Our third day at TIFF finds Alfonso Cuarón casting Sandra Bullock and George Clooney into space and creating a visually dazzling and richly emotional sci-fi epic in the process. Meanwhile, Roger Michell sends Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan to Paris to less compelling effect. PopMatters reports.
USA / United Kingdom—Dir. Alfonso Cuarón
It’s not very often that you find yourself tearing up behind your 3D glasses at a movie - unless it’s in sheer despair at the lameness of the effects-laden gimmickry that’s unspooling before you. But in Gravity, his first film since 2006’s Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón succeeds in crafting a sci-fi extravaganza that’s as richly emotional as it is visually dazzling. Setting Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s astronauts adrift in space, and challenging them to make it back home under the most difficult circumstances possible, Cuarón’s movie is heart-pumping mainstream cinema infused with a healthy dose of existentialism.
With a couple of fiction films punching below their weight, two major documentaries about young people prove to be the highlights of our second day at Toronto International Film Festival.
A Story of Children and Film
United Kingdom, 2013—dir. Mark Cousins
“I’m still a child before a moving image,” wrote Pauline Kael. It’s a sentiment shared by Mark Cousins who states: “I feel, when I watch a movie, that I watch it like a child.” Cousins’s new documentary, the follow-up to his already-iconic The Story of Film, takes off from that observation. A humbler proposition than was its epic, exhilarating and sometimes exasperating predecessor, Cousins’s latest isn’t really a “story” at all but rather a series of observations, of riffs and refs, around its chosen topic, which, this time around, is the way in which children have been represented on the cinema screen over the years: the diverse ways that childhood experience has been constructed and deconstructed by filmmakers.
Guiraudie's movie unfolds entirely at a gay cruising area on the French coast where men flop naked on the beach, appraise each other and head to the woods for more intimate encounters
Stranger By the Lake
France, 2013 - dir. Alain Guiraudie
In its tactility, its attention to place and space, and its unabashed focus upon the male body, something of Denis’s influence can be felt in Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du lac), along with that of François Ozon, whose See the Sea (1997) contains a central sequence that seems to have inspired the premise of Stranger By the Lake. Guiraudie’s movie—a Cannes sensation that deservedly scooped this year’s Queer Palm and Best Director gongs—unfolds entirely at a gay cruising area on the French coast where men flop naked on the beach, appraise each other and head to the woods for more intimate encounters. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) has pitched up at the spot for the summer and passes his time chatting to the solitary bisexual Henri (Patrick Dassumçao), lusting after the mustachioed Michel (Christophe Paou) and being lusted after, in turn, by the harmless voyeur Eric (Mathieu Vervisch) whose attentions he continually rebuffs.
On his first day at TIFF 2013, Alex Ramon applauds two startling French features, the latest works from Claire Denis and Alain Guiraudie, that both twist the suspense thriller into fresh territory.
France, 2013—dir. Claire Denis
Heaps of high heels. A naked girl wandering through a city street. A blood-stained corn on the cob. A pulsing, tensing Tindersticks soundtrack… Yes, you’ve guessed it: here’s the latest impeccably brooding enigma from the imagination of Claire Denis. Though less confounding than some of Denis’s work (2004’s The Intruder still takes that particular prize), the none-too-invitingly titled Bastards (Les Salauds) certainly takes its place as one of Denis’s darkest and most disturbing offerings to date.
Stories about the ordinary lives of young women have abounded at film festivals this year. As we look at two of the most popular at SFIFF, we ask whether or not these films are as interesting as they're made out to be.
Some of the most powerful films making the rounds at festivals this year elevate everyday experience to the level of art. Reminiscent of the driving philosophy behind happenings, these films allow viewers to see themselves reflected on the big screen and to value the craft of their everyday lives.
When done well, these films can be more touching than even the most weighty, deftly plotted dramas and thrillers. Among the most anticipated of these ‘mundane’ movies at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival are Frances Ha and Everyday Objects. These films celebrate daily life and the process of finding one’s self with varied levels of success.
The Slowest Vacation: Everyday Objects
Director Nicolas Wackerbarth’s film about Merle, a young German woman planning to meet her lover at his vacation home on the hills of Nice, is an interesting look at the absolute dullness of so many romantic struggles. Devoid of emotional fights and drawn-out relationship negotiations, the film reminds us that love is generally a lot more boring than the big movie studios would have us believe.
We watch Merle as she awaits the arrival of her lover, Romuald. His two children, Felix and Emma, have already arrived at the vacation villa. The relationship between the mistress and the kids is full of tense complexity and is no doubt the film’s grounding strength. As Merle works to find her place with the kids, she comes to realize that her relationship may not be what it seems.
A lot happens in Everyday Objects, even as nothing much seems to be happening. The audience at the screening I attended responded to the film either very positively or very negatively. It’s not a film that one will think is just okay or decent; it’s a film to love or hate. This, too, is part of its beauty.
Laughter or Not: Frances Ha
Noah Baumbach’s latest movie is described in SFIFF’s festival programming as somewhat akin to Woody Allen. Frances Ha is simply the story of a young woman (played by Greta Gerwig) who doesn’t really have a career or an apartment or any particular drive in life. The story, which is set primarily in New York City, has shades of Girls but doesn’t approach either the comedy or art of Woody Allen.
Like Everday Objects, this is a love-it-or-hate-it movie. Either you’ll fall in love with the protagonist or you’ll feel, as I do, that her ineptness and self pity is not worth your time. Though Baumbach co-wrote the script with Gerwig, it still has the distinct flavor of a man’s imagining of what it is like to be an irresponsible, somewhat dumb twenty-something woman. The character of Frances is dull and intolerable, as is (unintentionally) reflected in the film’s all black and white composition.