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2008

TIFF 2008 (Eric's diary): festival karma is real

I have so much to tell you about, I don’t even know where to begin. I guess I could start by saying our first movie was called Uncertainty (1/8), and it left me uncertain whether to flee the theater or throw stuff at the screen. I also felt uncertain how many times Uncertainty would repeat the same scenes over and over, but I was fairly certain they weren’t getting better every time. Aren’t film festivals full of uncertainty? (See how much fun this is?)

Uncertainty stars the talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt and also someone named Lynn Collins (both of whom were in attendance) as Bobby and Kate, a totally annoying couple who flip a coin to decide what they’re going to do that day. The movie tracks both possibilities through the next day and a half, intercutting like no one in film school has ever thought of this idea. I’ll tell you something, it’s not a bad idea, and it’s already been made into an awesome movie called Sliding Doors. And if you didn’t think that was any fun, don’t even bother with Uncertainty.

You see, in one of the parallel universes, Bobby and Kate find a cell phone and end up running for their lives as they attempt to extort half a million dollars from the Russian mafia, making the stupidest decision possible at every step of the way. And in the other parallel universe... they make empanadas and find a dog.

Uncertainty is one of those movies where I really wanted to go with it, I really wanted to like it and find it artful and challenging and thought-provoking, but it is absolutely devoid of subtext. During the Q&A, one woman raised her hand just to offer the comment, “Layers... wow. Bravo.” I can only imagine that Uncertainty sheer dumbitude regressed her to the moment right after she had seen Sliding Doors instead.

Fortunately, Uncertainty was a way better bad movie than Coopers’ Camera, because at least this movie was HILARIOUS. About 10 minutes into Uncertainty, Dan and I locked eyes to exchange the requisite “You think this sucks too, right?” look, leaving us to barely compose ourselves every time Bobby and Kate talked about how they were uncertain about stuff.

This was all well and good since we left the theater grinning from ear to ear, but it made me nervous. Two lousy TIFF movies in a row? Would we come back from this? Would our next film suck too? I didn’t know anything about our evening film, a Serbian offering entitled Carlston za Ognjenku (Tears For Sale) -- it was a wild card choice and I was starting to doubt that it would pay off.

As it turns out, we needed our last two movies to karmically break even after seeing Tears For Sale (8/8), and it was totally worth it! Try to imagine a cross between Baz Luhrmann, Tarsem, and Pushing Daisies (and of course, imagine that would be divine instead of disastrous). I’m assuming your head just exploded as well. This was truly an experience like no other.

The story is set in a remote Serbian village where all the men have died at war, leaving a population of misery-obsessed babes whose only hope for losing their virginity is one bedridden old man fed through a tube. When one of two sisters inadvertently causes the old man’s death, both sisters are banished from the village and given three days to return with a man or their grandmother’s angry spirit will take them to Hell, where there won’t even be naked men to have sex with (as promised in local folklore).

This is the setup for a visual feast whose CGI effects, fancy editing, and wild imagination put many American blockbusters to shame. In Tears For Sale, these things never seem (needlessly) flashy or self-serving, perhaps because they actually serve the plot as well as the rich Serbian folklore embedded throughout the film. I don’t remember the last time I so thoroughly believed in such unbelievable material, but it all made sense at the time. As Dan and I left the theater, he commented, “If I could turn around and attend another showing of that movie right this second, I would.”

During the Q&A, the director, Uros Stojanovic -- a lovably modest man with a crazy hat collection I can totally respect -- was asked about his next project or plans. “I know this is a very bad thing to say at a film festival,” he said guiltily, “but I am trying to run away and make Hollywood movies.” To be honest, we could use a guy like him. And if you ever get a chance to watch Tears For Sale, don’t you dare miss it!

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