Between interviews with Gus Van Sant and a no-show courtesy of Johnny Rotten, it has been difficult to attend all the films I wanted to see (I guess I’ll see Drive with the rest of you). Instead, I have settled for whatever fits in my agenda. Sometimes it’s a slam dunk. Other times you leave half hour into the movie.

In Darkness

At the top of the list sits the powerhouse drama In Darkness by Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa). Holland -who moonlights as director-for-hire in shows like Treme and The Wire– brings to life the story of Leopold Socha, a sewer inspector in 1942 Poland. The man allowed a group of Jewish families to live in the pipe system for a price. The refugees endured hell for 14 months and only a few survived, but Socha’s growing selflessness made that possible. In Darkness is like a small scale Schindler’s List, but while Spielberg’s movie is clean and boasted high production values, the Polish filmmaker got down and inside the gutter. Expect to see this name in next year Oscars, at least in the Foreign Language category. Incidentally, I’ll be talking to Holland tomorrow and one of ‘Socha’s Jews’, as they are known. Expect waterworks. Four sympathetic prairie dogs.

I didn’t have high expectations for Pariah. I thought it would be as manipulative and unpleasant as Precious. Boy, was I wrong. First time feature director Dee Rees does a phenomenal work depicting the hazards of a teenager coming out as gay in a community not ready for it. Alike is an ‘A’ student and respectful daughter. She is also a lesbian in a household that suspects it, but chooses denial (the mother tries the ‘pray the gay away’ method when nobody is looking). Alika is resilient and refuses to stop exploring her sexuality, fully aware there is a massive confrontation in the road ahead. Pariah implies this is a common situation among middle-class African-American families, so there is controversy brewing two months in advance to opening day. Three and a half out-and-proud prairie dogs.

What do you do when an earthquake and a tsunami destroy a good chunk of your country? If you are Chilean, you grab a camera and make a movie. The Year of the Tiger was shot just two months after the massive 8.8 tremor, with extensive areas of the country still on the ground (production value!) Based on a real life event, an inmate takes advantage of the reigning chaos to escape from prison. On the run from the police and in search of his family, the fugitive runs into an abandoned circus tiger. This is not a Life of Pi kind of story. The convict is very unlikable and not prone to redemption, but feels a connection with the feline. Director Sebastián Lelio doesn’t like the term ‘magic realism’ to describe the film: There were in fact several beasts roaming the south of Chile following their circus’ collapse. Three prairie dogs on the loose.

At the very end of my list figures the insufferable Low Life. This film embodies every stereotype French cinema has been fighting against since the Nouvelle Vogue. A bunch of disenfranchised youths complain about their bourgeois life and spurt poetry for no good reason. It lasts two hours and ten minutes. I endured thirty. In fairness, I can’t rate this flick, but unless all the characters die and become zombies, I really doubt it got any better.

Tomorrow, the festival big ticket item: Sarah Polley’s Take this Waltz. Oh, about Van Sant. He talks very slowly and we discussed Elephant instead of the movie he was supposed to promote. Good guy.