Immersing yourself in a major film festival means more than getting your feet wet. In the screening time it takes to experience two films, perhaps the very first two you see across several days, your perceptions are scrambled in the best possible fashion.
The 37th "EVFES00000196">Toronto International Film Festival began for me Thursday with a press and industry screening of the kinetic, time-traveling "Looper," opening in Chicago Sept. 28. Immediately afterward, two blocks from the TIFF Bell Lightbox in downtown Toronto at the Scotiabank multiplex, I followed it with "The Gatekeepers," an excellent and sobering documentary about the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, and the men who have run it.
In "Looper," which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as the same brutal, aching killer 30 years apart, the carnage is designed to "mean" or matter just enough to qualify as fresh science fiction, and for us to care about the fates of a small handful of lonely denizens of a world in serious trouble. "The Gatekeepers" may be intricately bound up in assassination and surveillance tactics described by six soul-searching former heads of the Israeli agency, but the results lead to the opposite of easy audience gratification. The results — the Israeli/Palestinian nightmare, with so much blood spilled on both sides — resist a conclusion.
More on "Looper" closer to the film's opening, but for now: Writer-director Rian Johnson's ambitious action picture co-stars a hardscrabble and convincingly Kansas-located Emily Blunt as the guardian of a mysterious young boy who clearly has an old VHS copy of Brian De Palma's "The Fury" stashed someplace. "Looper" affirms the rangy taste and assured craftsmanship of the filmmaker who started out his feature career by modernizing Raymond Chandler ("Brick," 2005) and continued with an eccentric road comedy ("The Brothers Bloom," 2008). Back from the future, the year 2044, Willis plays the 30-years-older version of the Gordon-Levitt character. He/they are "loopers," hired guns whose careers must end when the elder is whisked back to "the present" to be dispatched by the younger edition, thus closing the loop. What begins as an elegantly conceived and exciting trip becomes knotty and a bit of a grind in the final few laps. Then again, it's a novel spin on familiar tropes. Also, I'm easily confused. And how did I end up in Toronto?
The patent absurdity of double-featuring "Looper" with "The Gatekeepers" is the festival blur incarnate. Working in a visual style midway between that of Errol Morris ("The Fog of War," the title of which makes painfully accurate sense here) and Charles Ferguson ("No End in Sight," again, all too apt for this subject) Dror Moreh's documentary can be accused of being a one-sided, single-source chronicle of an extraordinarily complicated quagmire. But that single source has six separate and nuanced heads; the men who ran the Shin Bet from 1980 to 2011 reflect movingly on the consequences of the worst of what has happened since the Six-Day War in 1967.
Next month, I certainly hope the Chicago International Film Festival will be presenting "The Gatekeepers" in its lineup.