Saturday, September 19, 2009

TIFF '09: "Shoot him again! His soul is still dancing..." Two new films from Werner Herzog

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

The 34th Toronto International Film Festival draws to its close today, and if the end of press and industry screenings, the evacuation of virtually all movie stars, or sheer fucking exhaustion hasn’t sent everyone slouching back home, the sudden, bracing, vertiginous drop in temperatures last night should have done the trick. So here I am, wearing a sweater for the first time in months, goosebumpy, teeth rattling, trying to drink my coffee before it freezes, trying to put the last ten days of movie love and publicist aggravation into some sort of order. Fortunately, every time I think about the interview I was able to do with Werner Herzog, or Herzog and Nicolas Cage’s appearance at the premiere of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, or Herzog’s comments during the film’s press conference, I start laughing so hard as to generate a surge of body heat. Herzog, whether on stage in a grandiose theatre or in the relative intimacy of a Yorkville dining room, is a true showman, proudly discussing his encouragement of Cage to “let the pig loose” (apparently a Bavarian expression), or affectionately calling Woody Allen “a lazy bum.”

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done

Herzog had two films at TIFF this year, both with very long names. Besides his batshit, supremely bad-ass Bad Lieutenant—don’t even think of calling it a remake, sequel, or anything that might associate it with Abel Ferrara’s cult classic—there was also My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, “presented” by David Lynch, featuring Willem Defoe, Michael Shannon, Chloe Sevigny, Grace Zabriskie, and Udo Kier, set largely in suburban San Diego, and like its companion work, also a crime film, though one where the investigation is an entirely psychological and essentially irresolvable one that takes us to the wild rapids of Peru and the (fictional) architectural wonders of Alberta. (It says something about the filmmaker, I think, that he journeys deep into South America and apparently Central Asia to shoot fragments of flashback material for this low-budget feature yet doesn’t feel it necessary to visit Calgary.)

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Both films centre around protagonists who perform acts of violent transgression yet are haunted by mystical visions of nature. Both films, need I even bother to mention, feature cameos by dwarves. If the former is quite clearly a compromise between Herzog’s signature preoccupations and his desire to “deliver the goods” and prove he can make a crowd-pleaser (okay, a totally demented and bizarrely digressive crowd-pleaser), it should be said that it reaches delicious heights of audacity, and offers one of Cage’s finest, most tirelessly inventive performances ever. At one point he hides behind an open door, waiting for the arrival of two women he needs to interrogate, shaving. The most quotable line of any movie at TIFF this year? “Shoot him again! His soul is still dancing,” Cage demands of a Louisiana gangster as he watches another, much older and fatter gangster's errant spirit bust some serious moves on a marble floor. The latter meanwhile, though equally wobbly with regards to narrative coherence, shows Herzog’s approach to atmosphere at its freshest in years, my favourite moments being ones where all characters onscreen suddenly fall silent and stop moving before the camera while a song by Caetano Veloso or Chavela Vargas plays out on the soundtrack.

More TIFF notes on the way...

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