Sunday, July 29, 2007

anticipating actrices

Part of the roll-up to TIFF is the anticipation of movies you hope will be announced. I have a list going that I check off as they appear and high on that list is Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi's directing debut, Actrices (Rêve de la nuit d'avant) which won the special jury prize at Cannes. Bruni-Tedeschi plays an actress cast in the play A Month in the Country by Turgenev (which Canadians can see in a fine production at the Shaw Festival this summer). Based on an episode in her own life, she co-wrote the script with co-star Noémie Lvovsky. There's usually a brilliant emotional brevity in her work: her expression sometimes feels initially cold but then when emotion arrives it is all the more puissante. If you haven't seen Un Couple Parfait, or 5 x 2 or Rien à faire, go at once to your local international video store.

In looking back through my last two years' tiffs posts, I came suddenly across my entry for Nobu Suwa's gorgeous Un Couple Parfait, a slow-moving, elegant ballade to the end of a relationship. I was reminded all at once of an amazing scene in the film in which Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi circles around Rodin's "Hands" in the Musee Rodin in Paris, the beauty of the sculpture capturing her losses. There's a momentary fragment of the scene in the movie's trailer.

Nobu Suwa is a filmmaker to watch. His Paris Je T'aime short, "Place des Victoires", featuring Binoche, feels initially nostalgic in its attempt to render grief, but it then unfolds in beautifully controlled waves of emotion. Rather than play a scene for its accumulated feeling, Suwa likes to portray the ordinariness of day to day, into which drops sudden joy or sorrow. Like Kieslowski, he understands that such waves do not happen to us in planned scene arcs but often arrive unannounced in the middle of ordinary time. There's another amazing scene in Un Couple Parfait when the couple are going through a routine argument while in a hotel room. There is nothing particularly notable about this conversation but the camera is slowly moving across the room. We are so invested in what they are saying, that we don't even realise that we have eventually crossed the room and taken a different point of view, without cutting. Only at the film festival do you get this kind of rush of joy. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed and staying on top of those releases!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

TIFF 07's emotional math: joy & heartache coming

A year has passed, and may I say, not a small one for me. But then, the year before was no baby step either. Forget New Year's eve: the summer prep for the film festival has become my way of measuring how life is going (see entries for the 06 and 05 festivals). And while doors are swinging open and new paths are being forged and while the spirit and heart are learning just how much they are capable of, so too there have been caves and pits and dragon sadness. In the past two summers, I was grieving recent deaths. This year I'm grieving relationships: reformed, recovered, reinvented, relapsed. Trying to navigate a bruised heart and stay peaceful, stay with joy, stay with God, stay with self. All the more reason to jump into the TIFF plans: ahead are all the films that will help me untie the arithmetic and algebra and quantum emotional physics knots. Time to cull through the press releases and make lists, cross-reference and color code, even without that big fat manual that will arrive with all its accompanying Industry bling sometime in late August. Time to cast out a fishline and hook solidly on a week in September as a way to survive the chaos of now.

Emotional Arithmetic, Paolo Barzman's adaptation (with screenwriter Jefferson Lewis) of the book by Matt Cohen is closing the festival - and it's nice to see TIFF programmers trying to create (gasp!) a little bit of thematic unity. This film about the reunion of holocaust survivors in contemporary times (and featuring Susan Sarandon) is a lovely poetic counterpoint to the festival's opening film, homegrown Jeremy Podeswa's Fugitive Pieces, also an adaptation of a holocaust story, this time of Anne Michael's stunning novel. The holocaust is hardly a feel-good way to bracket a celebration of human experience as mined in movies, and hardly a new theme to movies in general. But these two films will offer more potentially hopeful views.

Fugitive Pieces and Emotional Arithmetic are all about holocaust ghosts and how they climb over and crowd the lives of the generations that follow, and also how those folks may learn to survive. It is almost as if we go through developing phases in movies that process global experience. The Judgement at Nuremburg-style holocaust films of the early 60s looked to the justice issues (much the way movies about South Africa and Sarajevo do now). But in the new millenium, with the last survivors countable, the baton has passed to the next generations to talk about legacy. Emotional arithmetic indeed.

Enough heartache. On to the joy!

In the past years, I've attempted to stay more objective in my reportage, while making it clear the kinds of things I like. This year, I am abandoning objectivity. It's gone. It got thrown overboard during the year and has washed up alongside everything else that has endured, including spirituality and writing. This year, I am going to be just unabashedly subjective. So let's dive in. What is a blog without subjectivity? I mean really.

And what's a festival without Juliette Binoche? For this gal, nothing. The past two years have showered me with three films each starring this divinely inspired actress. What a blessing then to have one of the earliest festival media messages announcing the return of la Binoche to this year's festival in a film by Taiwan's brilliant Hou-Hsiao-Hsien, who is revisiting the French classic Le Ballon Rouge. For those who don't know the Albert Lamorisse original, it is a gorgeous mid-50s paeon to visual storytelling about a young boy whose only friend in the world is a magical balloon that follows him everywhere before falling prey to young Montmartre-sandaled vandals. The new film, Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge seems to be a kind of contemporary remake. Remakes are always high risk/reward: this film will either fulfill every fantasy I can imagine from having loved the first film all my life (and taught it too) or it will be a massive disappointment. I found the movie trailer on Youtube (see right), which looks amazing, so I am seeding this one as a top pick.

And while we're talking about Paris, I am thrilled to see that the Festival has uncrated Chronique d'un été, the documentary about Paris in the early 60s that is one of the works shot or directed by Michel Brault being screened in the Canadian Retrospective series. Brault is the Canadian filmmaker whose works I came to know as a youngster when my father first introduced me to them by projecting them on our living room wall. (He taught cinema and prepared this way. An essay/memoir I wrote about these nights will appear in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper on August 23rd.) My father loved Canada's leading actress of the time, Genevieve Bujold, and evidently, so did Brault. Two or three of the films being screened in the series feature Bujold, including Entre la mer et l'eau douce and the eponymous Geneviève. As I look at still pictures from these movies, I am struck by the similarities between Bujold and Binoche!