The tides of the festival started to recede a day earlier this year. I started more attention to the shift as I began to stay longer than the opening weekend. With four days, you experience nothing but the heat, the charged intensity of the major titles. It is all about the buzz and the buzzing can be intoxicating.
But once I extended my trip to six full-days of screenings, I got my first hint of a sensation beyond the fevered pitch. Suddenly, the festival took on a languid pace. Your mind slowed and you could find yourself drawing breath in those less-crowded theaters. Finally, you settled into the films without rushing.
For my second year of hanging around until the second weekend, the transition to this phase began a day earlier than I anticipated. Day Six. Make no mistake, there are still films I need to see, the ones I refused to fight and push my way into. Now I can meet them a bit more intimately. But the real change is that I can seek films with less connection to the idea of coverage; instead I can get to establish new relationships. I can reach out to actors that I have met in passing, liked, and always told myself I would get to know better. Actors I would want to in my life.
The morning screening of Racer and the Jailbird from Michaël Roskam provided just such an opportunity. Once again, he’s teaming up with Matthias Schoenaerts, who enjoyed a real US breakout in Roskam’s debut feature Bullhead as a hulking and bruising underground fighter on dangerous steroids. He exuded the presence and intensity of Tom Hardy, but just one look in his eyes exposed a soulful secret. They partnered again for The Drop, a crime thriller featuring one of James Gandolfini’s last appearances and Mr. Hardy. It was a neglected gem of a film.
Racer and the Jailbird aims to more decidedly exploit the twin engine in Schoenaerts. His impulsiveness as Gigo (aka Gigi) a young gangster leading a crew of boyhood friends who rob banks (think The Town) with a bit more fearlessness than actual cunning and expertise, but on the flip side he gets to flash those charming peepers of his at a seemingly pampered racecar driver named Bibi (Adèle Exarchopoulos) from a loving and affluent family.
I loved how despite the fact that Gigi playfully tells her what he does – in a scenario where she can’t take him seriously – she and her family know there’s something wrong about him, but they refuse to turn their backs on him. Bibi loves him, he loves her, and there’s a bullheadedness about love that extends beyond the mere romantic variety. This might seem unlikely to American audiences weaned on characters willfully deluding themselves, but maybe its time for us to embrace this greater emotional recklessness. It’s so easy to do, in the company of Schoenaerts and Exarchopoulos, co-star of the sublime Blue is the Warmest Color, who continues to ooze and exhale love from every part of her being.
The five-film long day ended with TIFF favorite Fatih Akin basking in the appreciation of the public reception of his new release In the Fade, starring Diane Kruger as a woman who loses her husband and 6 year old son in a targeted terrorist attack and seeks to discover what matters most when it comes to love, the truth, and revenge. The overall setup and execution of the film screams tension and plays to the suspenseful thrilling nature of knowing that something devastating is about to happen at any moment. But there is nothing teasing or exploitative in Akin’s film; it’s fiction merely reflects reality.
And it gets a volatile and intelligent center in Kruger. Her story – complete with flashes of the early crazy love affair with her husband (a reformed Turkish drug dealer), the loving bliss of motherhood, the bottomless pain of loss, feral fighting instincts, and a more focused personal investigation into morality – matters, which makes what she ultimately does, matter even more. Kruger never fades and the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival confirms that she’s got a whole lot of shine going on here.
There’s still a lot of warmth as the season changes.