Recently I seem to have resorted to alcohol as the universal panacea (a far cry from the homemade hooch that attracted Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd to Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell, scary concoctions that seemed to promise brain damage as surely as any bathtub gin – paint thinner strained through bread? Hey, guys, prohibition is over!). Last night I was floating on a gin-and-tonic, a Bloody Mary, and white and red wine poured à volonté; tonight I’m writing on a glass of prosecco poured at the Women and Hollywood and the Female Eye Festival, now celebrating its tenth year in Toronto, and a subsequent bottle of Sangiovese (follow the flag!) consumed with dinner afterwards, with Kay Armatage, former University of Toronto professor and TIFF programmer, currently researching a series of articles on women’s film festivals around the world, and Lucy Virgen, programmer and radio journalist from Guadalajara.
Today I made the film festival mistake – showing up half-an-hour early – that I prefer to its alternative (showing up late, of course. I have not yet this year shown up at the wrong venue. But there’s still time.) Therefore I duck into Costa-Gavras’ “Capital” for half-an-hour, which looks and sounds like a lurid, simplistic TV movie about a child’s fantasy of how Big Business – investment banking – works. CEOs taking a job before negotiating their salary, for example, and flying to Miami en masse on the whim of a stockholder, who stocks his yacht with high-class hookers who stand on deck posing like the Winged Victory of Samothrace. We’re a long way from “Z.” Many good actors (Gabriel Byrne, Gad Elmaleh, Hippolyte Giradot) helpless without a script.
But maybe things got great in the next 80 minutes. I was down the hall, in Marco Bellocchio’s “Dormant Beauty,” three stories intertwined around the real-life Eluana Englaro case (much like the Terri Schiavo right-to-die travesty in the US). A senator has to vote on the case in parliament, while his daughter, pro-life, fights against him (and hooks up with a guy who accompanies his unstable brother to demonstrations); famed actress (Isabelle Huppert, who gets a laugh every time she passes a mirror and can’t resist sneaking a peek) is caring for a beautiful blonde daughter in a coma at home and has given up her career (if not her histrionics); and a beautiful methadone addict tries repeatedly to kill herself, prevented by a watchful doctor. It is noteworthy that everybody in Italy, Bellocchio’s Italy, seems to be gorgeous: even the homeless junkie, addicted to cutting, has a perfect manicure and a full head of glossy hair. The themes are serious, but Bellocchio tucks a lot of sex in and around them.
Afterwards I slide from Sleeping Beauty to Snow White: programmer Denis DeLaRoca has told me that I mustn’t miss “Blancanieves,” aka Snow White, and I’m so glad he did. It’s a brand-new black-and-white silent movie made in the style of the Twenties – it’s like a movie that George Valentin (Jean Dujardin in “The Artist”) might have starred in. The wife of a famous matador dies while giving birth to their daughter, as the matador is being operated on after a sever goring in the ring. He marries the evil nurse who looked after him in the hospital, who keeps him under her thumb while the girl is trained in flamenco by her flamboyant grandmother (the divine Angela Molina). The girl, secretly trained in bullfighting by her father, joins a troupe of traveling bullfighting dwarves (hello, Erich von Stroheim and Tod Browning – there are five, not seven) and gains fame in the corrida as Snow White. I immediately email Anita Monga, programmer for the SF Silent Film Festival, in the hopes that she can perhaps show the film for her upcoming midyear program. I would love to see it again.
I will also probably see “A Late Quartet” again, a first feature directed by Yaron Zilberman, because it is right up my father’s alley, who played French horn for years in various woodwind quartets and quintets, and was the doctor to numerous Bay area musicians. The psychological undercurrents that both sustain and tear apart a famous string quartet after 25 years will ring true to him. I quite enjoyed the give-and-take among the world-class actors: Christopher Walken (so different from his winsome-yet-troubling small-time gangster turn in “Seven Pyschopaths,” playing here in Midnight Madness, which I saw some time ago and quite anjoyed, although not as much as Martin McDonagh’s debut film as director, “In Bruges”), Catherine Keener, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the less-familiar Russian/American actor Mark Ivanir. A tiny note: I loved Catherine Keener’s wardrobe, and was not surprised to see an end credit for The Row, the Olsen twins’ high-end fashion line. Her performance dress was Yves St. Laurent, but I did adore those chic layered neutral outfits. If only I had several tens of thousands of dollars that wasn’t working.
Afterwards, a small (both literally and figuratively) French movie, also recommended to me by Denis D, who knows my weakness for French films. “Les Nuits avec Theodore” starts out with documentary footage about the glorious 19th-century Parisian park, Les Buttes Chaumont, and segues into a très Parisien story about young lovers who meet at a party and afterwards conduct most of their affair in the park after dark. At first the story films Rohmeresque, like his early short films, but it takes a dark turn. I love the vintage footage that is interspersed with the modern story, perhaps more than I like the actual narrative. Denis doesn’t know that when I lived in Paris I had a boyfriend whose single favorite thing to eat was a fresh waffle covered with whipped cream dispensed from one particular stand in the Buttes, so I actually spent quite a bit of time in the park. I’m happy to spend another 67 minutes there.
I’m hot-footing it from one venue, the Bell Lightbox, to the Scotiabank theaters a few blocks away, whe I run into my hosts, Martin Knelman and Bernadette Sulgit, who are hastening toward the Lightbox for their screening. Martin invites me to join them – they’re going to the premiere of “Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky,” and they have an extra ticket. Drabinsky was a famously larger-than-life Toronto producer and entrepreneur, who not only made movies and created theatrical extravaganzas, but gave birth to the multiplex with Cineplex. He eventually imploded in dramatic fashion, imprisoned after taking liberties with his creative bookkeeping.
I am tempted. What better place to see the movie than in Toronto, where there will be knowing chuckles at his peccadillos? But it seems TOO fun to me. I’ve already had an easy, rather conventional movie day, and I’m headed to see “Spring Breakers,” by Harmony Korine. I have never liked any of his movies, in fact, I find the earlier ones actively disagreeable, and I also have a vivid memory of his self-consciously enfant terrible behavior at a festival dinner here, years ago. But last night several people at dinner were extolling both the movie’s virtues and his – “He’s 40, he has a kid, he isn’t on heroin anymore” – so I decline with thanks and press on.
Two minutes after they leave I come to my senses and run after them – choose fun! – but they’ve disappeared into the red carpet madness. I trudge northwards, get into the “Spring Breakers” line, which because there is precious little Press and Industry alternatives at this hour stretches on long beyond the theater’s 231 seat capacity, and get in.
Which proves to be the high point of the evening. I am not happy. The movie is vulgar (way beyond its vulgar subject matter of beer, tight bodies, grass, gangsta rappers, guns, money, and humiliation), disjointed, noisy, ugly. Harmony Korine and I are just not in harmony. I do not know what my dinner companions of last night saw in the movie. I question their sanity, and my own, because I stay put. I stay put while three different people occupy the seat next to me (there are some overflow stalwarts that wait patiently outside overbooked theaters to be let in when someone exits, as they inevitably do); they all fall asleep.
Martin and Bernie return home after I do. They had a wonderful time.