"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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TIFF 2000 Day 1

Day 1: September 7, 1999


Sade

Benoît Jacquot
France, 2000
Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Marianne Denicourt, Jeanne Balibar, Grégoire Colin, Isild Le Besco, Jean-Pierre Cassel
Synopsis:

This is Benoît Jacquot's latest film. Now on him, I run hot and cold. Some of his work is outstanding ("L'Ecole de la chair", for example), but much is far too timid like last year's limp "Pas de scandale". So this wasn't my first choice, nor my friend Harry's (with whom I saw it), but it filled a time slot, and Daniel Auteuil is in it..

That ringing endorsement aside, it was not as bad as you might expect. It's a good-looking costume biopic which follows the Marquis DeSade (Auteuil) during his imprisonment at a country estate during the terror of Robespierre at the end of the 18th century. There he meets the young Emilie (Isild Le Besco) whom he charms. Stuff happens, people lose their heads to the guillotine blade, heads and then the credits roll. It's all pretty straightforward character drama with maybe three characters developed: Sade, Emilie, and the mother of Sade's son, Madame Quesnet (Marianne Dennicourt), though between Madame Quesnet and Emilie, maybe it's just 2½ characters.

Jacquot and Le Besco were at the screening.

Q: (To Jacquot) Was the movie derived from any of Sade's writing in particular?
A: No, though the dialog was inspired by his letters to his wife which started before the period of the film.

Q: (To Le Besco) Was doing the scene of Emilie's 'first time' (with a man) difficult for you?
A: No, not difficult. Embarrassing. It's a job, and sometimes you have to do things you don't really like, but that's OK. I was paid for it.

Q: (To Jacquot) Why did you take this approach to the story [of just covering his years in prison]?
A: I did that I thought no one would expect. That's how I like to approach films.

Urbania

Jon Shear
USA, 2000
Cast: Dan Futterman, Alan Cumming, Matt Keeslar, Josh Hamilton, Lothaire Bluteau
Synopsis:

I chatted with a fellow festival goes for a while before the film started. Joined by the bond of having some of the worst seats in the house (front row, to the side), we swapped horror stories about the festival. He recounted Paul Schrader's film from last year ("Forever Mine"?) which was just stinko. When the lights came up, there was only a light smattering of applause. What an embarrassment. Lucky for this screening, the VIP reserved seats were opened up at the last minute, and we were ushered to them in great style and comfort.

This didn't help the film, however, which I can rate only with a shrug. Actually, this is a tough film to review because it has some things going for it that I don't want to ignore:

  • Lothaire Bluteau plays a street person and is just great. But his was a small part so you don't see him much.
  • The film looked great (the photography). Considering that it was made for about $200,000 USD, that's not bad at all.
  • Even though it was adapted from a play, it didn't show. That's really rare, as most adaptations still retain a confined theatrical feel.

However, my usual complaints about first films apply:

  • Cut, cut, cut. The opening sequence seemed to be filler for the credits which went on longer than those for the first "Superman" movie (1978).
  • The storytelling was slack. While you are not supposed to understand everything as the film unspools, there's no need to keep rubbing my nose in incomprehensible flashbacks.
  • The film is sprinkled with people's recollections of urban legends. Perhaps it was supposed to lend structure to the film, but it just didn't work for me. I've heard them all before, and they didn't serve to illuminate the characters or to drive the story.

Director Jon Shear was on hand to talk about the movie. He's a very chatty fellow who had us all cup our hands an "Boo" before the screening so he could send a photo back to his mom who was quite excited that her son was going to Canada where the people are "so well behaved."