Act of Violence

in 38th Toronto International Film Festival

by Michael Ranze

One of the most evident themes in the “Special Presentations” section of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was violence, physical and social, and its consequences. Violence could start anywhere, either in big cities or small communities, in families or in prison, in war or in peacetime, even in outer space. Kind hearted men could get into situations in which they react in an unpredictable, brutal way. Even policemen, the embodied symbol of law and protection, could get into situations where they forced themselves to lie and hide the circumstances of their erratic behaviour or their mistakes. The inability (or fear) to accept one’s own guilt and take punishment was one of the most recurrent themes in Toronto, and sometimes one could have the impression that the whole world was in an uproar.

One of the best films in the “Special Presentations” section was David Mackenzie’s Starred Up. Eric, a 19-year-old boy with an explosive temper, is transferred from juvenile to adult prison. The only way for him to survive is to be tougher than the other inmates. He is drawn to fellow inmates who once saved him and his father. His father is also doing time and trying to protect his troubled son. Starred Up is a very ambitious film essay about anger, anxiety and violence in the isolated community of a prison. It’s very shocking in its outbursts of violence, very original in its depiction of the father/son relationship, and impressively acted.

Cannibal (Canibal), directed by Manuel Martin Cuenca, was one of the most disturbing and frightening films of the “Special Presentations” section. Here, a man can only be close to women by killing and eating them. That’s a very irritating thought which carries the battle of the sexes to the extreme.

Sometimes violence is not intended, but it’s very heavy in its consequences. In Felony (D: Matthew Saville), a policeman drives drunk and causes the death of a boy. Instead of admitting the truth, he lies about it — with tragic consequences. That same situation, by the way, is mirrored in one Russian film in the “Contemporary World Cinema” section: The Major (D: Yuri Bykov). Felony is a very sensitive drama about guilt, punishment, truth and morals, with very complex relationships between the characters.

Sometimes the violence, like in For Those Who Can Tell No Tales (D: Jasmila Zbanic), is not visible, but it still haunts the minds of the people who find out about it. A female tourist from Australia spends her holidays in Visegrad, Bosnia-Herzegovina. 3,000 people were murdered there during the Bosnian war. The Vilina Vlas Hotel where the young woman stays has been used as a rape camp. But neither the guidebook nor the town makes mention of these horrible events. For Those Who Can Tell No Tales is a very ambitious, complex history document in which the viewer is confronted by the troubling revelations of a massacre and the scandal of its denial by the writers of history.

Child Of God, adapted from a novel by Cormac McCarthy and directed by actor James Franco, explores the rituals and desperation of the U.S. South’s rural poor. In the middle of the attention: Lester Ballard, an abandoned soul, who is unable to fit in society and wanders all by himself through the woods. He increasingly withdraws into his own mind, and then starts killing women — having sexual intercourse with them afterthey’re dead. This erratic behaviour is mirrored by a mob of townsfolk who are reacting with pure hate and greed to this man. It’s a very disturbing, compelling movie, not easy to watch, with images which make the spectator feel very uncomfortable.

Last but not least, Prisoners, from Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve tells the story of two neighbouring families who gather for Thanksgiving dinner. Suddenly, the youngest daughters from each household vanish. They are nowhere to be found. The prime suspect is a young misfit, but the investigating detective cannot find any evidence that he is responsible for the disappearance of the girls. That does not stop one girl’s father from kidnapping the mentally retarded young man and taking punishment into his own hands. Villeneuve shows how violence has its effect on normal citizens in suburban Massachusetts. They become as cruel and unscrupulous as the kidnapper just to save their own world.

Edited by Leslie James