TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Theres lurking danger in headlong comparisons of art to life. In lightning moments of horror, survival matters. What comes next is the artless construction of narrative in ones own mind, taking torrents of information, our mind trying to constrain it into narrative forms that have come before. The world is a mess of fact. Art provides constructs to understand it.
Instant analysis as in the midst of the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival, when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked ultimately parts like clouds. Weather shifts. On the ground in Toronto after September 11, feelings of helplessness were followed by cries that words lack weight, that cinema is inconsequential. (Ironically, melodramatic pronouncements, left and right, about "the changed world" suggest that moviegoers have fully absorbed film-style hyperbole. A case in point: Henry Kissinger, appearing on Charlie Rose two weeks later, uncharacteristically said, "Its time for the action movie to begin!") The movies at Toronto werent all that puny; the overall picture for film worldwide is usually better than anyone cares to admit.
At first the festivals entries seemed a matter of innocence regained, with two standouts from China, Zhang Yangs Quitting, which starts as a smart slacker opus but turns into a keen contemplation of art and community. Wang Xiaoshuais Beijing Bicycle, on one hand another in a long list of contemporary Chinese films with stubborn protagonists, was also an odd mix of The Bicycle Thief and Los Olvidados, unafraid of spending grandiose emotion over petty matters. Arthur Bradfords feature-length Hows Your News?, while less comic than the original short, still touched the heart in documenting a team of variously handicapped corespondents joyously making their noise across the USA.
World cinema ideally offer place and space-specific work, such as the crystalline funk of David Lynchs Los Angeles (and mind) in Mulholland Drive. Montreal was tangible in the arch catalog of non sequiturs in writer/director/d.p. André Turpins Jai Un Crabe dans le tête. Tracing the infatuation-ridden days and nights of a not-so-bright, charm-burdened underwater photographer, Turpin again showed the gifts he offers as cinematographer to Denis Villeneuve in mad, luscious movies like Maelstrom. Bruce Sweeneys Last Wedding was compared to LaBute and Leigh in its portrait of the tribulations of three Vancouver thirty-something couples, yet Sweeney has his own smart, Canadian edge that makes him worthy of such names. Peter Lynch continued his search for the eccentrics of Canada in his intent documentary Cyberman, in which a geek-academic obsessive who invented the "eye-tap," a tiny camera that can feed his "vision" directly to a Web site looks as strange as the world he imagines. Particularly moving is a sequence of images of New York lit by tremendous flashbulbs: "Dusting" time, he calls it.
And, as always, other filmmakers find the world grotesque: With the documentary Okie Noodling, Bradley Beesley manages to get cutesy with a singular topic: fishing for catfish by hand in his home state of Oklahoma.
Sour contempt marks Lucrecia Martels La Ciénaga, with oppressive sound and lurching camerawork underlining the insistently symbolic imagery that all is not well in the households of Argentina.
Claire Deniss serenely nonsensical Trouble Every Day, is an exquisitely mounted story that might be about vampirism, or just Vincent Gallos sartorial extravagance. Its visual craft, however, stands in stark contrast to Mike Figgiss squalid Hotel, a digital video aberration about a film shoot in a Venice hotel that must surely mark an artistic dead end for all concerned, even Burt Reynolds. But caustic is not necessary sour: The lysergic anti-war satire of Gregor Jordans Buffalo Soldiers hints at Catch-22 and Apocalypse Now; itll be intriguing if theres a market for its bitter wit today.
Richard Linklaters dreamstate thoughtfest Waking Life remains a highlight of chatty movies about ideas on the festival circuit, Jill Sprechers 13 Conversations About One Thing offered a few thoughts about happiness. Tim McCanns Revolution # 9 suggested happiness does not lie in our cultural assumptions, and his portrait of an imploding psyche is told with deliberation and fear. George Ratliffs Hell House, a documentary about the making of a Christian haunted house, was frightening in its topicality about zealotry and belief; Godards philosophically thoughtful, yet pro forma anti-American Éloge de lamour was bookended by his partner Anne-Marie Mievilles Après la réconciliation, an almost-comedy about faith in relationships and ideas, and Godards willingness to act and even cry on camera. But movies are also about the physical: In Shohei Imamuras Warm Water under a Red Bridge, there’s more about faith in protagonist Koji Yakusho’s face than the behavior of his female counterpart, despite her demonstration of what are surely the most voluminous orgasms in cinema history.
Ulrich Seidl was given a spotlight section, and whether merely contemptuous or truly contemptible, his revulsion at his native Austria in Dog Days and Animal Love was a brackish discovery in the days after September 11. There are better things to escape into: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s remarkable Millennium Mambo, all torpor and spite, tracing several young and not-so-young lowlifes in a lush-lit, electronica-pop thrumming underworld of Taiwanese mood. More hopeful is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s shiny list of nostalgic tropes in his dreamt Paris that is Amélie. And of course, there is Todd Field’s mournful In the Bedroom, which questions the rash act, the steadfast moment, the act of retribution that will change the course of your own life in a single deadly instant. So many worlds. So many choices to be made.
KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
If the Hamptons and the Catskills had a baby, it would be the historic spa town of Karlovy Vary. The world’s royalty and glitterati have visited the healing mineral baths of this Bohemian jewel for centuries, though today, you are equally as likely to see groups of old Russian ladies playing cards on their terraces. While perhaps better known for its healing powers, Karlovy Vary has also been a major cultural destination for Eastern Europe. In 1896, hundreds of people gathered together to witness the birth of cinema as the films of the Lumiere brothers were projected onto a Spa wall. Thirty years later, the first two permanent cinemas opened there, and in 1946, the first Karlovy Vary International Film Festival premiered with 35 films from 7 countries.
Since that time, the festival has undergone as many changes as the Czech Republic itself. July 2001 marked the festival’s 36th year, with offerings that included a strong helping of Central and Eastern European film, an international Forum of Independents, a sidebar of New Korean Cinema and a smattering of Hollywood films featuring Czech actors and locations.
Polish director Robert Glinfski was on hand to introduce his world premiere competition film Hi, Tereska, the story of a young girl’s initiation into the harsh socio-economic wasteland of her small town. Poisons or the World History of Poisoning by Russian director Karen Shakhnazarov, told the absurd story of a man driven to try to poison his wife when he becomes convinced she’s sleeping with their neighbor. And British director John Williams’s Japanese film Firefly Dreams lovingly depicted the relationship between a troubled young girl and an old woman with a secret past.
A majority of the festival’s general audience was quite young, comprised of students and popular Prague “Film Club” members who pitched tents and camp out under stairways of the main venue at the Thermal Hotel. Many were officially accredited by the festival, and for those who could not score tickets, there was a free video lounge which screened films nearly around the clock. During a downpour, President Vaclav Havel personally greeted the students as they took refuge under the covered terrace of the hotel. Seemingly programmed for this crowd, there was a glut of self-indulgent going-nowhere-20-something-drug-culture films, among which, a Czech box office favorite, David Ondfiíäek’s witty and entertaining Loners was a real standout.
There was also a strong emphasis on the student film program, which Columbia University participated in for the first time. One notable Prague film school alum, Emir Kusturica introduced Super 8 Stories, his version of Buena Vista Social Club for his Balkan-influenced band, The No Smoking Orchestra. Their post-screening jazz-club gig was the hottest ticket in town, and one of the liveliest parties of the whole festival. Most of the other nightlife was centered around the nightly festivities at an old spa turned dance club next to the Grand Hotel Pupp, where guests could smoke Egyptian water pipes in the café upstairs or trip out to techno music in the shell of the remaining spa walls below.
The top award was almost predictable before the competition began, with festival darling Amélie taking the Grand Prix Crystal Globe and $20,000. The Best Documentary award went to French director Alain Cavalier’s Vies. And the well-deserved best Actor and Actress Awards went to Viveka Seldahl and Sven Wollter for their co-staring roles in Billie August’s A Song for Martin. Ultimately, while its power as an A-list festival is questionable, there is no doubt that as a forum for filmmakers and film enthusiasts to meet, mingle and celebrate cinema, Karlovy Vary is one of the best.