The All Staff Listicle: Fall Film Festival Edition
November 7 (Tuesday)
We’ve experienced a glorious fall season this past September and October—sunshiny days with pops of autumnal colours sneaking in as the days get colder and the tree leaves begin their annual blaze of glory. It‘s also been film festival season! With Cinematheque-staffers attending both TIFF and VIFF, we‘d like to present highlights from each along with a smattering of films (outside of the festival circuit) that have been on our minds:
A number of the new films I saw during this year’s fall festival season have stuck with me, including Víctor Erice’s Close Your Eyes, Eduardo Williams’s The Human Surge 3, Blake Williams’s Laberint Sequences, Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast, Lila Avilés’s Tótem, and Catherine Breillat’s Last Summer. (I’m working with artistic director Shaun Inouye to bring some of these to The Cinematheque—at least one of them will be in our first program of 2024.)
But—at the risk of staking out an obvious position given the place where I work—the best films I saw were not new. TIFF’s Cinematheque screenings occupy a small segment of their lineup—no retrospectives like at Locarno, Berlin, or Montreal’s FNC—but the Cinematheque team in Toronto makes each spot count. Michael Snow’s Standard Time was the surprise opener of the festival’s Wavelengths programs, marking the first screening of the series since his death earlier this year, and I ended my TIFF with Jacques Rivette’s L’amour fou, long only available on home video via a VHS copy. There are other Rivette films I might admire more, but as a self-reflexive vault into the unknown, which subsequently made his future films’ sinister conspiracies and freely evolving scenarios possible, there might be none more crucial to the filmmaker’s evolution.
VIFF, as it turns out, is where I was able to see more in the way of repertory programming, via a new annual series guest-curated by a contemporary filmmaker, in this case Anthony Shim. I don’t think the series could have had a better start—many screenings were here at The Cinematheque, and by all accounts they were well-hosted by Shim and well-attended by patrons who saw no reason to choose anything else in the calendar over arguably the best films made by Lee Changdong, John Cassavetes, and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. It was my first time seeing Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence and Hou’s Dust in the Wind, both of them films I’d been meaning to see for years—since undergrad in the case of the former, and since the touring Hou retrospective played Vancouver in 2015 for the latter.
Given how crucial a sense of history is to anything we watch, not to mention some of the films I listed at the top of this entry (invoked in the Erice and directly quoted in the Williams), I’m glad repertory offerings were available at both of these festivals, and look forward to their continued presence in the future. —Michael
Of the innumerous adjectives attributed to Harmony Korine, “disciplined” is an unpopular choice. (Google corroborates this.) But it shouldn’t be. His latest film Aggro Dr1ft—it is a film, no scare quotes required—is a hellbent act of devotion to an idea, to a plan, with scant regard for much else. Not unlike Trash Humper’s staunch fidelity to a VHS gutter-world of geriatric garbage fuckers (their mantra, “make it, don’t fake it,” is the director’s too), here Korine commits whole hog to a K‑hole vision of “bro” media, a delirium of video-game cutscenes and hitman clichés that refuses to let slip if it’s satirizing or overindulging—a Korine forte. It’s absurd and juvenile and offensive and disconcerting and shot, by the way, entirely in infrared. It’s also one of the most resolute works of art I saw at TIFF. —Shaun
A film highlight for me this past season was watching the new restoration of The Virgin Suicides. I was 17 when I first saw this film and read the Jeffrey Eugenides book it is based on. Despite seeing the film on a 720p ripped internet download, the film has haunted me in the best way possible and ignited a love for all of Sofia Coppola’s work. Watching this restoration a decade later was an exquisite treat and I love how the film has continued to resonate with me years later. I appreciate how faithfully Coppola has rendered the perspective of the movie to follow that of the book. A line that sticks out in my mind from watching it recently is this: “In the end we had pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained. Oddly shaped emptiness mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn’t name. What lingered after them was not life, but the most trivial list of mundane facts. A clock ticking on the wall, a room dim at noon, the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.” —Thea
Time got away from me (what is time anymore?) and I blinked and VIFF was over. However, I was lucky enough to attend the opening night of the “Sembène 100” series at The Cinematheque (funny how that happened), and what a film to open with! Black Girl will forever remain with me. Weeks later and I’m still thinking about it. Not just the ending (what an ending)—but the work in its entirety. From Diouana’s (Mbissine Thérèse Diop) hopeful start as a nanny in the employ of a French couple, to her move from Senegal to Antibes, France with said couple, and her isolation, depression, and loneliness as her constrained role in the household is one of forced labour. Sembène’s characterization of Diouana gives us a window into African identity under the thumb of European rule and the effects of colonialism and racism on the individual. —Gerilee
The end of summer may mean the coming of shorter days and frequent chills, but it also marks the yearly return of the Vancouver International Film Festival; a time of long winding lines flooding into packed cinemas as cinephiles and cinenoobs alike come to see that next hot film. While the weather during this year’s festival was actually far more beautiful than expected, I still found myself seeking out those warmer films to cozy up with.
Surprisingly, it was a vampire flick that showed one of the strongest blood-pumping hearts at the fest. Ariane Louis-Seize’s Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person definitely drew me with its title alone, but also delivered with a fantastic look into the relationship of two outsiders. A reluctant vampire and a depressed teen live precariously in their respective worlds, yet find meaning when their paths collide. The cold brutality of the stereotypical vampiric attack is flipped and shown as a plight of teenage love—awkward, hesitant, and most importantly personal. With humour partnering with humanity, and strong performances from its leading duo, this is a film worth seeking out.
The worlds of life and death aren’t just a one-off theme at VIFF. With Tomas Gomez Bustillo’s The Chronicles of a Wandering Saint we find a devout Rita sent to the next world following an attempt to create a false miracle. Wandering Saint gently and hilariously guides us through the movements of life and death, exploring the duality of both the tender grief of losing someone and leaving someone, with the hilarious absurdity that can result. Centered around a perfectly funny and formally-rebellious mid-point, Wandering Saint is notably presented in gorgeous compositions with production design and special effects that baffle spectacularly. This was a pleasant surprise of a film and one I hope to come back to soon.
Journeying back and forth between life and death too is Arthur, the lead character of Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, More specifically, Arthur wanders the surface world in Italy, drawn to uncovering the lost entrances to Etruscan tombs of the dead. While his partners look to raid these tombs for artifacts, Arthur himself seeks out a love now lost. Here begins the first inklings of a magical realism that Rohrwacher finds and displays so perfectly. How she achieves it I am not entirely sure—whether it’s in the soft details of the Italian landscape on film, or in the quirky yet charming characters, or maybe in the brief but defining moments as ancient silent tombs are tarnished by raiders. Likely it’s a perfect mixture of all these and more. This film is fascinating and encapsulating and so wonderfully warm for it.
Rounding out the festival for me was Tran Anh Hung’s The Pot-au-Feu. While not sharing in the world of magical realism, this film is nonetheless magical from start to finish. I could have picked no worse a film to enter into with an empty stomach, as the meals presented within are some of the most awe-inspiring I’ve seen put to film. To follow the extensive preparation and then consumption could easily ring as though a glorified cooking show, but it is within the cooks themselves that this film is elevated. Passion flows through every frame as presentation and preparation becomes true expression of self. From a meal to share in the company of friends while shielded from the eyes of god, to a picking of fruit so meticulously chosen to resemble a loved one. As much as I could not possibly hope to eat anything of comparison following the film, I could also not hope to have ended VIFF with anything better than what was a feast for this cinephile’s soul. —Sam
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