Tuesday, September 11, 2007

TIFF07, Day 5.

Monday, September 10. Not sure how folks stick it out for the whole run of the festival. After just four days of non-stop movies – about war, heartbreak, the ugly things people do to one another, about love, about movies themselves – I’m beginning to feel a little psychic bruising. Not to mention physical bruising – jostling crowds, long lines, feet stepped on by folks whispering apologetically as they make for the restroom midway through a film…. well, never mind.

But then you see something like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and none of those petty complaints matter. In fact, you feel shameful even thinking of such minor discomfort and inconvenience. An adapatation, in French, from the Brooklyn-born artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, of the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby, this film is revelatory, crushingly sad and also a testament to the will and infinite possibility of the human mind. Bauby, the gadabout editor of the fashion mag Elle, suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed head to toe – the only thing he could move was one eye, one eyelid. With the help of a devoted team of physical and speech therapists, Bauby learned how to “speak” through that eye, blinking when someone called out the letter he needed to spell a word, then the next letter, and then stringing one word after another, in order to communicate – and in order to write. Schnabel shoots, in turns, from Bauby’s POV (with his perfectly lucid, cynical, desperate thoughts and unheeded retorts to the queries of nurses, doctors, lovers, friends) and from the perspective of those working with, or visiting him. Mathieu Amalric plays “Bobo” – seen in flashbacks as the successful Parisian publishing exec flanked by fashion models, a father of three, a devoted son to an infirm old man (Max Von Sydow) – providing the voice-over narrative and, for much of the movie, the lumpen form of a quadripelegic. If all this sounds unendurably hard to watch, it’s not: visually it’s dazzling, playful, full of sublime collages of images, color and light. And some of it is very funny. Dark funny, but funny. The sound of weeping was audible in the theater as Diving Bell moved along…. And if there are gripes about the fact that all the women in the film – the nurses, the mistresses, the therapists – are too beautiful to be real, well, remember, Bauby’s whole world was about beauty, and so too Schnabel’s (have you seen pictures of his wife, Olatz?) Cut the guys some slack.

Next: Margot At the Wedding, from writer/director Noah Baumbach, of The Squid and the Whale. Nicole Kidman is a screwed-up, passive-aggressive, somewhat well-known New York (and New Yorker-published) fiction writer who brings her young teenage son along to attend the backyard marriage of her sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) at the ramshackle beachfront family home. Full of cutting comedy, bitter sniping, absurd tragedy, dysfunctional relationships, and boasting a performance from Jack Black that ISN’T annoying and full of shtick (a first!), Margot doesn't hang together like Squid, but Kidman and Leigh are amazing together. And so’s the kid who play’s Margot’s son – Zane Pais. Like Baumbach’s first picture, this one shows a real affinity for the painful plight of adolescents dealing with the follies and cruelties of adults. And did I say it was funny? Dark funny, but funny.

Interview James McAvoy, who plays the star-crossed Robbie Turner in the Oscar-bound adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 1930s and 1940s period piece, Atonement. He’s in a room at the Park Hyatt, guarded by the Focus Features publicists, and he’s got boxes of cold-medicine and pitchers of orange juice laid out on the coffee table. (Uh-oh, remember to wash hands as soon as interview’s over.) McAvoy, who went from playing a traitorous fawn in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to a young doc who befriends Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland and had Starter for 10 out earlier this year, is a Glaswegian, and his accent is thick and burry. He talks about his pre-acting jobs as a teenager (one: at a confectionary baker’s, putting icing on cakes); he talks about having tested opposite Keira Knightley way-back for another role which he didn’t get (he won’t say which film) and then testing opposite her again for Atonement. He talks about the amazing 5-minute-long uncut steadicam shot, set on the beaches of Dunkirk during World War II, that comes midway through the Joe Wright-directed film. Since Atonement, McAvoy's done an action film in Chicago and Prague with the madman Russian director of Nightwatch and Daywatch , Timur Bekmambetov. It's called Wanted, with Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman.

Then it’s down to what’s now called the Scotiabank Theater, but used to be the Paramount, a block-long, sky-high megaplex in the middle of Toronto’s entertainment district….. Extremely odd to see a French film – a Catherine Breillat French film, Une Vielle Maitresse, full of unclothed, copulating bodies – on a screen that’s bigger than anything in the Philadelphia market, in a theater that’s absolutely packed. Think Transformers at the King of Prussia 'plex and then some: that's about the scale this pic, which will be coming to the Ritzes, is being experienced on. This is a public screening: festivalgoers munching on popcorn before Asia Argento, playing a nutjob Spanish sexpot in 19th century Paris, strips down to seduce the young Brando-looking rake in this peculiar study of jealousy, desire and fussy manners. Breillat suffered a stroke before she shot Maitresse, and she needs assistance to walk to the stage, and to hold "le micro” as she introduces the film to the appreciative crowd. Not everyone's so appreciative by the time it’s over, but that’s another story.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Jewelz said...

Who's a better director? Julian Schnabel, Julian Temple, or Julie Delpy?

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Amelia said...

Whoa,"a peculiar study of jealousy, desire and fussy manners"? Who wouldn't want to see that?
I don;t really have a question. But since you don't respond to readers' comments anyway, I guess it doesn't matter.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Chachi said...

It's hard to imagine how you could be so jazzed about a movie with a mute bedridden lump of a man who blinks laboriously to communicate, but My Left Foot was pretty spectacular, so I guess it's possible.
But do you ever think that being surrounded by cineastes, you tend to get hypnotized by the pretentious, like a mass hallucination?

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Suzie said...

Why was The Squid and the Whale so good? I fell like it should have bored but I was beguiled.
Any ideas?

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Sturges said...

Are you purpsoely not saying what you thought of Atonement because you want us to wait for the review in the newspaper?
I can't see how it would be good. McEwan is such a dead fish writer.
How's the food in Toronto, Tonto?

8:31 AM  
Anonymous Nelly Frittata said...

Are you telling me that Asia Argento is in a movie that is not a work of genius? I find that hard to believe. Did you not see XXX? I ope you enjoyed my hometown, please come back soon.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Steven Rea said...

Jewelz: Julian Ceasar.

Amelia: Sorry I haven't been responding -- been busy with desire and jealousy issues.

Chachi: Mass hypnosis of the pretentious kind? Sounds possible.

Suzie: Smart writing, brilliant performances, a story that roots around in the undergrowth of marriage and family. Noah Baumbach's the real deal.

Sturges: McEwan can write with his eyes closed, one hand tied behind his back, his head submerged in a vat of tar, and still turn a masterful phrase. He's great.

Nelly: Whoa Nelly.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Patricio said...

A film directed by Catherine Breillat thats starring Asia Argento. Hmmm the director of Fat Girl and A Real Young Girl doing a film with an actress who spends more time unclothed then clothed in her films. You think this might have any nudity?

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you know that the Squid and The Whale is not Baumbach's first work, it was his fifth feature film so Margot is his sixth.

5:06 PM  

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