"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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TIFF 2000 Day 7

Day 7: September 13


Signs And Wonders

Jonathan Nossiter
France, 2000
Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, Deborah Kara Unger, Dimitris Katalifos
Synopsis:

This is a story about infatuation, betrayal, and obsession. Skarsgård plays Alec, a stock trader with an unusual interest in the significance of seemingly random observations (signs). His wife Marjorie (Rampling) works in the American Embassy in Athens. He is having an affair with a coworker. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how well things end.

The film starts out well enough and starts the inevitable slide down with aplomb, but somehow loses steam near the end. It's not fatal, but it is detracting, considering the otherwise high quality of the rest of the film.

Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, and director Jonathan Nossiter were there for Q&A.

Q: What was shooting in Athens like?

Rampling: It's very un-Toronto. Very chaotic. But I did like waking up and looking at the Acropolis from my hotel room. I liked that a lot.


Q: In the end -- why did he jump?

Nossiter: It's funny -- some people say he jumped. Some say he was pushed. (You'll have to make up your own mind.)

Rampling: You didn't think "sacrifice"? When he asks her if she is thinking about Alan, and she says "yes"... Perhaps he feels "What more is there to live for?" He knows Alec will always be first in her heart.


When asked what the film was shot on, Nossiter said it was all on digital video which surprised the hell out of me. I thought it was a combination of film and digital. When asked why he chose digital video, he said that in part, it was a deliberate move away from Kodak products. Kodak has a virtual monopoly on film stock, which is, he said, a "disaster for the industry."


Les filles ne savent pas nager

Anne-Sophie Birot
France, 2000
Cast: Isild Le Besco, Karen Alyx, Pascale Bussières, Pascal Elso, Marie Rivière

Synopsis:

Director Anne-Sophie Birot introduced the film by saying we shouldn't worry about the title -- whether girls can't swim or boys drown more easily.

It's about two teen-aged girls (16-ish), best of friends who live in different towns in France. Events bring them together at the seashore one summer. Gwen spends her days shucking fish and having sex with her boyfriend Fredo. Lise has a more literary bent; she write poetry and has a secret crush on Gwen. I'm making it sound like the Swedish film "Show Me love" but it's nothing like that at all. It is about a time in your life when anything seems possible. But when it does happen. it's with unexpected swiftness. some damage is irreparable.

Isild Le Besco plays Gwen with a squinty, burgeoning, and unforced sensuousness. sadly, she wasn't at the screening.

Look: it's a French movie. In a sense, nothing happens. Not much anyway. It's mostly observation, and as such it's quite good.

Q: How did you get Pascale Bussières?

Birot: I had seen her in another film where she played (someone from France), so I knew she could do the part [with a convincing accent.] I contacted her, but expected her to say "no" because it was not a leading part. But she said "yes."


Seance

Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Japan, 2000
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Jun Fubuki, Teuyoshi Kusanagi, Ittoku Kishibe
Synopsis:

The director's introductory remarks: "This film is done in the Kai Dun traditional style of Japanese horror story. One of the rules is that the ghost is just there and doesn't suck blood. I don't know if it was enough stimulation for a hardened Toronto audience."

Last year Kurosawa was the Festival's spotlighted director. After seeing one of his films, I rearranged my schedule part-way though in order to see as many more as I could; they really rubbed me the right way. Spare, cool, and a bit peculiar. With "Seance", Kurosawa delivers the same sort of panache, though I thought I found the story problematic. A sound engineer (Yakusho) is out in the woods collecting sound for an upcoming radio drama. A little girl hides away in one of his equipment cases. Days later, he comes across her inert body when he opens the case back home in his garage. His wife, a psychic, has been asked by the police to help find the girl. She wants to demonstrate that her powers are real, and sees this as an opportunity to provide proof by hiding the body somewhere, then by leading the police to it. Complications arise when the girl turns out not to be dead after all. And here is when the story takes a false step for me: they choose not to call the police and not to take the girl to a hospital. This is clearly a stupid decision, and from then on, my sympathies were never with the couple.

That said, the film does manage some sort of moral comeback in the last third, and salvaged the screening for me with a stylish study of remorse.

Kurosawa stayed for a Q&A, speaking through the tall blonde translator I've seen here in years past, the one with a voice like smoke. Every time I hear her, I fall in love.

Q: There was not much music in this film. Is this a trend in Japanese movies?

Kurosawa: Compared to most I make, this is chock-full of music, but when it comes to where and when to place the music, I become quite serious. Because I think music is very powerful, if you want to scare somebody you can play scary music, but you could play funny music and make it a funny scene. It's a powerful emotional device but I didn't want to distract you from the film... And I didn't want it to be obvious. [You shouldn't be told how to feel by the music.] I don't use a lot of scary music during the scary parts.


Q: When they take her out of the box, is she alive, dead, or is it supposed to be ambiguous?

Kurosawa: it does look to them as if she's dead, and so they are shocked, but when she's alive they think, "Thank God" and that's where the tragedy begins. If the girl had already been dead, the couple wold never have run into the things they did.


Q: Re: The screenplay

Kurosawa: It's based on a British novel, Seance On A Wet Afternoon [by Mark McShane]. It's an interesting novel, but (because of) the difference between 1960's England and modern Japan, there is considerable revamping in my film. For example, there's no ghost in the novel. I didn't work with another screenwriter, but I ended up completely rewriting it. This happens a lot with me.


Q: Was seeing his own doppelganger a premonition of death?

Kurosawa: There's a Russian legend from Catherine The Great where she sees her own doppelganger. Her psychics say she's going to die but she says "No way!" I used it was a way of signifying his acceptance of his own death.


Canadian Shorts

The Basement Girl

Midi Onodera
Synopsis:

"Who can turn the world on with her smile?" A stream-of-consciousness work about a woman who was recently dumped (or abandonée in the French narration) and her starting recovery. Midi Onidera shot this in a lot of formats, in French, with English subtitles. Even though Onodera herself speaks "Only English at the best of times." A tad abstract for my taste, but not bad.


Atomic Sake

Louise Archambault
Synopsis:

Three girl friends decide to drop the "bullshit" and talk about what's really important to them. One is pregnant. Another is in love with a pregnant woman (possibly her friend). Sitting in the first row, I noticed a fuzziness to the image (or the projection -- I couldn't tell). Goes on a bit.


Passengers

Francine Zuckerman
Synopsis:

My favourite of the lot. Two women are driving to a funeral. "You should have told him." Flashback to scenes of the driver as a young girl with her father, driving the same roads. They're happy. Then later in time, both have aged. He is still driving, but now has an IV drip discretely hung from the door. All he wants is for her to be married and happy. But that will never happen, not like that anyway. Well photographed, and smart enough not to tell us the story.


Foxy Lady, Wild Cherry

Ines Buchli
Synopsis:

A young girl on the cusp of becoming a woman s visiting her father. She asks her friend to stay over. Dad is not altogether user to parenting, it seems.One of Dad's friends drops over for supper. The girls check out his CB radio. "What's jailbait?" A good film, but I was not fully engaged by it. Could be fatigue setting in.


Clean Rite Cowboy

Michael Downing
Synopsis:

The "Clean Rite" man has a busy day. He cleans people's carpets. One stop reunites him with what looks to be a high school sweetheart. They reminisce in a touching scene of shared memories and dancing. An escape to the past, happier days. The wistful tone really appealed to me.


Born Romantic

David Kane
UK, 2000
Cast: Craig Ferguson, Ian Hart, Jane Horrocks, Adrian Lester, Catherine McCormack, Jimi Mistry, David Morrissey, Olivia Williams

Synopsis:

A very lightly spoken David Kan introduced the film, saying something or other. Despite sitting no more than 20' away, it was a strain to catch what he was saying.

The inevitable one sentence (fragment) plot synopsis: Three stories of love centered around a salsa club in London. It's a straightforward Saturday night fun film.

Random thoughts I hope my editor can knit together into a coherent narrative: [We're not paid nearly enough for that -- Ed]

  • Much of the cast was there, including Jane Horrocks, who is lovely. Why did she do this film? "I just wanted to play a tart," she said.
  • Adrian Lester acts everyone else up and down in this flick by not doing much at all. Ian Hart plays a well-read cabby who never seems to actually drive, and instead spends a lot of time in the café, explaining his views on relationships and women.

From the Q&A:

Q: In one sentence, can you tell us what you were trying to say in this film?

Craig Ferguson: If we could'ha done that, we wouldn't ha' made the fuckin' film! What is this -- the Toronto International One Sentence Festival?

This exchange wins awards for both:

a) Most pointless question, and
b) Best answer