Saturday, September 24, 2011

TIFF wrap-up part 2: enduring images - in pairs

It is already a full week since the festival has ended and I am still about four blog posts behind in my mind. Unfortunately, life has resumed, with its full entourage of obligations and commitments and time constraints and that precious privilege of time for reflection on movies has vanished. And yet, the images linger on and, as I predicted, films have shifted their priorities and importance. I have gained new appreciation for films I was originally less enthusiastic about. In a strange new development of this phenomenon, I find myself thinking about films in pairs, even if they were not viewed that way. Sometimes the movie themes or realities leant obvious comparisons, like the 'house arrest' theme I wrote about for The Lady and This is Not a Film. But these new pairs have more to do with images that have naturally come together in my mind. I'm sure there is a mystical or spiritual value that can be attached to this, but for now I am just letting it be and deciding to go with it. Here then, are four blogs conflated into one, and a list of enduring images - in pairs.

Young men weeping. Two films I have not yet written fully about have in some ways made the most progress in my thoughts - perhaps for that reason. John Shank's progressively dark The Last Winter (pictured at top), about a young man whose family farm in France begins to slide through his fingers when a barn fire destroys his last chances of success, contains some of the most haunting images I've carried with me in the time since. And it also contains the most deeply affecting scene of a person weeping. There is so much to be said about this beautiful film. It hangs and dwells in its silences and shadows and crept into my bones with its autumn palette of colours that glow brightly in the film's early scenes and become progressively brown and black as the film's hero loses ground. Anaïs Demoustier, who appeared also in the festival in Elles (see below), offers the young man love with quiet commitment but even this cannot sustain him. In a pivotal scene near the end of the film, he slides down the wall of a now empty shed and weeps over the loss of his cows. I still weep easily just calling it to mind. The Last Winter is an elegy in a way film rarely is now, not just to a way of life, but to a way of being-in-life. It is an ode to the farmer who experiences that life as a vocational call, and whose reason for life vanishes when it does. The long reflective silences and stark interiors assist in helping us feel the fullness of this tragedy, even as the young man himself holds on to every last piece of it that he can. The film's rhythm and tone is reminiscent of Carlos Reygada's Silent Light which also speaks about moral dilemmas through the emotional language of the land. I wish long life and North American distribution for this poem of a film.

Vocational call is the thematic heart of
This Side of Resurrection which I saw on the first day and wrote about then. This first film by Portuguese director Joaquim Sapinho has perhaps gained the most ground in my post-festival reflections. I always liked it, but it was quite different from what I had hoped or expected it to be and I didn't quite recover from that at the time. Since then, however, it has taken hold of me more deeply - much the way Mia Hansen-Love's Le Père de mes Enfants did two years ago. Many images reside in me still of this story of a sister and brother grappling with the losses implied in the brother's agonizing decision to continue living in a monastery. It is his persistent faith that haunts me. I think we often imagine deep faith as that which comforts the believer. Sapinho's film shows how faith can be tormenting when it comes without the capacity for deepest commitment to it. The 20-something monk lives an alternate worldly life as a former surfer, whose daring and skill in the water sets us up to believe he can do anything. When he falls and plunges below the waves his hands come together in prayer as if the turbulence of that place finds affinity with the turbulence of his spiritual world. His sense of futility is measured in the degree to which he subjects himself to penitence. It is a penitence that is real and is never made graphic or sensationalist or raw by Sapinho but nonetheless troubles us, as it does the monastic community he lives with. When the young man weeps, his weeping comes from that place in believers that is so hard to explain, where darkness threatens to extinguish light altogether. The candle on the floor with its single flame holds the inspiration to endurance. I take This Side of Resurrection and The Last Winter with me from this festival, and the image of young men weeping in moments of profound desolation.

(post-in-progress. More coming!)

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