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TIFF 36 Day Five: 9/11, Deep Blue Sea, Cardboard Village, Beloved, 11 Flowers, Demme & Young

Festivals
by Meredith Brody
September 13, 2011 2:39 AM
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Meredith Brody remembers 9/11, scarfs up more screenings, and enjoys a dulcet Toronto evening with Neil Young.

I haven't mentioned the tenth anniversary of 9/11, which occurred during the festival in Toronto. In commemoration of that date, all the public screenings Sunday were preceded by a single skillfully-made four-minute talking-heads documentary featuring the memories of a number of filmmakers and TIFF executives of that day.

I was at the festival when we entered the crowded press office after a screening and saw that everyone was looking up at the large television monitors mounted around the room. And then we, too, saw the endlessly repeated footage of a plane crashing into the second tower, with the one next to it smoking, and then the two towers collapsing. People were sobbing. I remember huddling around a table at Unifrance's Prego lunch at what turned out to be the last festival event, with Monika Treut, Clare Denis, and Vincent Gallo from Clare’s Trouble Every Day. As all of us have, I’ve relived those days often. I was living far from family in Los Angeles then, and, looking back, I considered myself lucky to be surrounded by close friends in such a supportive environment at that time.

Thompson on Hollywood

Just before seeing the 9/11 memorial film, I ran into fest director Piers Handling and complimented him on his spiffy jacket, which boasted rosy suede elbow patches. Within a few minutes I was once again seeing Piers’ drawn face as he coped with the tragedy. And, surprisingly, hearing my longtime Toronto host Martin Knelman’s voice, and then seeing him onscreen, in his capacity as entertainment columnist for the Toronto Star.

9/11 was still on my mind when I watched Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea at 9 a.m. Monday. Some of its themes resonated, a bit: people huddling together for comfort during the London blitz, lives forever altered by their wartime experiences. I got into the film’s rhythms immediately. Even for Davies, the lighting seemed unusually dark: darker than Giuseppe Rotunno’s images, that earned him the nickname the Prince of Darkness; darker than the underground scenes in Agnieska Holland’s In Darkness.

But some in the theater believe that it’s better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. If the man who was sitting on the extreme right in the front row of the theater is wondering who knelt down beside him after an hour-and-a-quarter of a 98-minute film and hissed at him “Are you playing Angry Birds? Your phone has been on the ENTIRE FUCKING TIME!,” it was me. (Note to P&I screening attendees: a minute or two of scrolling, tapping, texting is tolerable. An entire reel is not.)

A few errands brought me out into the sunlight, where I ran into film critic and KCRW In Treatment host Elvis Mitchell outside the Lightbox. I asked Elvis when the new weekly film series that he’s curating with Film Independent at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was going to start. ”October 13th,” he said. “And what will you be showing?” “I don’t know – I’m finding that no one will commit until maybe two weeks before.” When I said that maybe this was payback for his own commitment issues, he ran from me in mock-horror.

I ran back to the press screenings, where I saw as much of Ermanno Olmi’s elegant and spare The Cardboard Village as I could – about an hour – before seguing to Christophe Honoré’s Beloved. I was surprised to again see Michel Lonsdale as a cleric after his turn as the chief Muslim in 40s Paris, this time as an Italian priest who finds himself unwittingly sheltering illegal African immigrants in his deconsecrated church.

There’s nobody making movies today like Honoré, also a prolific novelist and theater director, whose brightly-colored sets, costumes, and frequently-used musical numbers often serve dark themes. Beloved features a gifted cast that lives and occasionally burst into song in Paris, Prague, and London inbetween 1964 and more-or-less the current day. It features Ludivine Sagnier as a young shoe salesgirl/occasional hustler, who grows into Catherine Deneuve and gives birth to Chiara Mastrioanni (Deneuve’s daughter in real life), who, poor girl, is involved with Louis Garrel and Paul Schneider (I wonder how that casting came about). Milos Forman has a charming turn as the elder version of Deneuve’s first husband. I was constantly engaged and diverted by the 130-minute-long film, one of my favorites among what I’ve seen so far.

I didn’t see as much as I would have liked of the delicate 11 Flowers, by Wang Xiaoshai, whose Beijing Bicycle and Shanghai Dreams I’d seen at earlier editons of TIFF. In 11 Flowers, the changing politics of China during the end of the cultural revolution is seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy. I’ve managed, so far, to stay awake through everything by judiciously consuming vats of dreadful coffee, and cutting my evenings relatively short, but this afternoon it all caught up with me. Something had to give.

Afterwards I had a drink and a catch-up conversation with Kay Armatage, a former programmer at TIFF and professor of film and women’s studies at the University of Toronto, who went off in the direction of several Festival parties. I joined my host family and Toronto film director Gail Singer at the world premiere of Jonathan Demme’s Neil Young Journeys at the glamorous Princess of Wales Theatre. I can’t imagine a better place to have seen this concert film, shot at Massey Hall in Toronto, to a cheering crowd, with an extraordinary new sound system.

Demme and Young had a conversation onstage afterwards with doc programmer Thom Powers. It transpired that this was the first film recorded at 96 kiloherz rather than the usual invariable 48, which made me wonder how it would be projected elsewhere. Questions fielded from the crowd included a hello from a fourth grade crush of Young’s, one Mary Ellen Blanchard, which prompted a lovely reminiscence by Young of him gifting her with a shiny decorated dog collar he’d won at a coin toss. (Here's TOH's interview with Demme.)

Afterwards I actually sat down and had a meal, right across the street, on a lovely dulcet night, on a patio of a Greek restaurant called Penelope’s (didn’t Guy Maddin’s impenetrable Keyhole have an odyssey theme?). We shared big platters of assorted hot and cold appetizers, taramasalata, hummus, dolmades, spanakopita, fried calamari, and the like, drinking cool white wine. Limos, streetcars, and automobiles streamed up and down King Street, just a few feet from our table, and we could hear ushers exhorting the crowds to enter the Princess of Wales to see Café de Flore. We could have been in the Café de Flore ourselves, for an hour or so. Next to us was a table surrounded by five beautiful tall young women wearing striking outfits, all a little too short or a little too tight or slit up a little too high, being treated to supper by one dark young man in a suit and t-shirt.

I learned that Gail Singer is making a documentary, tentatively titled Cyber Seniors (“gets a new title,” as Variety would have it), about elderly depressives getting a new lease on life by learning how to use computers and the internet. And that Joshua Knelman’s second book, Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art, is coming out in a few days from D&M Publishers. And that Sara Knelman is completing her PhD. thesis on the evolution of photography exhibitions in museums and galleries. I, feeling slightly underachieving, was busy puzzling out my next days’ schedule.

The Descendants at 9 a.m.? Quite possibly.

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