A quick word on the genre titles. TIFF's Midnight Madness strand at the Ryerson theatre – which is a bit of a hike to get back from when it's raining, but worthwhile for the atmosphere – is where Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths premiered and went down a storm. Sadly, some of the other films I saw in this selection didn't really come close. The ultraviolent No One Lives played out like one of the subplots in McDonagh's meta comedy, since it involves serial killers being chased by a serial-killer killer. It reminded me a bit of the Butcher Brothers' FrightFest entry The Thompsons (sequel to The Hamiltons), since it involved a band of outlaws who meet their match, and it was certainly splashy enough to please that film's demographic. The self-consciously “sassy” dialogue drove me a bit nuts however, as it did in the 3D drunken-exorcists horror-comedy Hellbenders, which had a great idea – a kind of defrocked-priests Ghostbusters – but didn't get very far with it.
Brandon Cronenberg, son of David, wasn't in Midnight Madness with Antiviral, having already premiered in Cannes last May. That original berth, in Un Certain Regard, might have done this very witty film a bit of a disservice, since it works better as a queasy social satire than it does as a serious art flick. Antiviral's proximity to the director's father's early work is undeniable, since it concerns a clinic that sells diseases of the rich and famous. Caleb Landry Jones plays Syd March, a salesman there who has been stealing various viruses for the black market, and this section of the film is really quite excellent – very twisted and very Crash, since it unites society's twin obsession with celebrity and schadenfreude. The second half, which involves a murder plot, isn't quite so well defined, however, literally ending in a mystifying, gooey blob of shapeless human flesh.
Taichi Zero was a Venice premiere that shipped over and proved to be one of the populist hits of the festival, a kung fu comedy reminiscent of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle. Directed by Stephen Fung, it finds a martial-arts prodigy Yung (Yuan Xiaochao), who's been recruited by a fierce army, abandoning his post to learn the secrets of “Chen kung fu”, a peaceful variant of his exhausting fighting style. After finding the village of Chen, Yung is rebuffed, until a chance meeting with the mysterious Master (Tony Leung Ka Fai) reverses his fortunes. The Wild Wild West subplot, about a plan to lay railroad tracks through the village, is a bit messy, and the film ends very suddenly, with a trailer for part two (Taichi Hero). But there are some wonderfully goofy moments here, especially an extended black and white, The Artist-style flashback, and the character introductions are very funny, including a cameo from Andrew Lau, correctly identified as the director of Infernal Affairs.
Certainly not all that popular was Brian De Palma's Passion (pictured), which prompted quite a lot of walkouts from the first press and industry screening and which I enjoyed greatly. From the beginning it promises to be a very stylised chamber piece, along the lines of Paul Schrader's late-80s output (The Comfort Of Strangers, Light Sleeper). Luckily, that misconception is shortlived, and pretty soon we're in standard De Palma territory, with weird sex lives, twin sisters and a juicy murder mystery.
Rachel McAdams plays Christine, an advertising executive who hires the mousey Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) to be her key creative. Isabelle comes up with a concept for an internet ad that goes viral and gets kudos from head office, but Christine takes all the credit, assuring Isabelle that this is standard business practice and that, if their roles were reversed, she would expect Isabelle to do the same. In the meantime, Isabelle is having an affair with Christine's sleazy boyfriend, and the whole bizarre love triangle is being watched by Isabelle's assistant Dani (Karoline Herfurth).
Adapted from Alain Corneau's 2010 film Love Crime (no, me neither), what follows is another garish, perverse and strangely beautiful neo-noir, shot by Jose Luis Alcaine, who did such a sterling job for Almodovar on The Skin I Live In recently. There are red herrings, dream sequences, sudden tilts, lesbian undertones and enough shadows of Venetian blinds to fill the 1940s, but, while the plot might seem to border on self-parody, there are technical flourishes to suggest that, at 72, De Palma is still flexing his imagination. My favourite scene involves a split-screen depiction of the climactic murder, in which one half of the screen is given over to two ballet dancers, seen at a concert Isabelle is attending. Performers on both sides of the screen maintain eye contact with the camera in a bravura sequence that is at once nightmarish and yet, somehow, extremely and unusually satisfying.