Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Died And Went To Movie Heaven

As Ira Gershwin might say, it's beau travail if you can get it

Darren's got me looking forward to the Toronto International Film Festival and looking back in nostalgia. I just realized that it'll be my seventh year heading up north in the fall. Life has its uncertainties and its confusions but this annual trip has always remained the most reliably fun week of the year.

In the first few years, my enthusiasm almost got the better of me. I picked up press credentials and covered the festival at length, pushing myself to catch five or even six films a day. In this direction lay insanity (or at the very least, silliness). In the last couple of years, I've cut back to a leisurely three films a day with plenty of time in between to lounge in cafés with friends, stroll around downtown Toronto, and shop for used books and CDs.

The nostalgia I mentioned? Here it comes, a handful of random memories:

  • Watching half the audience walk out of Gus van Sant's Gerry, after which van Sant gets up and graciously apologizes for "boring" the audience. (A trancey and minimalist movie starring Matt Damon and Casey Affleck. I liked it a lot).


  • Witnessing filmmakers you admire introducing their newly born movie-babies, nervously, to their first audiences. Some of them are humble (Claire Denis, Tsai Ming-Liang, van Sant), some respond to puzzled questions from audiences by calling them a bunch of dolts (Bruno Dumont, 29 Palms), and others are so articulate that you think, that's not fair — they're North Americans too, how do they get to sound smarter than us (Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Guy Maddin)?


  • Realizing that the maker of films as intimidating and yucky as Fat Girl and Anatomy of Hell is a gentle, soft-spoken, refined woman (Catherine Breillat).


  • Discovering a new director (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) hitherto unknown in the West, and seeing seven of his films, one every day for a week. Watching him evolve from making pink (Japanese softcore) films to thrillers to metaphysical horror films and sociopolitical allegories.


  • Running into an incredible movie, and elated, giving away your tickets for the rest of the day. Sometimes, one movie a day is all you can handle. (La Captive, Code Unknown).


  • Getting to the scene in the new Claire Denis movie (Beau Travail) with Denis Lavant on the dancefloor, and thinking, "This is ridiculous!" and then a couple of minutes later, as the scene continues, it dawns on you, "This is amazing!"

9 Comments:

Anonymous acquarello said...

Bruno Dumont was as equally exasperating and insulting to the audience at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema screening of the film in NYC; I lost a lot of respect for him after that (I don't see how he could have been a teacher if he's not interested in dialogue or interaction).

My favorite NYFF moment: sitting next to Zhao Tao during the screening of Tian Zhuangzhuang's Springtime in a Small Town and all the time thinking "Gee, she looks awfully familiar." It didn't dawn on me until I got home that it was Zhao... Unknown Pleasures screened earlier that week. :)

June 29, 2005 6:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Dumont, a teacher? Wow.
No wonder he had to change careers!

And it's amazing how the camera takes to Zhao. e.g. the still of her from The World in the rain with a cellphone in her hand.

June 29, 2005 6:37 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Any chance you'll be able to make it this year, Acquarello?

By the way, my parents are retiring to Michigan this fall, so I'll be making my last trip "home" to Maryland in a couple weeks. I'm hoping to time it so that I can catch the screening of Pather Panchali at the NGA. August 6, I think.

June 30, 2005 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Acquarello - I was at that screening, and felt that Dumont's response was justified. People were asking asinine questions, and practically demanding that he explain the film to them. Sure, he certainly has attitude, but I feel that he would be more than willing to participate in an intelligent exchange about the film. The dialog that night was simply ludicrous.

2 favorite NYFF moments: drinking a frightening number of bottles of Soju with Hong Sang-soo, and hearing Mike Leigh tell a journalist at the press conference that her question was so stupid, that he shall be repeating it at parties for years to come.

June 30, 2005 10:47 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Heheh! Yeah, I remember the Mike Leigh comment - particularly embarrassing since he had made an earlier comment about how much he enjoyed Q&As with New York audiences. :)

I'm not absolving the audience in Dumont's "performance", but there was more than one way to defuse the situation, and he was instead feeding the hostility, which made those of us who did want to learn from the Q&A more reluctant to join in. Claire Denis received a more hostile initial reception at the end of L'Intrus (particularly from this old man who kept shouting at her and wouldn't shut up), and she was able to tactfully convey the futility of such an exchange. It ended up being a productive Q&A despite the rotten start.

By the way, the sidebar for NYFF is Shochiku Studios' 110th anniversary, so I'm passing on TIFF this year. We should be getting some rare Hiroshi Shimizu, Keisuke Kinoshita, and Mikio Naruse out of it...maybe even some early Mizoguchi, like Osen, the Folded-Paper Crane.

Darren, your parents are making a smart move. Housing prices here have doubled in four years. I actually interned at Ford in the summers of 1988 and 1989 and lived in the dorms at UMi Ann Arbor (University Towers), and the weekend commutes on to Toronto on borrowed Merkur Scorpios were quite doable. ;)

Anyway, sorry for hijacking your post, Girish. I'm sure I'll be jealous and sullen as you all talk about your gesticulating stories over Ethiopian food. :)

June 30, 2005 1:54 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh, don't apologize, Acquarello.
It's always a pleasure to hear from you.

June 30, 2005 3:19 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Ah..I was going to mention the Denis incident as well. Yes, she handled that cranky old man (who I was unfortunateley sitting right behind) with dignity.

Dumont did indeed feed the hostility, but what else can we expect from the man who brought us Twentynine Palms?

Getting back to Girish's original post -- I hope to make it to Toronto this year. Looking forward to meeting any/all of you if I do.

June 30, 2005 5:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Great news, Filmbrain.
We'll definitely have to plan a rendezvous.

June 30, 2005 6:07 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I haven't gone to Toronto, but I have been to the film fests in NY, Denver and Telluride on various occassions. At Telluride, Kenneth Anger took about fifty of us out to breakfast after we watched movies all night with him. I also got to interview Henry King at Telluride. We were sitting outside by this creek, an appropriately pastoral setting considering some of King's best films.

July 02, 2005 8:59 AM  

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