TIFF is a crazy experience. Waking up early, blogging, getting out to see several movies each day. It’s hectic and fun and tiring. My Day 2 was all of those things, not helped in the tiring department by my adding a fourth film to the day’s schedule. It was also yet day where I knew people at every movie I saw, which was nice in terms of making sure I had seats saved even when I was cutting it a little close, but it also meant I didn’t get any time to read more of Cloud Atlas, which I need to finish before Sunday morning.
The day started off with a trip down to the Ryerson where I’d be seeing Jacques Audiard’s latest, Rust and Bone. I got in line, not far back at all, and was soon joined by several friends, including Paolo Kagaoan and Ryan McNeil. One sandwich and an hour and a half later, we were seated and ready to start the day in movie-watching. I’d be seeing Rust and Bone, The Gatekeepers, Stories We Tell and Like Someone in Love.
Rust and Bone
Jacques Audiard’s last film, A Prophet, was a brilliant prison-set drama that touched on dark crime, but also the persistent will of human beings to make something of their lives. He continues that theme in Rust and Bone, which stars Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cottilard as two very broken people—both mentally and physically—trying to put themselves back together. Schoenaerts plays a man, Ali, with almost no means, whose gone with his young son to live with his sister and her husband. He gets a job working as a bouncer at a club, where he meets Cotillard’s character, Stéphanie. Soon after this encounter, Stephanie loses her legs in a terrible accident. The two then begin to form a relationship as she struggles with her new physical disability and he attempts to stay afloat and make extra money as an underground kickboxer.
Audiard’s visual sense is amazing, grounding the film in the “real” but always finding beauty even in the most bleak or violent moments. It’s the actors, though, that really make the film sing. Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cottilard are amazing, truly awesome. Whatever depth might be contained in the script or visual style is amplified by the leads. They make their characters human, bringing layers of desire and vulnerability in every moment.
The director and cast came on stage after the film for a Q&A. I got to be mere feet away from Marion Cotillard… Let’s just say I was in heaven. I couldn’t stay too long though, as I had to get my ass over to the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema for a screening of The Gatekeepers with my mom.
The situation in Israel has always been of special interest to me, no doubt because almost my entire family lives there. It’s a mess. Simple as that. The last decade or so has seen a number of very good Israeli films, many of which take a self-reflective look at the state and where it may be going wrong. Few films, though, have been as precise in their diagnosis as Dror Moreh’s documentary, The Gatekeepers.
“It’s all tactics, no strategy.”
The film is essentially comprised of six talking head interviews with the last six heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, tasked primarily with security and anti-terrorism. We hear from these men as they each describe their thoughts on the work of the Shin Bet since the Six-Day War in 1967 and the subsequent occupation of the Palestinian territories in Gaza and the West Bank. The film also uses a lot of archival footage from events throughout Israeli history, and has some very cool sequences in which CGI is used to re-stage the settings of famous photos.
Each of these former heads of the Shin Bet have different takes on what their role was. Some express deep regret at the more inhumane actions they’ve ordered while others are less ready to admit wrongdoing on any moral level. But what makes the documentary special, and perhaps extremely important, is that all of these men draw a sharp line between their tactical job in hunting terrorists and the overall strategy (or lack thereof) on the government’s part concerning the Occupation. It’s kind of amazing to hear all six of these men, who held very high positions of power, describe the ways in which Israel has effectively failed to live up to its own ideals. It’s sobering stuff.
Once The Gatekeepers was finished I went outside to meet a friend in the rush line at the Bloor in order to see Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. While in line a man sold me five back-half vouchers for a really good price, which means I now have at least five more films that will get added to my slate for TIFF 2012. Fun times.
Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley is back at TIFF after last year’s premiere of Take This Waltz. This time she’s brought along a documentary, and one that solidifies Polley as a directorial force to be reckoned with. Stories We Tell, in simple terms, tells the story of her discovery that she was born out of her mother’s extra-marital affair, and that the man she called “dad” was not, in fact, her biological father. But that description hardly does the film justice.
The story itself is scandalous, so in that sense one might see the appeal in making a navel-gazing documentary about, but that’s not what Polley is after. She’s more interesting in the construction of memory as filtered through perception. The film is filled with interviews with pretty much everyone who might have something to say about the story, including all her siblings, family friends, and both fathers. There is also narration from her father, who’s reading out the story as he has written it. On top of it all, the film is filled with super 8 footage of the family, the majority of which is revealed to have been staged and filmed by Polley herself specifically for the documentary.
Stories We Tell is filled with these sorts of constructions. Even the editing of the film often highlights the differences in perception of the same events by all the different people who witnessed them. There are few things that anybody can 100% agree on. Amazingly, though, this isn’t just some Rashomon-esque exercise. The film truly lets the audience in on the stories being told. We feel their emotion. The film is often hilarious, but often very sad and moving. The film even addresses its own nature, posing the question of whether it might just be a form of therapy through documentary. That may be the case, but I’m so glad the documentary came out of it. It’s easily the best film I’ve seen at TIFF so far this year, though I still have many more days of movies to go.
Sarah Polley got up on stage after the film and brought along pretty much her entire family, including both fathers. It was pretty crazy. They answered a few questions, often adding even more insight into how all these people feel about the events in question. It was pretty wonderful. But from there I had to jet off to the Cineplex Yonge and Dundas where Ryan McNeil was holding a seat for me at Like Someone in Love.
Like Someone in Love
Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up is one of my favourite films of all time. Certified Copy was one of my favourites from last year. This year he brings a film I’m left scratching my head over. Set in Japan, Like Someone in Love is about a call girl who goes to meet an elderly man, who later drives her to school and pretends to be her grandfather when her boyfriend assumes that’s who he is. Of course, the plot of a Kiarostami film is hardly the most important thing. Like with his other films, this one is all about conversations and reactions. Lots of driving around Tokyo, and lots of static shots of people not doing all that much except reaction to each other and their situation.
I guess in that sense I quite enjoyed Like Someone in Love. I was drawn in to every scene. Each one was nicely conceived and constructed. But…
It doesn’t come together. The ending of the film suggests some massive themes at work in the film, but I rack my brain to understand what those themes might be. It’s as though the film has all the right pieces but lacks the connective tissue. After Certified Copy I was definitely left wondering what I’d just seen, but I very quickly started to make the thematic connections which ultimately made the film stand out as a beautiful work. Like Someone in Love left me confused, but even hours later I’m still confused. What was Kiarostami telling me? What did he want me to see in these characters and their predicament? As it stands, the film works for me only as an exercise in construction and shock, with not much else to back it up. A well-made film, but one that doesn’t seem to serve as much else. Then again, maybe a second viewing will bring to light all the film seemed to be missing. I don’t want to write it off too quickly.
Anyway, that film happened. It left me in an odd state for the rest of the night as I journeyed home to get some more sleep ahead of a big day set to include Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.
As always, you can keep tuned to this blog for more TIFF’12 coverage, as well as real-time coverage of the festival by following me on Twitter @CoreyAtad. And, of course, you can keep tabs on my shifting TIFF’12 schedule by heading over to my TIFFr page.