It’s only Day Three, and already I overslept – easier to do these past two years as the festival has shifted several kilometers south from Yorkville, where I could used to be able to roll out of bed from my friends’ house and still make a screening, to the area around the Bell Lightbox. Now I have to hike to a subway stop and travel downtown.
When I went to bed I was debating between an 8:30 a.m. screening of Derek Cianfrance’s ”The Place Beyond the Pines,” or getting in the secondary line early for the 9 a.m. priority press screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.” I’d not only liked his “Blue Valentine,” but I’d also enjoyed interviewing the articulate and intense Cianfrance at the 2010 Mill Valley Film Festival, where I’d noticed a striking resemblance to his star and friend Ryan Gosling, who starred not only opposite Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine,” but also in this subsequent film. (Yes, I’m not the only one that’s mentioned this. Google his image and see for yourself!)
As I trained downtown and reached Osgoode Station, I realized I had to go for the nearer and more cinephilic option: the 9 a.m. showing of the architectural documentary “Perret in France and Algeria,” directed by the rigorous Heinz Emigholz, and sure not to be coming to a theater near me anytime soon. I thought I had a minute or so to spare, but no, the movie had begun before I entered the room.
Emigholz’s m.o. – carefully composed static shots of various angles of thirty of modernist architect Auguste Perret’s cast-concrete buildings in France and Algeria, its one-time colony – is something like leafing through a magnificent, enormous art book. I had previously adored his “Schindler’s Houses,” seen at TIFF in 2007, but there I had the benefit of knowing the buildings well, inside and out, and Emigholz also seemed to have better access. This time I felt frustrated by seeing the interiors of theaters and churches, but not of almost any of the residential buildings – at least one of which, an early apartment house in Paris, also seemed to frustrate Emigholz, who only devoted a few brief shots to it. The one time his camera penetrated a domestic interior, which seemed a shrine to its modernist period, we seemed shockingly to have entered an “Apartment Therapy” online House Tour. Perret’s influences extended past students like Le Corbusier (but is there really anybody “like” Le Corbusier?) to another master of concrete, Louis Kahn.
Afterwards I seemed to know most of the few aesthetes who had been in the screening room, including the Harvard Film Archive’s director, Haden Guest, who had hosted Emigholz at screenings of his films in Cambridge.
I stayed in the same 139-seat room for its subsequent 11:30 a.m. screening, “Night Across the Street,” the last movie by Raul Ruiz, who died just over a year ago. I also seemed to know most of the few aesthetes gathered for the Ruiz, including the prolific film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who had introduced me to Ruiz both literally and figuratively, when we first became friends in Paris. The movie version of Ruiz’s six-part TV miniseries “The Mysteries of Lisbon” was a hot ticket in Toronto (and elsewhere) year before last, but “Night Across the Street” isn’t receiving anything near that kind of attention. Jonathan jokes that Ruiz was so prolific (115 or so titles) that there’s some competition for just exactly what was his last movie. Oddly, in yet another odd P&I screening decision, whose programmers seem to have delighted in causing painful conflicts over the first weekend, it’s playing directly opposite “Lines of Wellington,” a movie Ruiz was preparing at his death that was finished by his wife Valeria Sarmiento.
Watching “Night Across the Street” is an emotional experience as well as a mildly baffling one, as often happens with Ruiz. Coherence was not always his strong suit. There are digital projection problems, and seeing the first ten minutes of the film twice shows me that I’d already missed some things (especially since there are moments when the characters speak in French, and English subtitles are superimposed over Spanish ones. Oy). The emotion comes because it’s a sort of Remembrance of Things Past of a man awaiting death.
Afterwards I make an error in judgment: I go see Takeshi Kitano’s “Outrage Beyond,” even though I did not enjoy his “Outrage,” which I saw year before last at the San Francisco International Film Festival. What was I thinking? This exercise in corrupt cops encouraging rival yakuza to kill one another, shot in various shades of blue, is if anything even less interesting than its predecessor. It’s a very long way (and a long time) from “Violent Cop” and “Boiling Point” – Kitano just seems to be going through the motions. I stay in the theater out of inertia, wishing I was at a screening of Byron Haskin’s “I Walk Alone,” starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Lizbeth Scott instead, a much more interesting study of what happens when gangsters go corporate.
Margarethe von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt” is the kind of wacky biopic that has Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) and Mary McCarthy (Janet McTeer) exchanging racy girl talk and sexy gossip instead of literary chat. We see an unidentified (and curiously jovial) William Shawn sparring with an equally unidentified and jovial Katharine White, who scoffs at Arendt’s too-stodgy title “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” It’s not quite as much fun as “Midnight in Paris,” (Arendt has to write about that pesky Nazi Adolf Eichmann, after all), but it’s much livelier than von Trotta’s last outing with Barbara Sukowa, “Vision,” about the German nun Hildegard von Bingen. Von Trotta is a lively, sexy, stylish woman, who makes not-very-lively, nor sexy, nor particularly stylish films. I would call them clunky, well-meaning, wearing their heart on their sleeve. It’s not hard to leave “Hannah Arendt” after an hour (it’s more the banality of the screenplay than the banality of evil) in order to get in line for the Wachowski/Tykwer “Cloud Atlas,” which I review here. In brief: the actors must have enjoyed the prospect of playing multiple roles; I watch in open-mouthed amazement as it’s kind of a train wreck, although a fitfully amusing one. Still, the words “It’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” come unbidden to my mind more than once.
On the way out, I stop in the Chapters bookstore conveniently located right next to the theater, and drop $25 on the book, which the clerk tells me “has been selling well for six years” (maybe she means eight, because the copyright date is 2004. Or maybe she’s been working at Chapters for six years). Anyway, I like “Cloud Atlas” more than either “Speed Racer” or “3”, which means that, unlike with Takeshi Kitano, things are looking up.