Toronto: A staggering journey with The Road
Sun Sep 13 2009
Apart from watching Ellen Page play roller derby in Whip It, one can see plenty of seriously whacked-out experiments at the fest, not merely art films but downright alien creatures. Harmony Korine antagonized the crowd with Trash Humpers, a cruddy-looking "found object" chronicling a gang of destructive gigglers wearing old-man masks like Grandpa in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. (Korine then mocked an offended viewer who wanted some answers in the Q&A: "What's your hat about?" the director retorted.) Menace hangs over the film, making it feel interesting, but it's ultimately a stunty piece of silliness that begs saps to take it seriously. Shirin Neshat, she of the contemporary art world, has taken her videos about chador-clad sufferers out of the gallery and into a logy, earnest feature called Women Without Men. Almost predictably, Neshat has a lot to learn about directing actors, not composition.
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Yet the biggest art risk at the fest so far has to be the stunningly bleak The Road, a concentrated blast of end-of-civilization awfulness that's almost shockingly a product of the Weinsteins. (I think even they're a bit surprised, given the yearlong release delay.) Dank and mostly lacking special effects, the movie is remarkably faithful to Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-winning novel about a dead-eyed boy and his father traveling through ashen America. Fans of postapocalyptic scenarios should brace themselves for something far more extreme than The Road Warrior, or even Michael Haneke's The Time of the Wolf. Robert Duvall turns up almost unrecognizably; there's little to hold on to. Indeed, the whole film puts you in such a heightened state of fear of being eaten by cannibals that you can't shake it for hours. I credit my perceptive editor David Fear for crystallizing the movie's key strength (and clarifying Oprah's love for the book): "It's about the extremes of parenting." Does all this equal good? We both wiped back tears after the screening.