By William Wolf

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2009--THE STRONG AND THE WEAK  Send This Review to a Friend

In addition to the strong films I have been reviewing at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), there are various entries that turned out to be weak. Unfortunately, the opening night selection, Jon Amiel’s “Creation” was one of them. The most interesting thing about Charles Darwin was his contribution to knowledge concerning evolution. Indeed, the most fascinating moments of the film are those in which we see him express interest in nature surrounding him.

But the main thrust of “Creation” is the relationship between Darwin and his wife, Emma. Not unsurprisingly, Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly play the couple very well, but the screenplay by John Collee is ponderous, and Amiel is stuck with material that is only intermittently compelling. The tale, involving loss of their child at the age of nine, and the combination of guilt and grief that follows and tears the marriage apart, is basically a soap opera that doesn’t measure up to what one really cares about Dawrin.

The film, based on the book “Annie’s Box” by Randal Keynes, looks impressive and has the mark of sincerity, but much of it turns out to be dull despite the dedicated efforts.

“Broken Embraces,” directed by Pedro Almodóvar, while displaying the charm and talent of Penelope Cruz, was also a let down, considering that it comes from such a brilliant director. It is easy to watch due the talent involved, but the story is rather predictable, and the director appears more concerned with an ode to filmmaking than with uncorking a good dramatic story. It is passable, but nowhere near up to the director’s most compelling work.

Another that doesn’t live up to the reputation of the director is “Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl,” by the great director Manuel de Oliveira of Portugal. This one concerns the efforts to be able to marry between a young woman and her lover. It is admirably low key, but too much so. Not very much happens, but we are presumably meant to read much into it. One can admire the beauty of the filmmaking without being caught up in the result. The best news is that the director, now 100 years old, is still making movies.

Fortunately, there are so many positive examples of films at the Festival (see assortment of reviews.) Good performances abound too. Take Isabelle Huppert in “White Material” by French director Claire Denis. There isn’t a moment when one doubts that Huppert is the manager of a plantation in Africa, the role she plays, a gritty part one hardly would associate with the French actress. Yet she thoroughly triumphs in the role to the point of making her existence in the film seem ultra natural, as if she had lived in that environment most of her life.

  

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