Today was my final day of screenings for 2023. Over the past 9 days, I’ve gone to 35 screenings..and I’ve screened 33 films. How’s that possible? I walked out of one and I saw one film 2 times.
There are/were so many other films at the festival that I wish I had been able to see – sometimes it was a matter of scheduling, and other times it was a matter of buzz not happening until after the opportunities had passed. HIT MAN, DREAM SCENARIO, AMERICAN FICTION, SING SING, and ZONE OF INTEREST are among the films I hope to catch in the months ahead. Then there are the films of the season that didn’t screen at TIFF…they either already played at Cannes, Venice or Telluride…or they’ll be screening at NYFF – like PRISCILLA, POOR THINGS, ALL OF US STRANGERS, MAESTRO, FERRARI or KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. So there’s still a lot to see this year!
My first film today was complicated subject matter. MEMORY, dir Michel Franco (USA) “Past, present, and future collide when Saul (Peter Sarsgaard) follows Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) home from a high school reunion, in this touching and masterful film by director Michel Franco.” (TIFF Catalog) Without giving too much away, Sarsgaard’s character is dealing with dementia – so his memories are inconsistent and unreliable. Chastain’s character made accusations as a young person that weren’t believed…so her memories are challenged at every step. The performances here are strong, but there are clearly moments of improvisation within the script – and some moments/performers are better than others. Though there’s some great work happening here, I found myself cringing so often at decisions that characters were making…which I found truly upsetting. But in the end, I guess that would only work if I felt an investment in them.
STRANGE WAY OF LIFE, dir Pedro Almodovar (Spain) – REPEAT VIEWING! I wanted to see the new Almodovar on the big screen again. The film is only 30 minutes, so I scurried and chose a front row seat. I wanted to be consumed by it…it’s Almodovar – so the production design and color palette are incredible, and the guys are all beautiful. One fun fact about this short is that Almodovar shot it on an old set that Sergio Leone used to shoot three Westerns with Clint Eastwood (so many classic Westerns were shot in Spain…so when uninformed actors like Sam Elliott complain that there’s no place for gay characters in Westerns…and that directors who aren’t from America shouldn’t be making American Westerns – they need a bit of education). The thrust of this film is mostly to answer a question that was posed in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN but never answered…and because Almodovar was originally courted to direct BROKEBACK, he decided to answer the question 20 years later. (That said, Almodovar means no disrespect to BROKEBACK. He says he loves what Ang Lee created.)
My next film was new Blanchett. I couldn’t skip a chance to see Blanchett at work. THE NEW BOY, dir. Warwick Thornton (Australia) “Starring Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, this spiritual drama from Warwick Thornton (TIFF ’17’s Sweet Country) hauntingly evokes Australia’s fraught colonial legacy through the story of one very special child.” (TIFF Catalog). This story is about an Aboriginal boy who is dropped off at at place for orphans in the middle of nowhere Australia where a nun – Sister Eileen (Blanchett) – runs the shop….and Sister Eileen is also charged with converting the boys to Christianity (the pastor who is supposed to be in charge is mysteriously absent). The boy seems to have a special gift – a little light that he conjures and uses for healing and comfort. The film is gorgeously shot, relatively quiet and full of great performances. It shows us what happens when we force our own doctrines on those around us.
What a way to end my festival! My final film was a documentary about one of my favorite filmmakers/filmmaking personalities – the late, incredible Agnes Varda! VIVA VARDA, dir. Pierre-Henri Gibert (France) “This profile of filmmaker Agnès Varda brings fresh perspectives missing from her autobiographical work, as it covers her oeuvre spanning from her emergence in the French New Wave to acclaimed works such as Vagabond and The Gleaners and I.” (TIFF Catalog). I was a little nervous about this film. How could a filmmaker create something fresh and new about Varda – she spent the last several years of her career telling us all about her life. Well…In fact, there was a lot more to tell! This concise, hour+ documentary is so packed with great material that I want to see it again again – sometimes focusing on the subtitles, sometimes focusing on the visuals…and then going back to the source material and watching the films. (Next Criterion sale, I’ll be buying the 15-disc set.). Varda was a pioneer and quite a character. The director introduced the film (and did a Q&A), and he said that the French have pivoted to a positive gaze of Varda’s work due in part to North America’s embrace…France had often written her off and not included her in much talk of the French New Wave until “recently.” I can’t wait to see this film again.
Before walking into VIVA VARDA tonight, I was already mourning the end of this year’s festival. I often hear industry folks complaining about being at the festival. It’s like people complaining about where they live – what a bore. I have absolutely adored submerging myself in international cinema over the past nine days. During the last few years, I have truly missed this part of my job…and I’m so glad I was able to come back.
Over the coming days and weeks (and possibly through repeat viewings), I’m sure my feelings on certain films will evolve (sometimes due simply to more rested eyes). I know that I can be a little rough on films sometimes, but I’ve been honest with my gut responses to all 33 films immediately after seeing them. Thanks for coming along on the journey with me…I hope to see you back in Dayton.