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Toronto '09: Day 4: Observe and report

Posted by Wesley Morris  September 13, 2009 10:22 PM

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The lines to get into screenings here can't get any longer. And yet somehow they do. How can there be that much block to wrap a line around? Even a leisurely early arrival for certain films can be a shock that manages to make you look cocky. Forty-five minutes beforehand, and the line doesn't appear to end. Yesterday the interminable, demoralizing queue for "The Road" seemed like an accidental promotional tie-in for the movie ("Keep walking. Save yourselves!").

Today the line was for Michael Moore. His "Capitalism: A Love Story" premiered just after noon. And as with all his films, the gist is hard to argue with. Moore finds hard, damning facts and molds or simplifies them to suit his larger conspiracy theory, this time about the widening chasm between the haves and have-nots. The movie becomes an astute, sometimes lyrical thriller about the mutation of our financial system into what seemsm from Moore's perspective, cabalistically evil. We see families losing their homes and receive insights into the financial institutions that gain from those losses. Anyone presently apathetic or even disdainful toward Congress will only have those feelings intensified. However, Moore can't quite bring himself to assess our current president's handling of the economic crisis. As you might expect, though, the previous commander-in-chief does not emerge unscathed.

This is a damning and depressing film, in sync with the outrages at the moment, even if the mock-dunce Moore made of himself in "Sicko," his best film, is now just the old righteous jackass harassing people on Wall Street. One of the final scenes involves the filmmaker and rolls of police tape. It's misguided. Having the indigent, angry, and underemployed wield the tape and declare Merrill Lynch a crime scene would have been powerful entertainment, just as it was when, for "Sicko," he boated a symbolic few of the American ill to Cuba for treatment. Moore simply is no longer the crusading average joe he believes himself to be.

Right after the film, out on the street, a ruddy old man was sprawled at the corner of an incessantly busy pedestrian intersection. He was under a blanket. His head was folded on an arm whose hand held out a baseball cap in want of change. No one seemed to notice other than to step around or over him. No one said anything. The man, though, appeared to look up at everyone who passed. The cap remained mostly empty. And it was tough not to think that sometimes life creates tie-ins, too.

In nonfiction moviemaking, Frederick Wiseman is the exact opposite of Michael Moore. He does all his talking in the editing room, and very discreetly. His films -- "Titicut Follies," "High School," "Domestic Violence," among over three dozen others -- move into a location or two and reveal over the course of several hours (if necessary) how a particular institution does or does not work. Moore is a star because he rants. Wiseman, though, who's based in Cambridge, is an elder statesman. His discreet disquisitions can be as damning as Moore's melodrama.

This year's festival has included Wiseman's "La Danse" in the lineup. It's a wonderfully immersive film that holes up at the Paris Opera Ballet, and builds out the company from the inside. As with Wiseman's "Ballet" and "La Comédie-Française," we see rehearsals and promotional negotiations and watch the dancers and choreographers build and polish a dance. This is a sacred institution being revealed, steadily, as a kind of artistic corporation, in which the many pieces create a living, functional whole. Wiseman knows just how long to let his cameras linger and precisely when to cut away. You trust his instincts and his wisdom. What he shows us is inherently of interest. But it's all the more interesting because it's Wiseman who's doing the showing.

His was the second movie today by a filmmaker I love. The other was Fatih Akin's "Soul Kitchen," from Germany. It's neither the work of transcendence that "The Edge of Heaven" was nor the emotional Vesuvius that was "Head On." In fact, some of this new movie is pretty bad, but it has more true joy, passion, and youth on a scene-by-scene basis than any film I've seen here so far. It's basically a comedy about two Greek-German brothers (pictured above), the lazing owner of a restaurant (Adam Bousdoukos) in hip old warehouse and a convict on probation (Moritz Bleibtreu).

Akin whips a plot around them and the restaurant that never finds its rhythm. Sometimes the chaos feels like the frenzy of life. Sometimes it feels like the stress of keeping the characters busy (health inspectors, a fire, a massive orgy that might give those same health inspectors pause, not-so-chance encounters). But the robust performances and contagious epicurean spirit go a long way to save the movie from itself. Imagine one of those Sidney Poitier-Bill Cosby numbers from the 1970s done as a party set in modern Hamburg, and you're most of the way there.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

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