"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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TIFF 2000 Day 3

Day 3: September 9


Maelström

Denis Villeneuve
Canada, 2000
Cast: Marie-Josée Croze, Jean-Nicolas Verreault, Stéphanie
Morgenstern, Pierre Lebeau, Klimbo
Synopsis:

The screening opened with Don McKeller's short film "A Word From The Management." Don talks about being the Festival Patron-minder while we pan (dolly) over people sitting in a cinema audience. Nice. It's the sort of thing you might even see outside the festival.

Maelström. Director Denis Villeneuve was there in a big orange shirt to welcome us. "I'm told there's a Q&A afterwards? I'm very embarrassed/ You will find out that a fish wrote the movie. A fish I ate. I became very intoxicated. I (tried to get help for it), and was told the only thing for it was to write it down. So be kind with your questions, and remember that eating seafood can be very very dangerous." Charming fellow. I'm seldom that nice at 9:30 in the morning.

The film was a blast. It's a tale told be a fish. A study in "vigilance, responsibility, and ... " something else. "Love" perhaps? I wish I could remember what Denis said exactly.

Trivia: The text at the start of the film, written in Norwegian, is an apology to those from Norway for all of the cliches used about them in the film. "But you're not supposed to know that," added Villeneuve.

[I'm writing this in the cafeteria of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Initially empty, it has filled up in the last hour with families and small children. I lose about 20 minutes staring into space, contemplating my own mortality and morality, and wondering at the dopey plans I make for planet CKIRIE. Maybe Maelström is just that kind of film. Maybe I just need some coffee and a nap.]

Raven's End

Bo Widerberg
Sweden, 1964
Cast: Thommy Berggren, Keve Hjelm, Emy Storm
Synopsis:

Another in the "Dialogues" series of screenings, this film was presented by Stellan Skarsgård, a big tall Swede. If I were a woman, I could get quite silly about him. He showed up dressed just like me as it turns out -- black t-shirt and trousers, a discarded jacket. In fact, it's hard to tell us apart except that his hair is blonde while mine's black. and I wear glasses. And his forearms look as if they could snap my spine in two while just having a nice stretch. There's a touch of wild menace to Stellan that you don't want to meet in a dark alley.

Bo Widerberg made "Raven's End" n the 1960's. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Film OscarTM in 1965. Stellan said he wanted to show it because that nomination was some time ago, and he thought we might not have seen it in a while, or ever. Good guess. It's a story of a working class family in some Swedish industrial town in 1936. The son aspires to be a novelist, but is as yet unpublished. He father is an alcoholic who manages to drink and gamble away whatever money they've been able to save through the mother's work as a laundress. Life happens at "not a Hollywood pace, " says Skarsgård.

Thank goodness I had a box of orange juice with me; drinking it helped me keep from nodding off. The film is not boring -- my sleepiness is entirely my own fault. Though I don't know what excuse the woman beside me would use to explain her frequent head bobbing.

The film ends on a hopeful note, I think, though you could interpret it as you like. I'm reminded of something Lynn Stopkewich said at "Blue Velvet" yesterday: that Lynch doesn't like to explicate his films because he feels that it restricts the experience the audience can have. Saying "This means this..." means that as a viewer, you're not free to explore your own interpretations of the movie.

Stellan spoke at length after the film. Rogers cable taped the whole thing. If you want a transcript, talk to them. Here are a very few of the comments he made:

  • He had the opportunity to with the Widerberg (who died 2 years ago). [I believe the film was "Vildanden".] He said that Widerberg taught him more than any other director. He said to (the cast): "I don't want to see your tools. I want you to be just as good as the amateur actors." Widerberg was trying to get the most authentic performance as he could from the professionals.
  • On the first day of shooting with Stellan, Widerberg was so anxious that he didn't show up on the set. Stellan drove out to his place and found him in bed, but was able to cajole him into coming out, saying "C'mon... It's just a movie." He'd reply, "I know, but I want to do a good job." The same kind of thing happened on the set of "Raven's End": Widerberg spent the first three days shooting 16's scene (that's the son's friend). "He's just not coming out of his shell," said Widerberg, though Stellan thought that it was Widerberg who wasn't coming out of his shell. This made the picture's producer very anxious, but once over that hump, the rest of the film was shot very quickly in 27 days, all told.
  • On acting with amateurs versus professionals: "I like working with good actors," those who can listen to you on stage/screen. You can rehearse at home and come in and do a good scene, but if you're not listening to the other actors, the scene will be emotionally dead. This is one of the differences between Widerberg and Ingmar Bergman. Bergman would plan out everything in advance, and so you have a lot of good solo performances (even if there are others in the scene), rather than authentic conversations and emotions, which is what Widerberg wanted. In Bergman's films, it's said that no one even has a job; that's how abstract they are. "Bergman dissects everything with his cold -- maybe too cold -- intellect."
  • The man who plays the alcoholic father was a himself an alcoholic in life. And so they could only work half days sometimes. They'd feed him a hard-boiled egg in the morning, and a little beer. Then as the day went on, they'd give him a little more, but in 3-4 hours, that'd be it (he was then too drunk to work). He has since dried out and is now a very good actor.
  • About Widerberg working with the same set of people in each film: The actor who plays the son worked with Widerberg a lot. They had a strong relationship, working and playing together.
  • On Lars Von Trier (director of "Breaking The Waves"): "When I saw his first film, I said, 'I want to work with that director. When he becomes interested in people.'" About Von Trier's film "Europa": "Everything is very controlled, and as a result, quite cold. But he was able to change his style, first with 'The Kingdom', and then with 'Breaking The Waves.'"

An audience member asked him how Swedish audiences reacted to "Raven's End'. Did they find it as gloomy as North American audiences do? Stellan replied that he didn't think it was gloomy -- it was hopeful. The son leaves town because if he doesn't, he will die. Maybe he will come back for his girlfriend, or to visit his parents, but it's only through leaving that he will survive.

About the meaning of last image in the film (a girl playing with an umbrella in slow motion, then freeze frame): "I don't know. I know how it makes me feel, but I haven't thought of putting it in words." An audience member remarked that Widerberg did the same that at the end of "Elvira Madigan." Skarsgård notes that it's also done at the end of "Les 400 Coups", but no one knows what to make of it.

Interlude: At Starbucks

I'm in what once was Britanell's bookshop, and is now, somewhat predictably, is a Starbucks coffee shop. At least there's plenty of seating. My caffeine headache is subsiding, though it feels as if I have had kilometers of film pulled across the surface of my eyes like a retracting measuring tape blade.

I have no idea what the next two films are about. No more art today, please. I need something very ordinary to look at right now. In English.

I am such a suck.

Bunny

Mia Trachinger
USA, 2000
Cast: Petra Tikalova, Edward Dratner, Elizabeth Liebel, Eugene Alper, Brian Morri, Virginia Baeta, Maggie Rowe, Christopher Fairbanks, Jean Lavelli
Synopsis:

A quiet, yet good-looking film from first-time director Mia Trachinger (who was there along with producer Rebecca Sonnenshine and cinematographer Patti Lee). The story: a couple flee some unnamed war-torn country for some unnamed American city in search of peace and work. Through a friend from back home, they find work as street corner bunnies. They crouch and bounce, dressed in pink bunny outfits while passers-by absently rub their furry heads or sub in their arms. That's all that there is to the job: crouching and bouncing. And treating their clients consistently. Like an emotional McDonald's restaurant, I suppose.

Despite being the obvious hook, the job isn't so important to the movie. It's just a job, like any other you might be used to. The story is about the couple and how they adapt to being in a new country, without friends, starting from scratch.

To promote the film, they have had somewhat lugubrious people dressed in bunny suits hanging about Bloor Street near Bay, right in the heart of Festival territory. "We still have all those bunny costumes," Trachinger said.

During the Q&A, someone asked the usual "how much did it cost" question. Since the film hasn't been sold yet, the producer didn't want to get specific, but ballparked it at under $1,000,000 USD. The money came from "secret sources".

The next morning, the thing I remember most about the film is its look. The flat lighting, the strangely empty streets, they way all of the meals shown on film were completely unrecognizable and somewhat grotesque. The blank expression on Petra Tikalova (the lead actress) as she bounced on her heels, hands in front of her chest, trying not to get involved.

The Stranger

Götz Spielmann
Austria, 2000
Cast: Goya Toledo, Martin Feifel, Harry Prinz, Nina Proll
Synopsis:

An Austrian film about a cocaine deal in Vienna. A Mexican woman and her lowlife boyfriend smuggle a kilogram of cocaine into the country from New York, and are trying to find a buyer, make a quick $100,000, and then blow town. Things don't go exactly right -- hence the story -- forcing the woman to enlist the aide of a cab driver to help conclude their business.

This is good, tight film., shown tonight for the first time outside Austria. Got a good reaction from the audience. The director was there to introduce the film and to do Q&A. He wore a very nice dark gray suit that hung on his body as if it were made of water.

Comments from Herr Spielmann:

  • He wanted fresh faces for the leads, and cast some very well-known Austrian actors in the minor roles (the "other" cab driver, the woman at the supermarket)
  • The lead actress (Toledo) did not speak German, so she had to learn her lines phonetically, which in addition to being very difficult, makes it hard to perform as well (how do you deliver a line when you're a stranger to its sense?)
  • On the drug scene in Vienna: "I'm afraid it's more rich than I have shown here."