"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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TIFF 2000 Day 8

Day 8: September 14


Not I

Neil Jordan
Ireland, 1999
Time: 14 minutes
Writer: Samuel Beckett
Cast: Julianne Moore
Synopsis:

I blew off "The Princess And The Warrior" to see some more of the Beckett Project. Tom Tykwer's film will get wide release anyway; heaven knows when I'll get a chance to see these films again.

"Not I" by Neil Jordan stars the mouth of Julianne Moore doing rapid-fire circular dialog. I'm not sure I ever noticed it before, but she has a great voice and knows how to use it. She also has really nice white teeth. I've become quite self-conscious of mine -- little yellow stained twigs, while hers are bright and luminous like splints of the full moon.


Krapp's Last Tape

Atom Egoyan
Ireland, 2000
Writer: Samuel Beckett
Cast: John Hurt
Synopsis:

This is Atom Egoyan's "short" (58 minutes) adaptation of the Beckett play "Krapp's Last Tape." Like "Rough For Theatre", it is slow and deliberate, but mysteriously, never boring. John Hurt plays Krapp, a man who has been making recordings of himself on a reel-to-reel tape recorder over the years. The play opens with him listening to a 30 year old recording he made when in his prime, at age 39. Actually, the film opens with rain on a window, Krapp eating a banana, and carelessly discarding the peel. You can imagine what happens. It's a story about reflection and for me, despair.

Atom was there to introduce the film and to do the Q&A. he spoke at length about Beckett and the film, and here is the barest fragments of what I remember:

  • These are the last film versions of Beckett's plays that the Beckett estate is going to allow. Apparently, anything you do with the plays has to be cleared through some committee.
  • For example, the rain on the window at the start and Krapp drawing the blind are not in the original script. Egoyan had to get permission from the Beckett committee, and had to justify the addition by saying that there is a reference to a storm in the script, and it does talk about drawing a blind. For this reason, they OK'd the change.
  • Atom was in Ireland showing "Felicia's Journey" when he was approached to adapt one of the plays. The producers asked which play he wanted to do, and he immediately said "Krapp's Last Tape," which was already slated to be done by another director. "But I know how I'd do it," he said. "It's not available," they said. "But if it does become available..." Quite conveniently, the other director did not do it, and the play subsequently did become available, and so here we are.
  • This was one of the rare times Egoyan was able to work with someone who was already familiar with the material (Hurt was performing the play in London when Atom made the film). Atom went to John's performances night after night to figure out where to put the camera.
  • Atom first read "Krapp's Last Tape" when he was 15. An age at which he said you're trying to figure out why life is so miserable. "I took refuge in the theatre of the absurd."
  • "The fact that I shot it when I was 39 -- the same age as Krapp on the tape -- had a special resonance for me."

I later wondered if I would be reading my film logs 30 years from now. Will I really care about what I thought of this film? Will it still be on a web site?


Holdup

Florian Flicker
Austria, 2000
Cast:
Joachim Bissmeier, Roland Düringer, Josef Hader
Synopsis:

An Austrian drama about a first-time stick-up artist (dilettante, really). He holds up a tailor shop after he loses his nerve trying to rob a grocery store. As luck would have it, moments later, there is another robbery across the street, and soon the area is thick with police. Our robber cannot effect a getaway. A protracted situation ensues: the tailor and his one customer are held in the back room while the thief bides his time. The Stendhal syndrome raises its head (it might even be mentioned by name), and soon enough, the customer is chatting amicably about his health problems, and the thief is telling us about his kid. The tailor is not amused.

The dynamic of the piece makes me think it was once a stage play. It's simple enough -- it's just three people in a room. They talk for 80 minutes, and then we're done.

It's certainly competently made, but not overly memorable. I' don't expect our paths to cross again.


Gohatto

Nagisa Oshima
Japan/France/UK, 2000
Cast: Takeshi "Beat" Kitano, Ryuhei Matsuda, Shinji Takeda, Tadanobu Asano, Yoichi Sai
Synopsis:

This is my one and only film this year screened in the dread Uptown 1. "Dread" if you are taller than a midget or otherwise have average-length femurs.

The Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano was there to introduce the film. So was the tall translator with the dark and smoky voice. Mmm. She said that he had come to Toronto because of another film ("Kaza-hana") but when they told him that "Gohatto" was playing too, he hurried over to say hello, and to say that he is not the star of the film. A man 10 years his junior is (Sozaburo Kano?), and that you should be watching him instead because he is very talented.

Being even a little gracious does wonders for my perception of a person. I had first seen Tadanobu Asano last year in Christopher Doyle's "Away With Words" in which he plays a Japanese man who crashes in a club where no one speaks Japanese.

"Gohatto" is a costume drama about a samurai militia, and two of its new recruits, both of whom happen to be gay. The film is nonjudgmental in its treatment of gays in the military (so are its characters.) It's a fact of life, and those in command just deal with it. Beat Kitano plays one of the militia's commanding officers, and he has to contend with the disruption the pretty-boy recruit causes (he is sought after by many.)

The film starts off well enough with great photography, costumes, and kendo. Well -- pretty good kendo anyway. I was annoyed that a deep booming sound effect was added every time swords meet, whether wooden or steel. It wasn't necessary and was a bit silly. By the last act of the film, I had lost much of my interest because I was not able to connect emotionally with any of the characters. Also, the last act takes place in a long unnaturally lit night scene whose look seemed out of place compared to the rest of the film. There are definitely some good moments here, but not enough for me to really recommend the film.

In contrast, my friend Harry liked this movie. I am starting to have suspicions about our relative tastes in film.

Kaza-hana

Shinji Somai
Japan, 2000
Cast: Koizumi Kyoko, Tadanobu Asano
Synopsis:

I can't remember why I chose this film, but it's exactly what I was looking for this year. Japanese city dwellers go on a road trip through rural Japan, a wonderfully empty autumnal Hokkaido. Director Shinji Somai, actor Tadanobu Asano, and The Voice (translator) where there to introduce the film. Somai thanked us for coming, despite the rain. Asano gave similar thanks, and wanted us to know beforehand that he doesn't actually drink.

Maybe his comment will make more sense if I give you a quick plot synopsis: An alcoholic (Asano) wakes up one morning under a tree with a young woman (Kyoko) he does not remember meeting. Apparently, the night before, they had decided to visit Hokkaido, take pills, and freeze to death in the snow. And they they go. As they travel, the man remembers more and more about meeting the girl and how they came to be on the journey. She remembers her younger days with her husband and child who now lives with her parents on Hokkaido. Past blends with the present as she returns to see her child. It's slow and beautiful. The photography is crisp.

Q: (To Asano) Not being a drinker, was it difficult playing an alcoholic?

Asano: Being a t-totaler put me in a better position to observe real alcoholics.


Q: (To Somai) Why does she dance near the end?

Somai: [Laughs] From the start, I knew there would be a dance scene. I talked to her about it, and she shared the same idea about (the character?) and that's how we came to do it.

There was not a soul who did not realize that Somai did not answer the question. I just laughed.

I saw this film with my friend Harry. Here's our post mortem:

Me: You hated it, didn't you?
Harry: Yes. What about you?
Me: I loved it!
Harry: You bastard!


Merci Pour Le Chocolate

Claude Chabrol
France/Switzerland, 2000
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jacques Dutronc, Anna Mouglalis, Rodolphe Pauly, Brigitte Catillon, Michel Robin

Synopsis:

This is a Swiss film if ever I saw one. Cold, very clean, and somewhat unsatisfying. Isabelle Huppert is a wonder to see in action: subtle, calculating, beautiful.

Huppert plays the owner of a chocolate company. She has just married a famous classical pianist (Dutronc) who can't sleep without Rohipnol (the date rape drug). His wife shares his taste in medication, it seems.

Things happen, but it's hard to get too involved. Certainly, none of the characters worry too much so why should we?

My friend Rosie was quite dissatisfied with this film, and I think some of that has rubbed off, lowering my estimation of the movie a notch. Her main criticism was that the ending comes quite abruptly and doesn't really follow from the rest of the film. While this kind of thing is unhealthy for a film, I'm starting to suspect that real life is exactly like that.