Toronto: Werner Herzog, David Cronenberg and heaviness

We weigh in on the new David Cronenberg and more

Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender in A Dangerous Method

Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender in A Dangerous Method

As always, attending the Toronto International Film Festival means hitting the ground running: I've been here just over 24 hours and have already seen eight movies, with another one coming at midnight. Before you get me wrong, I'm not complaining. (If you love cinema, this is like being a pig in premium slop.) But there is a certain weightlessness that takes over TIFFers, as we shuttle from screening to screening, running into pals with just the barest amount of time to turn inchoate thoughts into sentences.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival

Thankfully, the films themselves have weighed me down with seriousness. I must be picking well because none of them strikes me as disposable. When Werner Herzog came to the festival last year with his documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, I thought the director had gotten lost in the 3-D technology and mystical flights of fancy. (Do cavemen dream?) Fortunately he's back to a more hard-hitting style with Into the Abyss, a doc that explicates a 2001 Texas triple murder via ghostly crime-site footage and raw interviews with inmates and family on both sides. Neither of the perpetrators, teens when they committed their felonies, are presented as innocent, yet Herzog manages to muster a persuasive anti-death-penalty stance. "Just because I am talking to you doesn't mean I like you," he tells one of the inmates days before his execution. His film elevates the act of witnessing.

Elsewhere, director Jafar Panahi bounced around the cozy confines of his Tehran apartment in This Is Not a Film, made in defiance of his banishment from work by the Iranian government. Honestly, this was not a film; it felt more like an art installation that would be best enjoyed if you could wander in and out of it on your own clock. But as with Herzog's committed effort, you felt the high stakes of turning on a camera and catching the testimony of the accused.

Guilt and recrimination thrummed just as strongly in the fictional world: A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg's historical psychodrama starring a cigar-chomping Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud and It-boy Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, could have used more incident and less gab. (Yes, I'm chastising a therapy movie for being too talky.) But the script's dual interwoven themes of anti-Semitism and doctor responsibility are sticking with me. Plus, jut-jawed Keira Knightley, as deranged patient-lover Sabina Spielrein, burns the movie down with some choice craziness. Stronger was Elena, a film by Russia's Andrei Zvyagintsev that played to me (in the best parts) like a lost chapter of Kieslowski's mighty, moralistic The Decalogue. Her wealthy husband on death's door, a mother must act decisively to secure an inheritance for her layabout son. But how far will she go? The power goes out and you know a deity is watching.

Even when I decided to catch up on some "lighter" fare like Cannes' The Artist, the heaviosity followed me: Stylewise, the movie is a gorgeous throwback to black-and-white Hollywood films of the silent era and even features a trick-performing dog. But how could one miss the guilt-ridden stare of rising star Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), whose every step higher takes an equal toll on the handsome idol who discovered her. By movie's end, he's got a gun in his mouth. Lights, camera, action...consequences.

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