Toronto International Film Festival: Day 1
Choosing the movies to see on the first day of screenings is a complicated process, since I’ve yet to narrow down the movies I want to see and I’m dealing with a complicated and inflexible schedule. At any one moment there are five or six or more choices to make; some films will be repeated several times, later in the festival, and others not. I’ve often wished there was a computer program that you could plug your list into that would shuffle things around and present you with the best options.
In the press computer room, the day before, I ran into two San Franciscans, Linda Blackaby, the director of programming of the San Francisco Film Society, scouting movies for the next San Francisco Film Festival, and B. Ruby Rich, film scholar, writer, and professor at UC Santa Cruz. Ruby and I decide to meet at the 3 p.m. screening of Clare Denis’s latest, 35 Rhums, because we’re both big fans of her work. So scheduling becomes a process of counting back from the 3 p.m. screening, and trying to squeeze in at least two before – and two after.
Looking at the schedule now, with the benefit of hindsight and a little more knowledge (via a word I’m not fond of, buzz), I find myself wishing that I’d started with something more difficult and unknown, like a movie called Liverpool, set in Argentina, an Argentina/France/the Netherlands/Germany/Spain co-production (!) by an Argentinian director, Lisandro Alonso, whose work I don’t know, or All Around Us, a 2-hour-and-twenty-minute Japanese film by Ryosuke Hashiguchi, another unknown quantity. But I go down a more conventional path and choose Guy Ritchie’s latest, RocknRolla, hoping it’ll be witty, kinetic, and seductive. And it kinda is: a well-cast, propulsive, but ultimately empty gangster saga set in present-day London, full of wonderful actors and wonderful faces, but highly disposable. Unconventional in a way that’s conventional for Ritchie (and became influential).
My next pick is Vinyan, which has attracted some controversy because of its setting in a corrupt underbelly of Thailand and Burma after the tsunami. Emmanuelle Beart and Rufus Sewell play a couple whose child was lost during the floods and who’ve remained in Thailand, in the hopes of finding him. Beart is one of the few French actresses to significantly alter her face and body, which oddly makes her seem more vulnerable in this context. She thinks she’s glimpsed her son in a film about orphans in Burma, so the two enlist the aid of smugglers and embark upon a scary trek into the jungle that evokes the Heart of Darkness, Lord of the Flies, and creepy horror films. Not a success.
I admire the Clare Denis – poetic, evocative, and interesting, set in a Paris almost entirely populated by black people – but I’m not completely engaged by it, as I often am by her films. Afterwards I head to Pa-Ra-Da, a film directed by the son of Gillo Pontecorvo, set in Bucharest, about the efforts of well-meaning foreigners to save homeless children from lives of drugs and prostitution, with a friend from LA, David Pendleton, who used to work at the UCLA Film Archive, but now programs for the Harvard Film Archive. In rather typical film festival behavior, we leave early and head to another movie, Khamsa, by Karim Dridi, another unknown quantity who’s made several movies set among pimps and prostitutes in Paris. Khamsa, like Pa-Ra-Da, is also set in the world of semi-homeless and lawless children, this time Gypsies and Arabs aimlessly living in trailer parks in Marseille, practicing petty thievery and careless cruelty.
The last movie of the day is The Paranoids, about a hapless, depressed guy in Argentina who finds out his erstwhile best friend has based a character in a popular TV show on him – and gone as far as giving him the same name. The idea is more compelling than the execution: it feels flat, repetitive, and unengaging. I’m watching it with three friends who are festival programmers, and there’s a wave of discontent that starts on the aisle and works its way across four seats to me. We leave after the better part of an hour, heading for cheap Vietnamese food across the street and discussions of movies we’ve seen and are about to see in the days to come. Tomorrow will be better.