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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