Saturday, August 28, 2010

2010 Toronto Film Festival Preview (Yours, Not Mine!)

For the first time since I moved to Toronto in 1994, I’m skipping the film festival entirely this year. This might seem crazy to you given my obvious cinephile status, especially because this year’s edition, with the opening of the new Bell Lightbox festival centre, should be one for the ages. But as I’ve occasionally written here, I’ve grown fonder of having things my own way, cinematically speaking, and while the festival never ceases to generate great films, it seldom constitutes the optimum way of seeing them. There used to be a sense of needing to grab opportunities while you could – I saw Jacques Rivette’s Haut bas fragile at the festival in one of those early years and loved it, but I’ve never been able since then to see it again. That’s less common now in an expanded-access world though, and to the extent it’s still sometimes true, you’ll never catch up anyway (even the most self-destructively dedicated festivalgoer can only see 15 or 20% of what’s on offer during the week and a half).

My Festival Days

Of course, there’s the spectacle and the celebrity sightings and so on, which was definitely exciting to me in the early years. I think the first festival film I saw - selected more or less randomly at the last minute – was Somebody To Love, by the subsequently underachieving Alexandre Rockwell: I hadn’t realized someone like Rosie Perez (and I guess she meant more at the time too) would actually be there. A couple of years after that I saw Al Pacino introducing Looking For Richard; later again, Jean-Luc Godard carrying out a gorgeously impenetrable Q&A. But more often than not, I sat through lots of boring, unrevealing chatter and somewhat misplaced adulation and fawning, so I eventually just started ignoring that aspect altogether. I guess, at the end of the day, movies really aren’t a social activity for me. They’re vitally important to me, but because of that very fact, I need my own relationship with them. The festival, for all its unquestioned importance and achievement, eventually became a bit of an interloper.

There’s more to it than that though. The first full day of this year’s festival is the same day we bring home our new eight week-old Labrador retriever puppy. He will be named Ozu, in honor of Yasujiro Ozu, and is the successor to Pasolini, who died on March 2nd. Ozu’s arrival is a major event in our household, and I realize now – after welcoming Paso at the same age and seeing him through eleven years of comedy and tragedy – that it’s the start of a decade-plus chapter that, on a nuts and bolts day-to-day level, will be defined much more by the dog than by the so-called owners. In other words, it’s a big deal. So it’s pretty obvious where I have to spend my spare time during that initial period, and it ain’t pushing for a glimpse of David Schwimmer.

Jean-Luc Godard

So that’s my story. But as a public service, I’ll record here the movies that would have been high on my list if I had been going, and then if you bump into me at any time in the near future, you can laugh in my face and tell me what I missed (nah, I know you’re not like that). Well, talking of Jean-Luc Godard, he has a new film after several years, Film Socialism. It’s supposedly, to continue a theme, gorgeously impenetrable. The Oscars are really showing some imagination this year by giving a special lifetime achievement award to Godard, although it’s a bit like putting out a cookie as an offering to God. They had trouble even locating JLG to let him know about this, and there doesn’t seem to be much chance he’ll bother showing up to pick up the prize (although if he does, it should be quite the speech). If I were just going to see one film, this would almost certainly be it.

The other overwhelming attraction is Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives by (and this is where I need to apologize to my spell check software) Apichatpong Weerasethakul. After just a handful of films, AW is already in the top tier of filmmakers: I saw his Tropical Malady on DVD for the first time this year, and was so intrigued by it that I watched it again almost immediately. His new one won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year and is reportedly a magical, impressionistic masterpiece. Happily for those of us who miss it, it’s already been scheduled for a longer run at the Lightbox this fall.

Always Buy Brand Names

You can see I’m a big devotee of the “always buy brand names” philosophy when it comes to movies – another reason why the festival’s potluck aspect doesn’t really chime with my own approach (I realize I’m probably making myself sound really dour and chilly, but if you saw how well I’m gonna treat Ozu, you’d reconsider). Jerzy Skolimowski made some very appealing, spiky, whizzkid films in the 60’s and 70’s (Deep End may be the best known) but more recently generated nothing for almost twenty years - now in his 70’s he’s back with his second movie in three years, Essential Killing. And then there’s Raul Ruiz, also touching 70 now. Ruiz has made over 100 films (many of them truly hard to find), and 2009 was the first year since 1966 not to have any new entries alongside his name in the Internet Movie Database’s listing. But he’s making up for it with three new titles in 2010, including the festival’s Mysteries of Lisbon.

If I were taking a chance on directors I know nothing about, I might be drawn to The Autobiography Of Nicolae Ceausescu by Andrei Ujica, which I’ve read some dazzling things about. The most interesting of the mainstream selections may be Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky (who last made The Wrestler), supposedly a dazzling psychological thriller with Natalie Portman (and Barbara Hershey! and Winona Ryder!) And it’s appealing to think John Carpenter’s return, with John Carpenter’s The Ward, might be a major return to form, although Carpenter’s work started going downhill around the time he started inserting his own name in the titles. And that was in 1978 folks!

But the fact is, since I’m not going, I haven’t even spent much time looking at the line-up – it’s also the first time in fifteen years I didn’t buy myself the big program book. So that’s all I’ve got for you. While I’m messing round with house training and getting my fingers chewed, please have the time of your lives!

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