July 2011

I’ve been raving a bit lately on Twitter about how much I love the web­site for the San Sebastian Film Festival. I espe­cially love how they have a poster designed for each sec­tion of their pro­gram. After trolling the web a bit late last night, I decided to post a gal­lery of some of my favourite film fest­ival posters from 2011. This could become a habit.

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Sarah Polley on the set of Take This Waltz, August 2010

So, if you haven’t been trapped under some­thing heavy, you’ll know that the Toronto International Film Festival announced the first batch of films screening at the 2011 fest­ival yes­terday. It’s all over the place, so instead of just adding another copy-and-paste listing to the existing noise, I thought I’d begin looking at some of the films them­selves. Granted, since many will be world premi­eres, there may not be a lot of inform­a­tion, but I think this could be kind of fun. It will cer­tainly build my own anti­cip­a­tion for the fest­ival, which runs from September 8–18. Hard to believe this will be my 17th year attending!

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One of the first sur­prises for me was that the opening night slot didn’t go to Sarah Polley’s new film, Take This Waltz. Her dir­ect­orial debut Away From Her screened as a Gala at the fest­ival back in 2006 and went on to play numerous other fest­ivals, even scooping a number of awards for Polley and her star Julie Christie. The opening night slot has often (though not always) gone to a Canadian pro­duc­tion, and after the roundly-derided Score: A Hockey Musical opened last year’s fest­ival, it would have been nice to see Polley given an oppor­tunity to spot­light her film here in her hometown. Alas, that was not to be, with Davis Guggenheim’s U2 doc From the Sky Down shoul­dering her aside. But I’m curious about her new film, and hope it won’t be over­shad­owed by the musical behemoth that is U2 and the sideshow they are sure to bring to town.

I’ll admit to knowing very little about Take This Waltz until a few days ago. The TIFF syn­opsis is vague: “a bit­ter­sweet story about a mar­ried woman strug­gling to choose between her hus­band and a man she’s just met.” Canadian dis­trib­utor Mongrel Media’s descrip­tion is better:

When Margot (Michelle Williams), 28, meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), their chem­istry is intense and imme­diate. But Margot sup­presses her sudden attrac­tion; she is hap­pily mar­ried to Lou (Seth Rogen), a cook­book writer. When Margot learns that Daniel lives across the street from them, the cer­tainty about her domestic life shat­ters. She and Daniel steal moments throughout the steaming Toronto summer, their erot­i­cism heightened by their restraint. Swelteringly hot, bright and col­ourful like a bowl of fruit, Take This Waltz leads us, laughing, through the familiar, but uncharted ques­tion of what long-term rela­tion­ships do to love, sex, and our images of ourselves.

And I have to admit that for me, the casting is what’s making it inter­esting. I’ve abso­lutely loved just about everything Michelle Williams has done. Last year’s double shot of Blue Valentine and Meek’s Cutoff made me ever more con­fident that she’s just get­ting started. The poten­tially wrenching storyline is lightened con­sid­er­ably by the casting of Rogen and Silverman, as well as by the film’s day-glo palette, which makes this an intriguing proposition.

The title of the film is from a Leonard Cohen song, which is based on the poem “Little Viennese Waltz” by Federico García Lorca. Perhaps the lyrics will give us some clues:

Now in Vienna there are ten pretty women. There’s a shoulder where Death comes to cry. There’s a lobby with nine hun­dred win­dows. There’s a tree where the doves go to die. There’s a piece that was torn from the morning, and it hangs in the Gallery of Frost. Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay. Take this waltz, take this waltz, take this waltz with the clamp on its jaws.

I want you, I want you, I want you on a chair with a dead magazine. In the cave at the tip of the lily, in some hallway where love’s never been. On a bed where the moon has been sweating, in a cry filled with foot­steps and sand. Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay. Take this waltz, take this waltz, take its broken waist in your hand.

This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz. With its very own breath of brandy and Death. Dragging its tail in the sea.

There’s a con­cert hall in Vienna where your mouth had a thou­sand reviews. There’s a bar where the boys have stopped talking. They’ve been sen­tenced to death by the blues. Ah, but who is it climbs to your pic­ture with a gar­land of freshly cut tears? Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay. Take this waltz, take this waltz, take this waltz, it’s been dying for years.

There’s an attic where chil­dren are playing, where I’ve got to lie down with you soon, in a dream of Hungarian lan­terns, in the mist of some sweet after­noon. And I’ll see what you’ve chained to your sorrow, all your sheep and your lilies of snow. Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay. Take this waltz. Take this waltz with its “I’ll never forget you, you know!”

And I’ll dance with you in Vienna. I’ll be wearing a river’s dis­guise. The hyacinth wild on my shoulder, my mouth on the dew of your thighs. And I’ll bury my soul in a scrap­book, with the pho­to­graphs there, and the moss. And I’ll yield to the flood of your beauty, my cheap violin and my cross. And you’ll carry me down on your dan­cing to the pools that you lift on your wrist. O my love, o my love. Take this waltz, take this waltz. It’s yours now. It’s all that there is.

Will this end up being a frothy candy apple of a movie, or will there be a worm at the core? With Polley at the helm, I’m con­fident we’ll get some­thing mem­or­able, espe­cially if she’s read her Lorca and listened to Mr. Cohen.


  • Saturday September 10, 9:30pm — Roy Thomson Hall (PREMIUM)
  • Sunday September 11, 12:00pm — Ryerson

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Shinsedai Film Festival 2011 (July 21-24, 2011)

Shinsedai launches its third edi­tion tonight through Sunday at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. Continuing to show­case new inde­pendent cinema from Japan, co-programmers Chris Magee (J-Film Powwow) and Jasper Sharp (Midnight Eye) have cur­ated another strong lineup for this year’s fest­ival. Special guests include 15-year-old film­maker Ryugo Nakamura who is presenting the North American premiere of his drama The Catcher on the Shore (Yagi no bouken) on Saturday July 23rd at 6:00pm. He shot the film when he was just 13 years old, so this should make for a very inter­esting Q&A session.

The Catcher on the Shore (Yagi no bouken)

If you’re inter­ested in where Japanese cinema is heading, you need to check out the Shinsedai Cinema Festival. Check the site for film list­ings, schedule, ticket prices and directions.

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Husbands screens tonight, Monday July 18, 2011 at 6:30pm, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the series Masks and Faces: The Films of John Cassavetes. The series runs from July 14–31.

Husbands (1970, Director: John Cassavetes): I’m not cer­tain which of the films of John Cassavetes would be the best point of entry for a new­comer, but I don’t think I’d recom­mend Husbands, which was my own intro­duc­tion. Considered the god­father of American inde­pendent cinema, Cassavetes worked as an actor and dir­ector on other people’s films in order to fin­ance his own unique studies of ordinary people acting out. In Husbands, it’s about the mys­teries of the middle-aged male psyche, and it’s one loud and crazy ride.

His pre­vious film, Faces (1968) had been an unex­pected hit, and so not only did he find someone to help fin­ance the film (Italian pro­ducer Bino Cicogna, whom Cassavetes had met while working in Italy on Machine Gun McCain in 1969), but later on, he con­vinced Columbia to release the film the­at­ric­ally. Nevertheless, Husbands was a com­mer­cial failure, des­pite some intense performances.

It’s essen­tially a three-hander. Harry (Ben Gazzara), Gus (John Cassavetes) and Archie (Peter Falk) attend the funeral of the fourth member of their group, and, trying to work through their grief, go on an epic bender, which lasts sev­eral days and takes them from New York to London.

Although the tagline is “A Comedy about Life, Death and Freedom,” there are only a few places where I laughed, and uncom­fort­ably at that. Instead, Cassavetes’ exam­in­a­tion of male friend­ship, grief, and mid­life crises becomes more and more har­rowing as it goes on. This bender is a des­cent into a sort of howling exist­en­tial hell.

Not being familiar with the rest of Cassavetes’ work as a dir­ector, it was ini­tially dif­fi­cult for me to tell whether these emotionally-stunted, crass and abrasive char­ac­ters are meant to evoke our sym­pathy or not. Their “charm” cer­tainly becomes more trans­parent the more time we spend with them, and Cassavetes enjoys drawing scenes out to almost absurd lengths. An early scene of a drunken sin­galong in a bar must run at least 20 minutes, and by the end, with our trio bul­lying a woman into adding more “pas­sion” to her per­form­ance, our opinion of these guys has cer­tainly changed for the worse.


So it’s not a huge sur­prise when Harry comes home to change the next morning and ends up in a phys­ical con­front­a­tion with both his wife and her mother. As the defacto leader of the trio, he’s the most aggressive. Before his ill-fated trip home, he’s told Gus and Archie, “Aside from sex, and she’s very good at it, I like you guys better.” He fol­lows this up with a few repe­ti­tions of the phrase, “Let’s go home and get it over with.”

After his violent out­burst, he grabs his pass­port and tells his friends that he needs to get away; oth­er­wise, he’d just go back inside and apo­lo­gize and he doesn’t want to do that. All these guys seem power­less when it comes to their wives and chil­dren and other respons­ib­il­ities, but their “acting out” just seems to con­firm their imma­turity, des­pite the macho trappings.

Under the cover of con­cern for their friend, Archie and Gus decide to go with him, to “tuck him into the hotel and then come back home,” they assure each other. As soon as they arrive in England, they want to gamble, drink and pick up women, as if these activ­ities are what bind men together. The only member of the trio who tries to com­mu­nicate any­thing deeper is Archie, but poor old Peter Falk always seems to end up talking to him­self. He’s the sort of actor who seems to end up doing that in almost everything he’s ever done.

There’s another long scene in London, where our three tough guys suc­ceed in get­ting three attractive women back to their hotel rooms. Gus has picked up a woman who’s men­tally unbal­anced, and the other two appear to have hired pros­ti­tutes, but in any case, the fol­lowing “seduc­tion” scene is one of the most creepy and joy­less I’ve seen in a long time. It is kind of funny to realize that the only people willing to spend time with these guys are either crazy or are being paid.

It’s a strange thing, though. Although I couldn’t wait for the film to end, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for days. These loud brutes, “drama kings” if I can coin a phrase, are trapped not only in their jobs and mar­riages, but in their con­cep­tion of what being a man is all about. Their attempts to con­nect with each other, to grieve their friend and their passing youth, all end in shouting and viol­ence. Their rage is inar­tic­u­late but exposes some­thing, except they don’t have the vocab­u­lary to express this vul­ner­ab­ility. Perhaps I’m reading more into the film, but I want to give Cassavetes credit for for­cing the audi­ence to spend two and a half hours in the pres­ence of such unre­con­structed brutes. Their humanity comes out not in what they say but in what they’re unable to say. This is no comedy. It’s a tragedy.


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Fantasia International Film Festival 2011

Celebrating 15 years of presenting Montréal audi­ences with some of the best genre cinema from around the world, this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival takes place from July 14-August 7.

There’s a very small pos­sib­ility that I might be able to get to Montréal for a few days this year, but it might be impossible to see all the inter­esting films I’m seeing in the cata­logue. Here are a few to check out:

  • Bas-Fonds (France, Director: Isild Le Besco): French act­ress Isild Le Besco wrote and dir­ected this brutal tale of three young women living together and ful­filling their basest desires until it leads to an explo­sion of viol­ence. To be honest, the full descrip­tion from Fantasia scares me a little.
  • Clown (Klovn) (Denmark, Director: Mikkel Nørgaard): Based on a Danish tele­vi­sion comedy series, this sounds right up my alley. Two friends go on a debauched canoe trip after one finds out his girl­friend is preg­nant. Hoping this might be a bit like the Icelandic film Bjarnfreðarson (review).
  • Love (USA, Director: William Eubank): Another scifi film about a sol­itary astro­naut far from home, this sounds inter­esting because he finds the diary of a Civil War sol­dier and becomes con­vinced that this book has some­thing to do with the lack of com­mu­nic­a­tion from Earth.
  • The Whisperer in Darkness (USA, Director: Sean Branney): From the same film­making col­lective who brought you The Call of Cthulhu, per­haps the best H.P. Lovecraft film adapt­a­tion yet made. From that short, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society have learned their film­making chops and are back with their first fea­ture, based on Lovecraft’s 1931 novella. The Old Ones are coming. Or maybe they’re already here!
  • The Divide (Canada/Germany/USA, Director: Xavier Gens): I’m a sucker for a good post-apocalyptic thriller. Trouble is, there just aren’t that many good ones. In The Divide, eight strangers sur­vive the end of the world in the base­ment of their apart­ment building. The Divide is described in the Fantasia cata­logue as Lord of the Flies meets Threads, which raises my hopes.

There are a bunch of other great films playing, like Attack the Block, Another Earth, and Bellflower, but trust me, those will be all over the place soon. And I’m hopeful that even if I can’t get to Fantasia this year, that the good folks at Toronto After Dark will bring some of these treas­ures home for us to catch in October.

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