2013 Toronto International Film Festival Diary, Day One: Borgman, Only Lovers Left Alive, Intruders, The Fifth Estate
by Jeff Meyers

Moviemaker.com’s coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival 2013 continues with correspondent Jeff Meyers’ ongoing fest diary. Today he jots down his thoughts on screenings Borgman, Only Lovers Left Alive, Intruders, and The Fifth Estate.

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Two years ago when I attended TIFF I kicked off my festival-going with an 8am screening of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. I know, a non-stop laugh riot, right? Needless to say, the screening cast a certain mood across the rest of the day, undermining my appreciation for comedies, life-affirming drama and, well, my very existence. I vowed I would not repeat that experience again.

Ah, the folly of making promises one cannot keep.

Flash forward two years and here I am again, sitting in a darkened theater watching Borgman, a dark, surreal Danish home-invasion film that plays like an ironic version of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. I call my friend and tell her to put away the razor blades before I move in for the week.

Looking over my schedule, I decide to ride this Dark Night of the Soul vibe and make Day One all about the misery… or, at least, dramatic discomfort. The tear-jerkers and droll yucks will have to wait until tomorrow. I’m kicking off TIFF in a morose funk, painting my festival-going black with of deep shades of paranoia, ennui and dread. Good times.

Borgman

Speak of the devil… and the devil appears. Borgman is almost a home invasion movie, almost a thriller about a satanic cult and almost a dark comic skewering of one percenter entitlement… and yet none of those synopses really describe this bracingly disturbing film. Director Alex van Warmerdam piles on the weird and mysterious as a charismatic vagrant insinuates himself into a wealthy Danish family’s posh domestic compound and drives an evil wedge between husband and wife. The menace and mysteries deepen as the movie proceeds but little of it actually makes sense. I suppose it could be a Haneke-like statement about the fragility of bourgeois entitlement, but that would only dispel the unsettling vibe it works so hard to achieve.

Only Lovers Left Alive

In Jim Jarmusch’s deconstructionist hands vampires become ennui-filled rock devotees who bristle at how soulless human beings have become and how much culture is changing for the worse. Tilda Swinton is terrific, as usual. Mia Wasikowska plays against type as a vapid, self-absorbed blood-sucker and Tom Hiddleston proves that he can do more than throw around wry quips as Loki. Here he’s a depressed vampire musician who can’t decide whether it’s better to burn out or fade away. The treatment is very late period Jarmusch, with all his stylistic touches intact and deadpan fetishes on display. It’s bone dry wry with little narrative drive but plenty of personality to burn. And the cast is first rate.

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Intruders

Context is everything in what, at first, seems like a flabby comedy of bloody errors. Jun Suk-Ho is a 30-something Korean screenwriter who travels to a secluded mountain retreat to work on his latest script. Along the way he makes an unusual ‘friend,’ an ex-con who gets a little more chummy than the uptight writer would like. Before you know it, more visitors start showing up at his B&B and soon after so do the corpses. Yikes! Is the affable ex-con really a psycho killer? Things get dark and suspenseful fast but director Noh Young-Seok has something other than a western-style thriller in mind. What seems like a sketchy, meandering suspender is actually a social satire aimed squarely at Korean audiences. You see, as the bickering characters get caught up in their own petty navel-gazing, making crass assumptions about the motives and values of each other, the warnings of their impending doom are all around. When the big reveal as to who the killer is comes, it’s clear that inevitability rather than surprise was on Noh Young-Seok’s agenda.

The Fifth Estate

Biopics are hard films to get right – especially when they put the focus on the guy next to the guy they really want you to pay attention to. Bill Condon’s attempt to bring the story of Julian Assange and Wikileaks to the screen makes two fatal errors: (1) It chooses Daniel Berg as its protagonist, a rather colorless and earnest fellow who mostly stands in awe and then, later, in contempt of Assange and (2) it tries to make characters pounding on computer keyboards seem exciting. Despite the movie’s tricked-out impressionistic rock video interpretations, it doesn’t change that the fact that typing isn’t inherently dramatic. The real special effect in The Fifth Estate is Benedict Cumberbatches’ magnetic performance as Assange. He’s a brilliant mix of crusader, egotist, muckraker, and narcissist and Condon doesn’t seem to know what to make of his story. The first two-thirds of his movie are a rambling, shambling mix of whistleblower polemic, globe-trotting cyber-thriller, and buddy-anarchist friendship, none of which are adequately explored. The characters, exposition and issues (along with some really hackneyed views of cyber culture) fly by quickly but to little dramatic effect. Only in its last act – when Condon and company confront the ethics and consequences of dumping the Afghanistan War Logs on the web and the eventual moral fallout between Berg and Assange do things finally get interesting. Tragically, The Fifth Estate can’t help but call into comparison The Social Network, which benefitted from Aaron Sorkin’s witty and eloquent script, and David Fincher’s crackerjack direction.

WHAT I LEARNED WAITING IN LINE

Festival Buzz: Gravity, 12 Years A Slave, Blue Is The Warmest Color, Blue Ruin

Festival Bummers: Blood Ties, The Love Punch

Folks were brazenly bragging that in order to skip the long lines they’d hang out by the concession stand then wait for the first wave of attendees to be let into the theater and blend in. Result: Volunteers start “hands across the lobby” where they create human corrals for those in line, keeping the cheating line-jumpers out. Somehow this whole situation depresses me. MM

Read MovieMaker’s full TIFF coverage: PreviewDay 2, Day 3.

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