Toronto On My Mind

by Djb September 12, 2008
Toronto International Film Festival

In conclusion, Edison & Leo is the first stop-motion feature ever produced in Canada.

If you keep up with film festivals in general, you're going to come across the following sentence in a lot in the recaps of this year's TIFF: "The best acting performance of the 2008 festival belongs to Jean-Claude Van Damme." Then you are going to laugh, look away, look back, read it again, and convince yourself that Canada legalized opium the day before the festival started, and clearly everyone is hallucinating. But even though I'm sure there's gold in them there Manitoba poppy fields, the buzz don't lie: The best acting performance of the 2008 festival belongs to Jean-Claude Van Damme. And let's not forget that he's up against such acting titans as Jessica Biel!

In director Mabrouk El Mechri's JCVD, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a character named -- wait for it -- Jean-Claude Van Damme. But unlike the real Jean-Claude Van Damme, whose career has been marked by critical praise, industry awards, and a featured role in last year's Atonement (okay, not really), the Jean-Claude Van Damme of JCVD has made a string of crappy, direct-to-video films, routinely gets passed over for parts that go to arch-nemesis Steven Seagal, and is caught in an ugly custody battle for his daughter, in which his estranged wife's lawyer uses the content and quality of Van Damme's crappy films against him in making an argument that he is an unfit parent. Or, as it's known in industry terms, "Jessica Biel's custody battle, circa 2028."

Van Damme returns to his home country of Belgium to try and get straightened out, but instead he inadvertently gets caught up in a robbery at a Brussels post office. Though he's just a hostage, the police have reason to believe he is the architect of both the crime and the ensuing hostage situation. The misunderstanding sets into motion a narrative that calls upon Van Damme to act. He has to act like crazy. And so he does, quite brilliantly. He conveys emotions ranging from funny to sad to beleaguered to introspective to pathetic to bemused. That's right, America... Jean-Claude Van Damme knows how to act bemused. And just for good measure, he does get to kick just a little ass along the way, as well.

I went in not really knowing what to expect, and I was a tiny bit afraid that JCVD would fall into that annoying meta-movie genre that came in with Being John Malkovich and went out with, well... I'm still waiting for people to realize that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was overrated. Luckily, the movie was a lot grittier than that, and I look forward to the total career reinvention in store for Van Damme when the movie gets released worldwide. Sure, Tarantino can reinvent John Travolta and Robert Forster. But only Jean-Claude Van Damme can reinvent Jean-Claude Van Damme.

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