Toronto International Film Festival: Meet the Monsters

Categories: Film and TV
© 2012 - The Weinstein Company
Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
A critic's report from a film festival like Toronto, where something like 300 features were unveiled from September 6 through 16, can be something like a Rorschach test--or, at least, it can be something like the Rorschach test depicted in Paul Thomas Anderson's TIFF entry, The Master, in which Joaquin Phoenix's Freddie Quell sees in every ink blot a reflection of his own genital fixations. It's definitely possible that my response to the 24 movies I saw at the festival says less about the films themselves than what I was already thinking about anyway. But even with that caveat, it certainly seemed that the festival showcased movies about freedom in its distinctly American, notional "dream" variety -- its global effects in terms of politics, economics, ideology, and control, and its internal promotion and export via commercial movies.

First and foremost, there was The Master, which had its North American premiere the first weekend, setting a bar that nothing I saw after could clear. Haunted by the mythic opulence of mid-century Hollywood, it evokes a Scientology-like cult as a sideshow, convincing followers they can step into movie-like visions of their own past through methods that mimic the method of Stanislavski and Strasberg, brought into the movies of the day by mid-century stars such as Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe. It's also a psych exam of a nation fresh off a triumph as superheroes on the international stage, pulling together a dream future in the wake of incomprehensible horrors and unparalleled victory. What happens when you don't, or can't, conform to a collective dream?

If The Master is a journey inside a national identity just after that nation has been crowned the kings of the world, the nonfiction hybrid The Last Time I Saw Macao is, perhaps, the inverse: a document of a former colony made by descendants of its former colonizer (Portuguese filmmakers João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata), and a drama about a loss of control. Hollywood's reach is felt here, too: Directly referencing Josef Von Sternberg's Jane Russell-starring Macao and the genre of cabaret noir, it's a travel essay made narrative by the appropriation of tropes of classic movies.

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