Movies, They’re Everywhere, Man. EVERYWHERE!

Last Thursday, Girish introduced me to a friend of his, a Toronto native who had just returned from Montreal, where he had seen 54 films at that festival. He had another 45 tickets in hand for TIFF. I don’t get it. I just left my 31st film (I think), and I’m exhausted. Completely. Like I felt the week I took my doctoral comprehensive exams.

I’ve realized that part of the reason I’m so tired is that I’m just not built to process films — or any information, really — in this manner. I’m not shy, but I’m deeply introverted, and so, as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing the festival experience with a group of friends, the social element — the scheduling and the meals and the intense discussions between films — is taking its toll. I’m enjoying this moment right now. Alone in my room, drinking hotel coffee, staring out the window, taking a long pause. Nice.

I’ve also realized that I’m the last person who should be posting first impressions live from a fest. It’ll take a few weeks’ time and several hours at the computer before I discover what it is that I particularly like and dislike about the films I’ve seen. I’m finding myself increasingly tongue-tied when asked to justify my fondness for some of the films I’ve enjoyed. They worked for me. I enjoyed experiencing the world from each director’s particular perspective. Why? I have no idea. Give me time. I’ll get back to you.

But, in the interest of this on-going experiment, here are a few more quick thoughts . . .

Vers Le Sud

Dir. by Laurent Cantet

I’ve seen only Cantet’s previous film, Time Out, and I like it quite a lot. I appreciate his ability to make money real in that film. It’s not just another middle-aged white man has a crisis story; instead, like Bresson’s L’Argent, it shows money changing hands and determining lives. That was my favorite part of Vers Le Sud, as well. The story of wealthy western women who vacation in Haiti in order to sleep with young black men, the film is very much about “exchanges” — of money, power, love, domination. I appreciate the ways in which Cantet explores the pathology of the relationships, acknowledging both the benefits and the degredations inherent in them.

Where the Truth Lies

Dir. by Atom Egoyan

Let’s see . . . I liked the music, so that’s something. And I enjoyed seeing Egoyan in person. (Much shorter than I expected.) Where the Truth Lies is a fairly unexceptional thriller, and, despite all of the controversy, it’s not even particularly erotic. So, disappointing on all counts. The most interesting part of the afternoon was hearing Egoyan recount his fights last week with the MPAA.


Dir. by Michael Haneke

Please don’t expect me to draw any conclusions about this one yet. It might be the best film I see at TIFF, but I’m not sure why. It works perfectly well as a thriller — who knew a shot of a man laying down for a nap could be more exciting than a car chase? — but Haneke has also crafted a complex study of Europe’s post-colonial history and bourgeois guilt. Someday I hope to be able to justify that last sentence with a full-length response. Really remarkable film.

Tristram Shandy

Dir. by Michael Winterbottom

Ten years from now, when asked to name my all-time favorite film comedies, Tristram Shandy will no doubt be near the top of the list. Like, maybe once a decade, a film this smart, this well-made, and (lord be praised) this funny comes along.

The Wild, Wild Rose

Dir. by Tian-lin Wang

Tsai Ming-liang introduced this Grace Chang musical from the early-1960s, then hung around afterwards for a half-hour or so to talk about his film-going experiences as a child in Malaysia and the influence of the Cathay films on his own work. (Five of Chang’s songs can be heard in Tsai’s The Hole, and another is used in his latest, The Wayward Cloud). Chang is the “Wild Rose” of the title, a nighclub singer with a checkered past who seduces a young, naive pianist and drives him to alcoholism and crime. Quite a synapsis, eh? Part musical, part thriller, part comedy, part noir. I’m eager to track down other films of the era.

The highlight of the screening, though, was listening to Tsai recount the history of the Cathay studios. Someone in the audience asked why he and other Chinese filmmakers (like Hou) seem to be obsessed with the late-1950s and early-1960s, and Tsai gave two reasons. First, because it was a golden era for film buffs. Tickets were cheap and, without VHS or DVDs, film-watching was a communal experience. Also (and more interestingly, I think), Tsai admitted that he is nostalgic for the genuine and oversized emotions on display in those films. “The music,” he said, “is the most pure form of those emotions.” The musical interludes in The Hole, I assume, are to serve the same purpose — offering a kind of psychic counter-point to the absurd human alienation that marks so much of the film’s “real” world. I see The Wayward Cloud first thing tomorrow morning.

Why We Fight

Dir. by Eugene Jarecki

Why We Fight opens with a snippet from Eisenhower’s farewell address, the speech in which he coined the term “military-industrial complex.” That choice gave me great hope that this film would offer a rich historical analysis of what Daniel Bell called America’s “permanent war economy,” a term that preceded Ike’s by more than a decade. Instead, director Eugene Jarecki constructs an argument only slightly more nuanced than Michael Moore’s in Fahrenheit 9/11, moving much too quickly, I think, from the Cold War to what is clearly his main target, Iraq. I’ll admit that I’m mostly faulting Why We Fight for not being the film I wanted to see, but I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with Left-leaning critiques of America that don’t do the messy work of wrestling with multinational capital. Jarecki missed several opportunities to discuss the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, and America’s “open door” economic policies, which, in my opinion, contributed a great deal more to “why we fight” than Haliburton. Also, I’m getting tired of filmmaker’s who cut in shots of, say, “regular Americans” sitting in small town diners, and do so with an air of condescension. I have other strong opinions about this film. None are particularly favorable.

Le Temps qui reste

Dir. by Fancois Ozon

While discussing Ozon’s latest with Girish afterwards, I realized that the film — which isn’t particularly great — did touch me in unexpected and deeply personal ways. When he introduced it, Ozon called Le Temps qui reste a “secret” film, and I think I know what he means, though I’m sure I won’t be able to explain it. It’s a film about “survival instincts,” I think — words used by Jeanne Moreau to describe the decisions she made after her husband died. And did I mention that Moreau walked within inches of Girish and me? Jeanne Moreau! Inches! That is so much cooler than spotting Cameron Diaz or Charlize Theron. The woman who walked through the rain wearing that black dress in La Notte walked right past us. sigh.