Five Fast Takes from Toronto

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Colin Farrell and Edward Norton in Pride and Glory.

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He's back in Brussels where cab drivers and video-store hounds still recognize him, but nothing else is going right. His agent's screwing him, he's lost custody of his child in an embarrassing court case and, now, as he enters a bank to try to cash a check, he finds it's been commandeered by robbers. The cops on the street figure Van Damme must have cracked and gone to the dark side, while the perps are only too happy both to exploit his fame and taunt him for being unable to overcome their guns with his kickboxing.

The movie settles a few scores for Van Damme, notably in a swipe on the talented Hong Kong directors who had hard times working with him. (He made Hard Target with John Woo, plus two films with Tsui Hark, one with Corey Yuen and five with Ringo Lam; but the Asian director in the first part of JCVD is bored and contemptuous.) Most of the film, though, is unsparing of the Van Damme legend. With the star, now 47, looking puffy and played out, and with so many references to his off-screen philandering and drug use, the movie bears comparison to Mickey Rourke's turn in The Wrestler, also at Toronto. Except that this one is sharper, crueler, way funnier — part parody, part exposé, especially in an eight-minute take of the star in closeup, where Van Damme makes a confession of his personal and career sins, and the tough guy ends up crying. It is the finest, most scab-pulling performance I saw in Toronto, and it should earn JCVD a commercial showcase in the States.

Directed by Vicente Amorim. Screenplay by John Wrathall, based on the play by C.P. Taylor. With Viggo Mortensen, Jason Issacs, Jodie Whittaker, Gemma Jones. From Britain

The evildoers in the Third Reich couldn't all have been hissing, predatory, nutsy Nazis; they needed the complicity, passive or active, of the "good Germans." That notion spurred Taylor's excellent 1981 play, with Alan Howard as Halder, a liberal professor who is made complicit in the atrocities of the regime through promotions, seduction and his own laissez-faire cowardice. Casting a flinty hero type like Mortensen in the role of a moral weakling seems inspired, but the movie isn't. Its attention to period detail and emotional nuance is lax, plodding, lacking either the grinding power of inevitability or a brief, fierce glint of Halder's conflicted conscience. As he is sucked into the morass, the film and the viewer sink with him.

Summer Hours
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas. With Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jérémie Renier, Edith Scob. From France

When a parent dies, the five stages of grief her surviving children experience often go like this: denial, anger, depression, acceptance and, finally, bargaining over the estate. That, anyway, is the sequence of feelings that hit Frédéric (Berling), eldest child of Hélene (Scob), matriarch of the clan who died at 75. Neither of his siblings — Adrienne (Binoche), a designer living in New York, and Jérémie (Renier), whose job has taken him, his wife and kids to Shanghai — is attached to Hélene's country home as much as Frédéric is; both want to sell the place and the valuable paintings and furniture in it. Frédéric has to decide whether to swallow his rancor for the sake of family amity, or fight with the others to keep what he always assumed would be his mother's monument and his perennial summerhouse.

These two moods, the fraternity and the conflict, are rendered with that nearly vanished quality of France's classic bourgeois films: tact. Much of the pleasure an attentive viewer gets from Summer Hours — especially in the first 25 minutes, as Hélene hosts the family on one last bucolic weekend — is luxuriating in the milk bath of the film's good taste. I mean not just the lovely home with its period armoires and vases, but the full banquet of visual and aural felicities: the pretty grandchildren, the easy eloquence of the conversation, the Saint-Saens symphony of duck calls and birdsong, the perfect spiderweb of sunlight through the trees, which almost requires use of the word "dappled."

I sense a rebellion in the reader: a suspicion that fanciers of Summer Hours are too eager to surrender an upmarket French domestic version of Disneyland, where the fantasy-memory of one's own youth is spiked by admiration or envy for this privileged clan. But Assayas, best known for the films (Irma Vep and Clean) he made with his once-wife Maggie Cheung, has more on his mind than duplicating House & Garden spread on screen. For at the center of the movie's first act he place the imposing Hélene.

She has a flinty efficiency and a grace of carriage; she sounds wise, looks slim and relatively youthful, dominates the weekend with her personality. She's obsessed with what will happen to her property and belongings but declines to spell it out in her will. Scob, who nearly a half-century ago was the muse of the remarkable director George Franju (Eyes Without a Face, Thérese Desqueyroux, Judex), has an ingrained insight into the character that not only presents Hélene in her 70s but suggests the kind of mother she must have been. There's also a taut sensuality that hints at a family secret not revealed until after she dies.

The movie naturally sags a bit at Hélwne's death. So does the moviegoer, as Summer Hours is obliged to follow the dispute and disposition of the estate. (Berling, solid and subtle, becomes the focus of the film; Binoche and Renier appear only briefly.) I think Assayas wants Hélene's loss to be felt through the rest of the picture. Her shadow, and that of her home, have to linger till the end, when Frédéric's own children spend a last weekend at the chateau, and one of them connects with its gentle spirit. That last scene gives Summer Hours its own haunting spell as well.

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