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 Godard—Rob 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 Woo—Jean-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.