Day 3 (Part 2) One of the advantages of an industry pass is being able to leave one screening and slip into another. The chance to view something even briefly without having to pay the freight of the public screening tickets and lineups is what having this pass is all about. A long time ago, when sheer ambition and stamina allowed me to gather 60 viewings in a festival, the half hour rule became my marker for passing the ball along to the other side of the abacus as "viewed". The rule works well. I have sometimes stayed for the whole screening of a movie I was ready to leave in ten minutes just because I had made myself get through another twenty minutes and it got better.
There were two 'half hours' today. Both had been front runners in my coding. The first, Entre ses Mains, is by french filmmaker, Anne Fontaine, whom I interviewed in the 2002 festival. That year I was attending on a press pass, working for an unrenowned website that was hanging on to life by a thread. Getting interviews was like begging for change on the streets of Calcutta. The steely eyed judging glances of publicity sorceresses are scarring for life.
Who do you work for?!!
Anne Fontaine was willing to see me and for this I was eternally grateful, despite being asked at the last moment to conduct the interview in a restaurant of the Sutton Place Hotel, while the filmmaker ate, and entirely in French. Both the woman herself, and her publicist were lovely people, an oasis of kindness in the no man's land of filmfest press shallowness and I swore I would see every movie this woman made for the rest of our mutual lives.
Entre ses Mains is a kind of thriller, in that it explores the relationship between a happily married insurance agent and her client, a complex veterinarian who dotes on her. The thriller part is that he may or may not be a serial killer at large in the town. Anne Fontaine's narrative style is too extremely subtle to be truly in the genre, but that subtlety is good. Her camera is itself predatory - she stalks her story, always just a bit behind its twists and turns, which really aren't that significant in the end, but always feel like they are. She feeds on our anticipation of what might be really going on, just as her heroines do. In her 2002 film, Nathalie, Fanny Ardant is convinced that her husband is cheating on her with Emmanuelle Beart so she stalks her, becoming obssessed with the woman herself. In that film, her ambiguous desire to understand what makes her husband's lover compelling was strong enough emotion to draw her into a web of possible danger. (And hey, okay, it's Fanny Ardant and Emmanuelle Beart!) In Entre Ses Mains, Claire (Isabelle Carre), has no such compelling motivation in forming a relationship slowly with her predator. She is not really sexually compelled, but personally charmed - and yet we are not really persuaded that even that is enough to justify saying yes to his invitations, especially after we know who she suspects he is. What woman would continue to go out on coffee dates with a possible serial killer? All drama hinges on character credibility - if we believe them, we can follow them anywhere. If we don't, we leave the screening at the half hour, feeling ooooh so guilty.
The second half hour came in the middle. After standing in line for a packed screening, waiting for someone to leave, I finally got into Tideland, Terry Gilliam's much anticipated macabre fantasy of a neglected girl, which turns out to be a strange hybrid of genre styles, held together by a performance being much ballyhooed by the young Jodelle Ferland. The floating, active camera that I loved so much in Day 1 movies is here being used to take us into the mind of a child - an ideal choice, but one which only works if the visual world of the film offers some kind of contrast. In Tideland, everything is bizarre and surreal and it's hard to tell 'reality' from her imaginative life. It is just relentless, and its central performance far too theatrical to be credible. Ferland's manner and gesture make her seem at times like a 9 year old impression of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. The half hour rule did allow me, however, to enjoy long-time favourite actress Janet McTeer, in a few memorable scenes as a witch/guardian to a mentally challenged boy. Unfortunately, she could not cast a spell on the whole film, and I was soon in the lobby again.
The day began with Imagine Me and You, which is listed everywhere as this film's "Working Title". Here we are back in the world of Elizabethtown and Shopgirl style commercial features not yet ready for release. What's going on? Movies are getting made before they are ready because folks are not hiring (or listening to) their story editors! Still, this story of a woman (Piper Perabo) who falls in love on her wedding day with her gorgeous (oh my god!) florist (Lena Headey) had a lot going for it in the first two thirds - including a naturally paced and refreshingly truthful look at relationships and how they form and end. Then, all of a sudden out of nowhere, the film runs head on into a Richard Curtis-style UK Brit comedy commercial formula and watching the last third is like witnessing a train derailment: you sit there, hypnotically entranced in horror as it all falls apart. Only Richard Curtis can do what Richard Curtis does. He has a knack for it. That's what makes him Richard Curtis. Oliver Parker, who directed today's film, is not Richard Curtis but something also very fine so why does he want to be Richard Curtis? And too bad! Until that point, it was refreshing to see real chemistry in lesbian characters on screen. Of course, in this version there's a happy ending, but one achieved in about a half hour less than the movie required to fulfill its narrative style and pacing. Characters leap over insuperable obstacles, pass the baton of cliches to each other, race emotional catharsis AND crowded London streets to be able to kiss passionately before the 100 minute mark. Story editing 911. Hopefully, they are going back into the editing room after Toronto.
An unexpected pleasure today was Byarlen Pyamootoo's Benares, the first film of importance to emerge from Mauritius, that island whose name rolls off the tongue like delicious. Two young men with a little money and the day off, venture a long distance to the nearest capital to find girls and bring them home. Perhaps one of the most conspicuous cultural differences is how these young girls (who are pretty and very unconventional hookers) are bought - the bargaining issue is not money, but whether they will go to Benares. Once in the back of the truck driven by a kind older man, the long journey home under the stars affords a natural environment for self-discovery before the arrangement has to kick in. The film is gloriously lacking in any cliches or sentimental story points. The foursome are equally intelligent and philosophical, spiritual and wistful by accident and in turns with no clear developmental design. Meanwhile, a strange jazz soundtrack plays over the deep lush cobalts, aquamarines and almost fluorescent green landscape that is rolling past. Low, flat lush vegetation marked by the occassional palms shooting out of the ground and mountains in backdrop. It was a ride you almost wanted to be on. When the characters fall asleep on each other and the truck rattles on, it's hard to imagine their dreams being better than what is passing all around them.