Well, the Toronto International Film Festival is over for another year. I got to see, for me, a record number of films this year, 16 in total. I saw comedies, documentaries, and a lot of dramas. Some of my favourites this year included:
- Clean; great performances from Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte.
- The Forest for the Trees: an excellent first feature from director Maren Ade, and a heartbreaking performance from Eva Lobau.
- La Peau Blanche: a wonderful French-Canadian movie that keeps you constantly guessing as to where it is going next.
Overall it was a pretty good festival. I didn't like everything I saw, but none of the movies were bad in terms of the acting or the filmmaking. The new online ordering system the festival had for purchasing advanced tickets worked pretty well, and was a lot more convenient than going downtown and standing in line. Note for next year: the ROM is a terrible theatre for watching subtitled movies if you've got someone with a big head in front of you. The Paramount and the Varsity are the best, mainly because of their modern stadium seating. The Uptown will be missed, but the theatre at Ryerson seemed to be an able replacement. I look forward to next year and seeing even more movies, my regular day job permitting. :-)
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Well, the Toronto International Film Festival is over for another year. I got to see, for me, a record number of films this year, 16 in total. I saw comedies, documentaries, and a lot of dramas. Some of my favourites this year included:
Arsene Lupin, directed by Jean-Paul Salome, is a big-budget, epic French feature that follows the early life and exploits of a jewel thief and master-of-disguise. Based on the novels of Maurice Leblanc, especially the book La Comtesse de Cagliostro, the movie stars Romain Duris as the title character.
The film opens in Arsene Lupin's childhood, during which a pivotal event occurs that leads him to pursue a life of crime. The movie then jumps forward in time to Lupin as an adult, and sees him get involved with a monarchist plot, a long-lost royal treasure, and the mysterious countess of Cagliostro, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. The movie features constantly shifting allegiances and a breakneck pace as Lupin races to find the treasure first.
Arsene Lupin is an entertaining adventure story, and the charismatic Duris seems well-suited to the role of a charming gentleman thief. The multitude of intertwined storylines can be a bit confusing to follow, but according to some in the audience, the movie seems quite faithful to the novels on which it is based.
Jean-Paul Salome attended a Q&A session after the movie:
- Arsene Lupin is a popular kind of film, and Salome wanted to do it, and had complete freedom in making the film.
- Kristin Scott Thomas told Salome she had so much fun making the movie, and after seeing the final cut, said it was proof that you could have fun a still make a good movie.
- The screening in Toronto was the world premier, as the movie was only finished 2 to 3 weeks ago, and is not slated to open in France until October 13th.
- The film took 17 weeks to shoot.
- One scene is set at the actual Place d'Opera. The film received permission to shoot for one day from 5:00 AM to midnight on August 15, which is a statutory holiday in France. 80 tons of earth had to be brought in to cover the pavement and make it look as it would have in the late 1800's.
La Peau Blanche is the first feature film from director Daniel Roby. Based on a novel by Joel Champetier, who co-wrote the screenplay with Roby, the movie follows two friends, Thierry (Marc Paquet), who has a pathological dislike of redheads, and Henri (Frederic Pierre). One night, for Thierry's birthday, the two decide to get some hookers, but Henri is viciously attacked by one. They try to put this seemingly random event behind them until Thierry meets a mysterious redheaded woman, Claire (played by Marianne Farley), to whom he is strongly attracted despite himself. As he starts a torrid affair with Claire, connections to earlier events emerge and both he and Henri are drawn deeper into a mystery that goes in unexpected directions.
This was a very good movie that won the $15,000 Citytv award at the festival for best Canadian first feature film. La Peau Blanche was filmed on a very small budget, but you couldn't tell, as it looks as polished as any other film out there. The cast is made up of relatively unknown actors, but all do a wonderful job, especially the two leads. The movie really stands out because it defies expectations as to what is coming next.
The director and the author of the novel on which the movie is based both attended the screening and a Q&A session after the movie.
- The novel, and the movie, play with the idea of boundaries. Boundaries between countries, races, literature and non-literature.
- Roby liked that the novel was full of surprises, could portray characters in such a real manner, and have such great dialogue. Roby felt the novel was original and the story kept changing style so you never knew where Champetier was taking you.
- Roby wanted to treat the movie in a realistic way so the audience wouldn't know what was coming, and part of that was to cast unknown actors in Quebec.
- The movie's structure is like some movies of a certain genre from the 70's, where the initial pace is slower and you watch the characters lives before anything happens.
- The movie is generally faithful to the novel on which it is based, although there are some differences. One of the characters in the novel comes to Quebec from France, but that would have required casting a French, rather than a Quebecois, actor, so the plot was changed. But most of the elements were kept, especially as the novel is not a long one.
- The novel is written from Thierry's point-of-view, so nothing could occur in the film unless Thierry was actually there. So scenes were added to show what Henri is doing when he is apart from Thierry.
- The movie was made with $800,000 worth of funding, and they couldn't exceed that amount without losing the 800k they already had.
- Roby tried not to imagine things he couldn't do, so he limited himself so that he wouldn't be disappointed. But one thing he didn't want to sacrifice was a scene that takes place in a snowstorm. The scene made the entire crew nervous as they couldn't shoot more than one night as they only had $5,000 for fake snow. The assistant director, director of photography and others kept asking if they could change it to something simpler like mist, but Roby was insistent that it was Montreal in winter, so it had to be snow. Two days before the shoot there was a snowstorm so the entire street was covered in snow, and the night of the shoot, it was snowing. But some of the scenes that night had to be cut short when the sun started to rise.
- From first reading of the book, it took approximately five years before the film was finished. The movie required about 24 or so days of shooting.
- In an effort to be more realistic in look, citing a movie like The Insider, Roby intentionally chose not to have what might be considered ideal camera placement or lighting.
Directed by Yoichi Sai and based on a novel, this is a movie about the life of a Labrador retriever named Quill. The film opens with the birth of a litter of puppies, and one is selected by its owner to be trained as a seeing-eye dog under trainer Satoshi Tawada (Kippei Shiina). As Quill grows up and gains more skills, he is eventually paired with a stubborn blind man, Mitsuru Watanabe (played by Kaoru Kobayashi), who is reluctant to believe in the dog's worth. Much of the movie follows the relationship between the man and the dog, as Quill works his way into Watanabe's heart.
This is a heartwarming film, and a bit of a tear-jerker at times. A cynical person might say that the film is a bit overly sentimental, but it's hard to keep that opinion with such a cute star. The early part of the movie elicited constant sighs from the audience every time a puppy came on screen. All-in-all, Quill was an enjoyable movie that you could take the whole family to (provided you're prepared to fend off your kids' pleas to get a dog :-))
Cafe Lumiere is a quiet film that follows Yoko (Yo Hitoto), as she spends her days traveling around Tokyo and Japan doing research on the life of a Taiwanese composer, Jiang Wen-Ye. Shot by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Cafe Lumiere is, according to the Taipei Times, his first film shot entirely in another country (Japan) and in another language (Japanese). The director was apparently hired specifically to create a film to pay tribute to Yasujiro Ozu's work for what would have been his 100th birthday (Ozu died in 1963 from cancer). The result, Cafe Lumiere, pays homage to Ozu's 1953 movie Tokyo Story.
According to a friend who's watched Tokyo Story, Cafe Lumiere borrows from Ozu's style, with shots framed by the surrounding environment, scenes with a great depth of focus and activity occurring in both the foreground and background, and static shots of rooms with people coming in and out of frame.
Cafe Lumiere basically provides an intimate look at a slice of Yoko's life, watching as she works and visits family and friends, specifically bookshop owner Hajime (Tadanobu Asano), who in his spare time records the sounds of commuter trains. This is a very minimalist film in that there is a sparse amount of dialogue and little in the way of plot. Much of what the characters think and feel goes unstated and the audience must infer a lot from the characters' looks and actions.
This film may not be accessible to everyone because of this, but fans of Ozu's work will probably appreciate Cafe Lumiere for its style and look at Tokyo; in fact, the city itself is like another character in the movie.
Friday, September 17, 2004
Our Own, from director Dmitry Meskhiyev, is a Russian film set during World War II. The movie opens slowly but soon descends into chaos as the Germans attack a Russian town. To avoid execution, two senior officers (Sergei Garmash and Konstantin Khabensky) masquerade as civilians and are joined by a sniper (Mikhail Evlanov), but all three are soon captured by the Germans. While being marched to a POW camp, the three make their escape as they near the hometown of the sniper, Mitya. They take refuge at the home of Mitya's father, Ivan (Bogdan Stupka).
Bitter about his treatment in the past, Ivan is no friend to the Soviet government. But the presence of the three escapees soon force everyone to choose between conflicting loyalties to themselves, to family, to friends, and and to their country.
The film was shot using desaturated colours, giving it a washed out look, similar to other recent WWII films such as Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers, although I hesitate comparing Our Own to them because they are really different films. Our Own is less of a conventional war film about the bonds between soldiers or why there are wars, and more of a character study about the effects of war on the people at home and the decisions and compromises they must make to survive.
This can be a very graphic film at certain times, with extremely realistic-looking scenes; a man being run over by a tank, or a man with his throat cut, bleeding to death. But most of the time is spent looking at the characters. On some occasions, the character's reactions seem to come out of the blue, but generally, development is fine, especially with Stupka's character as he is forced to make decisions about where he stands.
From director/writer Maren Ade, The Forest for the Trees is an often painful look at Melanie, played magnificently by Eva Lobau, who at the start of the film has broken up with her longtime boyfriend, moved to a new city, and is starting her first teaching job midway through the school year. She comes in with boundless optimism, but before long, the pressures of controlling (or not) the students, trying to meet new friends, and building a new life in a new place creates undue stress and leads her to make questionable decisions. Nowhere is this more apparent in her increasingly ineffectual attempts to bond with her neighbour Tina, played by Daniela Holtz.
The film was shot using a handheld digital camera, which allows for closer, more intimate shots, but also lends a bit of a documentary-like feel to the film. This in turn lends a greater air of realism to what is observed. Eva Lobau is completely convincing in the role of Melanie, and even in her silent moments, you can feel her pain as she struggles to adjust to her new life. Many in the audience felt pained as Melanie made increasingly desperate attempts to connect with those around her, while at the same time sympathizing with her situation, one that everyone has probably gone through at one time or another.
Director Maren Ade, actress Eva Lobau, and one of the producers attended the screening and did a Q&A after the film. Notes from the Q&A:
- Director Maren Ade's parents are both teachers, and their many stories contributed to the movie.
- Ade had two ideas for a movie; one about a new teacher, and one about a complicated friendship where one steps over the line in wanting to be the friend of the other. She asked a friend which film she should do, and the friend suggested doing both.
- Lobau was asked how difficult it was to shoot the film. She said that it was sometimes painful, but the had fun on set shooting. A lot of the interaction with the students was improvised, and it sometimes generated painful aggression in her, but her character couldn't show those types of feelings.
- Ade said that use of a handheld camera allowed her to react to more things. She doesn't like movies where there is a mix of handheld and stationary camera work, that it looks silly putting and handheld camera on a dolly.
- A handheld camera also allowed her to stay close in on the characters all the time, which is needed since much of the story is in the subtext and not the dialogue.
- Commenting on the relative lack of music in the film, Ade said that most of the time the characters are talking too much for music to be inserted. There are a few quiet scenes, but she said there had to be the right pictures and longer parts for music to work.
- The script took about six months to write, and Ade did a lot of treatment versions before writing the dialogue. The dialogue was not difficult, but because there are a number of similar scenes, she need to see in the treatments that they worked.
- The movie has found a distributor, so it will be released commercially in Germany. Ade said it was difficult because the subject matter is not exactly uplifting, plus Lobau's character talks in a particular dialect, with an accent, that many in Germany find funny.
- According to the festival newspaper, this is Ade's first full-length feature film, and was shot while she was still attending the Munich Academy for Television and Film.
- Ade felt surprised that a festival as large as Toronto would select her film to be screened.
The following Q&A items contain spoilers:
- The ending is supposed to be a sort of miracle, where Melanie relaxes and gives up control. Ade said it was difficult to find a realistic ending, so she made something more surreal, that leaves the base of the movie.
- Ade's wish for Melanie is that she give up control, give up on something that is not working.
- Some people feel the ending implies that Melanie is committing suicide, and Ade says that is ok with her.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
L'Equipier is a movie set in the 60's, about a man named Antoine, played by Gregori Derangere, who comes to small town in Brittany to take up an open position as a lighthouse keeper. His interactions with Yvon (Philippe Torreton), another lighthouse keeper, and his wife Mabe (Sandrine Bonnaire), form the core of the movie.
The story is framed by scenes set in the present day, with Yvon and Mabe's grown daughter returning to the town to sell the family home after the recent death of her mother, and the death of her father 10 years previous.
Like other movies at the festival this year, the film looks at an outsider coming into a close-knit community and the effects that has on the people, and the prejudices that are stirred up. The film portrays the Brittany coast breathtakingly, with dramatic shots of storm-battered lighthouses. The story involving the main characters is gentle and understated, and the characters themselves feel real. They are not simply stereotypes nor are they drawn to make the decisions they take in the film easier. Because the leads are all sympathetic characters, it makes their actions all the more poignant.
Philippe Lioret appeared to give a Q&A session after the movie:
- All of the roles in the film were cast after the screenplay was finished, with the exception of Sandrine Bonnaire. Lioret had contacted her while he was writing the script. At one point, tired of writing, he stopped and turned to another movie, Mademoiselle, which he wrote and directed. The play within that movie is actually the story of L'Equipier.
- The dramatic shots of the storm-battered lighthouse were real, with the exception of two shots which had to be animated by computer. The real shots were taken in the autumn and during winter storms.
- Lioret is not a Breton himself, but believes that wherever you are, the problems are the same, that it is difficult to enter into a microcosm anywhere in the world.
- The film took about 5 years total to write, and about 10 weeks to shoot.
- The first draft of the script took about 1 year, 6 months to write, and then he spent time adjusting it. Two things he doesn't want in a movie are for the audience to feel that a script is there or that a camera is present. He worked on the script to remove scenes so they weren't too literary or had the feeling of a writer behind them. When shooting, he focused on the characters' faces so that you don't realize that you are watching a movie.
- Shooting the sea was difficult, and sometimes the weather was too good.
- Forget the sea, forget the love, the movie says something about our parents and friendship. It asks who are our parents, and that the memory of our life is mainly in the houses where we were born or where we grew up.
The following Q&A items contain spoilers, so stop reading here if you haven't seen the movie:
- When asked why he limited the interactions, especially the physical ones, between the two leads, Lioret replied that it was because the relationship was taboo for them. They had feelings that were stronger than themselves and impossible to realize. But the more they avoid them, the stronger the feelings become.
- A question was asked about the cannery owner, and his decision to reveal his knowledge of the affair. Lioret was asked if there was more to the cannery owner's story, and in response, he gave the character's back story, which was not in the movie. The cannery owner and Mabe had been together at school since he was 8, and from there through his teens he had admired her from afar. He was ready to make a move at 18, but then Yvon moved to town and beat him to her. He couldn't accept that he had lost her; he thought he had an inalienable right to her since birth.
- The characters are fictional, but many attributes are taken from people Lioret knows, including the cannery owner.
- Lioret was asked about his decision to have Antoine torture Algerians in his past. He replied that France's actions in Algeria was a subject not talked about until the last 10 years. Lioret found it a troublesome period, and his way of dealing with it was through this film.
- In the first draft of the script, Mabe did try to contact Antoine after, but Lioret said that he likes it when you see a film, it can be something else, or open (to interpretation).
The Ninth Day is a powerful movie set during World War II. It follows a priest named Kremer, played by Ulrich Matthes, who has been interned in the concentration camp at Dachau. One day, he is suddenly given a nine-day leave and sent back to his home in Luxembourg. There, a young SS officer named Gebhardt, played by August Diehl, directs him to talk to the bishop to get him to stop ringing the church bells in defiance of the occupying Germans, or failing that, for himself, Kremer, to write a letter expressing compatibility between the Catholic Church and the Nazi ideals.
Kremer, in a short period of time, is forced to confront his own demons and re-examine his faith. This struggle is played out in part through the theological debates that he has with Gebhardt, as the latter tries to convince him that the two aren't so different in their aims.
This was an excellent film highlighted by the performances of the two lead characters, Matthes and Diehl. Matthes is especially good as he comes to terms with his actions in the camp, questions his faith in the face of so much horror and tragedy, and comes to a decision about what he must do for his country, his family, his fellow priests, and his own conscience.
The Ninth Day was directed by Volker Schlondorff, who also directed and co-wrote the Academy Award-winning The Tin Drum. Schlondorff attended the screening and did a Q&A after the movie:
Some notes from the Q&A:
- Schlondorff had sworn he would never do a movie set in a concentration camp. In 1956, when he was 16, he had seen Night and Fog, and thought the subject was such a shock to see, that it was something that was beyond staging, that one could not represent it. Years later, after movies, such as Schlinder's List and The Pianist had tackled the same subject, and after reading such a strong human story, Schlondorff wanted to do this film.
- The movie is based on a true story, which was relased in 1945. The author himself, who is represented by Kremer in the movie, died in 1994. However, the period of the movie in Luxembourg only takes up a half-page or so, so no one really knows what the conversations really were.
- The movie is partly about temptation; in the Bible, the devil usually chooses someone who is weak. In the movie, Gebhardt is the devil, who has all the good arguments, and who doesn't fight, but attempts to seduce Kremer with his words. In fact, their arguments are staged as a sort of 7-round fight, rather than pages and pages of dialogue to bore the audience.
- The arguments used by Gebhardt were found in documents of the period.
- There are a number of scenes where the image becomes fuzzy, subjective, and fragmented. This was intentional, as the diary on which the film was based is cinematic, fragmented, and with tunnel vision. In the book, the author sees only the heels of the person in front of him as he walks through the camp; he sees only bits and pieces, described in a very prosaic way. In the movie, when Kremer turns his head, he is so weak, and his vision is so shaky, the camera represents this.
- The diary reminded Schlondorff of a silent movie. He and his cinematographer screened Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc for inspiration.
- Music in the film included Concerto Grosso, by the Russian composer Schnittke. Schlondorff had first heard the music when he bought it in St. Petersburg. He showed the film with the music to Schnittke's widow, and commented on how well it fit with the movie, and it turns out that Schnittke had written much music for the Russian cinema as a way to pay the bills and support his more "serious" musical efforts.
- The movie was filmed at a reconstruction of part of Dachau at a military base. Filming at the real camp is prohibited out of respect for the victims, and Schlondorff couldn't even film a scene outside the camp at the gate.
- One scene in the movie, involving a water pipe, is based on the writings of Primo Levy and his experiences at Auschwitz, and comes from a chapter entitled Shame.
- Schlondorff intentionally did not delve deeply into the controversy over the Catholic Church's role during the war or the decisions of the Vatican, since it has been dealt with by others in the theatre and in film. Schlondorff said, who is he to blame the church, and instead wanted to concentrate on individuals and celebrate the bravery of the priests who suffered and died in the camps.
- Schlondorff himself is Protestant, but spent time in a Jesuit boarding school, where the priests encouraged him to pursue a career in filmmaking.
- Schlondorff said Ontario had a special place in his heart, alluding to the controversy over The Tin Drum, which was initially banned by provincial censors, a decision which was later overturned due to the efforts of determined protestors.
- The movie will open theatrically in November, and after, Schlondorff said, all the fuss about the Hitler movie, The Ninth Day will come along and show the real effects. This is an allusion to Der Untergang (Downfall), which is also screening at the festival and has engendered controversy over its portrayal of Hitler and other Nazis during the war.
- Schlondorff said that August Diehl is one of the finest stage actors in Germany, also with 23 films to his credit, and Ulrich Matthes is primarily a stage actor.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
L'Intrus is the latest film by Claire Denis, who has also directed and written Beau Travail and, Chocolat (note this is not the one with Juliette Binoche), among many other films. There is very little dialogue in the movie; instead Denis attempts to tell the story in visual terms. The film travels from the French/Swiss border, to Geneva, to Pusan, Korea, to French Polynesia, and back again.
The film slowly focuses in on Louis, played by Michel Subor, a man with a mysterious past, who is trying to come to terms with his past and his future in his travels.
Claire Denis attended the screening, having just gotten off a plane from the Venice Film Festival, where L'Intrus had had its world premiere.
Notes from the Q&A:
- The film is based on L'Intrus, a book by French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, which talked about his own heart transplant. This topic of intrusion (e.g. a new heart in the body), which can be dangerous and menacing, is what Denis wanted to explore in the film.
- The film was only finished a week prior to the showing, just in time for the Venice festival.
- Denis had originally planned to shoot in the south Pacific to balance out the images of the north in France/Switzerland. When relating the story to Michel Subor, he mentioned that he had already been in Tahiti, shooting a film years ago in the 60's. Denis was able to obtain a few shots from this film after a two-year search, to show Louis' younger self in flashbacks.
- Denis wanted to use an additional shot from this film, shot by Paul Gegauff, but couldn't because the owners of the film have their own plans for it.
- With the north and the south imagery in place, Denis felt she needed a limbo to transition between these two places. The place she chose to represent this limbo is Pusan, South Korea and the shipyards there. Pusan came to mind from being invited to the film festival there one year.
- The film was not shot in Cinemascope, but rather Super 35, because of costs. The film took approximately a year to assemble and had a relatively small budget.
- Jean-Luc Nancy has apparently seen the film in the editing suite, and couldn't believe his work could lead to such a film.
- The many dogs in the movie are like a border for their owners, and Denis was interested how they are often man's best friend, supplanting other people or even family.
I have to admit that this film is the most difficult thing I have watched so far at the festival, although many in the audience were able to discern a meaning quite quickly. Because of the spare dialogue, everything is communicated through sights and sounds, and often reality and dreams are mixed together. Some of the imagery is quite obvious in how it relates to the central theme, and yet I found it difficult to discern what other images meant. The film is beautifully shot, from the natural scenes in the woods of France and the islands of the south Pacific, to the industrial scenes in a Korean shipyard.
Because this is a less conventional film in terms of characterization and story, I'd suggest it to those who want a challenge, or those who have enjoyed Denis' work in the past. Others might find this film a bit too abstract.
10e Chambre is a documentary focusing on about 12 cases or so in the Paris courtroom of justice Michele Bernard-Requin. According to the festival guide, documentarian Raymond Depardon was apparently the first person to be allowed to film inside a courtroom, and captured 169 different cases, which were reduced down to a handful for the final cut. It also mentions that this film provides a nice bookend to one of Depardon's other films, Delits Flagrants, which showed suspects being interviewed by deputy public prosecutors.
10e Chambre is an interesting look at one part of the French justice system, and shows the defendant in each case answering the questions of the judge, the prosecutor, and their own lawyer, and making their own statements as well. Two cases are often shown back-to-back before the judge's verdicts are rendered. The cases include drunk driving, theft, harassment, fighting, civil cases, illegal immigration, and carrying prohibited weapons, to name a few.
There is no commentary; the film simply lets the participants talk for themselves. It shows people unwilling to take responsibility of their actions, while others seem caught up in an inescapable web of societal problems. Occasionally, a defendant will dispense with a lawyer, and usually go on to prove the saying, "a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client". Although some of the actual defense lawyers aren't much better.
The star of the film is the presiding judge, Michele Bernard-Requin. An intelligent and sharp woman, she has to cut through conflicting testimony and often outright lies, to get to the truth in a very short period of time. Some of the funniest moments come watching her reaction as defendants give self-incriminating testimony, followed by wild justifications for their actions.
The only flaw I would find with the film is that we do not see the verdicts rendered for the final two cases shown in the movie. The outcomes may have been mentioned in text that appears before the final credits roll, however, this text was not translated or subtitled, so I never did figure out what happened to those people.
Still, the film provided an intriguing look at one small part of the justice system in modern France, and makes one consider how the people featured in the movie got there in the first place and how the system deals with them.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Wilby Wonderful is the latest film from director, writer, playwright, and actor Daniel MacIvor. Set in a small island town, the film follows a cast of characters (played by a veritable who's who of Canadian cinema) over the course of a single day.
There is the woman who grew up in Wilby, moved away, and returned with her teenaged daughter to reopen a cafe (Rebecca Jenkins and Ellen Page, who previously worked together on the MacIvor-penned Marion Bridge). There is one of the town's police officers (Paul Gross), and his businesswoman wife (Sandra Oh), who find themselves in a marriage that has drifted apart.
There is the town mayor, played by Maury Chaykin, and a dyslexic painter, played by Callum Keith Rennie. And finally, there is a video store owner (James Allodi), who spends much of the movie making ineffectual attempts to commit suicide. Lurking under it all is a scandal that will affect them all.
The film takes a look at the connections between the people in a small town, their hopes and dreams (both realized and not), and their prejudices. It shows people trying to both discover new, and recapture lost, feelings. As Paul Gross' character puts it while standing on the shore, looking at the mainland: seeing where you came from lets you remember what you wanted for the future.
I really enjoyed this movie, my one Canadian pick for the festival this year. The cast acquits themselves well, and despite the relatively large number of characters, I didn't feel like I was distracted by too many storylines, or that any one character received more attention than the others. And despite the limited timeframe of the movie, a single day, the story did not feel rushed or hurried. I thought the resolutions found or not found by the characters followed from what was seen and felt on screen, and didn't come out of the blue.
Daniel MacIvor, along with pretty much the entire cast, attended the screening. MacIvor gave quite an entertaining introduction before the film and stayed afterwards for a Q&A session:
- MacIvor calls the film a "Canadian commercial film", and wanted it to be familiar, but with a twist to wake everyone up.
- The story took about three years to make it to the screen, starting from around New Year's Eve 2001 at a party of Canadian director Jeremy Podeswa.
- MacIvor wanted to write a "guy with a heart story" rather than his usual fare.
- The movie was originally to be called Honey, but then the Jessica Alba movie of the same name came out, which necessitated a change. This lead to the current title, which affected part of the story.
- MacIvor said the theater (and the movie) contained pretty much every famous Canadian actor, assuming Don McKellar and Sarah Polley were in the room (not sure about Polley, but I did see McKellar talking with the cast outside the theatre prior to the showing). He found it weirdly easy to get the cast he wanted, helped by being able to tell people that he wrote specific parts for them.
- MacIvor was asked if writing for a wide range of characters was harder than writing for a few. His response was that he wanted to learn how, and figured there was no better way than to try. He was worried that the audience might attach themselves to a specific storyline and spend much of the movie waiting to get back to their favoured plot, but those fears were dispelled by the excellent acting of the cast.
- Because the film is set during the course of a single day, editing and continuity is harder.
- MacIvor was asked if he is now favouring films over plays or vice-versa. He said he isn't favouring either, and is currently working on both a new play and a new screenplay. Asked about the difference between the two , he said that what he doesn't like about films (vs. writing plays) is that once a film is complete, he can't change it.
- When staring to write, things for the stage tend to start out post-modern; but for a movie, it is usually an idea about watching somebody.
- About the differences between film and theatre, he likes to use the quote, "it's not apples and oranges or cats and dogs, it's apples and dogs", they're completely different. He likes to think from the theatre background he's able to bring a collaborative, inclusive feeling to the set. Art in theatre is live in front of the audience, whereas in film it is light projected on a flat surface and the art has happened previously.
- As a writer, he finds that sometimes for film he writes too much.
- Asked about writing specifically Canadian stories, he said that while he has made a commitment to stay in Canada and more specifically, in Nova Scotia, he likes to keep stories open so that people do not focus on watching a story about a specific group (islanders, easterners, Canadians, etc).
Astronautas comes from Spanish director Santi Amodeo, who attended the film and gave a Q&A session after the film. The title of the movie refers to someone who may have all the comforts of modern life, but remains disconnected from his environment. Daniel (played by Nancho Novo) is such a person. A former heroin addict, Daniel is working through a decalogue, or 10-step recovery program. As part of his therapy, he is renovating his apartment, which in itself is a metaphor for the rebuilding of his life.
One day Daniel finds a teenage girl (Teresa Hurtado) waiting outside the door of his neighbour's abandoned apartment, who turns out to be his neighbour's younger sister. He gradually admits her into his life, and in the process, she affects and changes him.
Astronautas was not quite as comedic as I assumed from the festival guide description, but was rather a dramatic story with lighter moments and surreal animated segments seeded throughout. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, and it provided a different view of a subject tackled by another film at this year's festival, Clean, with Nick Nolte and Maggie Cheung. Both movies had at their core the story of a heroin addict trying to get their life back on track, but each told their tale in a unique way.
Some tidbits from the Q&A:
- This was his first solo directing effort. His two previous films, The Pilgrim Factor and Bancos were co-directed with Alberto Rodriguez.
- The animated interludes throughout the movie reflect Daniel's personal reality.
- The people with bowling balls for heads in the animated segments come from the animator on the film, who was asked by Amodeo to come up with a prototype of man.
- When Laura removes paper cutouts of bowling balls from a drawer in the apartment, it represents her taking out Daniel's life from the drawer into the real world.
Monday, September 13, 2004
Mondovino is a documentary about winemaking, shot by Jonathan Nossiter. Nossiter travels all over the world, from France, to Italy, to California, and to Argentina, interviewing people involved in the industry, trying to learn why they do what they do. He interviews people who have their own small family vineyards, to corporate giants such as Robert Mondavi and Mouton-Rothschild. The film shows the impact of modern society, globalization, and even wine critics such as Robert Parker, on smaller vintners, the industry as a whole, and the wine they produce.
It is an interesting documentary, that brings to light a number of intriguing aspects of winemaking and the people and companies involved. Nossiter said in the Q&A that he wanted to present the stories and let people make their own decisions, although what I took from the film is that bigger is not better, and globalization in winemaking is not a good thing. Some of the people in the film have captivating stories, one family in particular, with two generations involved in various aspects of the business.
Nossiter appeared at the screening and attended a Q&A session afterwards.
- Nossiter is a trained sommelier, hence his interest in wine.
- When asked why the movie featured so many dogs, he said it just came out of the footage, that so many people involved in the industry seemed to have dogs. In fact, he wasn't much of a dog person before starting on the documentary, but now, he owns a golden retriever.
- Nossiter was asked how he pitched the film to the people he interviewed. He said he approached them as a lover of wine, who wanted to find out who they were and why they were involved with wine.
- The film as screened in Toronto is 30 minutes shorter than the version shown at Cannes.
- Filming occurred over the last two years, and is being made into a 10-part miniseries, 1 hour per episode.
The documentary was shot on a hand-held digital camera which seemed to afford greater access, but was hard to take for a full two-and-a-half hours. There is also quite a lot to absorb, and in some ways, the 10-part series might serve some of the material better. But it was definitely an interesting movie that certainly opened my eyes to the good and the bad of how the wine I drink makes it to the table.
Sunday, September 12, 2004
House of Flying Daggers, directed by Zhang Yimou, comes to the festival not long after the North American release of Hero. While both movies feature Zhang Ziyi, House is not a sequel. It is a movie about a time when the Tang Dynasty is in decline and being challenged by a resistance movement led by the House of Flying Daggers. Two government officials, played by Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro, are tasked with determining the identity of the new leader of the Flying Daggers, and Kaneshiro is sent undercover to try and use Mei, a blind girl played by Zhang Ziyi, to lead them to the group.
The movie is beautifully shot, featuring many stunning autumn and winter landscapes filmed in China and Ukraine. Interesting scenes including one in which Mei is surrounded by a circle of drums and must use her sense of sound to figure out which drums have been hit by Lau, and one in which a fight occurs in a green bamboo forest.
I enjoyed this film more than Hero. I felt the plot and the characters were more developed in House, and the story more personal, unlike Hero which seemed more like a historical epic at times. However, the ending of House does seem to be a bit melodramatic and cliched in places. Overall, though, House of Flying Daggers was an excellent movie, and well worth seeing, for both the scenes between Zhang Ziyi and Takeshi Kaneshiro, and the cinematography.
There was no Q&A session at the screening I attended, but the director was there and said he was encouraged to see such a large crowd (about 1,200 or so at the Ryerson theatre) at such an early hour.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
Saw Clean today, starring Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte. Cheung and director/screenwriter Olivier Assayas were present to introduce the movie and showed up afterwards for a Q&A session. Clean stars Cheung as the drug-addicted wife of a once-good rock musician who, after a tragedy, must clean herself up and set her life back on track to regain custody of her son from his grandparents (played by Nick Nolte and Martha Henry). Don McKellar also makes an appearance early in the film as a business associate of Cheung's husband. The movie moves between Hamilton (!), Vancouver, Paris, and London as Cheung struggles to redefine her life.
Clean was a great movie, and it's easy to see how Maggie Cheung picked up the best actress award at Cannes this year. And Assayas even made a dingy, industrial shoreline in Hamilton appear as a beautiful backdrop to one scene of Cheung taking drugs to escape the conflict in her life.
Some tidbits from the Q&A:
- The script was written for Maggie Cheung by the director, Olivier Assayas. The two had worked together previously on Irma Vep, and Assayas wanted to find a story that would fit Cheung, but it took several years.
- Cheung's character in the movie is much like her real-life self, in that it is a character between cultures, with roots in many countries.
- Maggie Cheung likes singing, which influenced the storyline.
- Nick Nolte was not the first choice to play the grandfather; another actor had been selected, but shortly before shooting, his doctor called to say that he was ill and could not participate in the movie, and in fact died not long afterwards. When recasting, Assayas told his casting director that he wanted someone like Nick Nolte for the role, and it was suggested that he just contact Nolte, who quickly accepted.
- Assayas couldn't believe that Nolte was actually in the movie until he saw him in front of the camera.
- When casting in Canada, the first set of tapes sent to Assayas for each of the characters were all wrong, with the exception of the one for the grandmother, which was Martha Henry. Assayas said she was the ideal choice for the role.
- Many people who make appearances in the movie are real-life musicians, which lends an air of verisimilitude to the movie. Included are Tricky and David Roback. Cheung's husband in the movie is also a musician, and is currently working with Nick Cave.
- When casting Cheung's son in the movie, Assayas said that he must have seen every Eurasian child in North America. :-) He eventually picked a boy with no previous acting experience, because he felt child actors are generally spolied and lack spontaneity.
- When asked about her realistic portayal of a recovering drug addict, Cheung mentioned that it is not based on her own experiences, but both she and Assayas have had friends in various stages of recovery, some entering it, some in it, and some coming out of it.
- Assayas said he didn't want to sentimentalize the problem, and that he wanted to be more balanced and not have anyone purely good or purely bad.
- He was a bit nervous showing the movie in Toronto since much of it was shot here or in the area, and that the audience could easily compare it to the real-life version (in fact, one shot that is supposedly in Hamilton is actually on Bathurst Street in Toronto).
- For the festival, he is staying in the same hotel in which he stayed while filming the movie, which he found weird. :-)
Below is a picture of Olivier Assayas and Maggie Cheung at the Q&A (although with the poor quality of the shot, it really could be any two people :-))
Friday, September 10, 2004
Lapsia Ja Aikuisia (Producing Adults), is a movie about a woman who is facing a difference of opinion in her relationship with her boyfriend over whether or not to have children. This leads her to eventually question her entire relationship and what she really wants from life. This was a very good film, and the director, Aleksi Salmenpera, was on hand after the showing for a Q&A session.
Some notes from the Q&A (apologies if I misinterpreted anything):
- Don't approach it as a comedy or a drama, but take what you can from it.
- The title in English actually refers to a saying something like "the success of a marriage is not in producing children, but in the children producing adults". The director said the title actually is better in English than in Finnish.
- The same can't be said for the translation of the dialog; one of the audience members who obviously spoke Finnish said the Finnish dialog was great, but the translation missed a lot of the nuances in the script, including some of the vulgarity. The director agreed, and said that he had even spoken to the producer about the quality of the translation.
- The film originated out of a film school project.
- The director of photography had worked with Salmenpera on two of his short films.
- The music in the movie was all original, mainly because they couldn't afford to use anything else.
- It was a one-camera shoot, and took about 40 days of filming.
- One scene in the rain did have additional rain added to it, which was quite obvious, and for which the director apologized. :-)
- After a fight, the lead female and male characters are driving home, and the woman is driving, mainly because the male is injured. However, the director said that for reasons he couldn't articulate, he wanted her to be driving the car in the scene. As one audience member pointed out, it actually makes a statement about her character at that point in the movie.
- An opening shot in the movie of speed skaters is meant to convey the image of sperm, but the director said they couldn't keep up with the skaters, so it kind of lost its effect. :-)
The film had a mix of drama and comedy, but to me, came across primarily as a serious drama, looking at the breakdown in communication in a relationship, initiated by the discussion of children, which causes the lead female character, Venla, to question her entire relationship in general. This leads her to explore other possibilities.
The characters never really talk to each other about their differences or feelings, they tend to avoid it; some might have expected more confrontation and resolution in the dialogue. But I guess that is the point of why their relationship has problems and gives it a more realistic feel. They do attempt therapy, but we never hear what they say; we only see the session with a musical soundtrack.
Overall, I thought the movie was quite good and an interesting look at modern relationships. It was a really good effort for what I understand to be the director's first feature film (and thus why it appeared in the Discovery program of the festival).
Monday, September 06, 2004
Went down to the College Park box office this morning to pick up our tickets and see what films we managed to get out of our advanced selections. Showed up about 8:50, a few minutes before the office officially opened. There were probably about 500 or more people in line ahead of us by that point. It took about an hour or so to get to the front of the line, where we exchanged our coupons for the selected movies.
Turns out we received tickets for all 13 movies we selected. We expected at least one of the packages to come through, since it was in box 15, and they started processing from box 10 this year. But the rest of the tickets were in boxes 24 and 31, and there were only 43 boxes in total. Looks like we got lucky. Some of the films sold out so far appear to be the ones with bigger name directors, but there are also a number of foreign films for which all their showings have sold out already.
I was kind of surprised to hear that one showing of Evolution of a Filipino Family sold out, considering it's *9* hours in length. At least it's showing at one of the Varsity VIP theatres.
Thursday, September 02, 2004
Well, my friend and I just finished selecting all the movies for this year's festival. We plowed through all 416 pages of the guide and came up with my top 62 movies, and his top 100. From that, we further whittled it down to our common top 20. Then we took our common top 10 and tried to actually schedule them. There were a couple of conflicts, with those movies coming out of the top 10, to be replaced by others from our top 20.
Then, I had another pass for which we scheduled an additional 3 movies, keeping the rest to pick up movies on the fly during the festival.
At any rate, we ended up with 13 movies. Submitted 5 this afternoon, 5 this evening, and the remaining 3 tomorrow before the deadline. So far we've got 5 movies in a box in the 10's, 5 in a box in the 20's, and we'll see where the remaining 3 end up. We're still undecided as to whether or not distributing our choices like this is a good idea given the way the draw works. Guess we'll find out soon enough!
Our top movies ended up being, in no particular order:
Lapsia Ja Aikuisia (Producing Adults), a drama from Finland and Sweden about a couple coming to terms with differences in their marriage over whether or not to have children.
Mondovino, a documentary from the US about wine making.
Astronautas (Astronauts), a Spanish comedy about a recovering drug addict.
Wilby Wonderful, the quintessential Canadian film directed by Daniel McIvor and starring the usual who's who of Canadian cinema, including Callum Keith Rennie, Rebecca Jenkins, Sandra Oh, Paul Gross, and Maury Chaykin.
10e Chambre, instants d'audiences (The 10th District Court, Moments of Trials), a French documentary that looks inside a single courtroom and 12 cases that pass through it.
L'Equipier (The Light), a French drama set in the 60's, about a man who comes to a small town to become its new lighthouse keeper.
Our Own (Svoi), a Russian drama set in WWII, about three Russian soldiers who escape imprisonment by the Germans.
Kohi Jikou (Cafe Lumiere), about a single, pregnant woman in Japan, living a secluded life amongst the hustle and bustle of the city.
Quill, a Japanese drama about a seeing eye dog, picked mainly because I just couldn't resist the picture in the festival guide of an incredibly cute Labrador retriever puppy. :-)
Arsene Lupin, about a celebrated French jewel thief (who has also been immortalized in Japanese anime), co-starring Kristin Scott Thomas.
Clean, a drama about a mother (Maggie Cheung) trying to clean herself up to win back custody of her son from his grandparents (Nick Nolte and Martha Henry). Apparently partially filmed in Hamilton!
House of Flying Daggers, by the same director as the recently released (at least in North America) Hero (minus Jet Li).
Der Neunte Tag (The Ninth Day), a German drama set in WWII about a Catholic priest who has only nine days to convince a bishop to stop ringing his church bells in defiance of the German occupiers.