Friday, August 22, 2008

TIFF08—MASTERS

What constitutes a "master" and why should I submit or—in some cases—resubmit? If ever a sensual power exchange between filmmaker and audience comes into play, it's in this auteurist arena. Without question, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata is my most anticipated cinematic experience from TIFF08 and—if an interview opportunity lifts its head—I will be in bliss. From my mouth to the ears of angels.

Most of these films are North American premieres which had buzz-drenched critical runs at Cannes08 and, of those, I most certainly will catch Lorna's Silence, Of Time and the City, and Three Monkeys. The World Premiere of Paul Schraeder's Adam Resurrected likewise has my complete attention, as does Agnès Varda's Les Plages d'Agnès.

* * *

Achilles and the Tortoise (Achilles to Kame)—Takeshi Kitano, Japan. Story of Machisu (Kitano), an aging man determined to fulfill his life-long dream of becoming a painter. Faced with frustration and failure, he persists in living out his passion with help of his wife, who continues to support her husband amid the harsh realities of success; or, lack thereof. With roughly 70 pieces of Kitano's own artwork, Achilles and the Tortoise completes the filmmaker's self-reflective trilogy. Spurred on by Mark Schilling's advance copy at Variety, the film is highly anticipated at Twitch. Dave Hudson has gathered together the critical response from the Venice International Film Festival for The Greencine Daily, where Ronald Bergan has likewise dispatched his assessment of the competition as stands. Bergan writes: "[T]his parable of artistic passion deteriorates into a broad comedy where the noble theme is degraded, echoing the phrase 'Art is a hoax,' expressed by a character at one stage." North American Premiere.

Adam Resurrected—Paul Schrader, Germany/Israel/USA. Director Paul Schrader's newest film, Adam Resurrected, is based on the crowning achievement of one of Israel's literary masters, Yoram Kaniuk. Adam Stein (Jeff Goldblum) is a charismatic patient at a mental institution for Holocaust survivors in Israel. Before the war, Adam was a Jewish vaudeville performer in Germany, until he found himself in a concentration camp confronted by Commandant Klein (Willem Dafoe). He survives the camp by becoming the Commandant's "dog", entertaining him with his musical and comedic talents. While at the institution years later, Adam must confront his past head-on for the sake of someone else's salvation. Essential background on Schrader can be had at Girish Shambu's site. I'll also be reading George Kouvaros's University of Illinois Press monograph on the plane. World Premiere.

Everlasting Moments (Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick)—Jan Troell (The Emigrants; As White as in Snow) Denmark/Sweden. From Academy Award™-nominated Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell comes a true story from early 20th-century Sweden. In a time of social change and poverty, the young working-class woman Maria wins a camera in a lottery. The camera enables Maria to see the world through new eyes, but it also becomes a threat to her somewhat alcoholic womanizing husband, as it brings the charming photographer Pedersen into her life. World Premiere.

Four Nights with Anna (Cztery noce z Anna)—Jerzy Skolimowski (Moonlighting), Poland/France. A hospital worker once witnessed the brutal rape of Anna, now a young nurse in the same hospital. Secretly forcing himself into her life, and bedroom, he develops an intense fixation that begs the question, "How far will he go?" At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson has gathered the critical response from Cannes08. In her Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, p. 52), Amy Taubin writes: "Skolimowski is said to have been painting and writing poetry in the 17 years since his last film, and the eloquently framed winter landscapes and bleak interiors that mark his return to moving images truly merit the overused adjective 'painterly.' Shot largely from the point of view of a middle-aged hospital-crematorium assistant (a remarkable performance by Artur Steranko) who is obsessively in love with a nurse for whose rape he had been wrongfully convicted years before, Four Nights With Anna is a melancholy film punctuated by moments of hilarious black humor." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Les Plages d'Agnès—Agnès Varda, France. Autobiographical documentary about the life of director Agnes Varda.

Lorna's Silence (Le Silence de Lorna)—Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy. A young Albanian in Belgium (Arta Dobroshi), becomes entangled in a sham marriage orchestrated by mobster Fabio, an arrangement that will end in murder if Lorna chooses to keep silent. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson has gathered together the critical response from Cannes08, where Lorna's Silence won the Prix du Scenario (best screenplay). For FIPRESCI, Barbara Lorey writes that Dobroshi's "resistance against dehumanization" is demonstrated "with unobtrusive yet radiant strength", by which she "achieves truly heroic greatness through her humanity." In his Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, p. 62), Larry Gross characterizes that "The Dardennes specialize in enclosing their protagonists in prison worlds of cramped, underfurnished apartments, fast-food joints, low-rent bars, all filmed in a documentary style that emphasizes the debilitating struggle to preserve one's humanity amidst an unfeeling social order." At Senses of Cinema, however, Markus Keuschnigg finds the film "a major disappointment", precisely because he feels the Dardennes have created a variation of their greatest creative achievements. "Its at times strange and unmotivated, even clumsy plot developments, feels almost like 'just another script', this time adapted by talented directors." At Melbourne Film Blog, Paul Martin disagrees and claims Lorna's Silence as his festival favorite, praising Dobroshi's performance: "She skillfully treads a fragile path between deceit and criminality on the one hand, and innocence and an empathetic character on the other. She depicts vulnerability, valor and resourcefulness wonderfully." TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere. Picked up for distribution by SONY.

This Night (Nuit de chien)—Werner Schroeter, France/ Germany/Portugal. This powerful and provocative film follows Ossorio Vignale as he arrives in his hometown in search of Clara, the woman he loves. Much to his horror, Clara has gone missing and his once-beloved town has been taken over by a terrifying militia led by a rich mercenary. Once he starts hearing contrasting reports on the whereabouts of his beloved, Ossorio realizes that everyone is a potential threat. Together with Victoria, a friend's daughter, he struggles to escape peril and flee the town safely. North American Premiere.

Of Time and the City—Terence Davies (Distant Voices Still Lives, House of Mirth), United Kingdom. Davies returns to his native Liverpool and his filmmaking roots to capture a sense of the city today and its influences on him growing up in the late '40s and early '50s. Anticipating Cannes, Frank Cottrell Boyce interviewed Davies for The Guardian. Jason Anderson had the honors for Cinema Scope and Jason Solomons for The Observer. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson has gathered together the critical response from Cannes08. In his Cannes report to Sight and Sound, Nick James describes Davies' voiceover monologue as characterized by "his inimitable darkling breathy delivery" wherein he "utters poetry quotations, passionate insights and camp upsweeps." At l'Humanité, Jean Roy selects choice quotes from Davies' voiceover monologue; my favorite: "I have lived under Paul VI, John-Paul II and Clitoris the Umpteenth." Dispatching to The Telegraph from the Edinburgh Film Festival, Tim Robey doesn't find much not to thrill to in Davies "enthralling docu-ode." At Film Journey, Doug Cummings provides an incantatory review. TIFF08 Program Capsule. Canadian Premiere.

Three Monkeys (Üç maymun)—Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/France/ Italy. A family dislocated when small failings blow up into extravagant lies battles against the odds to stay together by covering up the truth. In order to avoid hardship and responsibilities that would otherwise be impossible to endure, the family chooses to ignore the truth, not to see, hear or talk about it. But does playing Three Monkeys invalidate the truth of its existence? At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson has gathered the critical response from Cannes08, where Three Monkeys earned Ceylan the Best Director Award. At Film Comment, Kent Jones is not impressed: "Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys [is] another film that would be just as much at home in a gallery as in a cinema. Ceylan is a perfect example of a filmmaker whose sophistication is so confined to the limits of his own moment as to amount to a kind of naïveté: all that is memorable in his cinema is the insistence and extremity of his fashionable choices." North American Premiere.

Tokyo Sonata—Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Bright Future, Doppelganger), Japan/The Netherlands/ Hong Kong. Tokyo Sonata from filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a portrait of a struggling Japanese family: a father who abruptly loses his job and conceals it from his family; the eldest son who hardly ever returns home from college; the youngest son who furtively takes piano lessons without telling his parents; and the mother, who knows deep down that her role is to keep the family together, but cannot find the will to do so. Somehow a single, unforeseeable rift has developed within the family, spreading quickly and quietly, and threatening to break them apart. At The Greencine Daily, Dave Hudson has gathered together the critical response from Cannes08 where Tokyo Sonata won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize. In her Cannes report to Film Comment (July/August 2008, p. 54), Amy Taubin discerns, "The film would seem to be a turning point for Kurosawa; the sustained quiet anxiety that pervades the early scenes and the eruption of hysterical behavior toward the end are grounded in realism with no reference to the paranormal phenomena that have been at the center of his work." At Senses of Cinema, Markus Keuschnigg writes that Kurosawa's "somber family tale" exceeds expectations. "Kurosawa's assured directing makes way for a new family structure that falls into place at the very end of the movie." From the Sydney Film Festival, Matt Riviera reviews the film. TIFF08 Program Capsule. North American Premiere.

Cross-published on Twitch, where trailers for Achilles and the Tortoise, Of Time and the City, Silence of Lorna, Three Monkeys and Tokyo Sonata can be found at the Twitch TIFF Trailer Park.

9 comments:

Paul Martin said...

I read a number of favourable review of Of Time and the City at MIFF, but I found it dull. I wrote some comments about it at the time.

Here's my comments on some of the other titles you've listed:
24 City & Lorna's Silence
Three Monkeys

Maya said...

Once again, Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to offer your insights. I'm intrigued by the fact that Australia has the opportunity to see these films before they touch down in North America and attribute that to the Melbourne International's specific timeliness?

I'm surprised by your reaction to Of Time and the City, though of course mileage always varies. I found Terence Davies amazingly entertaining when he was here in the Bay Area for a PFA residency. Yours has been the singular negative response I've read.

What happened to your photo of the actress in Lorna's Silence?

I'm very much looking forward to both 24 City and Three Monkeys.

Thanks again for your input.

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for alerting me to the non-appearance of the photo of Arta Dibroshi (Lorna in Lorna's Silence). It's up now.

I noticed that TIFF has many more world and North American premieres than MIFF does. It is a timing thing that we get some films first. Our festival director, Richard Moore (and senior programmer Michelle Carey), travel to Cannes specifically to secure titles for MIFF (we had 27 films or so direct from Cannes this year).

As for Of Time and the City, I haven't read any other negative reviews either. C'est la vie. I know nothing about Terence Davies.

Doug said...

It's possible that not knowing anything about Davies would distance you from his personality and the more particular circumstances of his perspectives (indelibly depicted in his autobiographical features). It's also important to understand that it's an essay film and structured around personal observation rather than a more formal documentary "about" Liverpool or a specific theme. I would think his juxtaposition of music and images would be worth the price of admission alone. And he's bitingly funny throughout!

Michael, I'm jealous you got to see him at the PFA.

Maya said...

Hey Doug, nice to hear from you. I tried leaving a comment at your lovely write-up on the film; but, for some reason, I had trouble logging in and--you know how it is--if it's not easy, my interest evaporates.

I was totally unfamiliar with Davies when he showed up at PFA, which had an up and a down side. The up side was that the emotional power of his films hit me with a wollop. During the Q&A I recall having a near emotional meltdown trying to ask him something. The down side was that I did't pull it together to capitalize on a one-on-one, which in retrospect I chastize myself for not arranging. The other down side is that he did a frame-for-frame commentary and--in many ways--from what I'm reading, it's much of the voiceover for the new film, which has left me less enthused about catching it immediately. I'll wait to see what it's up against later today when the P&I calendar comes out for TIFF.

I'm really going to miss you there this year. It's always fun watching you dash breathlessly from screening to screening. Heh.

Doug said...

Thanks, Michael--yes, I'm going to miss being there immensely! My only salve will be your blogs and hoping the AFI festival in November programs a lot of the bigger titles.

A frame-by-frame commentary sounds incredible. Which film was this for?

Maya said...

It was for Distant Voices, Still Lives. One of these days I'll get it transcribed. He was amazingly droll, though his self-discomfort as a gay person was a bit offputting. Members of the audience were actually trying to pick him up and he was horrified. Heh.

Doug said...

Yes, his self-directed gay-loathing is really unfortunate. It clearly makes him such an unhappy person...but I think he has somehow managed to balance it with a very keen sense of humor and his love of art, which is clearly replenishing for him.

Are you sure people said it was his commentary for DVSL that was similar to Of Time and the City? Because the BFI has release DVSL on DVD with a commentary by him (very engaging), maybe what he said at the PFA was verbatim to that?

Maya said...

Davies is unquestionably rehearsed in some of his reveries, and you certainly can't begrudge him for knowing what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. I've read most of the reviews for the recent film and was surprised every now and then--especially in the Cinema Scope interview--how much it tracked with what he said at PFA and with what I understand is on the voiceover for Of Time and the City. That doesn't mean I couldn't listen endlessly to him wax nostalgic about halycon days gone by; but, you know how it is at TIFF, all sorts of factors come into play when you're choosing the 40 or so films you can see out of 300.