Day 10: 19 Sept 98


Interlude: So Very Tired

  The last day of the Festival. I'm very tired at this point, probably as much as you are of hearing me moan about my holidays. Still. When the last film wraps around 10:30 tonight, I'll feel a sense of relief. Sadness too, since this is something that gives my days shape and order. Once my movie tickets run out, it will again be up to me to make decisions about where to be, what to do, and so on. I think this is why I enjoy work so much. It's always clear what I have to do next. Home is chaotic, but not as stressful.

 


The Terrorist

Santosh Silvan
India, 1998
95 minutes, Colour
Principal Cast:
Ayesha Dharkar, Vishnu Vardhan, Bhanu Prakash, K. Krishna, Sonu Sisupal
Rating:
Excellent

  I haven't seen such a well-photographed film in ages. Really, it looked spectacular. The composition of each shot was on par with that in "Confidences a un Inconnu" from a couple years back. Pick a frame and put it on your wall. Stunning.

The story is told effectively with not an awful lot of dialog. I attribute the strong acting and cinematography and writing with making this possible.

Sadly, the film was rudely interrupted by another fire alarm. Perhaps there's one every weekend at the Varsity cinema. (A bit of scatological humor: behind a divider in the Varsity, the festival has set up a little command post. Tables, papers, and a large manila envelope bearing the label "Varshitty 8" (#8 is the largest of the Varsity theatres). Hee hee hee.)

The director and lead actress were there for a Q&A session. Initially, we were told there'd be no Q&A, but perhaps our collective groan of disappointment changed their minds.

A quick aside: last night, in line at the Uptown, a man who had been leaning against a road sign for many minutes -- drunk, high, or otherwise ill -- stumbles and falls down into the street. A panhandler comes from nowhere to his aide and shows genuine concern and compassion. The people in line did nothing.

Unfortunately, I can't remember anything about the Q&A, except that the director had a number of film students working on the film. Sorry to let you down, dear reader. Don't let my memory lapses deter you from going to see the film though.

 


Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles

Jennifer Baichwal
Canada, 1998
75 minutes, Colour
Principal Cast:
Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, the Hon. David Herbert, Mohammed Mrabet, Mohammed Choukri, Cherifa, Allen Ginsberg
Rating:
Good

  The life of writer Paul Bowles. I've only ever read The Sheltering Sky, which put me in good stead. Burroughs calls it a "nearly perfect novel." Of the film, Bowles says that he asked Bertolucci to pick a different book because he thought it was unfilmable. All the action takes place in their minds, he said, not on screen. "It was idiotic." Burroughs asks Bowles how Bertolucci did the ending. "They didn't," he said. "Went straight to Rome. Wrap it up!" I read that book 6-8 years ago, after seeing the film. There's a passage that haunts me to this day where he's illustrating how brief life is: He asks how many more times in your life will you look into the night sky and see the full moon. Six? A dozen? Realistically, it's less than 30. More like 20. You're going to give it a really good look less that 20 more times. That's how short life is.

Director Baichwal and cinematographer Nick de Pencier were there. Some of the comments:

JB: "Bowles has not seen the film yet, though I did invite him here to the Festival. He's mostly confined to his bed now, so couldn't come. We're off to India in 10 days, so I'm going by way of Tangier and I'm going to show it to him there."

Baichwal met Bowles about 20 years ago when she "ran away" from university to Tangier. She lived there for a year, then finished university. Four years ago (or more?) she contacted Bowles about the possibility of making this film. His response was "sounds interesting." They did two long interviews at Bowles' home in '94 and '96. And they filmed him in the US in '95 when he met with Burroughs and Alan Ginsberg, all old Moroccan hands. They talked about what any old group of friends talk about: old times, what medication they're using ("I hear so-and-so is on lithium"), gossip.

Her next film is related to her trip to India. Her father died a couple of years ago, and asked that his ashes be scattered at the source of the Ganges. So Baichwal and her siblings are going (now) to do that. The film will be about that journey.

The cinematographer was asked if he regretted the fact that Bowles couldn't get out of bed for the 2nd interview at his home. He said yes, that he would have liked to have gotten him walking around Tangier, but that doing it without him worked as well. Perhaps paralleling the distance Bowles puts between himself and the world.

Q: Did you ever get a sense of regret from Bowles when you talked to him?
JB: Maybe at the end. That last scene was the real end of the second interview, and we were almost out of tape. We had four minutes left. [He's saying that he might be happier somewhere else, but that the price -- not the monetary one, but the emotional one -- would be too great. And so he's content to remain stuck where he is.]

There are some great back-and-forths where we see one person in one interview say something, then someone else respond to it in a different interview. Here's a not-quite verbatim sample:

Bowles: Burroughs read my autobiography [called Without Stopping]

Burroughs: It should have been called Without Telling. He never tells anything! Gore Vidal's memoirs have some lurid story on every page. His has nothing.

Q: How long was your rough cut?
JB: 30 hours. That's a joke. We had one that was six hours, then four hours, and we kept cutting it down. We'll probably make a version for TV which will have to be 55 minutes. I can't imagine taking out another 15-20 minutes. It'll be excruciating but that's probably how we'll make back our money. So we'll have to do it.

Baichwal mentioned that they had shot a lot of tape with Bowles et al (30 hours or so) and would probably make it available to an archive that already collects material on Bowles. She mentioned a university in Texas.

She also said that she thought Bowles' wife Jane would be a good subject for a film, though she wasn't sure she was the one to make it. She wrote as well, but produced little because she was such a perfectionist. "She tore up more than she wrote," said someone in the film.

 


Sombre

Philippe Grandrieux
France, 1998
112 minutes, Colour
Principal Cast:
Marc Barbé, Elina Löwensohn, Géraldine Voillat
Rating:
Unsatisfactory. Big old gong.

  Despite the tone of my reviews, I don't really enjoy trashing films. And so it's with reserve that I pan this one. I left after 45 minutes. The photography was incompetent -- composition and exposure were very bad. They made direct sunlight look like moonlight, and underlit some scenes to the point of inscrutability. Some characters would have been nice. A story too. Here's some dialog: Elina Löwensohn's "character" speaks second:

-- Are you bored?
-- No.
-- You look bored.

I was bored. Why was this nasty bit of dung admitted to the festival?

[The reviewer from either the Toronto Star or the Globe And Mail (I forget which) picked this as the worst film in the Festival.]

 


Contemporary World Cinema Shorts

Delivery of a Nation
Momir Matovic
Republic of Montenegro, 1998
13 minutes, Colour
Rating:
Satisfactory.

  The story of a large metal Russian star. From the maker of "String of Life" a couple years back. Didn't do it for me at all.

 

What Farocki Taught
Jill Godmilow
USA, 1997
30 minutes, Colour
Principal Cast:
Maria DeAnda, John Blandford, John Cavadini, Esther Mirjam Sent
Rating:
Fascinating.

  An intriguing remaking of "Inextinguishable Fire," a film about the manufacture of napalm for the war in Vietnam. it's a "lens shot for lens shot" recreation of Farocki's film which demonstrates its accuracy by overlaying the original film (briefly) in parts. The director appears herself in the film as its director, to explain that this is a remake, or doppelganger, or what have you. It's rare that a film is able to talk about itself clearly and distinctly. Fascinating.

 

The Book of Life
Hal Hartley
USA/France, 1998
63 minutes, Colour
Principal Cast:
Martin Donovan, P.J. Harvey, Thomas Jay Ryan, David Simonds, Miho Nikaido
Rating:
Excellent

  Hal Hartley's contribution to a multinational Y2K project ("Last Night" by Don McKeller is the Canadian entry in that project.) It's nothing but good fun from start to end as the son of man returns to earth to initiate the end of the world. Along the way, we find out what Satan has been doing, who the chosen people really are, and how modern technology is used by angels.

 


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