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Tiff 2017. Correspondences #11

16 September 2017 11:14 AM, PDT

Caro Danny,I share your admiration for First Reformed, certainly one of the best films I’ve seen at this year’s Tiff and Paul Schrader’s most concentrated work in ages. From the very first shot—an adagio dolly-in on a severely framed chapel—we’re in familiar territory for the veteran filmmaker, yet in the presence of a fierce new lucidity. “Even a pastor needs pastoring,” someone tells the ecclesiastical protagonist (Ethan Hawke, harrowed like one of Beckett’s aged photographs), but his midnight-of-the-soul juncture is something he must sort through alone. Contemplating the paltry church attendance from the pulpit, grimacing at other people’s earthy jokes, and growing agitated at the planet’s ecological ruination, he struggles with a cancerous body and a nauseous soul. Still, the feeling is not one of hopelessness, due to the priest’s stirrings of resolve and desire and also to Schrader’s stylistic vehemence, »

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Tiff 2017. Correspondences #9

15 September 2017 11:12 PM, PDT

The Third MurderDear Danny and Fern,By the time you read this I will have already arrived back home, four days before Tiff's end. Attempting to cram everything into a shortened schedule was a struggle for me, but I’m very satisfied with what I’ve seen and those few people that I’ve met. I wish I could've stayed longer, and I hope to be back soon! As a newcomer, I found Tiff to be a welcoming space that merges the many fruits of Toronto-tourism, cinephile gatherings, and late night city walks. And many, many movies! Possibly too many, but better more than less! There were a few rough patches but they were more tied to my inexperience (forgetting to charge my phone, forgetting to check my schedule, forgetting to eat, forgetting to sleep…) than anything. The sheer magnitude of the event made even the easiest tasks feel like »

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Fertile Soil: Xavier Beauvois Discusses "The Guardians"

15 September 2017 8:39 PM, PDT

Nathalie Baye and Xavier BeauvoisThe strength of women left alone to fend for themselves is the communal focus of actor and director Xavier Beauvois’s The Guardians. After directing Of Gods and Men (2010), Beauvois’s excellent neo-western set among French monks in Algeria, we lost sight of this under-estimated director—his next was a quasi-comedy I’m dying to see about ruffians stealing Chaplin’s corpse—though it was a delight to encounter him earlier this year before the camera as one of Juliette Binoche’s many love (and sex) interests in Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In. I am very glad indeed that Beauvois is back in the director’s seat and in the international spotlight with The Guardians, adapted from an obscure 1924 novel by Ernest Pérochon about a struggling farmstead on the home front of the First World War, and one of the exceptional films of the year. »

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Tiff 2017. Correspondences #10

15 September 2017 7:56 AM, PDT

Dear Kelley and Fern,As you both noted earlier, John Woo’s Manhunt was a thrilling, tongue-in-cheek compendium of the director's best qualities. This kind of masterful self-reflexivity may rub some the wrong way—remember, at the time, the hostility to De Palma’s Femme Fatale and Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. as if they were only Directors' Greatest Hits?—but when done smartly this is no mere masturbation, but a celebration and self-questioning, honed to deft precision, of an artist’s perennial themes.Such is the case with one of the few great feature films I've seen here in Toronto, Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. In remarkable contrast to his last film, the coked-up cartoon Dog Eat Dog, it is is a self-consciously austere drama of a wearied priest (a tremendous, hollowed-out Ethan Hawke) of a minuscule congregation housed in the oldest church in America, one dismissively dubbed the ‘souvenirs shop’ by the newer, »

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Movie Poster of the Week: “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”

15 September 2017 6:53 AM, PDT

Desperate times call for desperate movies, and there are few movies that express genuine desperation better than Sydney Pollack’s 1969 dance-marathon melodrama They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Released for the first time on Blu-ray last week, Horses was a film that made a big impression on me as a teenager. Partly it was that ominous title (which I first heard when Welsh rock band Racing Cars had a 1977 top 20 hit with a song with the same name) and partly it was the indelible concept: in Depression-era America crowds paid to watch couples dance for days on end in the hope of winning a cash prize for the last man and woman standing (a concept fascinatingly re-worked in the 1997 documentary Hands on a Hard Body). Nominated for nine Oscars (it holds the record for the film with the most nominations without a Best Picture nod), They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? »

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Tiff 2017. Correspondences #6

14 September 2017 1:57 PM, PDT

Strangely Ordinary This DevotionHello Danny and Fern, I'll start with personal news: the bad news is that I've had to significantly cut down my over-ambitious pre-tiff schedule to recuperate from several days worth of sensory overload. The good news is that my ankle is healing! Here is some bad Tiff news: for all I said in my last correspondence about contradictions, I wanted to add a belated disclaimer. Sometimes plot (and more importantly, thought) holes are nothing more than just that. Though it starts with a bang, former Veep show-runner Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin trips over its own footing with a flimsy jab at the legacy of its own subject, smugly presented as an original hot take. In Iannucci's Communist Russia, the Soviet Union's top players are man-children with no backbone. Together, these bumbling idiots (played by a cast of stuttering, screaming Americans and Brits) mourn their »

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Directors in New York: Frederick Wiseman

14 September 2017 4:54 AM, PDT

Interview: Daniel Kasman | Video: Kurt WalkerAmerica's greatest living filmmaker, Frederick Wiseman, returns to the city of New York after the Queens borough collage In Jackson Heights (2015) with another opus that looks at a dense, living ecosystem, seeing it as a embodiment of an American ideal and struggle. Where the great documentarian’s 2015 picture surveyed the melting pot of the Jackson Heights neighborhood, finding within an exemplary diversity of race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation, all inextricably intertwined with threats of gentrification, discrimination, and commercialization, Wiseman’s new work, Ex Libris, explores New York’s public library system to find a complex, contradictory model for democratic thought.“A library is not about books—that’s what a lot of people think, that it’s a storage place for books,” says Francine Houben, the creative director of the firm chosen to re-envision and remodel New York’s iconic, lion-guarded Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. »

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Tales of Two Halves: Christian Petzold's "The State I Am In" and Christoph Hochhäusler's "The City Below"

13 September 2017 9:35 PM, PDT

Christian Petzold's The State I Am In (2000) and Christoph Hochhäusler's The City Below (2010) will be showing in September and October, 2017 on Mubi in most countries around the world.How can we hang on to a dreamHow can it, will it be the way it seems—Tim Hardin, “How Can We Hang On to a Dream”“When you live in no man’s land, you get stuck with your memories.”—Clara, The State I Am In1. Lovers go on the run while a teenager falls in love. Christian Petzold’s first theatrical feature, The State I Am In (2000), tells two stories simultaneously: that of Hans (Richy Müller) and Clara (Barbara Auer), fugitives pursued by German authorities, and that of their long-suffering daughter Jeanne (Julia Hummer)—who is downcast from the film’s opening scene, in which she meets a German boy named Heinrich (Bilge Bingül) at the beach.Though »

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Tiff 2017. Correspondences #7

13 September 2017 8:50 PM, PDT

Dear Kelley and Fern,I'm sorry your initial schedule has been thrown off, Kelley. Logistics and mindspace are always major challenges at film festivals, where so many have to juggle venues, runtimes, jet lag, walk-speed, hunger-levels, memory recall, wifi-access, note legibility, awkward conversation time-sinks, and many other disparate variables. As a Tiff-newcomer, I wonder what your impression is of the festival event so far? A more vivid festival contrast could not be better made than between Fernando’s distaste, which I share, for Darren Aronofsky’s mother! and its false audacity, and the earthy mystery in Strangely Ordinary This Devotion, with its sublimely suggestive and tactile cosmogony of birth and motherhood.No surprise that the latter is programmed in the Wavelengths’ section curated by Andréa Picard, who has made a name for herself, her program, and Toronto's festival for spotlighting such boldly challenging and invigorating films. As I mentioned in »

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Tiff 2017. Correspondences #8

13 September 2017 8:33 PM, PDT

Dear Danny and Kelley,I like that that you use the word “traveling,” which marvelously evokes both the continuous physical wandering from one screen to the next, as well as the transporting experience of the cinematic rabbit-holes themselves. These travels can have a palpably elemental side, and this year’s Tiff has offered generous lashings of fire (mother!), air (The Florida Project), and crumbly earth (Let the Corpses Tan). Now comes the aquatic side with Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, a luxuriously fanciful rendering of an amphibious King Kong out of the primeval Amazon and into Baltimore circa 1962. A fairy tale, as stated in narration and visualized under the opening credits, in which the camera swims through a majestically submerged abode that’s gradually drained and revealed as the shabby apartment of the protagonist. Introduced as “the princess without a voice,” mute cleaning lady Elisa (Sally Hawkins »

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On the Verge of Heaven: An Interview with Bruno Dumont

12 September 2017 10:32 PM, PDT

If you thought the sudden move of French director Burno Dumont from austere drama to increasingly wacky comedy in the TV miniseries P'tit Quinquin and last year’s farce Slack Bay was a shock, prepare yourself for Jeannette, an electro-musical dance film on the adolescent life of Joan of Arc. Opening with little Jeannette (Lise Leplat Prudhomme) humming prayers to herself along the river Meuse (in fact, Dumont re-locates the story to his beloved northern France), suddenly the music swells, she belts one out—”there is nothing, there is never anything, but perdition!”—and ends it all with a handspring and splits. “Why do you do that?” asks a passing child, but the answer is obvious: lonesome, poor, in love with charity and full of doubts, Jeannette bounds with childhood’s pent up energy and calls forth her questions, protests and passion in bodily, soulful fervor. With this beginning, Dumont »

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Venice 2017. Awards

12 September 2017 4:55 AM, PDT

In CompetitionGolden Lion – The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del ToroSilver Lion (Grand Jury Prize) – Foxtrot, directed by Samuel MaozSilver Lion (Best Director) – Xavier Legrand, CustodyCoppa Volpi for Best Actress – Charlotte Rampling, HannahCoppa Volpi for Best Actor – Kamel El Basha, The InsultBest Screenplay – Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriSpecial Jury Prize – Sweet Country, directed by Warwick ThorntonMarcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress – Charlie Plummer, Lean on PeteOrizzontiOrizzonti Award for Best Film – Nico, 1988, directed by Susanna NicchiarelliOrizzonti Award for Best Director – Vahid Jalilvand, No Date, No SignatureSpecial Orizzonti Jury Prize – Caniba, directed by Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-TaylorOrizzonti Award for Best Actress – Lyna Khoudri, Les bienheureuxOrizzonti Award for Best Actor – Navid Mohammadzadeh, No Date, No SignatureOrizzonti Award for Best Screenplay – Alireza Khatami, Los Versos Del OlvidoOrizzonti Award for Best Short Film – Gros Chagrin, directed by Céline DevauxLion of the Future AwardCustody, directed by Xavier Legrand »

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Battle Royale: Close-Up on Claire Simon’s “The Graduation”

11 September 2017 9:04 PM, PDT

Close-Up is a feature that spotlights films now playing on Mubi. Claire Simon's The Graduation (1936) is playing September 11 - October 11, 2017 in the United Kingdom and most countries around the world as part of We Don't Need No Education: A Back-to-School Series.The apparition of these faces in the crowd;Petals on a wet, black bough.— Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro” “I hope it’s not just the quantity that counts. I said what I have to say.”— Applicant exiting exam hall, The GraduationFilm school: who needs it? In The Graduation (2016), Claire Simon’s account of the protracted admissions process at France’s most prestigious film school, La Fémis, the question is implicit—and the myriad answers are potentially troubling. Writing about the film in the New Yorker earlier this year, Richard Brody remarked: “Seeing, in Simon’s documentary, the directing candidates forced to analyze a scene, »

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Tiff 2017. Correspondences #5

11 September 2017 6:18 AM, PDT

Dear Danny and Kelley,The Rider sounds lovely, and I’m happy to hear Chloé Zhao has built on the melancholy promise of her first film, Songs My Brother Taught Me. Artists with a gift for empathy create anticipation for new works. Artists whose single stylistic tool is shock, on the other hand, cause only dread. So it goes with mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s latest suite of seizures and my noisiest, least rewarding experience at Tiff so far. Genius is like fire in that it is born from what it burns, says Malraux, so this allegory on the malefic artistic process opens with the subtlety and maidenly restraint expected from the maker of Requiem for a Dream: a full frontal glimpse of an incinerated woman, her blistering skin suggesting a melting gold effigy. The drama proper belongs to another wax dummy, an unnamed young wife played by Jennifer Lawrence »

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Oliver Laxe In Front and Behind the Camera

10 September 2017 9:17 PM, PDT

Ben Rivers' The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (2015) is showing on Mubi from September 6 - October 6 and Oliver Laxe's Mimosas (2016) from September 7 - October 7, 2017 in the United Kingdom as part of the series Close-Up on Oliver Laxe.MimosasBoth Mimosas and The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers mirror each other in many different ways: they both take place in the same geographical space, the south of Morocco, they were filmed at the same time, have some of the same people in them, and are filmed in 16mm. But these are only apparent similarities that veil deeper discussions between both films. Director Oliver Laxe stands behind the camera in Mimosas, he is observed from the distance in the first part of  The Sky Trembles, and finally ends up crossing the invisible wall »

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