Last night we saw film #10, The Half Life of Timofey Berezin (tiff | imdb). We didn’t realize it was the premiere until…well, pretty much everyone associated with the film showed up. Producers, editors, and of course the actors and director. The plot moves in two parallel streams: the titular Berezin, a technician at a secret nuclear facility, becomes fatally irradiated and has only knows he will die within a day or two. Faced with no way to support his wife and son, he steals some Pu-239 and goes to Moscow in the hopes of selling it. The other stream follows an incompetent criminal and his bumbling friends around Moscow, as they basically act like jerks (they run over pets for profit) and try to save their own asses from various crime lords. Eventually their paths cross and the story takes a few turns.
The first stream — watching the amazing Paddy Considine (who played Berezin) and his wife (played by Radha Mitchell) play their delicate game, where he tries to protect her but she obviously understands what’s happening, and where they try to pretend for the sake of their son — was infinitely more interesting than the dumbass-gangster storyline, which kept trying to dip into dark humour but failed. I found myself practically begging the diirector to switch back to Berezin or his wife every time the camera left them. Ultimately I felt like I was watching half a film. It’s too bad; I had really high hopes for this one.
Tonight, it was #11: Day Night Day Night (tiff | imdb), a welcome return to top-notch festival fare. Granted, this isn’t the kind of movie for everyone; it was definitely of the Dogme 95 genre: one hand-held camera, no music, no special effects, and so on. It was interesting subject matter (I hesitate to say “controversial”, though a mainstream audience would likely label it so), but garnered our respect because it didn’t lapse into easy stereotypes or blow-to-the-head hints.
The form was so bravely stark and well-executed it defies belief that both the director and main actor were first-timers. The tension — and it was very tense at times — was expertly built, the settings were used to perfection (somehow a tiny hotel room seemed the same size as Times Square) and the long, quiet, detailed shots of the main character brushing her teeth, or eating an egg roll, or asking people for change showed us more about her than a movie full of exposition or voiceover could have. The ambiguous ending was perfectly cruel. Or cruelly perfect, I’m not sure.
On the way home my wife pointed out that — barring a huge surprise from our last two films — this is our real festival movie for the year: the one that sneaks up on you, the true art hidden among the red carpet preening and overhyped twaddle. I’m sure some people who watch this film will hate it, but they sure as hell won’t forget it.
[tags]tiff, toronto international film festival, the half life of timofey berezin, day night day night[/tags]