Festivals: Toronto Dispatch Two
Bertrand Tavernier’s latest, delightful film, Quai d’Orsay, follows a French minister of foreign affairs whose bewildering, egocentric energies kick up chaos in his office. Bursting into and out of rooms with a cartoonish breeze that sends papers flying, Alexandre Taillard de Vorms (Thierry Lhermitte) puts his hangdog chief of staff (Niels Arestrup) and freshly hired speechwriting assistant (Raphaël Personnaz) through the wringer as they deal with overseas crises and the usual array of political chores. Based on a bande dessinée that was in turn inspired by actual minister Dominique de Villepin (who famously opposed the American invasion of Iraq), Tavernier’s chatty film manages to be satirical, farcical, and yet faithful to the hazards of attending to an unpredictable, larger-than-life figure such as Taillard, whose global duties do not prevent him from dispensing opinions on all matters large and small. Quai d’Orsay, so named after a Paris street home to several government ministries, isn’t on the scale of Tavernier’s The Princess of Montpensier (10), a masterly and bafflingly underrated work set in 16th-century France, but it hums along with a dynamic force all its own.
Abuse of Weakness
Catherine Breillat has made her own life’s surfeit of drama the subject of her new feature, Abuse of Weakness, though the results are willfully subdued. Breillat suffered a stroke in 2004, and a few years later, fell under the spell of a man she was trying to cast for her next film who turned out to be a skillful con man. She wrote a book about the experience, and now Isabelle Huppert, ever a specialist in playing out a neurotic dialectic of control and its loss, portrays her as a half-paralyzed, strong-willed filmmaker named Maud. Her thuggish would-be actor (French rapper Kool Shen) pressures her to help him out of various financial difficulties; she ends up writing hundreds of thousands of Euros in checks. He plays upon her sympathies and her amusement at his criminal character—it’s explicitly not a romantic bond. But one exchange about her coffee-table book of Japanese S/M photography hints (bravely, I think, if subtly) at another subconscious dynamic. Breillat’s filmmaking avoids emphasizing the tension in the coercion; her long takes more often linger on Maud’s navigation of the physical world. But Huppert’s concluding close-up and monologue to investigators and her family brings the experience home in a shot and a wrenching phrase.
Nothing stopped Breillat from making movies, though, and similarly nothing seemed to stop the man at the center of the The Dog: John Wojtowicz—the unrepentant romantic, horndog, and bank robber played by Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. Filming over several years, with a fine use of New York locations and archival materials, Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s documentary portrays an unforgettable character who’s mesmerizingly and fearlessly unfiltered in recounting his pursuit of sex, love, and, ultimately, the shadows of his dwindling notoriety. (He died in 2006.) In a thick Brooklyn accent, Wojtowicz, who does not look like Pacino, talks about the men and women who fell for him, his experiences and routines, and the 1972 robbery, which was supposedly committed to raise money for his then-husband’s sex-change operation (at the time, he was still married to a woman, the mother of his two children). Interviews with his feisty mother, a key supporting figure in the film, suggest where the man gets his spirit from, though one also might imagine The Dog on a double bill with Errol Morris’s Tabloid as another portrait of very public amour fou.