Saturday, August 23, 2014

Wavelengths! Open Forms and Spiritual Spaces

Villbjork Agger Malling and Viggo Mortensen
in Lisandro Alonso's Jauja
brouillard - passage #14 by Alexandre Larose
in the Wavelengths #1 programme
Wavelengths, on the other hand, is not only the most interesting programme at TIFF, but the one which seems to have the most definable aesthetic and philosophy. It feels counterintuitive to say that you know what you're getting in a programme of these experimental shorts, mid-length and feature films, because when was an experimental film ever predictable? But Wavelengths is always exciting. I have said many times that Andréa Picard is one of the most gifted programmers at TIFF, with the most compelling and beautifully written programme notes. But her real talent is combining forms - bringing visual spaces together in sometimes exquisitely designed experiences.

Open Form - Street and Tribune in front of PKiN,
one of the short films from the
KwieKulik Group collective.
One such gathering is the very first programme night of Wavelengths shorts called Open Forms, which features a collection of works from KwieKulik Group, "a Polish art collective active in the seventies and eighties led by and named after Zofia Kulik and Przemyslaw Kwiek", interspersed with a fantastic cross-section of short artists, including T. Marie, a festival regular whose work I have always enjoyed. Picard says the linking idea is "performativity in landscape and social sphere" but I also discern a more spiritual quality, drawn from preoccupations with colour and light. In fact, spiritual spaces are a strong characteristic now of Wavelengths programming, whether considered or not. (My only critique of Picard is that she never wants to go there in her write-ups except to use the word 'spiritual' as an adjective). 

The recent move of Wavelengths into mid-length and feature programming was a great idea that has brought riches of this kind. My favourite film of TIFF13 was Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velese's Manakamana which I often yearn to see again as one of the most affecting portraits of cultural and religious pilgrims I've ever seen. This year several features have caught my immediate attention, again because there seemed to be a spiritual preoccupation to them. Spirituality in my use of it comes when filmmakers and their characters are aiming for metaphysical spaces that are either informed by faith and religious practices or by the desire for a kind of transcendence-seeking hope and empathy. Spirituality in film doesn't have to be theological; as Nathaniel Dorsky has taught us, it can be simply a matter of how we devotionally observe the workings of time on the human heart.

Eugène Green's La Sapienza,
a feature in the Wavelengths programme.
Lisandro Alonso's Jauja, featuring Viggo Mortensen  (pictured at top), might be such a film. The trailer for this Danish/Spanish collaboration offers only one scene, but one that is entrenched in a kind of ethereal uncertainty. About a 19th century general who goes searching for his disappeared daughter, it would seem to offer beautiful emotional beats among its characters. 
Eugène Green brings us La Sapienza, whose trailer is again a whole scene, presenting a conversation that seems to exist on many levels at once. A disaffected architect and his wife meet sibling teenagers in Stresa, Italy, while studying Borromini, and begin to quietly transform each other. 

The spirituality of landscape seems to be very present in both Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren de Haan's Episode of the Sea and Joana Pimenta's The Figures Carved Into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees. The first film dwells in the seemingly anachronistic Dutch fishing village of Urk, a community that was once an island. The second, a short, offers an amitié amoureuse among the two actual islands of Madeira and Mozambique through a correspondence made up of images. They are being screened together.

Matías Pineiro's The Princess of France
Matías Pineiro's The Princess of France will bring Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost into a contemporary Argentinian setting with radio actors performing the play and experiencing its movement into their own lives. Pineiro brought us last year's Viola, and seems to have a gift for mining the cinematic possibilities of reflecting on the deeper currents of these plays.
Julie Taymor's A Midsummer Night's Dream
Speaking of Shakespeare, Julie Taymor's A Midsummer Night's Dream which is hiding in the Mavericks programme (but is curated by TIFF Docs programmer Thom Powers) seems like it could have lived well in Wavelengths. In a year which has offered Ontarians two vital productions of this play at The Stratford Festival, we seem destined for yet a third, from the extraordinarily rich visual mindscape of Taymor. 

Every year I wait to see if Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira has survived another year into his centenary decade to offer us another jewel. I always smile to see that he is still among us, increasingly experimental, moving around in the programmes and this year turning up in Wavelengths with The Old Man of Belem, an imagined encounter in eternity among the four great geniuses of Spanish literature: de Camoes, de Cervantes, de Pascoaes and Branco. 

Tsai Ming-Liang's Journey to the West,
the next film in his Walker series.
Finally, if I had to choose one film that captures the spiritual capaciousness promised in this year's Wavelengths, it would be Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang's Journey to the West. The trailer made me feel as I did when I saw the trailer for Manakamana last year. This is the continuation of Tsai's walker series, begun (as a feature) in 2012 with a film of that name and continued in shorts. A monk moves slowly through urban spaces, head down and palms up, causing juxtapositions both physical, temporal and spiritual. Joined this time by Denis Lavant, we get to speculate on the added value of accompaniment in monastic practice, however unorthodox. Can't wait. It is being paired up with Margaret Honda's Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, described as a camera-less film made up of exposing film stock to light. 

The spiritual landscapes are therefore what excites me most this year about Wavelengths. In an era when religion and spirituality are marking seismic shifts in our political and social realities, the festival needs a thoughtful and exclusive religion, faith and spirituality programmer at least, or its own programme at best!

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