Melancholia, but the film’s tone and conclusion make it a quaint and charming comedy that may cause more smiles than anything else.

 

The Bad

How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire

The film’s major draw is its interesting, if somewhat questionable, back-story and its creative cutaway storytelling devices. Edelstyn also does a good job with connecting his current experiences with his grandmother’s. But for all of its narrative appeal, this documentary plays out as a brazen act of self-promotion. While watching How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire, it’s hard not to feel like you’re being sold to.

Naomi

The film is heavy-handed, hackneyed, and obvious from the start. If you’ve seen Unfaithful, or if you’ve read Lolita, you’ll likely know how this film ends, even though the finale is a disgracefully trite deus ex machina cop-out. Naomi is never as clever as it believes itself to be, and far worse than you’ll ever expect it.

The Prize

The story is purportedly based on the actual memories and childhood experiences of the director, Paula Markovitch, but, as anyone can tell you, it’s hard to vividly remember what happened to you at age seven. The best you can recollect are vague, random, and incoherent sequences, and that’s exactly what her film amounts to. Watching The Prize in totality is an unsavory Pyrrhic victory.


Polish Bar

The main reason for Polish Bar’s shortcomings is its lackadaisical concentration. Switching between its many narrative obligations, parts of the film will stagnate in importance, and because this happens to all aspects of the storytelling, everything feels paltry.

 

The Ugly

Something Wild

Although Something Wild starts off as a heroic feminist portrayal of rape, it eventually devolves into a sorry case of misogynistic apologetics. As daring and inventive as it might’ve been, the film’s fractured tone, contrived melodramatic conflict and anachronistically iniquitous conclusion have made it an exhausting, glib, and outdated look at sexual assault.

My Australia

The film spends its first half lambasting the Polish for being unfairly vitriolic towards Jews. The second half then proceeds to contradict the first by reversing the roles, stripping its cautionary tone, and being ignorant of the subsequent hypocrisy. The ending and resolution of the film’s conflict is superficial and contrived, but by that point, none of it even matters, because My Australia’s real conflict is with itself.

This Is Sodom

This Is Sodom commits the cardinal sin of being an unfunny comedy. Even so, the film is recognized as Israel’s biggest blockbuster in 25 years, with the directors, Adam Sanderson and Muli Segev, drawing comparisons to Monty Python and Mel Brooks. But thou shall not bear false witness; a more apt comparison is to say that they’re the Israeli equivalent of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.

 

In all, TJFF 2012 was a worthwhile experience, and although the festival was not as varied and nuanced as the trailer suggests, the qualitative unpredictability of the films make this years effort an interesting one.

– Justin Li

Visit the official website for the TJFF. Click here for more reviews.





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