TORONTO—Well stocked with gay cowboys, juvenile killers, and sexually curious jailbait, Toronto ’05 was the festival of the young rebel—and what kind of underage party would it be without Larry Clark? Three years after his hardcore pro-sex teen movie Ken Park, Clark returned with the proudly regressive WASSUP ROCKERS. As mocking detractors pointed out, this excellent adventure through rich and poor Los Angeles could have been concocted by a 15-year-old boy—which I would argue, given the filmmaker’s taste in material, is a preferable perspective to that of a 62-year-old man.
Consolidating on the expansiveness of Ken Park, Clark fashions an impressively uncreepy—in fact, downright sweet—love letter to Latino skate kids in South Central. A companion piece to Morrissey’s “First of the Gang to Die,” Wassup throws in its lot with a band of outsiders, Salvadoran teens who shun the hood’s peer-mandated hip-hop for the Ramones—and have the lank hair and drainpipe jeans to prove it. Scored to Suicidal Tendencies–style punkcore, Wassup opens with some relaxed anthropological ogling and segues into stoner farce as the kids travel to Beverly Hills in search of a skate site. In 90210, land of racist cops and ridiculous gringos, the boys get it on with a moneyed skank possibly modeled on Paris Hilton, and get shot at by a stoic vigilante who’s the spitting image of Clint Eastwood. As Angeleno social comedy, this is what Spanglish should have been.
Philippe Garrel’s three-hour May ’68 monument, REGULAR LOVERS, which screens at the New York Film Festival this Saturday, is what The Dreamers should have been. Inviting comparison to Bernardo Bertolucci’s ludicrous memorial to the same historic moment, Garrel installs his son Louis, who starred in The Dreamers, as the lead. Shot by William Lubtchansky in impossibly luminous black-and-white, the film stages the Night of the Barricades, in an unforgettable, nearly wordless hour-long sequence, as a ghostly hallucination. Revolution thwarted, Regular Lovers settles into the dazed aftermath—its young artists wander through a depopulated Paris, retiring to a wealthy friend’s crash pad for opium highs, and tentative free love (a pair of amazingly fluid party scenes, scored to Nico and the Kinks, are almost tactile in their immediacy). Its charged first hour looms larger and grows more remote as this epic slacker movie gradually succumbs to the inevitable hangover of adulthood: Regular Lovers is one-third idealism, two-thirds disillusionment—not unlike life itself.
Much of the industry chatter centered on the American indies, which were, for better or worse, Sundance-caliber. Michael Cuesta’s TWELVE AND HOLDING, a series of implausible provocations in easy-target suburbia, improves on his glib L.I.E. The terrific child actors lend some credence to a self-canceling mode that might be called humane Todd Solondz. The aptly nasty distributor scrum surrounding Jason Reitman’s spin doctor satire,
THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, was of greater interest than the film, a sort of Lord of War with cigarettes. As an obfuscating Big Tobacco lobbyist, Aaron Eckhart is suavely sleazy, but Smoking adheres to the Citizen Ruth school of satire, spraying potshots in all directions to avoid anything resembling a point of view.
Befitting an international film festival, Toronto also featured a few entries in the emerging genre of the globalization movie. HEADING SOUTH, Laurent Cantet’s exploration of third-world sex tourism, is hardly Houellebecqian—if anything, it’s more of a Ladies in Lavender– type dame-fest, only hornier (Charlotte Rampling plays mother hen). These middle-aged white spinsters pursuing nubile boy booty in Baby Doc–ruled ’70s Haiti are blissfully oblivious to political circumstances; sadly, it’s often unclear if the clueless self-absorption should be attributed to the characters or the movie. Ashim Ahluwalia’s documentary JOHN & JANE meditates on the split identities of Mumbai call center workers, the outsourced masses touted as beneficiaries of globalization by the likes of Thomas Friedman. “At the end of the day,” Friedman declares in The World Is Flat, “these new jobs actually allow them to be more Indian”—apparently because they can eat rice and curry after a long night hawking phone-service plans to cranky Americans. John & Jane undermines this blinkered boosterism, evoking the glassy near-future nowhereness of demonlover and Jem Cohen’s recently released Chain. Ahluwalia eavesdrops on accent elimination classes and cultural-training seminars that teach “American values” (“individualism,” “achievement in success”). The depressing results—a self-help fanatic, a vaguely mutant specimen who claims to be “naturally blond”—suggest that the brave new globalization indeed promotes a form of flatness: a kind of two-dimensional man, programmed to buy into and blindly serve the capitalist dream.