Thursday, May 18, 2006

Toronto International Film Festival: Dialogues



Cannes is here, which inevitably starts one looking ahead to Toronto in the fall. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) thinks of itself as a sort of “anthology” fest, collecting the best films from other festivals in addition to premiering new ones. (It even used to be subtitled “The Festival Of Festivals” for many years.) It’s large—upwards of 350 features—with many programmes running simultaneously.

One (unfortunately) less-attended programme is called “Dialogues,” in which filmmakers show up at the cavernous Cumberland theater and screen a favorite film, speak about it afterwards and engage in conversation with the audience. In 1999, the first year I attended TIFF, Tim Roth presented a powerful Alan Clarke film called Elephant (1989), and talked eloquently about it afterwards. (The film's title is also the basis of the name of the Gus Van Sant film.) Too bad there was only a handful of us there; it’s been my experience at TIFF that new and current films are often much better attended than older ones.

So, for a little divertissement, I've culled, from TIFF programme books past, a few examples of filmmakers and the films they chose to present, followed by a few words on why they chose these films:

  • Atom Egoyan—Luis Buñuel’s The Criminal Life Of Archibaldo De La Cruz, 1955. “Before Travis Bickle, before Norman Bates, before Henry, there was a portrait of a very unique serial killer….As an examining doctor sums Archibaldo up: ‘He’s a typical man of our times….a bit moody.’”

  • Jonathan Demme—Glauber Rocha’s Antonio Das Mortes, 1969. “Long before the invention of the Steadicam, and without the aid of cranes or dolly track, Glauber Rocha was ecstatically challenging the limits of just how much information, movement, theme and suspense could be crammed into a single shot.”

  • Guy Maddin—Tod Browning’s The Devil Doll, 1936. “[It] is a revenge story, a prison-break actioner, a shrinking-people sfx horror movie, a comedy, a tearjerker, a father-daughter concealed-identity melodrama. It features taxi-drivers, laundry-maids, homicidal toys, a blind mother, the Eiffel Tower, and Lionel Barrymore in drag. My favorite quote: ‘It might have been safer to take him downstairs and make him small.’ Let’s all find, or make, some more movies as inspired as this.”

  • Claire Denis—Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, 1971. “Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats The Soul would be my other choice; it is always on my mind when I’m making my own films. But Sweet Sweetback is something special, and in many ways it is not so far from Ali either.”

  • Errol Morris—Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour, 1945. “Here is my candidate for the most uncompromisingly bleak movie to come out of America—with Leo McCarey’s Make Way For Tomorrow running a close second.”

  • Tsai Ming-Liang—Wong Tin-Lam’s The Wild, Wild Rose, 1960. Here are Darren’s thoughts on the screening.

  • Peter Greenaway—Alain Resnais’ Last Year At Marienbad, 1961. “[It] is perhaps the only truly film-film that cannot be anything else; not a text, though it came from Robbe-Grillet; not a painting, though it visually quotes paintings; not a play, though it visually and aurally quotes a play twice. This is true intelligent cinematic manipulation, and no poor mimetic transference of some other language. Like cinema itself, it exists to play games…I have been trying to re-make this film ever since.”

  • Jean-Luc GodardRob Tregenza’s Talking To Strangers, 1987. “There is a great tradition in solitary America of being in love with reality, from Thoreau through Man Of Aran and Faces. And Rob Tregenza belongs to this tradition—that of speaking of and listening to our daily reality. Not simply of loving life—not the candid camera, no, a reflecting camera.”

  • Olivier Assayas—Robert Bresson’s L’Argent, 1983. “Faith no longer exists, idealism seems meaningless, nothing transcends the actions of humanity. All that is left is a cold material world, a desolate land where humanity wanders in bondage to diabolical evil….L’Argent is the testament of a director in his 80s. It is also a film of a radical young man, which dares everything, without compromising with the taste of the time.”

  • David Cronenberg—Tod Browning’s Freaks, 1932. “We are part of a culture, we are part of an ethical and moral system, but all we have to do is take one step outside it and we see that none of that is absolute. It’s only a human construct.”

  • John WooJean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai, 1967. “Melville understands that Jeff, the Alain Delon character, is doomed to be killed because he is a killer himself, that the way he is bound to die is built into the way he lives. When he chose his life he was embracing his own death. He achieves redemption at the end by accepting his fate gracefully. To me, this is the most romantic attitude imaginable.”

  • Michael Almereyda—Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack, 1971. “[It] remains fascinating for its surprises and contradictions. A macho fantasy with with a feminist core. A melodramatic seventies western powered by the ideals of sixties pop politics.”

  • Richard Linklater—Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop, 1971.

  • Hou Hsiao-Hsien—Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring, 1949.

33 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

The San Francisco Int'l Festival used to have a sereies like this too called Indelible Images-perhaps inspired by Toronto's? But it was scrapped a few years ago. I attended a screening of Land Without Bread and Simon of the Desert presented by Michael Lehmann, who had been using the latter as inspiration for his 40 Days and 40 Nights. He came across as a smart cinephile frustrated by having to work in the Hollywood system. The films were astonishers, of course.

Other picks (all by Bay Area residents): Peter Coyote chose Dersu Uzala, Ruby Yang chose Horse Thief, Craig Baldwin chose a selection of found-footage films by Conner, Pelechian and others, John Lasseter picked Yellow Submarine, Henry Selick picked Swordsman II, Robin Wright Penn picked Faces and her husband picked Come and See, etc. Wish I could have made it to all of them.

May 18, 2006 4:39 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

I've decided to make this a tradition. Each year at TIFF I'm going to attend at least one Dialogues screening. Last year it was Tsai, the year before Don McKellar introducing The Brood. I have to admit that I chose that one because it was my first trip to Toronto, and an afternoon with McKellar and a Cronenberg film just seemed like the thing to do.

McKellar's most interesting comments -- to me, at least -- all revolved around his experiences as a kid growing up in Toronto. He told us that he snuck into a screening of The Brood and was amazed to discover a film that felt like his home town.

Really interesting film, too. I'd never seen it before.

May 18, 2006 4:44 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Yeah, I really love The Brood.
And McKellar will be at Eastman day after tomorrow night with Childstar.
And Darren, I like your new cooking-related post (a first, perhaps?).

Brian, that's a very interesting list. Thanks for sharing that with us.

May 18, 2006 4:57 PM  
Blogger girish said...

And for the post, I tried to pick some filmmaker-film pairs that seemed to make intuitive sense and some that didn't.
If people see any traces or influences of these films on the filmmaker's own oeuvre, feel free to point them out. Might be interesting to talk about.

And by the way, hard to believe, but Hou didn't see any Ozu until he was well into his filmmaking career (like, the 90s).

May 18, 2006 5:03 PM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

I made it to Toronto for a weekend in 2002 and it was one of the great experiences of my young life. I got to ask Terry Gilliam a question at the Lost in La Mancha Q&A, see Bruce Campbell introduce Bubba Ho-tep, see Hayao Miyazaki with Spirited Away and Tom Tykwer with Heaven, and I met tons of cool people.

I think I'm going to make it there again this year, and maybe I'll even get to meet some of you folks who frequent these parts!

May 18, 2006 5:16 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

First of all, Girish, that's a great photo of Delphine Seyrig.

Second (and related to the first in a way), I love that Peter Greenaway quote about Marienbad. It's priceless. In the last Sight and Sound poll of the greatest films, Michael Mann selected Marienbad as one of his top ten, remarking that it represented the very height of cinematic modernism. To me, it has the same theme as Hiroshima mon amour: the horror of forgetting.

Nice post.

May 18, 2006 5:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Andy ~ That's great. Drop a line if we can be of any help at the planning stages. And let's make sure we exchange info and rendezvous when we're up there.

Michael ~ I screen-grabbed that about an hour into the film. I was surprised--I had remembered more close-ups of her in the film than there actually are.

"...the horror of forgetting." Spot-on.

May 18, 2006 5:57 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

...or the horror of not forgetting, stuck in an eternal past-present. Hey, what good is Marienbad if you can't play a little head trip? :) I once watched Ulrike Ottinger's Johanna d'arc de Mongolia just to see Seyrig in what would turn out to be her final film, and she was just as luminous and statuesque as ever.

Hmm, Claire Denis and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, I can't seem to wrap my head around that one.

I wish FSLC would do something along these lines. They have these directors workshops instead, but they invariably end up being extended Q&A of their work instead of the films that influenced them.

May 18, 2006 8:00 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

What a coincidence -- The Devil-Doll was on TCM yesterday -- I was watching it at the gym, which resulted in awkward glances from the people on the machines next to me.

I simply must get to Toronto this year -- even if it means skipping the NYFF. Well...maybe.

May 18, 2006 8:47 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Acquarello ~ I think two less-remarked-upon Delphine Seyrig movies that I love very much are Resnais's Muriel and Chantal Akerman's Window Shopping (though they are very different). And I've never seen that Ottinger film.

Filmbrain ~ The Devil Doll is brilliant, IMO. I tried to make my mom watch it and she got really terrified by it. When I asked her why, she told me that she's had a life-long phobia of "very little people". :-) She was utterly serious.

May 18, 2006 9:07 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Zach's Ten Underrated Films.

May 18, 2006 9:23 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Mmm...indeed, Muriel is a great, less-remarked upon performance. She's almost uncharacteristically frumpy in that role. Her tableau vivant performance as colonialist widow Anne Marie Stretter in Marguerite Duras' India Song is another quiet gem. She manages to convey betrayal, sadness, ennui, and self-destruction without ever uttering a single word onscreen. Hmm...come to think of it, that almost describes Jeanne Dielman too. :)

May 18, 2006 10:54 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Whoa. Forgot all about India Song!
Also liked her as the shoe-store owner Michel Lonsdale's wife in Truffaut's Stolen Kisses.
And that amazing deep raspy voice...

May 18, 2006 11:18 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

"I was surprised--I had remembered more close-ups of her in the film than there actually are."

You know, now that I think about it, there are a lot of medium to wide shots in that film.

"...or the horror of not forgetting, stuck in an eternal past-present. Hey, what good is Marienbad if you can't play a little head trip? :) I once watched Ulrike Ottinger's Johanna d'arc de Mongolia just to see Seyrig in what would turn out to be her final film, and she was just as luminous and statuesque as ever."

That's a good point about Marienbad, Acquarello. It's like a perpetual motion machine. You know, this discussion is really cool because I don't think I've ever seen -- or been partly involved -- in a blog or other online discussion about Seyrig. I haven't seen that Ottinger film, and Muriel is high up on my list of films that I wish were on DVD. The last film I saw her in on DVD is Bunuel's Discreet Charm, which also features another great actress of Seyrig's generation -- Stephane Audran (To this day, Audran's performance in Chabrol's Le Boucher ranks in my mind as one of the great performances by any European actress.)

May 19, 2006 1:44 AM  
Blogger Richard Gibson said...

Interesting to see the films Director's pick. Sort of reminds me of the saying how a dog can look like its owner.

Picking up on the 'Last Year at Marienbad' comments, I remember reading in some film magazines from the time that there was a theory that when she is wearing a white dress she is telling the truth and when she is wearing a black dress she is not. Has anyone else explored or heard this theory?

Before I started working I used to do a few festivals a year and always went to events where directors/writers would introduce or talk. Once James Ellroy came to Nottingham to introduce a few films in a great Crime Film Festival called 'Shots in the Dark' and introduced 'The Sleeping Car Murders', great film. Anybod seen it?

I was in Toronto in October 1999 for work, I went to one of the cinema's and think I picked up a programme, it had Peter Lorre on it from, I think 'M'. Didn't attend any screenings but did check out the Cindy Sherman exhibition that was on at one of your art galleries at that time, may have been called Ontario Art Gallery or something similar.

One of my favourite things to do is visit the cinema when travelling.

May 19, 2006 2:42 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

I'm tickled pink to see Hou choosing Late Spring.

Most of the choices seem obvious (Assayas, Bresson; Greenaway, Resnais; Woo, Melville). Denis is a surprise, but so is Linklater on Hellman.

May 19, 2006 4:05 AM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Damn. Guess I'm going to have to queue up Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.

May 19, 2006 8:10 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I watched Sweetback for the first time a couple of years back. I was expecting a routine blaxploitation film, but found it to be something else entirely.
It's formally daring and admirably loose with lots of great lyrical, "experimental" passages, and of course very sociopolitically radical. A great film.
I enjoyed Mario's Baadasss but it's a very different, more conventional (and to me, less interesting) film. And that's fine.
Been meaning to re-watch Sweetback in a home-curated DVD double bill with a Denis film. (I Can't Sleep might go nicely.)

May 19, 2006 9:14 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Richard, you mentioned being in Toronto in the fall of '99. It was also my first full season of movie-watching there: retrospectives of Lang, Ophuls and Chabrol. I get nostalgic for those days.

And I have a Cindy Sherman postcard from that show still tacked to my fridge, 7 years later.

"One of my favourite things to do is visit the cinema when travelling."
You know, sorta Like J-P Leaud's Alphonse in Day For Night, the first thing I do when I arrive in a new town is buy a paper and check the movie listings.

May 19, 2006 9:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

More from Walter at Quiet Bubble on Miyazaki.

May 20, 2006 8:32 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Filmbrain on the 1973 musical remake of Lost Horizon.

May 20, 2006 8:33 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Dennis Cozzalio on the Walter Chaw interview.

May 20, 2006 8:34 AM  
Blogger girish said...

At MZS's: Odienator on Billy Wilder.

And now, off to don cap and gown and go attend graduation ceremonies and after-parties with students.

May 20, 2006 8:39 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Claire Denis citing Sweet Sweetback seems consistent in light of her films Chocolat and Trouble Every Day, especially the former, being more directly about race, sex, class and colonialism.

May 20, 2006 10:12 AM  
Anonymous davis said...

I mentioned the other day, in a comment on Girish's "Movie-Watching Time" post, that Denis chose Cockfighter to screen at a "Carte Blanche" retrospective in Vienna a year ago. This seems like a good time to mention the others. Some of her films played more than once, with a different paired film each time, and vice-versa. Also, I'm not sure if she chose the Hong film to play with something in particular or if it was the programmers who decided to pair it with her shorts. I wasn't there, but I made a note of the program.

- La Chienne (Renoir) paired with Vendredi Soir and Trouble Every Day
- L'Enfant de l'hiver (Assayas) paired with Vendredi Soir
- Cockfighter (Hellman) paired with No Fear No Die
- Sweet Sweetback´s Baadasssss Song (Van Peebles) paired with Chocolat
- Le Pont du nord (Rivette) paired with Jacques Rivette, le veilleur
- La Bête humaine (Renoir) paired with No Fear No Die
- Le Petit soldat (Godard) paired with Beau Travail
- Tabu (Murnau) paired with L'Intrus
- La Naissance de l'amour (Garrel) paired with L'Intrus
- Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder) paired with Nénette et Boni
- The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (Hong Sang-soo) paired with her shorts
- Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Oshima) paired with Man No Run

Funny, I made the same connection between L'Intrus and Tabu but I thought it was just because I saw them around the same time.

May 20, 2006 4:17 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Rob--Thanks for posting that; it's a dynamite set of associations. I'm having fun just connecting the dots in my mind.

One of these days I'm going to book myself a long warm soak into the Errata Spa and read through all your archives, month by month.
Seriously--It is such a trove of cool stuff.

May 20, 2006 7:31 PM  
Anonymous davis said...

Aw, thanks Girish. The whole thing is stale, but I'll freshen it up one of these days.

May 21, 2006 5:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott from Cannes.

May 22, 2006 11:00 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Greencine Cannes coverage.

So far, some films that seem most interesting:

--Almodovar's VOLVER.
--Loach's THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY.
--Ceylan's CLIMATES.
--Kaurismaki's LIGHTS IN THE DUSK.
--Kelly's SOUTHLAND TALES.
-- Linklater's FAST FOOD NATION.

I've heard great things about Jafar Panahi's OFFSIDE but seen no full reviews yet.

May 22, 2006 11:38 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Newly discovered blog, via Flickhead:
CINEBEATS.

I hope to return with a post tomorrow; mulling it today.

May 22, 2006 11:53 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Dave Kehr: Grumpy Old Farts vs. Whiny Young Whelps.

May 22, 2006 4:00 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Panahi's Offside on S&S ;)
is it playing at Cannes too?

I liked Michael's "The horror of forgetting" too.

Your Dialogue list is very interesting Girish. Filmmakers too rarely accept to talk about someone else's work, much less their influences. Their input is often more interesting than critics'.
Let me plug this Almodovar Carte Blanche at the Cinémathèque Française. Same pairing as in Davis' list.

May 22, 2006 8:45 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for the links, Harry.
Great Almodovar choices...
reminds me of that B&W "silent movie" at the Cinematheque in Talk To Her.

May 23, 2006 11:49 AM  

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