Saturday, August 25, 2012

TIFF12: Part 2: Movies M-Z

Here is Part 2 of my preview of the most interesting films of #TIFF12! Continuing titles from M-Z. If you haven't been following, check out the first post below which offers a few summary thoughts as well on the overall collection. An asterisk means this will already be on my short(er) list. A † means that it is being considered for the Film, Prophecy and Culture class at U of T. (Though that is a work in progress also, and others not currently marked may end up being selected.)

Me and You (Bernardo Bertolucci)
Though he is most well known for master classics like The Last Emperor, I have always preferred Bertolucci's smaller films, like the nuanced and moving Beseiged. This film is about a sister and brother who reconcile the damage of family and discover their own identities.

Achipatpong Weerasethakul's Mekong Hotel
*Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Yes it's a mouthful, but once you have learned the name by heart, it actually trips off the tongue. And learn it you should, because this Thai director, whose entire career has been launched and upheld by TIFF and Cannes, has become perhaps the most lauded new filmmaker of his generation. Mekong Hotel has been programmed into Wavelengths - so understand what you're getting into. It is ostensibly about a hotel on the Mekong River but is also a meditation on cinema itself and several other themes. Wavelengths programmer Andréa Picard, who writes by far the best programme notes, adds "Mekong Hotel evinces a sense of yearning bathed in radiant, sunset shades." 

An iconic image from Seán Ó Cualáin's Men at Lunch
Men at Lunch (Seán Ó Cualáin)
Men at Lunch is an Irish film about an American photograph of European immigrant men perched atop a skyscraper. It figures a row of construction workers having what seems like a relaxing lunch under a tree but in fact on a single beam suspended in the air. Cualáin apparently tackles the iconic image, its anonymous photographer and the men on the beam, like a mystery novel - dispelling the myths and restoring a new truth about the photograph.  I am intrigued by it because the best documentaries I have ever seen, I first saw at TIFF. And many of them seemed like this one: quiet niche-interest films, that have gone on to become... well, Roger and Me.

Middle of Nowhere (Ava DuVernay)
In recent years we have seen an increase in films by or about African-American Women or about the experience of African-American women. Precious was the audience favourite at a recent TIFF and went on to greater recognition. Like Everyday and Few Hours of Spring, noted in the first post, the film deals with the repercusions of prison experience - its legacy not just to those imprisoned, but to the world around the prisoners. The film is about a woman's devotion to her imprisoned husband, despite what it costs her. Redemption awaits.

*Midnight's Children (Deepa Mehta)
You can't really go wrong with a film by this Indian-Canadian, who besides having brought us some of the best English language films in Canada of the last decade, like Water, also thinks very deeply about the themes and realities she is engaging, and often does so quite bravely. So it is no surprise to see her commanding the adaptation of Salman Rushdie's controversial book. The film combines a number of different visual styles to tell the story of 'magical' children born on the very moment of India's independence from Great Britain. A top seed.

Amy Acker and Jillian Morgese in Joss Whedon's
Much Ado About Nothing 
*Much Ado About Nothing
(Joss Whedon)
This is one of my favourite Shakespearean plays, and I know much of the text by heart. I am very curious to see how it works out in a modern context (not just a modern "setting", which countless theatrical productions have attempted). Years ago, Ethan Hawke starred in a very contemporary version of Hamlet that brought genuine insights from the application. This film was shot in 12 days in one house (and property) in Santa Monica. So it will be interesting to see if that brief window forced them to find and live the heart of the play.

Mumbai's King (Manjeet Singh)
One of the best innovations of the last few years in Festival programming has been the advent of the City to City programme which offers a rare opportunity to see films grouped around theme. (More of this would not be amiss.) This year's city in the spotlight is Mumbai and Mumbai's King offers a storyline and a vision that once again takes us into the heart of a street child (well, he has a home, but he lives and spends most of his time on the street). A feature debut.

Jem Cohen's Museum Hours
*Museum Hours (Jem Cohen)
This one draws me, not only because it features Canadian musician Mary Margaret O'Hara, but because some of my own most significant life moments have happened in museums. This film promises us the art of the Kunsthistoriches (literally Art History) Museum in Vienna, a city I would love to know some day. About a guard and a woman tourist who form a friendship, it feels like a lovely escapist piece. 
Night Across the Street follows in the tradition of aging filmmakers who are offering increasingly esoteric visions (see Manoel de Oliveira and Kiarostami in the first post).  This one follows a man as he looks back on his life: real and imaginary characters from different epochs interact with each other in the playful and provocative style for which Rúiz has become renowned.

*No Place on Earth (Janet Tobias)
Tobias explores the region of caves in the Ukraine where Jewish Russians hid from the Nazis during World War II. The central figure in the narrative is not a survivor or a descendent of same, but a cave enthusiast, who was so moved by the discovery of signs of life that he spent nine years looking for and finding those who had lived there and were still alive, eventually leading them back to the scene in 2010. The programme notes tell us that 95% of the Jews in Ukraine perished - this is their living memorial.

*Out in the Dark (Michael Mayer)
A few years ago, I wrote on this blog about a fine first feature called Eyes Wide Open, by Haim Tabakman, about gay love among Orthodox Jewish men. Out in the Dark might be a kind of follow up, though this time the 'forbidden' dilemma is the Palestinian-Israeli one. I'm intrigued to see this, in part because it is one of the few films being offered this year from inside a Jewish perspective of Israel. Even if it is an American co-production. 

Atiq Rahimi's The Patience Stone
*The Patience Stone 
(Atiq Rahimi)
It is rare that you find a novelist who is also a filmmaker or vice-versa. Rahimi is equally at home in both media, and equally fine. The Patience Stone is essentially a monologue by an Iranian woman to her husband who is in a coma. We listen to her speak things she has not been able to before now, for reasons of community, custom and her own relationship. An unusual premise that promises a rich emotional life.

*Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas)
Carols Reygadas' deeply moving portrait of infidelity among Mexican Mennonites, Silent Light, continues to haunt me with its exquisite (though not for everyone) pacing and its magic realism redemptive ending. This film is apparently more experimental, and perhaps less delicate, I don't know. It explores "a family torn between tenderness and violence". Programmer Diana Sanchez (here stepping out of her normal domain to make an offering to Wavelengths) gives us many hints that the film will be challenging and difficult, but that Reygadas' capacity for extraordinary photography and emotionally rich events makes it one not to be missed.

Quartet (Dustin Hoffman)
Make no mistake: this will either be wonderful, or awful. Though it doesn't say so directly, the programme notes would indicate that the film takes its inspiration from the real-life Casa Verdi, in Milano, a place where senior musicians of all kinds can go to live. Because of its proximity to La Scala, it has been often most associated with retired opera singers. The location is not described in the notes but would seem to have shifted to England, if the casting is any indication, where a quartet of aging performers stake out their final territory and revisit lost relationships. This could be another Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, .... or not. If I end up in this screening, it will be because I am too curious about seeing Tom Courtenay, an actor whose early work I absolutely love and whom is hard to find otherwise these days. 

*Rhino Season (Bahman Ghobadi)
If you have ever seen Ghobadi's Time for Drunken Horses, then you will be excited by the prospect of another feature from this brave and visually innovative Kurdish visionary. Continuing a theme in this year's movies of family separations (see The Impossible, among others) and prison or post-prison stories (see Middle of Nowhere, Few Hours of Spring and Everyday), and based on a true story, it follows a man and woman who are arrested during the Iranian revolution and released at different times, the woman believing her husband to be dead. Poetry and magic realism are hinted at in the programme notes.

Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander in A Royal Affair
A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel)
Mads Mikkelsen again (see The Hunt), this time as a German doctor whose friendship with the King, and passion for the Queen allows him to help set in motion Enlightenment reforms in Denmark. Until his affair becomes his downfall. That's the story, but Arcel was the screenwriter for the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an adaptation some have preferred to its western counterpart. Among the many things to love about Danish cinema, is the strength of the screen and television writing. So there are many reasons to hope for the best here.

†*Satellite Boy (Catriona McKenzie)
The story of an Aboriginal boy who travels alone through Australia's bush country to prevent a mining company from taking over his grandfather's drive-in cinema, Satellite Boy has the kind of archetypal 'hero's journey' that audiences find most deeply compelling. Reminiscent again (see my post on Lore, by fellow Aussie Cate Shortland), of Rabbit-Proof Fence, it perhaps speaks to the enduring impact of the image of the child-as-pathfinder within Australian storytelling. So many films this year are told from the worldview of a child and all of them, including Satellite Boy, boast very compelling stories.

Short Cuts Canada Programme #4 (Ball, Jarvis, Lazebnik, Leblanc, McKenzie, Morsi, Redvers)
The Short Cuts Canada Programme is one of the jewels of the festival, that is always under-attended. There is wonderful work here, with much to reflect on. Of the six programmes, this one caught my attention most closely for its rich diversity of subject matter. Just copying the Programme short notes here for simplicity: "Ambitiously far-reaching in the scope of its subject and ideas, this programme goes from the modern rat race to a portrayal of family grief during the Gulf War, the aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian revolution to a sci-fi vision of survival."

*Ship of Theseus (Anand Gandhi)
What appeals to me about this first feature is its tripartite narrative, involving characters uniquely distinct from those that are most often seen these days in Indian cinema. The three lives that are observed are all people who are seekers, and also characters impacted by contemporary socio-political realities. One of the characters is a young female filmmaker who had lost her sight and is now regaining it, offering us a chance to see the visually rich world of Mumbai through new eyes. Much to be drawn to in both the story and filmmaking style.

†*Sirga (William Vega)
The story of a young girl who flees the murder of her family and destruction of her village to live with her uncle in a remote area of the Andes was already interesting, but this selection has made it into a strong position on my slate entirely because of the trailer and footage available on the linked page. The colour and composition and pacing of the film already feel hynotic. Follow the link and see what I mean.

Clement Metayer and Lola Créton in Something in the Air
*Something In the Air (Olivier Assayas)
If you are someone who was moved by the Occupy protests of last year, and who wonders at the energy of those who continue to struggle for change in that movement, you will have much to draw you into Assayas' latest feature, which looks at a similar time in the post-1968 French political world of student revolution. French actress Lola Créton, one of the most compelling things about Mia Hansen-Løve's Goodbye First Love from TIFF11, plays the love interest of a young man caught up in Parisian idealism and activism and the film follows them as they flee Paris to continue work elsewhere. Assayas showed a real affinity for the rhythm and meaning of a rural life in juxtaposition to urban realities in the beautiful L'heure d'été. Hoping for more of the same here.

Song for Marion (Paul Andrew Williams)
British actors "of a certain age" are enjoying a real renaissance of demand for their gifts right now in British cinema. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel brought together many of them, and this year's Quartet (noted above) brings more. Here, also, is a story of an aging couple, and how the gift of love for music is passed from one to the other, in this case Vanessa Redgrave to Terence Stamp, as one of them becomes ill. I cannot help but think that this film must have been inspired in some way by the nuanced and moving Swedish film, Song for Martin, by Swedish master Bille August, about a composer and a violinist who come together late in life. That story focussed on the man's illness, but the real life acting couple (Viveka Seldahl and Sven Wollter) were themselves living out Seldahl's illness during the shooting. It is as if this film is a kind of remake and meditation on that film and the film's behind-scenes events, but I won't know for sure til I see it. The similarity in titles seems enough to confirm suspicion. 

James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold in Still
†*Still (Michael McGowan)
In the first post, I wrote about Michael Haneke's Amour, and mentioned there the similarities between it and this Canadian English language film from McGowan. There are many clips from the film available on the linked page here - watch them. The meditative style and use of voiceover are intriguing and it is sooo rare to see Geneviève Bujold anymore in Canadian cinema. This is a gift we are being given, in many ways, I can tell from the generosity of the availability of those clips, and what the clips show. A high seed for me.

Ingrid Bergman in the great Rossellini classic, Stromboli
†*Stromboli (Roberto Rossellini)
This is a dream-come-true for me. I have long wanted to see this Rossellini masterpiece, but to see it projected is just irresistible. About a refugee who marries a fisherman, it offers themes of spirituality, grace and mysticism, while maintaining a gritty, neo-realist look at contemporary life in post-war Italy. The movement to restore the oeuvre of this maestro has borne amazing fruits in past years of the festival. Somewhere in this blog I describe watching the restored Rome: Open City. Film restoration is extremely moving for the viewer -- you cherish every frame. There is only one screening, and it's free, so don't miss this opportunity.

Therese Desqueyroux (Claude Miller)
Last year I was very impressed with performances I saw by newcomer Anaïs Demoustier in Woman in the Fifth and Belles. Here, she can be found in Claude Miller's last film (continuing a theme of master filmmakers in their final works) supporting Audrey Tautou, whose career has not seemed to live up to the promise of Amelie, until now. An adaptation of a French classic by Francois Mauriac.

†*Three Kids (Jonas D'Adesky), preceded by Peripeteia (short) (John Akomfrah)
The earthquake in Haiti in 2010 is the backdrop for Three Kids, all boys, who flee their orphanage-styled home for the streets of Port-au-Prince, as the disaster is taking place. The film takes an interesting form, as part-documentary, part-fiction film, in which the real-life children play themselves in an "observational and improvisational approach" that sounds interesting. Pereipeteia, the short that is also playing in this programme, is inspired by the image of two black figures in a 16th-century Dürer work.

Wang Bing's Three Sisters
Three Sisters (Wang Bing)
The combination of documentary form, and the Wavelengths programme, draws my special attention to this entry by Chinese filmmaker Wang. An apparently meditative and poetic look at how three girls aged four to ten participate in the economic livelihood of a peasant family living in extreme poverty, set against a stunning visual mountainous landscape, it's 153 minutes, but don't let that stop you. Even taking in half an hour of it - if your pass type allows it - could give a lasting impression.

*To the Wonder (Terrence Malick)
And wondrous it is indeed, to have another film from Malick so soon after The Tree of Life, which last year became one of the most extraordinarily loved films of my life. Mystical, esoteric, challenging the conventions of cinematic form at every turn, rigorously challenging in ideological pursuits, and deeply embedded in journey of faith, I would walk miles to see anything made by Malick. A top-five seed.

Bernard Émond's Tout ce que tu possèdes
†*Tous ce que tu possèdes (Bernard Émond)
On the schedules as All that You Possess, it represents the first film of Émond's since his beautiful trilogy on faith, hope and the love that is in 'caritas', or 'charity'. Telling the story of a professor of Polish literature who reawakens long dormant relationships within his family, it promises a redemptive and lyrical emotional line. From a gifted filmmaker. A high seed.

*Viola (Matías Piniero) preceded by Birds (Gabriel Abrantes)
Another film which is experimenting with a contemporary spin on Shakespeare (see Much Ado About Nothing, above), this Argentinian feature engages Twelfth Night, both literally and in the context of a Shakespearean highlights production within the film, focussing mainly on the gender-bending character of Viola. The film is preceded by a 17 minute adaptation of the Aristophanes classic set in contemporary Haiti.

Virgin Margarida (Licínio Azevedo)
The country of Mozambique is being represented here in a feature from Brazilian documentary filmmaker Azevedo who lives there, about the 're-education camps' for women in Mozambique in the late 20th century after independence. An incredibly rare opportunity to hear this story from this particular perspective - - and when will you next see a film from Mozambique?

Walker by Tsai Ming Liang
Walker (Tsai Ming Lang), preceded by The Capsule (Athina Rachel Tsangari)
Anyone who has followed this blog before, knows that the Wavelengths programme is one of my favourites. This year they are branching into features - a terrific development. There are no programme notes yet for these films (though they may be there by the time you are pursuing this). Nonetheless, the pictures are utterly provocative and compelling for Walker, from the always-interesting Lang. And with its meditation on fashion, set in an 18th century mansion on the island of Hydra, what's not to like about the promise of The Capsule?

Walls of Dakar (Cissé/Guéye)
No, not that Cissé. But this is another one worth noting. These two Senegalese filmmakers document the peaceful uprising of artists against an oppressive government intent on silencing them, through an explosion of brilliant and critical street art that appeared on the walls and spaces of the capital city of Dakar. The film is accompanied by a screening of the short Joe Ouakam about a celebrated Senegalese musician by another performer Wasis Diop.

Nathaniel Dorsky's August and After in the Wavelengths #3 programme
Wavelengths Programme #3
(Goel/Horedia, Tito/Tito, Woodman, vom Gröller, Grenier, Hamlyn, Dorsky)
You can't go wrong with any Wavelengths programme because they are so gorgeously curated, but I have randomly pulled out this one. A giant in the history and development of experimental cinema, Nathaniel Dorsky is back again at TIFF, this time with August and After, a meditation on the deaths of also-giant, George Kuchar (Hold Me While I'm Naked) and actress Carla Liss. This elegy exists at the end of a programme that also includes a rare opportunity to see videos by photographer Francesca Woodman. There is only one screening of this whole programme, and it directly conflicts with one of our U of T classes at the moment. Accompanied by new videos by Nicky Hamlyn and others, this is a terrific programme.  

When Day Breaks (Goran Paskaljevic)
Continuing a theme of holocaust or WWII dramas, this film takes up the life of a retiring Serbian professor who discovers through an accident of found-objects that he wasn't who he thought he was. The Jewish identity he uncovers becomes a journey about much more than just his own personal history, as he revisits events he thought he had previously understood. An interesting perspective on post-holocaust legacy.

Annemarie Jacir's When I Saw You
†*When I Saw You 
(Annemarie Jacir)
I have a number of reasons to be very excited about Annemarie Jacir's second feature film about life in a refugee camp in Jordan in 1967. Her first film, Salt of this Sea, won the prestigious FIPRESCI prize at Cannes when it was shown there. Although I have not seen it, I am already impressed by the depth of the storytelling visible in the programme notes for this film, and from seeing clips of Jacir's previous work. 

†*White Elephant (Pablo Trapero)
A number of films this year are set in Buenos Aires, whether the filmmakers come from there or not. Trapero is a genuine porteno who turns his lens (sympathetically) on contemporary Catholic missionaries seeking to bring better life to one of the city's worst slums, which exists alongside a gentrified residential area. Their desire to protect what they have created is threatened by drug lords and slum lords and their own increasingly different approaches. Starring French actor Jérémie Renier, who is taking a break from the bad-boy characters of films by the Dardennes and others. As my colleague Brian Walsh wrote me about this one, "church, slums, gentrification, drug lords - it's got it all"!

World Not Ours (Mahdi Fleifel)
Like Zaytoun (below), this documentary explores the world of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, this time in the present-day, and through the lens of a friendship between Fleifel and someone living in the camp Ain El Helweh with whom he has remained close, from a day when the filmmaker lived there also. The mutual preoccupation with soccer and politics provides a lens for viewing how their worlds have changed and stayed the same.

†*Zaytoun (Eran Riklis)
This list began (in the previous post) and now it ends in the Middle East, this time in the hands of a pro-Palestinian Israeli filmmaker, in a story about an Israeli fighter pilot who must rely on a handful of Palestinian children for his safety, when he is shot down over Lebanon. The dream of the young ringleader, to plant a salvaged olive tree, back in his own home village, speaks to an enduring theme in this year's of TIFF of reclaiming one's own roots, wherever they may be.

In the coming days, the shortlist, and late additions.

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