And where was the glamour? It seemed to begin and end with the opening gala, where glitz was awkwardly balanced with the event’s eco-friendly theme. The red carpet was replaced with a green rug, and the stars were forced to forego their limos and crumple their designer threads into a fleet of dinky eco-cars provided by sponsor Toyota.
Yeah, it was a giggle.
This year’s panel of judges was headed by Jon Voight, which would have seemed like a surefire guarantee of quality until you remember that he votes Republican and was last seen in National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Still, he was mighty entertaining in the panel’s press conference, getting producer Michael Gruskoff in a headlock, leading his fellow judges in a chorus line and waxing at length about the labyrinthine layout of Roppongi Hills, where TIFF is held.
Since Sergey Dvortsevoy’s Tulpan won this year’s Sakura Grand Prix, and will dominate the headlines, I’ll focus on some of the other participants. Early on, it was obvious that they wouldn’t be picking Feng Xiaoning’s Super Typhoon, a disaster film of quite heroic, life-affirming awfulness that presumably made it into this year’s competition section on the strength of its tacked-on environmental message. Jennifer Phang’s Half-Life was far more promising, an end-of-days suburban drama that, in its tone and splashes of dream logic, came across like a less arch Donnie Darko.Echo of Silence, the directorial debut of actor Atsuro Watabe, deserves credit for its audacity, if nothing else. Well lensed and beautifully acted, it was notable for the fact that each scene was shot in a single take on multiple cameras, allowing for a naturalness and fluency that’s absent in most cinema. It’s a shame that Watabe chose to use these techniques in the service of such an uninvolving narrative, but he remains a name to watch.
Still, one of the films that stuck with me the most wasn’t even in the main competition. Kanji Nakajima’sThe Clone Returns to the Homeland will probably be dismissed as pretentious tosh in some quarters, but I found it enormously satisfying. An unashamedly artsy (and at times painfully drawn-out) sci-fi, it wrestled with the issues posed by human cloning, drifting into the territory of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. Without the influence of cabin pressure or free booze, it was also the only film that moved me to tears.