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.

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