January 2011


by James McNally on January 15, 2011 · 2 comments

in Documentaries,DVD

Alliance released Catfish on DVD in Canada on January 4, 2011. Help sup­port Toronto Screen Shots by buying it on Amazon.ca.

Catfish (Directors: Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost): I finally got see last year’s Sundance sen­sa­tion and have to say I’m in agree­ment with the critic from Esquire who called this “the real Facebook movie.” While a film like The Social Network focuses on the cre­ators of the world’s largest social media plat­form, this film shows how ordinary people are using it, often with just as much ingenuity.

Directors Joost and Schulman are film­makers from New York City. In fact, they worked on my favourite 2010 film NY Export: Opus Jazz (review). Ariel’s younger brother Yaniv (Nev) is a pho­to­grapher who took stills for that film, and when one of his photos was pub­lished, he received a box a few weeks later. Inside was a painting based on the photo by “Abby,” an 8-year-old artist from Michigan. So began a cor­res­pond­ence which took place through the mail, by tele­phone, and espe­cially through Facebook, as Nev friended first Abby’s mom Angela and then her 19-year-old half-sister Megan. As the months go by, Nev and Megan develop a ser­ious online crush that is aug­mented by late-night phone calls and reg­ular texts.

Joost and Schulman begin to doc­u­ment this web of rela­tion­ships almost from the very begin­ning. When the trio make a trip to Colorado to make a dance film, Nev invites Angela, Abby and Megan to come out and join them. Although they can’t make it, they main­tain con­stant con­tact, with Megan even posting songs online that she claims to have written and per­formed. The first cracks appear in the facade when Nev finds out that the songs have actu­ally been lifted from the YouTube and MySpace pages of other per­formers. They decide to make an unan­nounced stop on their way home.

I won’t say any more, except to say that if you’ve been online as long as I have, you won’t be sur­prised by the out­come. What’s inter­esting is that these are young, internet-savvy New Yorkers, for crying out loud, and you’d expect them to be a bit more wary. Nevertheless, they have weaved these ele­ments into a pretty grip­ping film. So much so that more than a few people have accused them of sta­ging or faking some or all of it. I don’t think that’s the case, but I can see how the sus­pi­cion might arise.

Catfish is a great story, and a pretty good film, but it’s not that much of a rev­el­a­tion to anyone who has been part of Internet cul­ture before Facebook arrived. People always choose what aspects of them­selves they reveal online. When you have a chance to “meet” so many new people, it’s tempting to edit your own story until it can become almost unre­cog­niz­able. There’s a reason why there is an online vir­tual world called “Second Life.” Sometimes you just need to get away from your first one.

The only spe­cial fea­ture on the DVD is a 25-minute con­ver­sa­tion with the film­makers in which they answer some common audi­ence ques­tions. Obviously, you don’t want to watch this until after you’ve watched the main feature.



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MyFrenchFilmFestival.com 2011 (January 14-29, 2011)
UPDATE: I’m dis­ap­pointed to report that here in Canada, it appears that all of the fea­ture films are region-blocked. While I enjoy shorts, I was looking for­ward to checking out a few of the fea­tures. What really stinks about this is that I sus­pect the films have dis­trib­utors in Québec, but none of these films will be released out­side of Québec, and I expect that the site is region-blocking the entire country of Canada. Oh well, enjoy the films, rest of the world!

Leave it to the French. Not only do they have one of the most pro­lific and robust film indus­tries in the world out­side of Hollywood, but now they’re innov­ating again by cur­ating an online fest­ival of recent French films that can be viewed all over the world, sub­titled in ten lan­guages. MyFrenchFilmFestival.com is a col­lab­or­a­tion between Unifrance and Allocine with the sup­port of sev­eral other organ­iz­a­tions including Variety.

Between January 14 and 29, viewers will have access to ten fea­tures and ten shorts in the com­pet­i­tion as well as three out-of-competition fea­tures. They’ve assembled an impressive jury of press critics (including one of my favour­ites, Karina Longworth from LA Weekly) and another made up of inter­na­tional blog­gers. Alas, there is no Canadian rep­res­ent­a­tion this year, but I’m hoping that if the exper­i­ment is suc­cessful, they’ll repeat it next year and maybe Canadian critics and blog­gers might be considered.

They are char­ging to watch the films (2 Euros for a fea­ture and 1 Euro for a short), which may limit the festival’s appeal, but they do offer some reas­on­able package deals: 5 Euros for access to ten shorts 10 Euros for access to 11 fea­tures, or 14 Euros to access the entire fest­ival. Check out the fest­ival trailer below as well as the site and their Facebook page and see if any of the pro­gram­ming appeals to you. There are lots of trailers and inter­views on the site which can be viewed for free, and they’re even spon­soring a con­test for a trip to Paris.

I find it a bit odd that they’re only run­ning this for two weeks, but I sup­pose they’re trying to create a sense that this an online “event.” So even though this par­tic­ular French film fest­ival does not take place on the Riviera, you’d better check it out before the 29th or you’ll have to wait until next year.


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Before the Revolution (Prima della rivoluzione)
Before the Revolution (Prima della rivoluzione) screens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday January 14 at 6:30pm. Buy tickets

Before the Revolution (Prima della rivoluzione) (Director: Bernardo Bertolucci): Bertolucci’s second fea­ture, and the first written by the dir­ector, is bound to be a bit more auto­bi­o­graph­ical than La com­mare secca’s explor­a­tion of the Italian under­class. Even though it’s loosely based on Stendhal’s novel The Charterhouse of Parma, the dir­ector, just 23 when he made the film, surely drew upon some con­flicted feel­ings about his own upbringing. Fabrizio (Francesco Barilli) is a child of priv­ilege who’s been under the tutelage of a Communist teacher. He yearns to escape his bour­geois fate, and so dumps his gor­geous but simple girl­friend Clelia (the stun­ning Cristina Pariset) to pursue revolu­tion in a more monk­like fashion. Enter his young Aunt Gina (Adriana Asti), a neur­otic and con­fused beauty who has come from Milan to stay with her sister’s family in Parma. At first Fabrizio is dis­tracted by the sui­cide of his unhappy (and quite prob­ably gay) friend Agostino, a young man he was trying to tutor polit­ic­ally. His reac­tion is more one of dis­ap­point­ment than of grief, but it plants a seed that maybe his polit­ical act­ivism isn’t the solu­tion to all of life’s problems.

The emotionally-needy Gina, mean­while, has become obsessed with her nephew and before long they fall into a pas­sionate affair. This for­bidden tryst is some­what of a polit­ical act for Fabrizio, but for the self-loathing older woman, it’s an act of des­per­a­tion. For all the dazz­ingly stylish images Bertolucci frames for us, he can’t make these two self-absorbed people very sym­path­etic char­ac­ters, and I found my patience tested more than once with some of the bom­bastic speechifying.

Adriana Asti in Before the Revolution (Prima della rivoluzione)

Strangely enough, it’s a scene almost entirely divorced from the nar­rative up to that point that brought me back into the film. Gina goes to visit an aris­to­cratic man a little bit older than her­self, whom she calls “Puck.” For some unex­plained reason, Fabrizio and his Communist mentor Cesare show up a little while later. Puck’s mono­logue about his own lack of pur­pose as a child of the bour­geoisie is unex­pec­tedly poignant, espe­cially for a char­acter we’ve just met. As he stands on the riverbank looking out over the unspoiled wil­der­ness of his estate, he explains to the group that all his land is mort­gaged and that he is about to lose everything. Businessmen will buy the land up and develop it, erasing its pas­toral serenity. He real­izes his own use­less­ness as a member of society, never having earned a degree or learned a trade. Fabrizio upbraids him for his “false sin­cerity” but after Gina slaps his face, he begins to recog­nize him­self in the older man. There is no escape for the chil­dren of the bourgeoisie.

Despite the rel­at­ively narrow gap in their ages, Gina and Fabrizio are def­in­itely on two sides of a gen­er­a­tional divide. For the young man, he wants to change the present, to change him­self in an attempt to escape his fate, and to change the world by imposing the order he sees in a set of dog­matic polit­ical prin­ciples. Gina, on the other hand (and “Puck” as well) des­per­ately wants to hold onto the present. She has already felt the pas­sage of time and the dis­order of the real world and feels help­less in the face of the future.

Bertolucci uses a mish­mash of styles throughout, bor­rowing espe­cially from the French New Wave dir­ectors. There’s even a scene where Fabrizio goes to see Godard’s A Woman is a Woman, get­ting into a half-hearted argu­ment with a boorish cinephile after­wards. Just as in Godard’s work, I found some of the jump-cutting made the nar­rative dis­jointed in spots. And I found a few of the later scenes went on far too long. But just as often I found the cam­er­a­work dazzling, and some scenes were just a pure pleasure to watch: a scene of Fabrizio and Gina shop­ping, for example, or the dance scene which you can watch in the clip below. As for the per­form­ances, the film belongs com­pletely to Adriana Asti as Gina. Despite my ref­er­ence to the “stun­ning” Cristina Pariset above, it’s Asti you can’t take your eyes off, even as her neur­otic mood swings make her char­acter unlike­able. By con­trast, Francesco Barilli is just a petu­lant rich boy. Though he’s ostens­ibly the prot­ag­onist, it’s Gina’s char­acter whose con­flicts remain most vis­ibly unresolved.

Kevin Lee’s excel­lent review and roundup of crit­ical opin­ions on the film is unsur­passed if you want to go deeper.



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Bernardo Bertolucci

From January 6th-19th, TIFF Bell Lightbox is presenting a ret­ro­spective of the work of Bernardo Bertolucci, a dir­ector whose work has always hovered around the peri­phery of my vision. I’m looking for­ward to cor­recting that over­sight. His film­making career has spanned 50 years and although he began working in a vaguely neor­ealist style, he quickly moved on to exper­i­ment with many other styles and a diversity of sub­ject matter. The TIFF pro­gram guide has clev­erly singled out his ever-present themes of “sex, politics and visual splendour” with a slightly naughty allit­er­ative tagline: Fashion, Fascists and Fucking (or F**king, if you’re sensitive).

Although the Lightbox will be a grand venue to watch (or revisit) some of his most well-known films (The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor), the real oppor­tunity is to see some of his lesser-known work. In par­tic­ular, I’m looking for­ward to Before the Revolution (1964) and Partner (1968), two form­ative works from the tur­bu­lent 60s which led up to his break­through film The Conformist in 1970.

Leaving aside the Fashion (“visual splendour”) side of the tri­angle for a moment, I’m fas­cin­ated by Bertolucci’s mix­ture of sen­su­ality and polit­ical frus­tra­tion. While the 60s seem to be the decade most asso­ci­ated with sexual lib­er­a­tion and polit­ical struggle, the dir­ector has made almost all of his films about indi­viduals strug­gling against larger forces and using sex as both a res­pite from the struggle and an act of per­sonal defi­ance. I’m intrigued by TIFF pro­grammer Jesse Wente’s obser­va­tion that “Bertolucci con­tinues to identify sex as a pro­foundly lib­er­ating force, a pure human freedom that defies the stric­tures and con­ven­tions of society.” I’m cer­tain that approaching the films with at least this state­ment in mind is going to help me appre­ciate Bertolucci’s sig­ni­fic­ance as a unique voice in world cinema.

Tickets can be pur­chased online for any of the films in the series. Here are a few images to whet your appetite:

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Sundance Shorts Programmer Jon Korn

I met Sundance shorts pro­grammer Jon Korn back in the summer, when he was in town for the Worldwide Short Film Festival. He was a sur­prise bonus guest when I inter­viewed Wholphin editor Brent Hoff (which you can read here), and at the time, I made him promise to submit to a more formal inter­view. Six months later, here it is.

The timing is actu­ally great because Sundance just recently announced their full slate of shorts pro­gram­ming, and so Jon might just have a breather for a few short weeks. We con­ducted this exchange over email in mid-December 2010. The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 20–30, 2011.

[click to continue…]

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