Toronto: Which side are you on?

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I have no problem with Vincent Gallo. His outrageous interviews and whiny yammering all add up to a distinct, crypto-comic personality, one I'd rather have around than not. But there's a trade-off to this. Put him in a somber movie about terrorism, like Jerzy Skolimowski's Essential Killing, and Gallo can't help but be laughable. After his wide-eyed character, Mohammed, wastes three boorish U.S. operatives with a bazooka (critics are being slippery when they say that the movie doesn't take sides), he is captured, subjected to waterboarding and flown to a secret European detention center where he escapes. (It's basically Vincent Gallo in The Fugitive.) The whole time, you want the actor to open his mouth and start up with the neurotic kvetching; he never does, so the performance grows more and more cartoonish. Desperately thirsty after days in the wild, Mohammed seizes upon a lactating stranger and plunges his face into her cleavage. The movie never recovers. Yet the cracked auteur of The Brown Bunny rebounds in another festival outing, this one more in tune with his frequency. If reports are to believed, the actor hijacked the shoot of a film tentatively called The Funeral Director and rechristened it, gloriously, Promises Written in Water, taking the reins as writer, director and editor. That movie played today, in an unusually tense screening at the Bell Lightbox (a heated argument broke out in French); the crowd that stayed past a handful of walkouts was treated to something special indeed: the ultimate graduate-art-school film. Everything—the grainy black-and-white 16mm cinematography, the awkward, repetitive long takes in diners, the romantic ennui—is reminiscent of a certain style of immature yet sincere heart-spelunking. (Not only did I feel I had seen this film before; I felt I had made it.) As the follow-up to Gallo's previous provocations, it should find a distributor. I'd like that to happen. The film is immensely huggable, if not wholly successful. It deserves to find an audience of nostalgic, '90s-era budding artistes—with senses of humor, preferably.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival


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