The complete film list for the Toronto film festival will be announced next week. Like last year, I’d like to do a post around it, inviting your suggestions and recommendations. As a nostalgic warm-up, I thought I’d look back over the last 8 TIFFs and collect some less well-known, undistributed films that have tenaciously clung on in my memory. I’m not saying these are all great films (a handful of them are) but I think they are all solid and interesting items that I wish were available on region 1 DVD.
-- 1999: Rien à Faire (Marion Vernoux); Peau Neuve (Emilie Deleuze, daughter of Gilles); Carne (Gaspar Noe, 1991); Throne of Death (Murali Nair); La Lettre (Manoel de Oliveira); Tempting Heart (Sylvia Chang); Juha (Aki Kaurismaki); and three by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (License to Live , Barren Illusion , The Excitement of the Do-Re-Mi-Fa Girl );
-- 2000: The Long Holiday (Johan van der Keuken); Wild Blue: Notes for Several Voices (Thierry Knauff); With Closed Eyes (Mansur Madavi); Djomeh (Hassan Yektapanah, a former assistant to Kiarostami).
-- 2001: The Orphan of Anyang (Wang Chao); A Dog’s Day (Murali Nair); Loss is to be Expected (Ulrich Seidl); The Profession of Arms (Ermanno Olmi); Lovely Rita (Jessica Hausner, a former student of Michael Haneke’s).
-- 2002: La Vie Nouvelle (Philippe Grandrieux); The Last Letter (Frederick Wiseman).
-- 2003: Nô (Sharon Lockhart); Abjad (Abolfazl Jalili); two by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, The Small Town and Clouds of May.
-- 2004: Los Muertos (Lisandro Alonso).
-- 2005: The Sun (Alexander Sokurov); The Forsaken Land (Vimukti Jayasundara); Entre la Mer et L’eau Douce (Michel Brault, 1967), which is actually playing again in the festival this year.
-- 2006: Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa); Belle Toujours (Manoel de Oliveira); Dong (Jia Zhang-ke).
In addition to TIFF, I’ve made just two other festival trips. A few films from those:
-- Rotterdam, 2000: Samar (Shyam Benegal); Le Petit Voleur (Erick Zonca); Inter-View (Jessica Hausner); Enzo Domani à Palermo (Cipri & Maresco).
-- Montreal, 2001: Après la Reconciliation (Anne-Marie Miéville); Martha…Martha (Sandrine Veysset).
If you like, please feel free to add some of your own picks of personal favorites that might’ve played festivals in the last several years (e.g. TIFF, NYFF, SFIFF, Sundance, etc.) but are unavailable on DVD here.
I watched Antonioni’s feature debut, Cronaca di un Amore [“Story of a Love Affair”] (1950) last night. Wow—a strong film, with so many of his preoccupations and strategies either already in place or showing clear traces of them in embryonic form. And Lucia Bosè, whom I’d never seen before, is an arresting presence.
Sam Rohdie, in his book on Antonioni [BFI, 1990]:
The most interesting comment on Cronaca di un Amore remains a review of it at the time in Bianco e Nero by Fernaldo Di Giammatteo; it concerns, primarily, Antonioni’s choice of a narrative position at some distance from the characters which allows the characters an independence from the ‘grip’ of the narrative, an autonomy from any encompassing knowledge by the narrator, as if the narrator was describing events and characters not which he knew but which he sought to know, which fascinated him, and which he came upon, like the detective, or the reporter of a chronicle of a film, at the moment they occurred, knowing no more and sometimes less than the characters themselves.
On the relationship of Antonioni’s films to neo-realism:
Looked at on the level of theme or meaning, many critics, especially in Italy, enjoying the warm humanism of neo-realism, found Antonioni’s work cold, depressing and, hopelessly, gloomily pessimistic. Some of this had to do with distance: an objectivity without sympathy; but mostly it related to the sense of disconnection. Even if the social environment weighed down figures in Visconti, de Sica, Rossellini, there was always hope, either for a change in the environment, or in pockets within it: faith, the family, love, affection. No matter how threatening, how awful things were, there were some eternal certainties or a political chance, love or solidarity, a retreat or a way forward. There is still Bruno and human will in Ladri di biciclette, the dog who saves the man in Umberto D, an optimistic tomorrow in Paisà and Roma, città aperta, struggles not in vain, not like in Antonioni where ends dissolve, and struggle ceases to have sense.
On the other hand, and Rossellini apart, the way ahead charted by these films was often familiar and conventional. What may have seemed grim in Antonioni’s themes, was positive, indeed exhilarating at the level of their realization; his films opened up new narrative and fictional possibilities in the very activity of dissolving what was certain and clear, in rejecting what neo-realism had made positive. And this is most evident visually: by the very fact of destabilising forms and structures, Antonioni permitted new forms to appear, hence new fascinations and new objects to make themselves felt. Neo-realism, on the contrary, and despite the attentiveness it gave to technique and to film language, was conservative, intent on declaring established, unshakeable things, certainties and orders which by the mid-50s even its greatest apologists had to admit no longer held.
A certain figuration present in Antonioni’s films, including Cronaca:
… when the attention of the camera is caught by something either peripheral to the narrative or utterly unconnected with it, and the camera simply wanders off, focuses on a pattern, or a shadow, or an extraneous event, becomes a camera-errant while the narrative is seemingly left to one side. […] What is interesting about these figures in the films — and they become more frequent in later films — is that [...] this place at which the narrative dies, at which the camera becomes distracted, is often a place at which another non-narrative interest develops: the light and tone of things, compositional frames created by doorways, beams, gates, gratings, the shifting of colour, a shimmering between figure and ground. These are places which are openly non-narrativised, of a pictorial and visual interest which suddenly takes hold, causes the narrative to err, to wander, momentarily to dissolve. They are among the most interesting places in Antonioni’s films, at which everything and nothing takes place.
Noël Burch considers Cronaca to be Antonioni’s masterpiece (or at least, given the various incarnations of Noël Burch, he did in 1969). In his classic text, Theory of Film Practice, he speaks of movements into and out of the frame, and the play with off-screen space, that occur in the film:
It has often been noted there are only two hundred or so separate shots in the entire film; most of them are very long, and all of them give proof of an absolutely unprecedented degree of visual organization. The principal structural factor in the film is movements into and out of the frame, used mainly for rhythmic effect but also serving to bring into play, in an entirely complex manner, the spatial segments immediately adjacent to the frame lines, particularly those on the right and the left. [...] Because of the camera movements and the characters' movements off screen [in the bridge party sequence], these entrances and exits always occur at unexpected places and unexpected moments. In other sequences of the film, Antonioni often prolongs an exit by having someone on screen look off screen in the direction of a person who has just left, thereby bringing that segment of off-screen space to life.
A few links:
-- Martin Scorsese on Antonioni in yesterday's NYT.
-- Sam Rohdie's words of introduction at the Hong Kong Arts Centre retrospective of Antonioni.
-- Dan Sallitt makes many astute and useful stylistic observations about post-war George Cukor.
-- Michael Sicinski on Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn and Ousmane Sembène.
-- Andy Horbal on Alfred Hitchcock.
-- The Art of Memory: "Some flares, flickers and circles of confusion from The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (long version)".
pic: Lucia Bosè in Cronaca di un Amore [“Story of a Love Affair”] (1950)