Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another year, another festival...

Pretty surprisingly, it’s time to start blogging about this year’s Toronto Film Festival. I am not sure how thrilled I am that a whole year has gone by since I was last worrying about the arcane procedures of the ticket lottery and subsisting on a daily regiment of fast food and three hours of sleep, but the festival is here again, and duty calls. . .

There’s undeniably plenty of buzz that this year will be a strong one for TIFF. The Cannes lineup was met with a startlingly positive response, and the early word on many of the fall films that will be playing is promising. With a festival as huge as TIFF, though, all bets are off. Everyone in attendance is likely to have a different impression of how strong or weak the year was based on the small percentage of films they choose to see.

Thinking about what’s been announced so far (the final slate will be available tomorrow), there are certainly a half-dozen or so films that I wouldn’t miss for the world. Woody Allen’s latest, Cassandra’s Dream surely tops my list. People are often down on the guy’s dramas, but I think they collectively represent much of his best work. After his stellar Match Point wowed me with its surprisingly taut construction, I’m hoping that Allen again demonstrates just how precise a filmmaker and screenwriter he can be when he puts his mind to it. Usually, I make a point of skipping any film in Toronto that will be released commercially in the U.S. within the foreseeable future. My anticipation for Cassandra’s Dream runs so high that I am ignoring the fact that it’s scheduled to come out on November 30 and diving in early.

Jacques Rivette’s Don’t Touch the Axe, on the other hand, has no stateside commercial bow in sight. This, perhaps, is not surprising, even given the director’s immense reputation, since the film is a chamber drama that religiously adapts a Balzac novel. After bowing to a small amount of fanfare in Berlin, it’s fallen off the map somewhat. I’ll be leaping at the chance to see it, as it could be a while before another presents itself.

It’s unlikely that such a fate will befall George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead (indeed, it has a distributor lined up, although no date set). Nonetheless, since Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead still stands as the scariest film I’ve ever seen and since his recent Land of the Dead made it onto my annual top ten list, I simply can’t pass up the chance to catch the premiere of his newest chapter in his Dead series, which purportedly uses handheld camerawork to deliver a new perspective on zombie terror. For any horror fan, the arrival of a new Romero film is a major event. For this particular horror fan, it’s an event on a scale that few films of any genre can compete with.

Surely some handheld camerawork will be featured, to radically different effect, in Werner Herzog’s eagerly awaited Encounters at the End of the World. Just as Romero produced what I consider the most terrifying of all horror films, Herzog, with Lessons of Darkness, delivered what is probably the most satisfying documentary I’ve laid my eyes on. Many of the iconoclastic director’s non-fiction films have ranked among my favorites, though, so the prospect of him taking his journeyman spirit to yet another corner of the world (specifically Antarctica) is a prospect I can’t resist.

Conversely, I’ve only seen one film by Japanese director Naomi Kawase, yet her Shara struck me as something of a masterpiece. Finely modulated, both as a demonstration of the languor of depression and the exhilaration of relief, it tragically never secured an American release. Kawase’s aesthetic in that film was singular… initially appearing a bit slapdash, it slowly revealed itself as a rigorously devised strategy that paid off with two of the most cathartic scenes that I’ve watched this decade. The Mourning Forest is her follow up. It’s already won the Grand Prize at Cannes. If it can deliver half the impact of its predecessor, it would pretty much justify my trip to Canada alone.

Of course, even with such a strong lineup already confirmed, there are a few films I’d love to see announced tomorrow morning. If luck is on my side, tomorrow will see the addition of at least a few of the following: Milky Way (Benedek Fliegauf), Boarding Gate (Olivier Assayas), La France (Serge Bozon), Savage Grace (Tom Kalin), He Fengming (Wang Bing), White Material (Claire Denis), There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson).

1 comment:

Jeremy Heilman said...

The Rivette has reportedly been picked up for U.S. distribution by IFC films.