Sunday, September 17, 2006

best of the fest

Choosing the best films of the Festival experience is always incredibly subjective. As usual (see posts from last year) I did not see the films that have won the majority of awards, with notable exception: Jennifer Baichwal's powerful Manufactured Landscapes (pictured here) which has won the CITY-TV Award for Outstanding Canadian Feature. Numbered among the prize winners also is a film I tried hard to see and missed: Takva: A Man's Fear of God. Too bad.
Then there were films I saw only partially - by slipping in for the last half hour, like Sarah Polley's Away From Her. That half hour, however, was so lovely that I am now really anxious to see the rest of it.

The films that seem the least interesting the day after the festival ends often bear out very differently over time. As images settle, the vision becomes clearer and the ideas come into focus. A month from now I may have changed my mind and other films I saw may have in fact floated to the top. Sometimes filmmakers are living up to heavy hitting previous films in my experience, and then, because they don't seem as glorious, I give them less weight in my mind than they deserve. This year's example is Robert Guediguian's Voyage en Armenie, a film critics universally loved and which the public clearly enjoyed and I just couldn't raise to the bar set by his previous love letter, Marijo et ses deux amours. I recognize the film as accomplished and resonant, but it's just not the same. Similarly, Kenneth Branagh's The Magic Flute has been growing steadily for me over the past week - and there was much of it I already really loved. It hasn't made my ten best but check back in a few months time.

Here then, for right now, are the films which impacted me most, both personally and in terms of their vision and filmmaking expression.

1. After the Wedding, Susanne Bier, Denmark
In my previous post, I talk about the emergence of Danish filmmaking in recent years as the strongest voice in European cinema. Susanne Bier's emotionally fine-tuned essay on families, belonging and identity uses contrasting environments (India/Denmark) and carefully contemplative shots to help us linger in the hearts and minds of her characters, even after the camera has moved on. The non-linear jump-cutting editing style of the film is neither pretentious nor in our face, but truly serves the disjointed and fragmentary sense of time and space that occurs in the midst of emotional upheaval. Poetic, lyrical, and utterly compelling.

2. Manufactured Landscapes, Jennifer Baichwal, Canada
With this deeply affecting and haunting film, Jennifer Baichwal has done something that rarely occurs in the documentary form: she has celebrated the work of an artist, while liberating his vision and giving it a cinematic expression. For those who have seen Edward Burtynsky's astonishing photographs (that's one at the top) of industrial landscapes, and experienced the ethical push-pull of responding to their beauty, this film will ground you. It is reminiscent of the work of Thomas Riedelsheimer (Rivers and Tides; Touch the Sound) in its capacity to allow the subject to simply breathe on its own. The opening shot, which proceeds along the endless rows of wo/manned manufacturing stations in a single take, has iconographic power and sets up everything that is to come. Nearly eight minutes long, it is almost more than we can sustain and all without a single spoken word or commentary. By far one of the best documentaries of recent times. It is being released in October - so go see it!

3. Babel, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu, USA
I always hesitate to program into my schedule movies which I know will be released and I usually hesitate to include them in my best of lists. But there's no question here. This is superlative filmmaking, and this director's finest work to date. Some sequences are stronger than others, or I would put it at number one. (see post below)

4. La Coupure, Jean Chateauvert, Canada
It is such a pleasure to be putting Canadian films near to the top - that doesn't happen every year. This is an exquisitely tender film about a love relationship among a brother and sister that has evolved to the fullest place it can have in regular life. So many things were unusual about the subtly nuanced screenplay - from the intensely passionate (but not sensational) sex that opens the film to the fact that almost everyone in the family has figured it out and adjusted with varying degrees of acceptance, denial, understanding, anger, frustration and pain. Quiet and enormous, with very little spoken word, it allows us to ache with our main characters and long for them to somehow find a way to make it all work - right to the finish line. It also crosses generational lines in its ways of responding, and not as we might predict. A filmmaker to watch.

5. L'Esprit des Lieux, Catherine Martin, Canada
Like Baichwal, Catherine Martin has created a visual poem, but this time with peaceful images. An ode to the lost ways of life in the Charlevoix regions of Quebec, it offered landscape that was entirely new to me and deeply affecting. Similar to Baichwal, she is working in the context of photography - this time by Gabor Szilasi, whose images of the region in the 70s are a testament its vibrant life. Martin contrasts these pictures not only with contemporary versions of the images, but with beautifully constructed and carefully posed still life portraits of her interviewed subjects. It is these portrait shots, often held a minute or longer, that become so deeply affecting as we realise that with this film another marker has occurred, from which the life can be measured again in another thirty years.

6. Kristall, by Christoph Girardet and Matthias Muller of Germany and Roads of Kiarostami by Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami. These two shorts from the Wavelengths programme are beautifully constructed celebrations of previously captured image, reinvented (see a theme emerging folks?). Kristall takes footage from Hollywood films that revolve around mirrors and treats it with distortion or heightened illumination. It's the way they have been sewn together that is most impressive - we see images of longing and appreciative looks into mirrors, then sadness and despair, then mirrors breaking. The Kiarostami work lived up to what I had anticipated (see post below) and is almost the inverse of Jennifer Baichwal's film by providing landscape at once familiar and unremarkable, but presented in such a loving way that the filmmaker's affiintiy for land and country seem more apparent than in any of his other films. Like a warm bath, the black and white images of trees gently moving in isolation along long winding curving roads have stayed with me in the most comforting way.

7. "Place des Victoires" segment from Paris je T'aime, Nobuhiro Suwa, France
The transcendent face of Juliette Binoche as a mother adjusting to the loss of a child remains my favourite image of this festival. The dark tones and melancholic emotional lines, expressed in yellows and blacks and greens, have become a signature part of this Japanese filmmaker's style, often contrasted by brightly lit environments. (see posts below) Suwa's Un Couple Parfait from last year's festival is screening at Cinematheque in November. Don't miss it.

8. Volver, Pedro Almodovar, Spain
Penelope Cruz's tragicomic performance as the woman sandwiched in the pain of everyone around her just might be the best performance I saw. The range of emotion she carries through every moment (see post below) is the lynchpin of the movie and yet another loving tribute of a master filmmaker to the world of women. A carefully crafted screenplay tugged into life with a clear visionary style, this is yet another quiet masterpiece from a film festival favourite.

9. Red Road, Andrea Arnold, UK/Denmark
Working with Danish-created characters, but set in Scotland (see previous post), this film about facing and overcoming past mistakes is probably among the most inventive films I saw this year. The premise is engaged in a narratively non-traditional way by allowing the character to reveal to us her own situation as and when she's ready and not presenting it to us as part of exposition. It also makes an interesting statement about voyeurism as healing! Winner of the Oscar for Short Subject filmmaking for her film Wasp, this highly anticipated filmmaker won the Jury Prize at Cannes with Red Road. For once, juries and voters get it right.

10. Stranger than Fiction, Marc Forster, USA
This movie is about to hit theatres and hit big. Cleverly written, it is that rare commercial Hollywood discovery: an intelligently written, truly funny, comedy. With great performances by Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhall and Dustin Hoffman, it is worth the drive, the parking, the babysiter and the cost of popcorn that it takes to be in the commercial cinema these days. Lofty praise indeed!

Honorable Mention:
Quelques Jours en Septembre, Santiago Amigorena, France/Italy
A strangely funny and completely engrossing thriller noir set in Paris and Venice, it features Juliette Binoche in her most unusual casting to date as a spy-teacher out to protect the interests of spy-in-hiding Nick Nolte. I am so transparently a Binoche addict in this blog that I make no attempt to hide my clear prejudice for liking the movie but she is sometimes cast badly and I had my doubts going in. John Turturro is hilarious as a hit man who needs to speak to his shrink before and after each 'job' (in good French too!) and the screenplay is clever and unexpectedly resonant. This one will likely float higher as time moves on.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Ken Loach, UK
This movie suffers from being positioned at the very beginning of my festival experience, and therefore some thirty films ago, but its quiet, provocative tribute to the Irish independence movement hasn't left me. With gently affecting performances from Orla Fitzgerald and Cillian Murphy, it deserves every accolade that has come its way. Another compelling canvass from a master visual artist.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

let's hear it for the danes!

The first and only time I have ever been to the Cannes film festival was in 1978. One day on my own, I became lost in the Carlton Hotel on the famed Croisette and accidentally fell in with a party of people leaving the building that turned out to be the cast of Louis Malle's Pretty Baby. Without realising what was happening, I was being snapped at by papparazzi among Susan Sarandon, Keith Carradine and the very young Brooke Shields. Escaping to the crowd, I looked back from its safety at the people I had just been with and understood - for a moment - what it was like to be the focus of that craziness. (Ten years later, while at film school in Los Angeles, I worked briefly as a nanny for Keith Carradine and told him that experience. But even by then, I had come to understand the true cost of belonging to that world.)
That year at Cannes, my two friends and myself went to a screening of a movie called 92 Minutes of Yesterday, by a Danish filmmaker. It felt like 700,000 minutes of never-ending eternity. We decided that we had found a new form of torture - being forced to watch a Danish movie! Luckily, I was later reawakened to the country's cinema by Gabriel Axel's Babette's Feast (one of my all time favourite films), and then discovered Lars von Trier in the 90s. There has been no turning back.
Several years ago, I had the chance to interview Lone Scherfig (that's her to the left), who was at TIFF with her film, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, set in Glasgow. I was impressed by the deep vein of humour that runs through Wilbur and was equally impressed by her own quick wit and desire to find humour in the midst of even the most tragic stories. I had come to the movie from the quiet lyric depth of her previous film, Italian for Beginners. I asked Scherfig then what had drawn her to making a film set in Scotland. She said she felt an affinity with the Scots, that they were the closest thing to the Danes she had found in Europe.
Now three of the most gifted Danish filmmakers have come together to create a great Dogme - style challenge. Danes Scherfig and the increasingly exciting Anders Thomas Jensen have created and developed a series of Scots characters which they have offered to three young British filmmakers to make movies with. The project is called Advance Party and the lucky filmmakers selected must use all the characters created, but can do with them what they want. And the movie must be set in Glasgow. The first of the films to emerge from Advance Party is Andrea Arnold's Red Road. Arnold wrote the screenplay and directed the film, an unusual and brilliant depiction of how obssession and grief can lead to awkward but ultimately transcendent encounters. A woman monitors the streets of a community on Closed Circuit TV - hired to look out for crime. A chance sighting leads her to pursue a man who has recently been released from prison. We sense early on that their lives are entwined but we don't find out why or how til we have become deeply entrenched in our heroine's need for the connection. Her decisions, which are unsafe and lead to harrowing circumstances, we adopt and accept without thinking because we feel her sense of desperation. The payoff on the story is not unforseen, but the emotional payoff is. And this, to my mind, is what is marking the best aspect of European cinema right now. Story and emotion are given equal value, but in the end emotion gets the edge - subtly, carefully, and powerfully.
There is also incredibly strong filmmaking here. Red Road created a stir at Cannes and won that festival's Jury prize. The programme book compares Arnold's style to Michael Haneke - whose last year's Cache had quiet impact. I would compare her more to Ken Loach, whose previous films have also been set in Glasgow - I think particularly of the mesmerizing power of My Name is Joe and of course Sixteen. The lead actor in Sixteen was Martin Compston, who is also in Red Road. The movie probes psychological truths: the reason good people pursue dangerous opportunities - which is usually to wrestle their demons to the mat. The choices are slow and subtle, but escalate rapidly when put together. In the end, there is healing, and not the kind that hits us on the head. Red Road is a must see whenever it finds North American release.
But even more beautiful is the film I just saw, by Danish helmer Susanne Bier (that's her at the top), After the Wedding. This film was actually written by Anders Thomas Jensen and is an exquisite journey to the heart of several huge themes: how we choose and create families; who we really belong to; what calls us ultimately to our future - idealism or identity. A man returns to Denmark to get blanket approval of a new project he is working on in India, only to discover his own past unexpectedly waiting for him. Like Scherfig's Wilbur, the characters in this movie appear to reverse roles - people we thought were good turn out to have done bad things and the bad people are not so bad after all. Then it all evens out as choices get made and the playing field becomes leveled. People own and disown each other and make their peace, and grief becomes three-dimensional. It is an incredibly beautiful film by the always astonishing Bier with gorgeous writing and performances. Call it 'Susanne's Feast' - in memory of that other great Danish film, made back in the days when I thought it wasn't possible!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

speaking in tongues: babel & paris je t'aime

It's been a kind of Cate Blanchett year for me. In March, I had a chance to see her play Hedda Gabler in the Sydney theatre company production that was remounted at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (see post far below). She's an actress I hugely admire, like others I've already talked about, principally Juliette Binoche. In many ways Binoche and Blanchett are kind of spiritual opposites. Cate is all about the inner struggle being held back at the face with rigid control. Whereas Juliette is all about that unstoppable inner luminescence, which the face acts as the channeler of. Everything is always hidden on Blanchett's face. And there is nothing that can be hidden with Binoche. There is great beauty in both.

Babel is one of those movies that makes you want to run to the people you love and tell them how much. It is the third in the brilliant Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu's trilogy that began with Amores Perros and 21 Grams. In Babel, Inarittu is moving into loftier ground, as he brings together his extraordinary passionate response to the world with a rarefied and fully formed cinematic sensibility. He is like the faces of both actresses (but Binoche has nothing to do with Babel): keeping tight reins on all it contains but sometimes exploding with irresistible force.

Three storylines converge in unexpected ways and each is harrowing. Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt are a couple travelling in Morocco on the downslope of a marriage impacted by the recent loss of a child. Meanwhile, their two other children are being cared for in their absence by a nanny (the sublime Adriana Barraza) whose son is getting married in Mexico. Incongruously, in Japan we find a young teenaged woman, oversexed and underloved, struggling to make sense of the range of her feelings (played by an astonishing Rinko Kikuchi). The three storylines quickly unravel simultaneously: two boys playing with a rifle pick off Blanchett by accident in the tour bus, triggering an international incident. The children's nanny takes the children to the wedding in Mexico, then allows her drunk son-in-law to take them back, leading to near capture police and abandonment in the desert. The young Japanese girl's mother has committed suicide and meanwhile her father is perhaps the hunter who gave the two Arab boys' father their gun. Complexity interweaves, but not just at the narrative level. We both like and dislike the characters and their decisions and their situations are uncommonly hard to judge.

As the movie plunged towards its spiralling disasters in each scenario, I found myself clutching the arms of my seat, the way you do on the downslide of a rollercoaster. What fails all the people in all the stories is what gives the movie it's genius: they are unable to communicate in a way that describes what they need or feel. They say the same things over and over but no one is able to really hear them. Selfishness and politics are rampant. The immediate response of the human condition is to gauge one's own need, most visibly described by the way in which the other tourists on their bus band together to abandon the injured couple. There is no jumping off the hook, though the movie moves gently for a redemptive ending.

The Inarittu style is becoming formalized in a breathtaking way. His use of static and moving images to convey the emotional line of his films is at a staggering level of clarity now. It also all about editing style - where to hold the image, where to allow rapid formation. The Japanese sequences are probably the most skilled, the most stunning in contrasts. When Cheiko goes to a nightclub, her deaf experience is modeled for us by switching back and forth from full throbbing basebeats to nothing but a sense of vibration given by light and movement. It's amazing. The use of sound and visual editing is highly expressive throughout: intense noises are bookended: from a scream in one part of the world to silence in another. We watcha a chicken's head being cut off in Mexico and cut to blood pouring out of Blanchett's head in Morocco. The result is a constant sense of danger, even in the midst of the greatest happiness. We know something will happen. We just don't know when. Or where.

Incredible then, to go from this apocalyptic vision to the tray of bonbons that is Paris, Je T'aime. Twenty international directors offer twenty different views of romantic Paris. About 6 or 7 minutes each, they are little madeleines of mostly delicious experience. Many of them you long to have built into narrative sequences. Some are good riddance. It truly is a chocolate box experience - you know right away: like pushing in the bottoms to see what the filing is, the first minute offers the flavour on view. Taste becomes extreme - if you don't like pralines and cream, you really really don't like them. And you reject them with energy. That's how I experienced these shorts. But there were only three real rejections. The rest I happily gobbled up.

I will mention what were for me, are the five most memorable. The increasingly exciting Nobuhiro Suwa, whose gorgeous Un Couple Parfait in last year's festival has haunted me for a year, offers what I think is the best short and the one that includes Binoche. (Okay. All right. I'm not exactly objective!) A woman recovering from the death of her son, (which is also Blanchett's challenge in Babel), she follows his voice into the street late at night and has a surreal encounter with him and Wilhelm Defoe as a cowboy. The brief encounter is enough to reassure her and we have one of those transcendent moments of understanding in a close shot at the end that only Binoche can create.

I liked next Richard LaGravanese's sweetly ironic take on a middle-aged/senior couple trying to refind the spice in their marriage. Fanny Ardant and Bob Hoskins meet up in a strip club for a private show but cannot fulfill the roles they've given for each other. The tawdriness of the club is contrasted with a three piece band in the street playing their favourite song. It is only in this context that they can really find and understand what they have become. Fanny Ardant is luminous in any role, but it's especially nice to see her smile and play and use the more subtle range of her tremendous craft. In recent roles, she has been forced to be more hard-edged. Hoskins is a perfect foil: both caring and sweet and also a man, looking to feel like one.

I love Tom Tykwer. His energetic narrative style in Run Lola, Run was the precursor to the Amelie stylings of contemporary European filmmakers. In his segment, Natalie Portman plays the actress girlfriend to a young blind boy who is never sure if she is acting or truthful in her role as his girlfriend. The signature Tykwer camera style - electric and provocative works well here to both tell story and then stop on a dime of the blind character's experience with precision and charming nuance.

The first two shorts are my last two favourites. In the opening one, directed by Bruno Podalydes, a man struggles to parallel park in a parking space but once there, laments that his life is empty and meaningless. Stepping out, he sees that a woman has collapsed right beside him on the sidewalk. Moving her to his backseat, he suddenly has meaning in his life and the surprise is as perplexing as the previous life was. By the end, his doubt is slowly eroded and he is willing to submit. Ironic and cheerful at once, it was a great way to start.

It was followed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham's story about a young Parisian lad who falls for a Muslim girl on the Quai des Seines. Following her, he discovers that her headscarf is not a signal of obedience and restriction, but an expression of her identity as a woman, and a smart woman to boot. The segment ends with the woman's father escorting the couple down a street and telling the young man that she will one day write about the Paris of her own experience: a Muslim Paris.

And so the world has been returned to an Arab focus where, in Morocco, we are ready for the story of Babel to begin. In that movie, people are unable to speak from the damage of failed love. In Paris, Je T'aime, people speak in the language of love in the city of love. Romantic?, yes. Idealistic?, I guess. The movies?, of course!
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"I touched him!!!" screamed a young South Asian girl and the gaggle of friends around her screamed. "Oh my god, you touched him!" they said over and over, on the verge of tears. The scene: near Roy Thomson Hall, moments after my last post. I was running past at breakneck speed and it was a perfect audio snapshot of what was to come. The man of their dreams was none other than rakish Shah Rukh Khan, India's answer to... well sort of Tom Cruise crossed with Harrison Ford, but really neither. Really a category of his own. He leaps off the screen in the lead role of Never Say Goodbye larger than life in a way that actors rarely are in Hollywood.

On screen, his character Dev leads the movie with one of its best scenes. Sliding on to a park bench beside an uncertain runaway bride, he convinces her she has to go through with it - impishly, sarcastically, with resignation to her fate on her behalf. Then, walking away from her, he realises she has hit him like a ton of bricks. In turning to look at her one last time, he gets hit by a car and his career in soccer is over. These are the tragic tones that kick off the melodrama that is the story's axis. Who cares? It's Bollywood, of course it's melodramatic! It wouldn't work if it wasn't.

Later in the day, at a Mavericks session at the Isabel Bader Theatre, the legendary Amitabh Bachchan commended Shah Rukh Khan's performance by saying he had managed to 'relieve himself' of any negative opinion the actor might have of the way the character was behaving by adopting such a cynical, sarcastic manner. In other words, by making Dev both endearing and contemptible, he allows him to be more fully human and takes himself off the hook of social responsibility for the role. Interesting dynamics! Do you think a North American actor worries this way about who they play?

The two events were a mob scene. During the introductions at Roy Thomson Hall, the place erupted in fireworks -- and the cheering and shouting that met Bachchan's entrance on stage would put Justin Timberlake to shame. Pretty good for a man in his 60s. Director Karan Johar, debuting his third feature, was confident and reverent of the talent established around him. All three men spoke in both places about their deep reverence for the institution of marriage, but that some issues need to be addressed. When I first heard this at Roy Thomson Hall, given their gravity, I assumed there was a gay storyline somewhere in the movie. But what they were referring to was divorce, still a difficult subject for many South Asians.

The movie takes place in New York city but almost all the faces we see are South Asian. It is a wonderful inverse of the usual reality: white folks making movies in India on Indian themes where the key characters speak in English. Remember Gandhi? The white people here all seem very white - as if Johar wanted to point up the contrast. On this level alone, it is an unusual take on the Big Apple. But it is also strangely modern in a way that is provocative of the genre. The characters have more complex experiences with each other than one would expect. Which makes the contrast of the music and dance numbers (which are spectacularly superficial) all the more vivid. Still, who cares? Watching India's hottest stars dance and sing and gyrate up a storm, flanked by colourful gorgeous dancing people, who wants depth?

Bachchan plays "Sexy Sam", a playboy who nonetheless resonates more deeply held values. As such he is a cross between eastern and western cultures: dangling young women on his arm and joking about how casual his encounters with them are, but at the same time raising an eyebrow at the extra-marital affair of his son's wife. It is not meant to be a double standard for men and women but a reflection of Indian culture. The movie treats both the man and the woman (our lead characters) as equally at risk/blame in the situation. And maybe for that alone it is a bit avant-garde.

At the Mavericks session, the security was intense. White suits flanked the stage area (see picture) and were always on view, always nearby. Besides being the "star of the millenium" (according to a recent Variety poll), Bachchan has also been a politician and is a friend to the Gandhi family. Families and dynasties figure big in this world. Driector Karan Johar grew up next to Bachchan's home and played with his son, Abhishek Bachchan, who plays Sexy Sam's son in the movie. One can't help wonder if he could have made three feature films by his thirties if he had grown up in another neighbourhood.

The three men spoke avidly about the need for stronger writing in Indian features (we learned that 'Bollywood' is actually a bit bourgeois as a term among those who work in that industry. It presumes that Hollywood came first, when Indian filmmaking was already in progress by 1897.) Johar told us that many new genres are being offered now in Indian cinema as well (he wants to make a thriller next) and therefore there is much more scope and possibility for superior screenplays. Bachchan offered the explanation that not much good new writing is coming out of the Hindi language, that it is perhaps a dying form. Johar confessed that he writes his screenplays in English and then has them translated into Hindi. He also writes lots of dialogue in Hindi but always needs to work it a bit with a Hindi dialogue coach. All three men longed for a resurgence in the Hindi language so that a new generation can use cinema more fully to express itself.

When the time came to leave, there was pandemonium again. Outside, I was nearly knocked down by two people trying to outrun the three black SUVs and black town car and seven walking security men who were flanking the gentlemen's exit. After they had passed, a man took a picture of his family standing in front of where the cars had been. Momentarily real, the movie men were quickly returned to the elusive stuff of dreams, where I guess all stars live in the minds of their fans.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

press conference: stranger than fiction

Stranger than Fiction is likely to be this year's strong buzz Hollywood indie that breaks big from Toronto. Already previewed in the theatres and featuring A list names, it has that glow in the dark, instant hit quality that only a comedy can engender.

Call it I Heart Huckabees meets Being John Malkovich colliding with Adaptation. Accountant Howard Click, played by Will Ferrell, hears a voice is in his head one day, narrating his life. Not just any voice either, but the plummy tones of Emma Thompson as Karen Eiffel, a novelist with writer's block. As it turns out, the writer is narrating his life and determining his fate. Dustin Hoffman plays the literary professor who Harold runs to for help. The movie's incredibly tight script allows character growth that feels more truthful than usual for a conventional Hollywood comedy: dark but not succumbing to the black that too often leads to loss of character integrity. Light but not whipped cream. It even has a tattooed Maggie Gyllenhall serving up warm cookies and milk to a man who in turn will eventually bring her flours. Yes, you read that right. His love is a baker.

Film festival press conferences can be either deadly or delicious. With three funny people on the platform, we landed on the right side this time. Emma Thompson, perhaps needing to offer contrast to her recent film roles, was in high glamour. Stacked studded shoes, bronzed skin and blonde hair. And also still very Emma. Who else would respond to a press query about "how you all got on" with a sardonic quip about troilism. "There was lots of troilism". "What's that?", said Hoffman. "Threesome". Then to us, "I have to constantly educate them."

Ferrell was also on his game, shouting "Liar" before a question had been posed and asking a Japanese reporter how he managed to stay so trim. He talked about working with two great giants in the industry, and then turned to the men on either side of him, Zach Helm, the screenwriter, and Marc Forster, the director, and said "Zach and Marc are the best". Hoffman and Thompson howled. And so it went. For about an hour.

There was also some good insight. I asked Thompson about her writing process compared with her character's. She responded by saying that as a screenwriter, she knows she's going to meet her characters and that she enjoys that. She could never be a novelist in part because they never get to meet their characters. I didn't have the courage to say that most screenwriters don't get to meet their characters either! It was an interesting presumption: that her movies will always be made, so she will meet her characters. But her further comments were wonderfully illuminative to the differences in genre. The collaborative nature of film means that many people will ultimately create the character besides the writer. She enjoys that process of watching the character bloom and grow once out of her hands - and credited producer Lindsay Doran with being a great story editor.

Still, the hijinks were the common ground and Hoffman confessed he was having so much fun he was dreading hearing the host say "we've run out of time". When in fact, the host did say it, he wasn't the only one disappointed. In the crazy press scrum of photographers that happens at both ends of the hour, there was a clear euphoria that had been engendered. Feeding on it, Hoffman and Thompson sandwiched Ferrell and bussed him on the cheek. Flashes erupted like fireworks.

Much more to come: Babel, Magic Flute, Dong, La Tourneuse de Pages, Empz 4 Life, Paris Je T'Aime, Voyage en Armenie, Opera Jawa, For Your Consideration and the Wavelengths programme that included Roads of Kiarostami. All have been viewed and await notes here! But first I must run. Even as I type, sitting here in my car and camped on a nearby church server to get access to the internet, I can hear the crying cheers of the crowd surrounding Roy Thomson Hall as the giants of Bollywood arrive for this afternoon's Never Say Goodbye premiere. Off I go!

Friday, September 08, 2006

day 1: the wind that shakes almodovar

It's my tradition/supersition that the first film of my festival sets the tone for what the year will be like. In 2002, the very first screening was Robert Guediguian's gorgeously lyrical Marijo et ses deux amours followed that same morning by Heaven, Tom Tykwer's loving homage of a posthumous script by Krysztof Kieslowski. That turned out to be my best year ever. It's even better when the first Thursday morning screening (Industry screenings start a day early) is at the Varsity 8, a nice wide space where can I huddle up against a wall with all my caffeine. So how great it was to be back in there, this Thursday morning, in my favourite seat, settling into The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

Ken Loach has devoted his whole life to making movies about social justice issues as they resonate in the lives of ordinary people. In recent years, his films have had almost a shatteringly truthful intensity - I think of My Name is Joe (1999) in which a man struggles precariously on the brink of his own rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol, not because he is drawn back to being an addict, but because his desire to prevent his nephew from repeating his own life, means more to him than anything. Love is at the core of all Loach films - the love of people for each other and also the passionate need for living with integrity. The Wind that Shakes the Barley looks at the Irish independence movement from inside both kinds of love and chronicles how they can turn against each other. It also does something rare in movies, it builds on the knowledge we are presumed to have from the movies that have gone before. It builds on Michael Collins, it builds on the story of Sinn Fein. In this movie, two brothers, initially joined by cause, but as separate and different as brothers can be, find themselves tragically at two ends of the same stick but on the same side. When it debuted at Cannes, The Wind That Shakes the Barleyreceived an appreciative but unenthusiastic response from critics. The jury, however, made of artistic professionals, gave it the Palme d'Or. This is where Cannes is so very different from Toronto. In Toronto, the critics make and break how movies will be exposed in the next six months. The voice of artists is invisible here. Too bad! But that's another post!

Perhaps the critics were mixed because there's an unrelenting naturalism to Loach's movies and particularly this one. The same kinds of battle sequences are played out over and over but it is this methodical depiction of the dogged pursuit of battle after battle, trial after trial, that really is what makes a revolution. Shaping it into three-act structural storytelling makes a North American audience more comfortable and maybe more engaged, but it's not always truthful. Because we can no longer be shocked, repetition is the new way of causing us to feel: playing out the seemingly unending sequence of endurance and resistance that is the backbone of all revolution until things really do change. Loach is also not afraid to show us the debate of ideas - characters trying to figure it out as they go - and not just arriving at some carefully chosen plot point. They struggle out of who they are as characters, out of situation, to be objective, to understand, right in front of us. No one but Loach (or perhaps Mike Leigh) would take time in these long scenes, take the risk of the drama boring us, to allow a more natural sense of emerging awareness in a people no more gifted for it than you or I. And the result is that we don't just come away engaged by story - we actually get it. Not the fact of Irish need for independence but the fullness of why.

Cillian Murphy, Liam Cunningham and Orla Fitzgerald give wonderful performances as the men and women caught in the mix, torn between affinities of life (hero Damien is meant to be a doctor and gets sidetracked by the revolution) and the desire to somehow make a difference. The movie is frank but not pornographic about its violence - and makes it clear that the greatest atrocities are that which tear at the heart. A woman, whose grandmother won't move from their burned house but prefers to live in the still standing chicken coop, struggles to understand how on earth she will be able to break free of history and find something new. This, and the unspeakable agony of having to deal with traitors who are people we love, are examples of the scenes given to us with incredible naturalism and emotional nuance amid the smoky mist and scrabble surfaces of 1920s Ireland. After the intial horrifying sequence in which a young boy is killed for saying his name in Irish, a woman sings at his wake about the wind that moves through the golden barley. The image shifts outdoors to the land where that golden haze is rising in the morning light.

The wind, is what is blamed for a mother's return from the grave in Pedro Almodovar's drop-dead beautiful Volver. The opening sequence of that film shows dozens of women polishing gravestones in a village cemetery in the midst of the annual East Wind. Penelope Cruz's Ramunda seems the most committed and also the least emotionally engaged. Over the course of this movie, however, as the mother appears slowly to everyone but her, Raimunda becomes the one who most needs her. Mothers mothers mothers. It is really very much all about the mother in Almodovar films. His must have been amazing.

Within very little time, he has us on a rollercoaster of unexpected storylines. We get through it on the sheer adrenalin rush of the filmmaker's passionate adoration for the way in which women love and support each other, while continuing to bicker, snipe and take potshots. Penelope Cruz moves out of the weeping willow roles she has had in my memory and into the light of dramatic acting day. Her character is the most annoying, the most judgemental and relentlessly demanding of those around her while also unfailingly the most compassionate. Her underlying mysteries are slowly revealed by the truths that are unveiled by Carmen Maura's mother character, Irene. As usual with Almodovar, even the supporting characters are rich and complex: the neighbour Agustin is a woman who admits to smoking dope to ease the pain of daily life and give her an appetite. She explains it with such simplicity that we think, "doesn't everyone?" She too is emotionally held back by the unresolved disappearance of her mother, the only hippie of the village. "Every time I smoke a joint, I think of her."

The wind sweeps through this movie, slamming doors and lifting skirts but not a la Marilyn. Almodovar loves the natural shapes of women: even when they've lost their youthful good looks, they continue to glow. The East Wind provides everyone with an excuse for the bad or mysterious behaviour of others - and allows the daughter to go a long time before finally believing that her mother is alive and with them. Resolutions occur, because that's Almodovar. He really is a sentimental old fool in the end - mothers must love daughters and vice versa and all is fulfilled in the permanently half-filled eyes of Cruz. "I will explain it all to you later" she says to everyone, after asking ridiculous favours or dismissing the most outrageous discoveries. Where else but in this master's movies would a character stop someone on the street, insist they donate their groceries to her needs and then justify it by saying "diet will do you good"? Finished of course by vigorous kisses on the cheek - the women part as friends without a blink. Is that just Spain? No. That's Almodovar.

I also saw two other provocative films yesterday - The Magic Flute, Kenneth Branagh and Stephen Fry's giddy, euphoric and manic celebration of Mozart and a contemplative documentary on an Asian visual artist unable to understand his own needs as he drifts from the Three Gorges dam in China to the streets of Bangkok. This morning I was knocked out by a French feature called, La Tourneuse de Pages. More on all these later. Meanwhile, must run!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

roads to.... venice and toronto

Well, here we go. Down the short road to Thursday when all roads will lead to cinematic wonder. That gorgeous image you see here just might belong to my most sought after film of the festival: a half hour short by the Iranian master filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami, called predictably Roads to Kiarostami. Most of those programme book entries for films read like either Ph.D. dissertations or the fluid purple effusions of highly-caffeined programmers. But the succinct entry for this Wavelengths 5 piece is simply this: "In Roads of Kiarostami the Iranian master looks back over decades of his photographs of landscapes with roads, ruminating on his fascination with these spaces and touching on the path as a longstanding motif in Persian poetry. The film's theme subtly broaden, culminating in a haunting and unexpected final image." Can't wait. I seem to have an affinity for Iranian filmmakers. A great Canadian Iranian filmmaker is a dear friend. I have been blogging for a year on his beautiful new film, Roxana - which you can find linked from my profile page. Or just go to Roxana.

The serenity of that image above will be hard to find in just a few days. Even now I can feel the slow-growing cloud of sound that will evolve into the storm of industry colleagues arriving from Venice. Every year, I endure the first day or two of waiting for Industry screenings to begin and listening as critics lament their jet fatigue and Venetian accomodations while still aglow with all the gossip. I can already hear it now: My room looked into a wall. The little canaletto near me smelled. Did you see Helen's outfit at the premiere? Many films that have gone to Venice wind up also at Toronto for their North American premiere. Sadly, The Queen, Stephen Frears new film about the Diana tragedy, in which Helen Mirren plays Her Maj, will not be one of them. This pic, pulled from BBC coverage, will be the closest we get to that movie for now!

This year the Sales and Industry passes have a fantastic new option: a pass which includes all industry screenings, plus two tickets a day to public screenings. We redeem these tickets at our own industry box office at the Sutton Place. This means that for the first time ever, I did not have to do any presale work at all at the Public box office - nary a line, nary a coupon book. And since the entire catalogue is online, I didn't even have to prebuy the catalogue.

For the uninitiated, the Sales & Industry, or market side of the festival has its own screenings, chiefly at the Varsity cinemas. These screenings are largely scheduled just slightly in advance of the public screenings. I remember the glory days when you could stroll in with your coffee to an industry screening about five minutes before it started. Instead, we too must line up only there's no sense of camaraderie or excitement. Watch out for a spurned critic who needs a particular review and has been turned away from that movie's only screening! And then there's each member's entourage. Electronic entourage, that is. Laptops, blackberries, penlights, cell phones. You would be amazed at what people manage to do during a screening. As a screenwriter/story editor and teacher, I love watching the moments at which suddenly all the penlights go on --- either a great line, or an exquisite proof of the failure of the film. Yikes!

Well, I wish I could be in Venice - maybe one year! Instead, I am content to sit back and get ready for Toronto. My film list, of 52 films I am highly anticipating, is in place, complete with screening times. Among my most highly anticipated features is Anthony Minghella's next film, Breaking and Entering featuring the extraordinary Juliette Binoche. Binoche fans are blessed for the second year in a row with three separate films in which she appears (the other two are Quelques Jours en Septembre and Paris, Je T'aime). The Sales & Industry office has sent out a combined Industry/Public screening schedule for all movies. What a way to make life simpler! By the way, if you're a public festival goer reading this, check out Steve Almond's tiff database. It's awesome and more tightly organized than the TIFF database, chiefly because it eliminates that annoying middle stage of pulling up the movie title after the search is done, and having to click again. (An extra click! - oh the horror!) He too is linked from the TIFF blogs. Or you can find him at parabola.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

mozart, masters, mavericks and mike: countdown to TIFF 06

You can taste it.
To a diehard Festival fan, the end of August is not about cottages and camping and packing the last late hours of summer with as much nature and cocktails as humanly possible. (Though it's nice if you can fit it in!) The real stuff of the end of August is the lead-up to the film festival - those glory days when the press releases come thick and fast and the announced film lists get longer and longer. Ever since I realised that Inarittu's Babel might come to Toronto (and it will!), my markers have been at the ready. For those of us who colour code and list the announcements in complex layered systems, the top seeds are, by now, already in place. It's all about scheduling!

It certainly is his year. And it's not like the maestro was hard to find in other years. The celebration of Wolfy's 250th year since birth has been rung out far and wide with productions and recordings and yes, now film projects. One of the most interesting roster of movies announced for this year's festival is the group which participates in the Mozart's Visionary Cinema: New Crowned Hope series dreamed up by Peter Sellars in association with filmmaking financiers in Austria. In the great (and seemingly endless) tradition of commissioning filmmakers from around the world to explore common themes, the seven films in this series coming to Toronto are a response to the central thematic ideas in Mozart's work, identified by Sellars and others as "the role of women in society, magic and transformation, the notion of forgiveness and reconciliation, and recognition and remembrance of the dead." It could be argued that these themes are not limited to Mozart, but never mind. Some great stuff is headed our way. Some of it has already garnered attention, like Paz Encina's Hamaca Paraguaya which was buzzworthy at Cannes. Focussing on an elderly couple awaiting the return of their son from war (but not certain if he will come), it is Paraguay's first entry in the festival - ever. Some festival favorites, like Bhaman Ghobadi, whose A Time for Drunken Horses and Turtles Can Fly have been loved in recent years, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady, and Tsai Ming Liang (whose Wayward Cloud achieved nearly cult status at last year's festival) are returning with brand new projects that are responding to Mozart. Ghobadi will be screening Half Moon, a post-Saddam Hussein film about a man trying to present a woman singer in concert in Islamic-fundamentalist Iran. Weerasethakul's film Syndromes and a Century is a time-travelling fantasy exploration of the relationship between a man and a woman living 40 years apart. Liang's feature, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone explores the psyche of a man who has been attacked in Kuala Lumpur and subsequently becomes involved in the complexly dark world of immigrant workers. Move over Amadeus!

But if it's the pure Mozart you're after, watch out for Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of The Magic Flute complete with English language libretto (very hot and vogue in the classical music biz these days) penned by Stephen Fry of all people! Fantastic. The styling is avant-garde, but Branagh's rigorous intellectual authenticity in anything he engages should give it the depth it shouldn't be without!

And plenty of 'em. Every year, the feast of fine filmmakers coming to Toronto looks like an exotic buffet of cinematic amuses geules. Pick a country. Okay, UK. Ken Loach, Michael Apted, Ridley Scott, Keith Michell, Kenneth Branagh, Anthony Minghella. Pick a genre. Okay, Bollywood. Karan Johar, Kabir Khan, Chitra Palekar. Pick a vanguard avant-garde. Okay, French auteurs. Alain Resnais, Benoit Jacquot, Robert Guediguian, Patrice Leconte, Susanne Bier, Anne Fontaine. Pick a style. Okay, American hyper-realism. Bruce Weber, Todd Field, Spike Lee, Todd Haynes, Barbara Kopple. And so it goes. The Toronto International Film Festival is a challenge for even the masters to network efficiently, let alone sell their own films. Imagine the possible elevator encounters!

They come in all sizes. They come in the form of small independent filmmakers emerging from countries not known for their cinematic profile, like Paraguay. They are innovators in form, like the Wavelengths folks. If there was ever a year to take in Wavelengths (and every year is a year to take in Wavelengths), this is really the year to take in Wavelengths. Some extraordinary filmmakers, new and old, are participating in this under-appreciated showcase of experimental filmmaking. Where else could you find surreal animation, time-lapse photography and Abbas Kiarostami in one programme?

For the Industry folks, there is the programme actually labelled Mavericks, in which established industry professionals and newcomers alike share notes on common themes of filmmaking. This year, watch out for Michael Moore, who will preview some footage from his much anticipated doc on the American health care crisis, Sicko. It's a fitting way to finish my post: I remember attending a screening years ago, cramped into the tiny Cumberland 3, where a programmer explained that the movie we were about to watch had literally come in across the transom - so last minute that it wasn't in the programme book. The movie: Roger and Me.

The festival, despite its ever-expanding reorganizations and corporate entities and real estate ventures, prides itself on being a showcase for innovators of all kinds. Yet, there are those undoubtedly overlooked or missed. (I can think of a couple in particular.) Still, there's lots of room for discovery and in the end that's what it's about. 15 days, and counting.

I am thrilled to be linked to the blogs section of the official TIFF site (click on logo below). If you're new to my blog, navigate at left to see my posts on last year's TIFF. Also check out my other blog:

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

bernhardt and blanchett

The Jewish Museum in New York is currently showing a modernist, unconventional exhibition on the theatrical life of Sarah Bernhardt. It begins with a large digital television looping footage of Marilyn Monroe (surely the antithesis to Sarah Bernhardt) excerpted in the scene from All About Eve in which she laments that her skills as an actor are limited to pushing toothpaste. She longs to be the real thing, like Sarah Bernhardt, and wonders aloud how magnificent the French legendary actress must have been.

It is a bit bizarre as a way to begin a curated journey through Bernhardt’s achievement but the rest of the exhibition bears the style out with bright neon lighting, modernist glass box display cases and television sets with rare footage of the actress lined up along a wall. The Felix Nadar portraits of Bernhardt on display capture a young actress of 20, long before her prime, gazing with a kind of seductive insouciance at the camera or slightly off-camera, radiating all she has to come and appearing neither coy nor committed about it.

The look was powerfully familiar. I had just the night before seen Cate Blanchett in the Brooklyn Academy of Music-imported Sydney Theatre Company production of Hedda Gabler
and was struck by the similarity in the two actresses. Stripped of her frizzy mane, the French diva has nearly the same face as the Aussie beauty. Blanchett’s is slightly narrower but both faces are wide open and show slim almond-shaped eyes.

The Bernhardt exhibition evolves into a series of many images of Sarah draped on divans and sofas in one tragic role or another. Similarly, In Robyn Nevin’s staging of Hedda Gabler, Blanchett strikes many such dramatically reclining poses. In fact, the BAM production very bravely emphasizes a highly measured style: the whole form is one of accented dramatization, including melodramatic scoring that thunders at the emotional highpoints and over scene changes, choices most theatre companies would run from. It echoes what has since come to be kitch about melodrama - the organ music of radio serials, the single dramatic notes of early television soaps. At the same time, however, the actors are embracing the naturalism that Ibsen had turned to by the time of Hedda Gabler. They overlap their dialogue, allow wonderful long silences and gestures and looks that can be seen only by those privy to them.

It is this marriage of high style and naturalism that has cost the show some of its more highbrow critics in New York who seem bewildered how to respond to it. In the post-Actor's Studio method acting-influenced American (and particularly New York) theatre world, the goal is usually to use high style for the post-modern or the absurd (as expressed for instance in the work of The Wooster Group, another Brooklyn-based enclave), but not for a work of naturalism. Because this production does not feel comfortable to some critics, there has been a tendency to blame it on the adaptation by Andrew Upton, or the direction by Robyn Nevin.

They are wrong. Upton and Nevin have made radical choices that are a nod to the true avant-garde of theatre, as their Ibsen counterparts would have experienced it. By placing the naturalistic psychological world of Hedda in a highly stylized melodramatic form, they have drawn attention to the tension, not only of Ibsen’s theatrical times, but of women in the society of those times. They have made us truly uncomfortable, not because of content (which no longer surprises us) but because of the contrasting nature of form. We the audience are ready to judge quickly how the show is working by sliding the work into a familiar context and then sitting back to appreciate it (or not as the case may be). Nevin and Upton make that almost impossible.

Sarah Bernhardt was the same kind of radical. The genius of Bernhardt were her moments of intense realism and naturalism, the ‘avant’ness she would bring to very formalized classical ‘garde’ acting tradition. Amid the grand body language necessary for a tragedy like Hamlet or La Dame aux Camellias, she would offer a look or a small gesture that would bring the subtext home as nothing else could and make a character suddenly three or six-dimensionally deep. She lifted theatre acting out of its rigid antecedents and into the naturalistic new age. But she accomplished it by living both simultaneously. It was the marriage of these two techniques that gave Bernhardt her signature style. Classically trained body, and piercing, momentary truthful lyricism in expression. This was her way of coping with her times and her world. We could not possibly end up calling her a naturalist, but she paved the way.

In Hedda Gabler, Cate Blanchett reclines theatrically, steps off one area of the stage to another, leading with the hip and the body arched backwards, walking grandly, parading even as the music crashes and upholds her emotion. What is she doing?, the naturalist thinks. She is following Upton and Nevin’s lead by allowing the naturalism of Ibsen’s play to be trapped in a theatrical tradition of formal melodrama. Then later, she gives us moments of such sudden haunting piercing realism, that the soul of the character is suddenly bared before us. In this combination of styles, she is modelling Bernhardt but in a way many actors today would not choose.

At the play’s finale, Judge Brack lasciviously caresses her neck and shoulder and then lets go, making clear her future as his mistress. (This picture here is from the Sydney production; in New York Blanchett is seated on a sofa allowing greater room for reaction.) In the moment of Brack's letting go, Blanchett’s body curls uncontrollably forward in relief and simultaneous agony. Then her face slowly raises toward us, a contortion of heretofore unseen capacity for pain. This is the moment of death, not the gunshot. This curl forward of the body and lifting of the face signifies all that has been and all that will come. Behind the back of all the characters, we see the crashing knowledge of her own deeds, her own inevitable punishing future. The heroine is speaking only to us - with her face and her body. This is exactly what theatre should be.

The expression on Blanchett’s frozen face makes clear her decision in a way no stage direction could offer. It has nothing to do with adaptation of text and very little with staging. But the moment’s intensity and strange incongruity validates the production’s controversial choice of actually seeing the suicide, instead of having it offstage. By putting the death onstage, we are returned to the classical and melodramatic style. In a way, it symbolizes Hedda’s dilemma: a woman ahead of her time, trapped in the strictures of her own times. It also shadows the dynamic of the era of theatricality for Bernhardt and Ibsen: their desire for naturalism battles the pervading norm of classicism so heightened it had become melodrama. In the end, for now, melodrama reigns. It would take Chekhov to overthrow that balance.

In an era of theatre naturalism, there is no real need for an actor to revert to a style of high manner or affectation in an Ibsen play. That Blanchett chooses to do so as part of the texture of her work, is uncannily brilliant, and she accomplishes that balance between melodrama and naturalism with an astonishing craft. Having spent most of the play disliking Hedda, intensely, we the audience suddenly ‘get’ her and have profound empathy for her, exactly at the moment it is too late. In doing so, we become participants in the forces that lead to her fate. A more typical approach to the role would be to present her as distasteful but giving us moments of sympathizing with her, particularly through her attachment to Lovborg, her one-time lover. In Blanchett’s performance we find her cold even to him. It’s not until she burns his manuscript that we feel the underlying depth of her passion for him but we are torn because she is destroying his work.

It is that slippery slope that Blanchett guides us down so expertly. In the act of Hedda’s greatest cruelty, we have a window to her soul. As the events escalate rapidly, she continues to blossom in her pained self-awareness and we by the same degrees more deeply understand her and know that it’s too late. It’s like watching a train wreck. And by this time, the actress has subtly converted from the heightened theatricality of body language to the piercing moments of small truthful realism.

At the performance I attended of Hedda Gabler, the second last of the run, I was seated by outrageous fortune next to Meryl Streep and very near to Jane Fonda. Arguably among the finest actors of their respective generations, their level of engagement in watching Blanchett furthered that wonder in me at the inevitable evolution of theatrical influences. The degrees of separation are keen here: it was Fonda, (an Actor’s Studio trained artist) who declared in Ms. Magazine that Meryl Streep (more classically trained at Yale) would surely become the actress of the next generation, after working with her in only a handful of scenes in the movie Julia in the mid-70s. It was Fonda’s declaration, in part, that drew attention to Streep in Hollywood beyond the world of her burgeoning New York career. Bizarrely, on this Saturday night in March, the two women appeared unaware of each other’s proximity in the theatre, and so the lace-like web of connection was noticed only by an observer like me.

There is a handkerchief on display at the Jewish Museum whose white linen is lettered with “Sarah” in embossed stitching. The handkerchief belonged to Bernhardt and in a great tradition of the theatre is being passed forward to great women actors. It currently belongs to Cherry Jones, who surely deserves it. But if it had passed to Blanchett a circle would have been completed. Bernhardt’s handkerchief came to Ute Hagen, who passed it to Helen Hayes who gave it to Julie Harris who gave it to Susan Strasberg who gave it to Cherry Jones. Almost all of these actors are Method-inspired if not trained performers, that is to say inheritors of Chekhov, of pure naturalism. But the spiritual inheritance of Bernhardt, the capacity to hold both classicism and naturalism in the same performance is alive in the face of Blanchett. It is alive in any marriage of style that holds the ‘garde’ and looks ahead. Of all these actors, only Streep would know how to combine these forms and have the skill to do it.

Given the existing synchronicities, it’s possible too that Bernhardt and Blanchett’s descendent was also somewhere in that audience. Perhaps looking on in wonder, conceiving her own ideas about convention and new wave, but in the meantime immeasurably impacted by the moment of Hedda’s death-like swoon.
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