Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TIFF: Toronto's Ego and Iran's Politics

Hi, I'm MattCanada, the new guest blogger from Toronto. My first mission is to relay information on the Toronto International Film Festival, but because I have just started a new job at a talent agency my ability to see hoardes of amazing films has been seriously diminished. I am only going to four films this year (very dissapointed!), but I thought I might give impressions of TIFF from a Torontonians perspective.

It is always an incredible experience being in the city for the festival. Films, celebrities, and film critics routinely make the front page of the major papers. Yorkville, the hub of upscale Toronto and thus the festival, becomes overrun with celebrity spotters, international media types, and, to be honest, a lot of tacky women and sleazy looking men looking to party and eat beside people like Oprah. At work people from LA and NYC are constantly dropping in, and relaying what they think about the latest ten films they've seen... that day. Everyone is always talking about what party they were invited to, or who they saw at some gala. Basically for ten or so days the laid back, unshowy, casual Toronto I know turns into something more akin to New York City or Montreal. This is all amazing but a little disconcerting, especially when all the stars pack up and head home, and Toronto's papers are once again filled with news of boom out West and bust out East. I love the festival, not only for the films, but also for turning the city I love into a lovably egotistical place.

Map from Metro News

Last night I saw my first film, the North American premiere of Hana Makhmalbaf's Green Days. The film is a clandestinely filmed dramatisation of the events leading up to the 2009 Iranian election protests, or Green Revolution. Makhmalbaf, the 20 year old daughter of famed director Mohsen, filmed without a permit during the demonstrations leading up to the election. She weaves a story about a woman's attempt to put on a play and search for answers to her country's political situation around the demonstrations. She also intercuts footage of the post-election governmental violence and repression. This film is powerful despite Makhmalbaf's contrived and unsubtle plot involving the play director. The film's power comes from its disturbing post-election images (especially the use of the now famous footage of Neda/"voice of Iran" being shot), juxtaposed with the optimism of the pre-election Mousavi supporters. Everything that is fictional is sub-par, and feels distinctly like student drama and student film. Having recently graduated with a degree in Film and Drama I do not use these dreaded, horrible terms lightly. I swear to God there is a scene where three women dressed as mimes (white face, black clothes) are literally silenced by an offscreen presence taping over their mouths. Subtle? No. Cliche? Yes, and of the highest order.

It has to be said though, that everything that is documentary has a gravitas and power that far outweighs the narrative and technical shortcomings. I saw this film with a theatre mostly packed with people wearing green bracelets and armbands in support of Mousavi and the Green Revolution, and their response was very positive. When I arrived at the theatre it seemed like everyone knew each other, people were embracing everywhere and everyone was speaking Farsi. When the film ended there was a nice (not overwhelming) round of applause. This leads me to the conclude that they admired the politics, but understood its faults. Overall, a mediocre film with some very powerful scenes.

Tonight I'm seeing the Cannes hit J'ai tué ma mère, and I'm so excited. It's a Québécois film from a cute gay 20 year old which is enough to make me call it my favorite film of the year, without even having seen it.
The director/writer/star Xavier Dolan is even the current coverboy for Toronto's fag rag Xtra. I'll get back to you with my thoughts.
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15 comments:

moror said...

The boy looks like Shia LaBeouf.

Michael said...

I've never heard of that film until now. As an American Iranian I am very interested in seeing it.

And btw they were speaking Farsi not Persian.

NATHANIEL R said...

Isn't Farsi the same thing as Persian? Or a version of Persian?

Shia said...

Xavier Dolan = overrated

Jim T said...

What I don't understand is why these films from Cannes, Venice, Toronto and other festivals take so long to get released. I will probably watch this movie almost a year after it after Cannes.

Michael said...

Farsi is the language. You don't speak Persian, you are persian.

Ex. If you're from Mexico you are Mexican but you don't speak Mexican, you speak Spanish.

NATHANIEL R said...

hmmm. ok. the internets are wrong. i looked it up to double check Matthew's choice of words and the internets tell me that Farsi means Persian or is a version of Persian... but i shouldn't argue with you about it since as an American Iranian you would know. I was curious myself but i shall edit the post.

Glenn said...

I'm glad somebody is seeing films at Cannes that aren't going to get a release by the end of the year anyway. Never understand why that happens, I gotta say. And it's even the critics who, ya know, get to see the movies at their own free screenings so why don't use the time at TIFF to discover new and exciting foreign cinema is beyond me.

NATHANIEL R said...

Glenn, I think it's for the same psychological reason that everyone likes to claim "first!"

I try to mix it up myself when I get a chance to go. See some things I'm unduly excited for and see some other things that are more obscure. It's for the same psychological reason that I like buffet lines.

BeRightBack said...

J'ai tué ma mère is really, really good. The woman who plays the mother is especially good, I thought. My BF, a non-Canadian Francophone who kind of hates the Québécois accent, said it was the first Montréal film he'd seen that made him see the charm of it. I can't really speak to that myself, but I liked the visuals (save for the occasional student film-y/Julie-Taymor's Titus-y non-diagetic artsy shots inserted in for "mood". But there weren't too many of those).

I did a very short review of it right after I saw it (for the interested: http://wordsmoker.com/2009/06/19/5-second-movie-review-montreal-edition-jai-tue-ma-mere-i-killed-my-mother/)

UncleVanya said...

Day 6

Overshadowing some of the festivity here in Toronto is the ongoing discussion about TIFF’s City to City series which decided to spot-light Tel-Aviv this year. I am aware of fellow Torontoian’s, Naomi Klein (”In Logo” & “The Shock Doctrine”) and David Croneberg’s (cinema god) opposing opinions on the subject, and I can actually identify with both. Roger Ebert wrote on his blog, yesterday, condemning the protest, which is his right. But he uses America’s economic injustices towards weaker nations, poor environmental polices, and the death penalty as equivalent outrages to the Isreali usurpation of land. To me these arguments are disproportionate, in that America’s polices do harm through an accumulation of years, whereas the bull-dozing of homes happens in one afternoon. Perhaps that is why there has been such a visceral response to Isreal’s special inclusion in the fest. Allow me an analogy. Suppose the United States decided it wanted some more land for american citizens, and thus went about destroying Mexican or (god forbid) Canadian homes and property on which to build. The shock, I believe, would immediately be felt world wide, not because we are both members of the G7, but it simply would be considered an outrages and provocative act that could possibly lead to a World War. My point is that acts of aggression towards a sovereign country will out-weigh acts of indifference towards (for the most part) one’s own people (death penalty, environment, economic injustice) everytime.
But enough of that. I still managed to catch two of the honoured films in the City-to-City series. I will be seeing another tomorrow. First up was “Big Dig” a mildy comedic romp about a man who terrorizes an Isreali city with a jack-hammer which sparks a beaurcratic nightmare. Second, and more interesting to me, was Eytan Fox’s film, “The Bubble”. Set in Tel-Aviv, Fox’s film chronicles the youthful exuberance and optimism of gay and hetersexual 20 somethings who are against the occupation in Palestine. Fox’s previous films (”Yossi and Jagger”, “Walk on Water”) have been for the most part cogent, gay themed meditations depicting struggling and decent Isreali’s and their political foes. Similarily to “Yossi nd Jagger”, I found myself identifying with, and really liking, each person presented in “The Bubble”. These are people that I would be proud to call friends. Overall, the movie is enlightening, funny, and romantic, but the ending is marred by an illogically violent act.

Earlier this week I saw Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces” as well. But I am sure everyone is familiar and exhausted by this one, so I will just say that this is not great Almodavor. It begins like his early, melodramatic masterpiece (”Law of Desire”), filled with passion, colour and operatic themes, but in the end, concludes with a thud.

BeRightBack said...

UncleVanya: Isn't The Bubble pretty old (2006)? Is it just a round-up of recent and recent-ish Tel Aviv-centered films?

UncleVanya said...

Yes you are correct berightback, but it was included in the City-By-City showcase which included new films and classics (as far back as the 70's) of the Isreali film movment. "The Bubble" is listed as 2007. I don't know if it has ever had a North American release, or if it has been made available on our continent on DVD. If it is at the festival, it is likely that it is the premiere in North America.

BeRightBack said...

UV: Happily, it indeed does have a North American DVD release: it was on my mind because I just put it in my Facets (a Chicago version of Netflix) queue!

[http://www.netflix.com/Movie/The_Bubble/70074150]

NATHANIEL R said...

uncle vanya I rented the Bubble and never watched. I guess i should get on that since i liked Eytan Fox's other films, particularly Yossi & Jagger which I just found so smartly modest and totally moving.