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Lewis follows up hilarious Cane Toads with Wonderful Dogs

Tearsheets: Kelley Alexander, Festival of Festivals, 70 Carlton St., Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

Suggested headline:

FESTIVAL OF FESTIVALS:

THE 15th ANNUAL TORONTO

INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Toronto, Canada.

Sep. 6-15.

By MANAVENDRA K. THAKUR

HERE ARE SOME FINAL reviews of films shown at the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival.

stars

THE WONDERFUL WORLD

OF DOGS

Directed by Mark Lewis.

Australia, 1990.

In a hilarious follow-up to his equally delightful Cane Toads -- An Unnatural History, Australian director Mark Lewis' new pseudo-documentary film explores The Wonderful World of Dogs. This 52-minute film, which identifies and immortalizes certain myths about dogs, is filled with amusing anecdotes about how dog owners love their pets. In one sequence, a woman cries her heart out as she recalls how her pet saved her family and guests from food poisoning by keeling over after tasting the food that had been prepared for dinner. In another sequence, Lewis recreates what it would be like for a small dog to be carried off by a hungry pelican. None of this is real, of course -- the woman is a paid actor hired by Lewis, and the close-ups of the dog inside the pelican's pouch are obviously faked -- but the results are hilarious . While some purists might legitimately look askance at the truth-stretching endemic in Lewis' films, it's equally difficult to resist the charms

of a film that touts the development

of a "dog-cam" as one of its major accomplishments.

stars

DAS SCHRECKLICHE MADCHEN

[THE NASTY GIRL]

Directed by Michael Verhoeven.

West Germany, 1990.

In what is sure to be a huge hit, director Michael Verhoeven has crafted a crowd-pleasing black comedy about what happens when a young girl named Sonja (Lena Stolze) living in a small Bavarian town decides to write an essay on "My Town During the Third Reich." Laced with wit, the film portrays how the conservative forces in the town try to keep the past buried by thwarting Sonja's efforts. Years later, Sonja gets married and has children, but she's still determined to get to the truth, and the townsfolk who supported her once are equally determined to keep her from uncovering too much.

Verhoeven makes a noble attempt to satirize attitudes that lead people to repress unpleasant truths and underlying realities. Unfortunately, while milking much humor from the situation, Verhoeven torpedoes any attempts at emotional depth in the film. The director whitewashes any emotional fallout: in what is perhaps the film's most unforgivable moment, Verhoeven has his heroine first voice and then dismiss any second thoughts she might have in a mere ten-second sequence.

Certainly, Verhoeven has a right to satirize whatever he sees fit. However, his parody backfires because his satire is neither incisive nor outrageous enough to survive the onslaught of humor that he packs in his film. The film fails to induce its viewers to think or even feel any genuine emotions about the issues and topics that Verhoeven raises. When cultural and historical concerns of monumental importance get overshadowed by slapstick humor, it is safe to say that the satirist has squandered his responsibility.

stars

RIO NEGRO

Directed by Atahualpa Lichy.

Venezuela, 1990.

Most film adaptations of Gabriel Garc'ia M'arquez stories have been woefully inadequate. This film is perhaps the first one seen by international audiences to truly capture Garc'ia M'arquez' landscape -- a noteworthy feat considering that this film is not based on any M'arquez story.

The scene is 1912 as a new governor arrives in the Venezuelan Amazon. Initially humiliated by vigilante groups and pestered by his French wife, who cannot bear the thought of living in the jungle, the governor asserts his control and consolidates his power after eliminating the opposition. A new order reigns as the governor autocratically imposes taxes on all goods that pass through the river trading town. To raise even more money (as well as political support), the governor imports several French whores to entertain the local businessmen. Other nefarious schemes of one type or another unroll as the local peasants suffer mightily under the governor's rule.

Then comes another coup, with lots of violence and destruction, after a man clad in black defeats the governor in a vicious cockfight. Gone are the rollicking good times with the classy prostitutes, and once again a new order reigns -- this one even crueler than the one that preceded it. Laden with tension and melodrama, director Atahualpa Lichy's debut film is immensely satisfying drama about the Latin American legacy of violent overthrow of jungle despots. With his keen eye for dramatic backdrops and with a filmmaking style as incisive as a stilleto, Lichy has instantly proved -- in his first feature film, no less -- that he is an exciting new presence in Latin American cinema.

stars

MISTER JOHNSON

Directed by Bruce Beresford.

United States, 1990.

Fresh after the commercial success of his Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy, Bruce Beresford's utterly revolting new film Mister Johnson had its world premiere at the Toronto festival. Beresford has gone from making films that directed themselves to films that seem directed by a tourist. Set in Nigeria in the 1920s, the film tells the story of an inexperienced, naive white British officer (Pierce Brosnan) and his black aide-de-camp Mister Johnson (Maynard Eziashi) as they bend the rules to finish a highway that will link up northern and southern Nigeria.

Not a single frame conveys any conviction or sense of authenticity. Beresford doesn't even have the guts to explore any of the issues that he brushes up against. For example, Mister Johnson is a classic case of a minority who has wholly swallowed the racist notion that whites and Anglo-Saxon civilization are superior to native cultures. He constantly refers to himself as "a proper English gentleman" and declares England to be his true home. Rather than explore how and why Mister Johnson so readily accepts his white masters' propaganda -- which is a sobering legacy of British colonialism -- Beresford instead chooses to repeatedly show scenes of the wild parties that Mister Johnson likes to throw.

Hollywood has yet to make a film that does any significant measure of justice to the peoples who inhabit the African continent, and it is clear in the case of Mister Johnson that Beresford is completely out of his native element.