This year we are on a TIFF budget; we will only see five films this year. However, that is five more than last year. It won’t be our 20 to 30 films we have seen in the past, but then we won’t have to take time off work either, and with the ongoing slowdown in work as freelancers – that’s a good thing. Still, it is costing us about $225 to see those films, so it means choosing with extra care.
My better half and I have very similar taste in films, which makes doing a film fest together a pleasure, we also have tastes that differ enough that we can introduce each other to things that we may not look at the first time through. Neither of us are interested in seeing the “Galas” nor the “Stars”, we try to avoid picking anything that we know will have mainstream distribution. Instead we look for those quirky obscure films from places like Finland, Norway, Iceland, Holland or Denmark. We look for favourite directors or writers whose films we have seen in the past and enjoyed. This for me is what makes TIFF great; it isn’t the “A List” Hollywood type films.
Having said that this year we did pick a couple that will probably be released in Canada.
Our first film of the fest was a “road” film from Finland, entitled Lapland Odyssey. It’s the hilarious story of three, twenty-something slacker guys from a small remote town in Lapland who, in order to save the relationship of one of them, must travel 200 km to the nearest city to buy a Digibox with money they don’t have. Along the way it seems that everything conspires against them including the weather. It becomes an almost holy quest as new obstacles are placed before them that force them to grow beyond who and what they are at the time, and to ultimately grow up.
Did I mention it starts with four hangings? All suicides; men who had dreams dashed by life, and who any of our trio of heroes could become. I don’t think that I’m giving anything away when I say, that by the end we realise that it is the fourth male, and former schoolmate of our heroes, the one who has worked hard for everything, who has everything except love, especially from the woman he believes is his greatest desire, who is most likely to be the next victim of suicide.
I have to say, that the Q and A with the director afterwards was one of the funniest I have ever been in the audience for.
Next up was The Illusionist, an animated feature by the people who produced Triplets of Belleville. Based on a script by the late great Jacques Tati, The Illusionist is a richly realised film with almost no dialogue; essentially this a silent film that follows the (mis) fortunes of an ageing magician in a world obsessed with rock and roll, television, and all the mod cons. So well have the animators captured the movements and characteristics of Tati, we feel the sadness and loss he experiences. Each scene is filled with tenderness, humour and pathos, something that it seems many filmmakers no longer understand. Here comedy and tragedy walk hand in hand – just as it would have in the work of the greats – Tati, Chaplin, or Keaton.
Each frame is meticulous in it’s detail, with so many visual jokes I will have to see it again to make sure I find them all. Happily, this will be released in Canada in time for Christmas.
Later that day we went to see a much-anticipated spectacle, Norwegian Wood.
Based on the book of the same name by Haruki Murikami (a favourite author of mine) and directed by Anh Hung Tran who is best known for his film The Scent Of Green Papayas.
I have to admit I both wanted and didn’t want to see this because it is a Murikami story. Anyone who has read Murikami will agree that although there is a filmic quality to his writing, it is generally un-filmable because it is so dense and convoluted with much written between the lines. Wisely Anh Hung Tran didn’t try to film Murikami’s book, but rather accepted that books and films are different animals, and shot his own film based on the story Murikami tells. A subtle distinction, but an important one I believe.
Anh Hung Tran had his work cut out for him and visually this film was stunning. He uses nature, subtle shifts in both camera angle, and the colour palate as part of his visual narrative mostly to great effect. He also succeeds to create a retro feel to the film (set in the late 60’s), without making the sets look like a showroom of the period. It is a beautiful film to look at, unfortunately I feel he was let down by his actors, not all of them; the supporting cast shone; sadly his leads seemed in over their heads. The strongest performance comes from Eriko Hatsune who has a very small roll as the girlfriend of Watanabe’s friend Nagasaswa, and she all but steals the film as far as I was concerned.
Kiko Mizuhara who plays the beguiling Midori does a wonderful job and looks exactly as I pictured Midori. That being said, I tend to agree with Justin Chang in his Variety review when he suggests that, “she (Midori) seems to have been tamped down so as not to clash with the film’s more rarefied air…” even still I don’t know how any young man couldn’t fall madly in love with her.
One of my major concerns was the sound mix on this film; the music worked well, but at times seemed to overwhelm the visuals just due to the volume. There were times I found the music shrill and distorted and too loud in comparison to the dialogue.
I believe that Chang sums up this film well when he says, “ With his striking visual sense and gift for conjuring a mood of languid sensuality, Tran Anh Hung would seem the ideal filmmaker to tackle “Norwegian Wood,” Haruki Murakami’s beguiling novel of longing, loss and sexual curiosity in 1960s Japan. But while this beautiful-looking film at times succeeds in capturing its source material’s delicate emo spirit, it’s far less attentive to the richness of Murakami’s characters — namely, a college student haunted by one woman and ardently pursued by another. Lovely but listless picture is likely to test audience patience beyond Tran’s art-house admirers and the author’s fans.”
I would suggest that at 133 minutes this film could use an edit, but then I believe that most films are far to long today.
There is much I want to say about this film but since I would give aspects of the story away I will wait until the film is out for a while to write that essay.