I am not one for making proclamations, but I want to say that the Toronto International Film Festival is, far and away, the best film experience I have ever had. I usually prefer the low-key charms of the two-movies-a-day NY Film Festival, which does not focus on parties and is so highly selective, almost every film is a can’t miss. But Toronto strikes the perfect balance between films and events, industry and community… I am just blown away and inspired by the program screenings and the way in which the city responds. Bravo!
So far, it’s been 12 films in four days and today has been lots of business meetings and an evening full of parties and events, so I will not see a single film today (which is great, because my head is already spinning from what I have seen.) Tomorrow, I pick up where I left off and have two 6 film days scheduled (they added 9pm screenings on both days… hooray!) I am simply gorging myself, and I still have been completely unable to see everything I want to see. Not even close.
The highlights of the week so far…
IFC has picked up this moving film about a family of children abandoned by their mother and their fight to survive in Tokyo. It is a very powerful film and many of the shots in the movie blew me away, particularly a brief and seemingly inconsequential sequence in which the children go out into the city together and end up playing rocks/paper/scissors on the stairwell near their apartment. The child actors are uniformly excellent and despite the minor manipulations that are deployed (any movie about children suffering pulls on the heart strings, its inevitable…), the film rises above the clichés by being intimate and quiet and filled with the rituals of daily life. It’s almost like watching Rosetta directed by Hou-hsiao Hsien working in Tokyo.
La femme de Gilles
One of my favorite actors, Emanuelle Devos, gives an incredibly moving performance in this period film set in a small French factory town in the 1930’s. Elisa (Devos) is the wife of a steel mill worker, she fills her days raising the children and keeping house, an awesome amount of work. When her husband’s affections begin to wane, she suspects foul play, and begins a campaign to reclaim her husband’s love. The movie is utterly beautiful to look at and the camera is used to express the psychology of the characters in very lovely ways (for example, one spouse will be blurred out when the other is talking, a visual clue to their communication problems.) Unfortunately, the film takes a von Trier-ian (new word?) turn in the final moments, and despite the transcendent cinematography and exceptional acting, the payoff feels very much like a let down. Still, I was held in rapt attention and would gladly see the film again.
Claire Denis has made one of the most difficult films of her career, and in doing so, has also made one of the most sumptuous, gorgeous, amazingly photographed pieces of art I have experienced. Kudos to Agnes Godard for her work on this very challenging film– Without her stunning shots, I am not sure I could have made my way through. The film centers around a wealthy woodsman and his search for a heart transplant and a reconciliation with his lost son. The film is told SO out of sequence, that I expect you could re-cut it anyway you wanted and the result might be the same (save for the last five minutes). I CLEARLY need to see it again to truly understand it. This is no cinematic puzzle ala Memento or other films that use a formal structural device to keep the viewer guessing. Certainly, there is a logic at work in this film and the story is comprehensible, but the viewer is forced to work so hard (there are perhaps 2 minutes of total dialogue in the entire 130 minute running time) that everyone who stayed left the theater rubbing their temples and trying to remember what just hit them. The real treat of the film is Godard’s cinematography, and there are images from the film I will always carry with me. If there were any justice in the world, L’Intrus would play only on giant screens with great sound. The idea that this movie would play in some tiny art house is so disappointing…
Roger Michell’s latest is an adaptation of an Ian McKewan short story about two men, Daniel Craig and Rhys Ifans, who are part of a group that attempts to spontaneously rescue a child from an out of control hot air balloon. The opening sequence is really one of the most awe inspiring pieces of filmmaking I have seen at the festival (I have goosebumps as I type this!) Both men are haunted by the experience, but when one of them goes a little too far in his attempt to connect to the other, both lives spin out of control. A truly creepy film that felt quite a bit like the black sheep brother of I Heart Huckabees (see below), the film will be released by Paramount Classics this fall. The ideas of fate, love, and responsibility are handled so deftly, the final reel is a true surprise and feels completely earned, a theory which was proved by one of the largest collective ‘gasps’ I have ever heard in a theater (and among press and industry professionals…a tough feat to be sure!)
The Experience of Seeing 12 Films in 4 days
One of the most profound experiences of this festival has been the way in which the films I have chosen to see have all been talking to one another in my head. Shots begin to rhyme in different films, themes are established across films; One begins to imagine that the entirety of the festival is a single story told across time and physical space. The existential crisis of the ‘Others’ in I Heart Huckabees plays into the relationship between two men in Enduring Love which plays into the failed courtship on display in The White Tower which describes the patience of true love not unlike La femme de Gilles which has many visual rhymes with a film like L’Intrus which features Beatrice Dalle who is also in Clean which discusses a lost family like Nobody Knows and on and on and on. And that is a linear chain of ideas, not even mentioning how all of these links in the chain talk to one another. I didn’t even bother discussing The Motorcycle Diaries which has been the most exceptional film I have seen at the festival (I’ll review it as a stand alone soon.)
The Regret List
I missed My Summer of Love and Brothers, both of which I wish I had seen. I am planning on seeing Three of Hearts at the tape library on Friday (fingers crossed), but I missed the screening.
The Extreme Generosity of My Colleagues
I have to say an immediate Thank You to Matt Dentler of SXSW for treating us to a Festival Programmer’s lunch. It was a nice time among new and old friends, and everyone has been extremely generous and kind, willing and interested in talking about the films, listening, and making me feel like I actually do belong to a professional community. I left the corporate world precisely to experience this type of environment, and I really happy to be in such a positive place. Thanks.
It has been an exceptional week, and I am not even half way through my program. I have to say, it is a priviledge to be able to experience this, and I am aware of it and am grateful for it. More soon….