TORONTO 2012: Outro
by Steve Dollar
There is a paucity of acronyms to properly gauge the impression made by Ulrich Seidl
's latest film. ZOMFGWTFBBQ seems, somehow, understated. Suffice it to say that there is no doubting Paradise: Love
is Seidl's: The first minute or so, which I will refrain from describing, is a startling, in-your-face eruption (of sheer joy, actually) that immediately calls to question the filmmaker's intention. What's he after? Here's a checklist, pick a couple: Politically incorrect provocation. Sensational shock value. Existential absurdity. A dare to watch the train wreck. An unflinching gaze deep into the human condition.
Seidl applies a certain anthropological rigor to his films that makes his transgressive perspectives something much different than similar tendencies in work by, say, the Farrelly Brothers
or Todd Solondz
. Paradise: Love
, the first installment in a trilogy about Austrians abroad, is about sex tourism. Margarethe Tiesel plays Teresa, a 50-something single mother of a bored teenage girl who has finally given in to a friend's insistence that she take a vacation at a Kenyan beach resort. It's a wonderland of post-colonial colonialism, with every bit of cringe-inducing racial frisson one might imagine and then some: A tour bus full of northern Europeans practicing their Swahili phrases—"Jambo!" "Hakuna matata"; the incessant smiles and servile persistence of the would-be studs who line the beach, just the other side of the rope from where the women sunbathe, their pale fleshy bodies in sharp contrast to the slender, limber young men who stand as patient as obelisks.
The narrative follows Teresa's transformation from a giggly newbie—encouraged by her uninhibited and insatiable best friend (Inge Maux)—who finds erotic renewal in her encounters with sweet-talking, dreadlocked Mungo (Peter Kazungu), into a jaded Jill, disheartened that it's all a hustle. Along the way, racial clichés are celebrated in exuberant and discomforting ways, as when a bartender's complexion is described to be "as shiny as bacon rind." But that gaze turns both ways, and what once seemed like a bit of giddy satire on cultural stereotypes (overweight, middle-aged sex tourists getting their groove back) turns into an intimate commentary on the ugliness of economic disparity. There's a parallel line, however, in Tiesel's performance, which often is fearlessly exposed. Photographed by the superstar team of Ed Lachman
and Wolfgang Thaler
, the film deploys the static tableaux that Seidl's likes to use as punctuation marks throughout the film. These seem to emphasize a detached, ironic perspective: all those fat asses in bikinis, for instance, could just equate a "People of Wal-Mart" meme gone Euro arthouse. But then what to make of a moment as elegant as Teresa's repose in the Kenyan love shack where she's shared an afternoon with Mungo, dozing as he arranges a transparent blue scrim around the bed? Seidl quotes Manet's Olympia, although the form is purely Rubenesque, displayed as an object of beauty.
I wish I'd seen more films that inspired the wholehearted enthusiasm I felt for Paradise: Love
. But in a 26-title run over the course of 11 days at the Toronto International Film Festival, the fare was consistently solid if never really exceptional. Some standouts included Miguel Gomes' Tabu
, a breakthrough third feature for the Portuguese director of Our Beloved Month of August
that shifts gears twice, from ethnographic homage to Jarmuschian deadpan to comic-poetic evocation of memory and desire. It's a rather utterly different African love story, played out as an old man's account of a dangerous, obsessive affair on a colonial plantation in Mozambique, lensed in vintage black-and-white against a Portuguese garage band's cover version of "Be My Baby." Also: 14-year-old Elle Fanning
's knockout performance in Sally Potter
's Ginger and Rosa
, as a budding radical in 1961 London, equally traumatized by the looming Cuban Missile Crisis and the dubious behavior of her iconoclastically bad-ass and morally disgusting father (Alessandro Nivola
). And not entirely because Annette Bening
has a small role, but the themes and plot points sometimes make the film feel like a superior companion to The Kids Are All Right
Brit wit Ben Wheatley
's black comedy Sightseers
, featuring the deadpan duo of Alice Lowe
and Steve Oram as socially dysfunctional lovers on a caravan holiday through the English Midlands that turns into a killing spree. (MSN.com's James Rocchi
nailed it in three words: Natural Born Campers
Perhaps the biggest surprise was Michel Gondry
's The We and the I
, a collaboration with a group of Bronx high school kids who appear to be playing workshopped variations on themselves. The action takes place on the B66 MTA bus as it loads up with boisterous teenagers at the end of the last day of school. Composite narratives accrue between non-stop volleys of conversation, furtive glances, bullying, texting, poetry reading, chasing old white ladies off the bus, true confessions and, for this artistically inclined gang, a lot of sketch-pad illustrating. In its own multi-racial way, it's a bit like American Graffiti
in a can, scored to a wall-to-wall soundtrack of old-school hip hop (Yo! Young MC!). An immersive experience takes gradual form as, one by one, the students hop off the bus, and the characters become more defined and refined, until the movie becomes a two-hander with a coda that's unexpectedly touching. If the production mimics some of the handheld self-absorption of mumblecore, it is also a rejoinder (and in the context of TIFF, the anti-Frances Ha
) to movies about "white people problems." And all the more welcome.
Posted by ahillis at September 18, 2012 2:49 PM