Today finally brought the kind of weather I’d hoped for at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Stepping outside first thing it was warm and sunny, but not too hot. Previously we’ve veered from excruciating heat (at least for someone who neglected to pack summer wear) to torrential rain. Day 6 at the fest had neither. What it did have was a light two film schedule, both decent films in very different ways from one another.
The morning screening took me off to Portugal for The Ornithologist. As befits a João Pedro Rodrigues film, it’s far from ordinary. Fernando (Paul Hamy), a ruggedly handsome ornithologist is off in nature going about his bird watching business. Absorbed in his kayak watching a bird circle above, his boat goes over rapids, he’s injured and passes out. This throws him into a crazy world of castration obsessed Chinese pilgrims, goat suckling deaf and dumb shepherds, urinating gangs and topless horse-riding women.
It’s not any less odd than it sounds as Fernando is forced through a surreal version of the stations of the cross. Events escalated a little beyond me by the very end (the topless rifle slinging women broke the camel’s back), but it is something of a marvel to look at. Rodrigues’ shot composition is varied and inventive while the cinematography manages to be lush without adding artificial gloss. If it came to it, I’d have been quite happy watching Fernando lie in the reeds spying on birds for two hours.
Alex Russell and Aaron Pedersen in Goldstone (2016)
Goldstone is a much more straightforward watch than The Ornithologist, but it’s not without its own complexity. In 2013 director/ writer/ editor/ cinematographer/ composer (yes some people really are too talented) Ivan Sen brought us Detective Jay Swan in Mystery Road. Played by Aaron Pedersen, Swan is on the outside of all communities in his small town as an Aboriginal working for the police.
A drunken mess following the death of his daughter, he’s packed off to a mining town to investigate a missing Asian prostitute whom no one really wants found, least of all local officials in cahoots with mining company executives. The plot is a continuation of the story in Mystery Road, touching on the same themes only doing it bigger and better. As with Swan’s previous outing, social commentary is layered in, as if it’s going out of fashion. Alcohol abuse and the chronic mistreatment of aboriginals, women, and anyone not a tough white fella willing to go along with the status quo, lie simmering beneath the surface.
We also get a collection of stunning shots and carefully paced action that has all the more impact for refusing to rush. Mystery Road ended on a quite brilliant shootout. Goldstone proves no slouch, either. It’s a cynical world Jay Swan inhabits, albeit not without a sliver of hope. The best he, or anyone else gets, is a glimpse of something better.
At that I was forced to conclude my daily viewing for other engagements, not to mention the vast pile of work mounting from earlier in the festival. It’s a tough life but someone has to live it.