Sunday, September 13, 2009

TIFF 2009 Reviews: Kirot

Oh wait, there's more? Yeah, Michael Caine and Sam Neill weren't enough for one day.

I barely travel. I'd love to see more of the world, but the fact is that except for a couple of solo drives across the U.S., four years living in Los Angeles and drives though the dull stretch of central Canada between Toronto and Montreal, I haven't seen much of the world. I'm planning a trip to England and Scotland this fall, and that will, due to finances, likely be the last big voyage I take for a long while. So every time the Festival comes around, I make a point of seeing a whack of foreign movies. Lest I seem like one of those assholes that I used to rent to when I worked at the independent video store that shall remain unnamed, I don't look down on American movies. I love 'em to death, and I don't automatically call foreign films "better" because they're subtitled. I just think they shouldn't be avoided, and should be celebrated whenever possible as a chance to see parts of the world in which I'll never actually set foot.

Which brings me to my big Unifying Theory of the Foreign Film that I've worked out over the past seven years of TIFF. To wit: you can learn more about a country's culture by watching its genre movies than any so-called "national cinema" that it may have on offer. Celebrations of Old Country, nationalist paeans or simply self-consciously "look at meeeee!" movies can be fine, I guess, sorta, but one has to suspect the motives of the filmmakers. But you take an Ed McBain-esque murder mystery and set it in Reykjavik, or locate your haunted house in Joburg, or have your aliens invade in Sao Paolo, you're offering every other culture that's checking out your movie a baseline from which to see what's uniquely yours and why. So this year, with the festival's inaugural City to City program on the docket, I decided to see what happens when you set a feminist mob thriller in Tel Aviv and checked out my first Israeli film, Danny Lerner's Kirot.

I should also bring up the kosher elephant in the room and mention that tonight was another first for me. It was the first time I'd been to a TIFF screening with a visible police presence, and one for which the street had been cleared and a fenced-off blast area was established in front of the theatre. Before the show, a small film crew was going down the line, interviewing people waiting in line. They were with a Jewish organization whose name I didn't retain, and were putting together a documentary to send around to other film festivals to try and convince them that the outcry over the Tel Aviv program here didn't reflect the views of the audiences and that they shouldn't avoid booking the films for fear of boycotts. A noble goal, but I still hung back and didn't offer myself up. This is how terror works, isn't it? I don't dare go on video and point out that Tel Aviv was already a city when the Palestinian state was established, despite the timeline that the anti-Israel protestors are claiming, so it wasn't built on land stolen from the Palestinians, and oh yeah, considering Israel is pretty much the only country in the entire region that actually respects human rights to any great degree and doesn't, you know, cut your head off for being gay or wearing pants if you're a woman or phoning the pizza place before everyone's agreed on the toppings or whatever else, it seems a bit odd that so many sheeple on the left are jumping on the anti-Israel bandwagon. Make an honest argument against the forced resettlements, there's a case to be made. But the protest against the film festival and controversy defies logic or common sense. I will fully admit that I don't know nearly enough about the issues at play here...but, judging from the muddle of the protests, I'm not the only one.

Also, I was wearing my Miskatonic University t-shirt today, and since H.P. Lovecraft, despite being a great writer, was sadly a big honking anti-semite, I didn't feel like sending mixed messages. But it was mainly the fear thing.

ANYWAY...Kirot stars Olga Kurylenko from Quantum of Solace as a Ukranian in Tel Aviv, enslaved by the Russian mob, who is shoved into a sideline as a hitwoman to earn back her passport. Along the way she becomes BFFs with the abused wife across the hall played by singing star Ninet Tayeb. The movie is largely about the friendship and mutual support between the two women, but also tells a taut, violent mob story. During the Q&A, Lerner expressed his own dissatisfaction with self-consciously nationalist cinema; he said there are virtually no genre films made in Israel and he wanted to make one. I would have loved to ask him who his influences were on the action scenes, because, speaking as a connoisseur of the gun fu, they kicked ass. No slick overedited operatic shootemups a la Louis Leterrier or later-period Kirk Wong, the copious scenes of stunning violence (with Kurylenko decked out in a leather trenchcoat not unlike Zoe Tamerlis' in Ms. 45, and I don't think that's knock on Carrie-Ann Moss, but Kurylenko would have made an awesome Trinity) are brutal, gritty and like a jolt of adrenaline. Kirot is a killer thriller, and Lerner could do worse than being recruited to helm some old-school ultraviolence for H'wood.

Real brief Q&A, at which Kurylenko didn't show as she's in Argentina on a shoot, which makes zero for three as far as Bond girls sightings go this year (no Rosamund Pike at An Education, no Gemma Arterton at Alice Creed, and I heard Eva Green wasn't at Cracks this morning either), but Ninet Tayeb was in the house, looking a total knockout in contrast to the constantly black-eyed housewife we'd just seen onscreen. How does one say "hubba hubba" in Hebrew, anyway? At any rate, awesomely good flick. (***1/2)

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