Take if you will, a picture, of you and I waiting in line, a highly charged queue of international cinephiles buzzing with anticipation. You and I know, from experience, that this line, this sensation that comes from such waiting, will continue for the next week, several times a day, we will be among the faithful, waiting…
The schedule for this opening day, especially for a critic like myself, who pins all of my festival-going hopes on Toronto, has a curious feel, in that it harkens back to the Cannes Film Festival. I chose the Kent Jones documentary Hitchcock-Truffaut, a lovingly rendered re-imagining of Truffaut’s published recounting of the week-long interview he conducted with the master, made even more mythic thanks to the presence of celebrated filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Peter Bogdanovich, Wes Anderson, and Richard Linklater sharing their thoughts and impressions of Hitchcock and Truffaut (the men and the tome, which has the power and allure of a lost cinematic gospel). There might have been no better way to start a film festival, quite fitting for TIFF’s 40th anniversary.
Next, I took in Dheepan, Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or winner, which tracks the desperation of a former Tamil soldier (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) in Sri Lanka who hooks up with a woman (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and a nine-year-old girl (Claudine Vinasithamby), in order to escape their violence in their homeland, only to come face-to-face with the trials of living as immigrants in a housing project outside Paris, among warring criminal elements. The narrative explores how far individuals will push themselves to believe in and protect the artificial bonds of family. I found myself intrigued by how easy it would be for a studio to re-configure this story for American audiences (say with Liam Neeson as a Dheepan stand-in and maybe Mireille Enos as the woman posing as his wife) and claim an opening weekend win at the box office, but completely miss the raw and wounded heart and soul on display here.
Sticking with the Cannes theme, I ventured out of the main competition selections on replay at TIFF with Gasper Noé’s Love, a 3D sexual melodrama, loosely-based or inspired by events in Noé’s life. It is a love story and a sexual odyssey about a boy and a girl and another girl that dares to transgressively wander into the world of porn, in an attempt to invest sexual acts with narrative and the power of love. Noé stands as quite possibly the only recent filmmaker to have haunted my viewing dreams, with Irreversible (2002). That film, starring Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, maintains its disturbing hold on me, but Love, for all its daring play (and 3D releases), felt like I was watching someone trying to transform porn fantasies into real arousing memories without much success.
The screening day ended with another Cannes prize winner, Son of Saul, the debut feature film from Hungarian László Nemes, which snagged the Grand Prix and like Dheepan mines bleak territory. In this case, we return to the Holocaust, the horrors of Auschwitz, where a Jewish prisoner (Géza Röhrig) forced into working in the crematoriums, discovers a boy who briefly survives (only to be immediately killed afterward) and decides, against all odds, to do whatever it takes to provide the child with a proper burial, as the prisoners seek to initiate a rebellion near the end of the war. Nemes ties us so closely to this man and his efforts, literally linking our perspective to his, that the heightened chaos could unhinges audiences like few other Holocaust dramas.
Day 2 will leave Cannes behind, but the ghosts of festivals past will likely loom. (tt stern-enzi)