Saturday, September 6, 2008

TIFF 2008 reviews: The Ghost

Okay, so you have a good day, then you have a bad day. I mean, come on, with eighteen screenings on my docket at TIFF this year, they can’t ALL be gems. And thus, my first stinker of the fest, The Ghost. I don’t have much to say about it, really, partly because I fell asleep a couple of times and can’t claim to have followed every minute of the setup. I couldn’t leave, though, because the director was sitting right behind me. On the plus side, the program book got the running time wrong, and it was about forty minutes shorter than I’d thought it would be.

Anyway, here’s the thing about foreign fest fare, as far as my programming picks are concerned. My theory is that we learn much more about foreign cultures through their genre pop culture than through any sort of official national cinema or adaptations of the country’s “classics.” By the very nature of inherent populist requirements, horror, thriller, comedy, sci-fi or what have you tap more deeply into a national culture’s touchstones than straight drama, which in my experience tends towards the “look at my potato” school of storytelling. This has been borne out through years at the festival: Iceland’s Jar City, Hong Kong’s PTU and Throw Down, Japan’s Sukiyaki Western Django…these films say more to me about the countries that produced them than all the Zhang, Bergman and Ray you can throw at me.

That said, the movie still has to stand on its own merits, thus my apathy or outright dislike of Macedonia’s Shadows, Austria’s Silent Resident and as of tonight, Russia’s The Ghost. Part of the problem I had with the flick, I suppose, was that it seemed to be structured around where one would think the major plot twist would happen, like the director was trying to ape American movies stylistically but couldn’t quite get the bat off his shoulder. Not helping things is the fact that the protagonist is a major douchebag throughout the first seventy minutes or thereabouts, so when his life turns criminally Kafkaesque, it’s hard to be 100% sympathetic to his plight. Anyway, like I said: they can’t all be gems. Hopefully I’ll have better luck tomorrow. (**)

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