In the establishing shot for his entry into the 2012 Canadian Film Festival, the city of Toronto’s skyline fills the screen, and water from the lake laps around the edges of the frame, as the gently bobbing perspective gives the viewer the impression of arriving upon the city by ferry. This is followed by lingering shots of familiar Toronto locales and icons – the CN Tower, Chinatown, Kensington Market, Tim Horton’s, the ubiquitous red TTC streetcars – and as the Canadian Film Festival director noted, this is Toronto finally playing itself, instead of being used as a substitute for yet another American city.
A pastiche of fast-cut sequences kicks off our journey into the uncertain world of Giuseppe Capotondi’s The Double Hour. This is a film well versed in cinematic shorthand, and condenses the lives of our two protagonists into succinct packages that give us a cohesive mental image of the world our characters’ occupy. After it has established a rudimentary overview of the lives and spaces of its two pivotal characters, the film jumps to a speed dating session that succinctly captures their multifaceted personalities as they go through each short dating encounter and react in facial expressions and brief exchanges of words.
Romantics Anonymous is another in a long line of contemporary French romance fairytales, and occupies a wonderful universe where Chocolatiers are regarded as celebrities and hopeless romantics attend support groups. The film manages to walk a fine line between mildly charming and overly precious and manages to keep itself somewhat grounded by the painful emotions of reality. It is a difficult balancing act, but the film manages to keep its head in the clouds with its feet on the ground without being overly cloying. It is in the personality idiosyncrasies of its two lovers that the film brings the classic romantic fairytale structure in to modern society, whether through Jean-Ren’s antisocial personality defects that drive his crippling shyness, or through Angelique’s low sense of self worth; they are both broken byproducts of modern society, but are able to find common ground and universal beauty through their shared love of immaculate chocolate.
Bookending Terrence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea is a tellingly inversive set of shots, tracking varietals that establish the position of an apartment window to the labyrinthine streets and expansive society that continues to churn from outside its confines. As Hitchcock unobtrusively evoked in the beginning of Psycho, Davies too opens his film by relating how the atypical tends to exist, thrive even, within the private alcoves of life, flourishing – or perhaps decomposing – just below our ordinary, worldly facades.
Once in a moment of genuine and emotionally founded inquiry, a Christian called upon evolutionary biologist – and noted atheist – Richard Dawkins to give a secular explanation for, according to the man, his own interactions with Jesus Christ. Dawkins began by clinically detailing how sociocultural contexts inevitably mold individual belief systems, how he was essentially a Christian by preset circumstance, before finally closing his colloquy by saying, “The human mind is extremely susceptible to hallucination.” Personal opinions aside, I feel there’s a certain profundity to this closing riposte, even if it’s something that reads as ostensibly simple. Implied therein is the idea that assumptions are often the bases of our personal world models – replicas of reality through which we interpret our place within universal entirety – and even the sturdiest of convictions can amount to nothing more than mere delusion. Important then is to consider the place of perception in regards to decision making, and to further extrapolate, defining the human persona. Our viewpoints, even those of questionable validity, are at the forefront of governing our grasp of existence; actuality and the person’s apprehension of it represent two entirely different visions.
Concluding the magnificent film series “Love Will Tear Us Apart” at the Japan Society in New York is Oasis, the third feature film from the highly esteemed novelist-turned-filmmaker Lee Chang-dong. Perhaps no other film of such sensitivity and physical and emotional nakedness deserves to cap this collection of confrontational films from Japan and South Korea. In Lee’s limited filmography of five feature films, Oasis is undoubtedly one of his finest and most audacious works. In this film, Lee touches upon the more disturbing, rejected, and hidden aspects of life and corporeality and in the process reveals in a most moving way the (physical, sociocultural/political, ethical) power of attraction between two people.
Orpheus is the cinema of dreams, a work in which planes of reality flux effortlessly from one state to another. To be sure, there’s a fluid quality to the film’s compositional cadence and thematic layering, but to label the work as one of a purely oneiric intent would be to trivialize director Jean Cocteau’s encompassing existential vision. For you see, Orpheus is a work of unique device in that it halves the breadth of entirety, everything from the corporeal to the discarnate, into two distinct hemispheres: One half an ectype similar to our own perceptible world, the other an abstraction that shows just how flawed and malleable that first vision is.
The title is just ambiguous enough to perhaps seduce spectators who are not quite familiar with Kim Ki-duk’s cinema to walk into it expecting a thoughtful, decorative meditation on the passing of time through the trials and tribulations of a couple. Time is indeed about a meditation on time through the lens of a relationship. But the way Kim literally fleshes out this premise is a whole other matter, so that “trials” and “tribulations” are actually an understatement. The film begins with harrowing footage of the reality and materiality of cosmetic surgery, following which a woman who has just undergone surgery emerges from the clinic’s doors. The left door presents an image of “before”/“ugly,” while the right door presents an image of “after”/“pretty.” What happens between the “before” and “after” is what constitutes the film, which is nothing less than a whirlpool of jealousy, obsession, self-loathing, and utter angst, coupled with haunting imagery, as only Kim can present. In fact, this film presents a kind of horror unlike any to be found in Kim’s other films.
The symbol of the metronome is central to Sound of Noise, as despite the apparent nihilism of the film’s musical “terrorists”, they are still beholden to the careful and unwavering timing of the beat. They are embarking on a musical revolution, attacking the elitists and their incomplete vision of music, and robbing the environment of its sounds by using them to create music. The artifacts of musical creation are not sacred to this troupe of revolutionaries as those artifacts are symbolic of the old music that they feel has lost its human characteristics. They use their instruments, both literally and figuratively, going so far as to hurl a drum set out of the back of a moving van to foil their pursuers. Music is foremost a creation of humanity, and they feel that the orchestral music of the power elite, or the aggravating pleasantries of the municipal whistle music being broadcast from loudspeakers on every light-pole has lost this core of humanity. They aimed to take the music back, and use the drab industrialized Scandinavian cityscapes as instruments for their attack of musical anarchy. Powerful art should contain elements of societal subversion, as an artists’ primary task is to force society to look at itself, warts and all, and see the contradictions, beauty, and ugliness within.
Ewan McGregor & Emily Blunt. Frankly, it doesn’t take much more to convince one to head off to the theater. Both McGregor and Blunt co-star in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, a new British comedy-drama by Swedish director Lasse Hallström. The screenplay, written by Slumdog Millionaire screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, is based on Paul Torday’s book of the same name, which won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic writing in 2007 and the Waverton Good Read Award in 2008.