"Thus open the gates of paradise."

In this issue
TIFF 2000 Day 5

Day 5: September 11


Takeshi Kitano
USA/Japan/UK, 2000
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Omar Epps, Claude Maki

This is my first Takeshi (Beat) Kitano film. Your basic Yakuza fare, done much in the style of the early Clint Eastwood films like "Fistful of Dollars" or "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." Kitano writes, directs, and acts. This is some very smooth product.

Yamamoto (Kitano) is one of the top men in a Japanese Yakuza family. Following a war with another family, they are forced to merge with their rivals. As with any corporate merger, some people stay, while others have to go. And Yamamoto has to go. The family says he must die, and so he flees to Los Angeles where he stays with his younger brother, a small-time drug peddler. Yamamoto sets up shop and builds his own crime empire. Things aim for the point where everyone marked for death dies.

A very watchable blend of violence and grim humour. A good way to start the day.


Gary Burns
Canada, 2000
Cast: Fabrizio Filippo, Don McKellar, Marya Delver, Gordon Currie, Jennifer Clement, Tobias Godson

This could have been a decent half-hour production. Instead it went on and on for another 60 minutes. Office drones make a bet to see who can go the longest without going outside, commuting between work and home through the network of malls in downtown Calgary like ants in an ant farm. Well, that's one way of putting it. You could also describe it as what happens over lunch one day.

A slightly manic Gary Burns was there to gab about the film. I could recount the Q&A, but I doubt there is much of common interest. Maybe just one:

Q: Could you comment on your use of digital tape versus film?
A: We shot mostly on video with some 355 mm mixed in. We thought the difference would be really noticeable (after the film blow-up), but it's really subtle. I don't think it's any cheaper using digital other than you don't need a guy to load the camera, but the blow-up costs a fortune, so I wouldn't be surprised if shooting digital was more expensive than film. I think the choice you make depends on the project. If you want big, sprawling vistas of mountains, digital is no good. Anything over 20' away just looks like shit.

Code Inconnu

Michael Haneke
France/Austria, 2000
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Thierry Neuvic, Sepp Bierbichler, Ona Lu Yenke, Luminita Gheorghiu, Arsinée Khanjian, Alexandre Hamidi

[Two tables behind me at the mall where I'm writing this, an internet e-commerce solutions salesman is pitching his wares to a prospective customer. I can't help overhearing as he punches up all of the buzzwords. "MERCHANTS need to be focused on SECURITY of their customers' orders. Our goal is to DOMINATE the E-BUSINESS market." I find this all particularly distasteful, and fear it has soured my coffee.]

This is a hard film to talk about in a linear way because it's not linear itself. At the start, a title card introduces it as a series of stories about incomplete journeys. Maybe it said "incomplete stories" as well, which was true in any case.

The film follows a number of threads linked in a purely coincidental way:

  • An actress (Binoche) filming a movie, auditioning for a production of "Twelfth Night" (in French), and her relationship with a war photographer who disappears to Yugoslavia for days/weeks at a time
  • A woman from Romania who is in France illegally to make money, presumably, though we only see her begging on street corners in Paris. At home though, she could be one of your neighbors, tending to home and family.
  • A man (from Senegal?) in Paris who has a problem with authority. He harasses a passerby for being rude to the Romanian woman. The passerby happens to be the war photographer's younger brother.
  • The photographer's father, who wants his youngest son to take over the family farm. The son is having none of it.
  • A school for deaf children. They open and close the film with a game of charades, the last one being completely inscrutable. They practice as a drum corps and play in Paris. One of its members is from the Senegalese family.

Arsinée Khanjian was there to introduce the film and to do Q&A after. Here's some of what she said:

"I'd been asked what directors I would like to work with, apart from the one I work with a lot. One of the people I named was Michael Haneke. So about a month before they started shooting, I got a call from him, and he said, "Do you want to be in the film? It's a small part." I don't think I heard past the first part, I was so excited. I knew it was a small part, just that one scene, but it's always been a dream to fly to Paris to make a movie."

The scene to which she is referring takes place in a Paris restaurant. It starts with three couples around a table (she is elbow-to-elbow with Fair Juliette). they talk, then Anna (Binoche) goes to the washroom. We follow her away from the table as she passes by another table with the Senegalese man and his date. We see the start of their evening out, then as Anna returns from the WC, we follow her back to the first table where they talk some more. It's a long scene, and I don't remember if it's all in one take or not. (I think not; there wouldn't be a good reason to shoot it that way.)

AK: That one scene -- we rehearses for one day where Michael worked out where he wanted the camera (and other technical details). The next day we shot it. Thirty-two times.

CKIRIE: As an outsider, if I were to watch each of the 32 takes, would I see a difference, or was it technical difficulties that needed so many takes?

AK: He knew exactly what he wanted. There were some technical things -- we had to chew our food and deliver our lines, and there's a temptation to eat very fast so you can speak without having a mouthful of food. But it didn't look natural, so one take we'd work on that. Another take, some other thing.

After 32 takes of cutting up a fish dinner, Arsinée was keen not to eat fish again for a long time.

Themes in the film: responsibility, communication, languages. At what point must you stop being just an observer and intervene? Can you photograph a war and not feel anything? Suppose you see a woman being harassed in a subway car: how long do you let it go on? Do you keep your distance, or do you stand up for her?

The thing I still haven't resolved is the part of the actress. How does she fit into the framework? Some of her scenes are of her, the actress, living daily life. Others are scenes from her films which you don't initially recognize as being films until the director calls "cut" or some other movie-making artifact enter the frame. The confusion between her life and her art its intentionally ambiguous (though it's always resolved by the end of the scene), but what does it mean?


Sheri Elwood
Canada, 2000
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Lynn Redgrave, Julia Brendler, Alberta Watson, Peter Donaldson, Brent Carver

Have you ever had a conversation with a faintly-remembered acquaintance? Have you ever made minutes of small talk that passed like long hours only for you both to slowly realize that you have been mistaken, and are, in fact, complete strangers?

This is Sheri Elwood's first feature. When I read in the programme guide that she had also made the short film "The Swimming Lesson", I immediately confused her with the maker of "The Skating Party" who I thought had shown great promise. I did see Elwood's first film, but didn't care for it at all. Similarly, I didn't get into "Deeply". In fact, I was bored, but the audience (and my friend Harry) loved it, so what the hell do I know.

Sheri Elwood, Lynn Redgrave, and Brent Carver, and the young fellow who plays "James" were there at this world premiere, as were the producer and cinematographer (Sebastian Edschmid).

Redgrave was asked what attracted her to this film. She said "The script" and praised it saying that it just leapt off the page when she read it. Oddly enough, the writing was the thing that most put me off. The structure of the film is that of a story-within-a-story, but I didn't feel that the inner story was sufficiently tied to the outer story. I thought it failed to advance the outer story's events or to change any of the outer characters in any fundamental way.

Harry disagreed, saying that the telling of the inner story (a romance which ends badly) was key to the young woman in the outer story coming to terms with her pain of losing her lover, thus facilitating a healing process. I countered by saying that it's no good if the inner story doesn't make someone do something, that everyone in the film was reactive (rather than active), and that that leaves you with a movie that's dead in the water.

Harry said that that was a bunch of hooey. Then I said Harry was a full of hooey. And then Gertrude Stein punched me in the mouth.



Canadian Short Films


Gregory Nixon
Canada, 2000

Inspired by The Engineer Of Human Souls. An expat Czech teacher now living in Toronto notes that nothing is as beautiful as when you can observe it, free from fear. Black and White.

Dinky Menace

Robert Kennedy
Canada, 2000

A (fake) documentary about a filmmaker and his obsession with making Super 8 film starring children's Playmobil figures. One talentless wag opines that his films are kind of "dinky" and "lame". Could this be the truth? Great fun.

Via Crucis

Serge Denoncourt
Canada, 2000


A young boy daydreams while having the stations of the cross explained to him in a Catholic church somewhere in Quebec. Instead of seeing the son of God carrying a cross, he sees his mother who constantly moans about the load she bears in raising her son. Shrug.

De l'art et la manière chez Denys Arcand

Georges Dufaux
Canada, 2000

A (real) documentary about director Denys Arcand, shot while he was working on "Stardom" which happens to be the opening film of this year's festival. Arcand comes off as being quite likeable, aware of his own limitations. This would be perfect for airing on CBC Newsworld's show "The Passionate Eye."