It’s a good time for young Toronto filmmakers. They’re making interesting work and it’s getting nicely distributed within the city. At Yonge and Dundas – of all places! – you can go out and see Jasmin Mozaffari’s Firecrackers and Natty Zavitz’s Acquainted, both of which I highly recommend. This feels new and exciting. The award-winning Firecrackers has such an intense energy: It’s the story of two young women (the incredible Michaela Kurimsky and Karena Evans) trying to leave their dead-end, small town lives to find something better in the big city. Think The Florida Project in rural Ontario. It’s an impressive debut feature for the energy of its actresses as they stop at nothing to get out of there, having to fight off some pretty god-awful men. There’s an adrenaline to Firecrackers as it’s always on the go, always scrappy. It feels like a really raw film (in the best sense of the term): as if it’s always on the brink of sweat, blood and tears.
If you’re looking for a film that’s explicitly set in Toronto (instead of pathetically substituting it for somewhere else) you need to see Acquainted. I think it deserves the highest of praise as I don’t think the city has ever looked so good: Think of a Toronto Now feature but with the most beautiful actors and actresses. Its story is of two relationships in crisis as three young adults need to figure out how to live and who to love. It’s a real step-up for Zavitz after his micro-budget first-feature Edging. He’s a real actor’s director as, along with having such an impressive cast – Giacomo Gianniotti, Laysla De Oliveira and Rachel Skarsten –, the performances are all amazing. They express a surprising amount of depth just by their expressions, gestures and non-verbal scenes alone. But I think one of Acquainted’s real stars is its cinematographer Ian Macmillan who pulls off some astounding cinematography, which also resonates thematically with its story: The exhilaration of a first date is matched by a fifteen-minute tracking shot through Trinity Bellwoods, a melancholy confession is filmed entirely in shadows, and a reserved sexual encounter is filmed trough a doorway. It’s pretty incredible.
These two films are just the most recent examples of what’s exciting about Canadian cinema that is going on in the city, which I think is now starting to pay more attention to emerging directors and Canadian culture in film and television more broadly. It’s easy to be dismissive or jaded, but I actually think that these are positive signs. There needs to be people to believe in Canadian cinema for it to exist: Mozaffari and Zavits can be seen to be leading the way.
There was an announcement on February 12ththat Richard Schlagman, the owner of Cahiers du Cinéma, would be selling the prestigious film magazine. Schlagman has had a relatively hands-off role there since purchasing Cahiers in 2008. As aside from helping decide its covers, my impression is that its chief-editor Stéphane Delorme had complete control of guiding the magazine over the last ten years. So the news about the sale leads to some speculation? What’s going to happen Cahiers? Is the current team going to stay? Will some of its earlier writers try to reacquire the magazine? Or will a new generation of younger writers try to take charge? What legacy of the magazine will remain?
It’s worth looking at Cahiers over the last year to see what image of itself it presents. What news of the world does it provide? What message in the bottle does it have to offer? After 2017’s emphasis on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return, which amazingly received three covers, the following year seemed like a return to its priorities. They published a special issue on exactly this topic: Pourquoi le Cinéma?There they reaffirmed their core beliefs and values.
Pourquoi le Cinéma?was sparked by their desire to reaffirm why pick and love films as the art that organizes their interests and relationship to the world. Delorme acknowledge their core beliefs, “Il faut donc réaffirmer ses points cardinaux: le montage, la mise en scène, le réalisme, l’émotion, le film, le spectateur passif, la salle (ou l’idée de la salle), la pensée.”All of these beliefs are in strict opposition to homogeneity, the social, neoliberalism, cognitive sciences, content, social media, alienation and thoughtlessness. Cinema, according to Cahiers, begins with subjectivity and emotions. Films are more than just the information that they present and reception is more interpretative than it is assumed. Delorme writes, “l’émotion est éblouissante et elle transmet une idée qui n’est réductible ni à un concept ni à une information. La communication est littéralement une anesthésie.” The desire to experiencenegates the foreseeable, while algorithms anesthetize.
The defining developmental experience of cinephilia, for Delorme, is the curiosity of an adolescent whose imagination is sparked by experiencing a temporality and world different than what their accustomed to. He recounts a quite touching anecdote about how he experienced this moment,
“Qu’est-ce qui fait qu’un enfant de 14 ans, fan du Grand Bleu et d’Empire du soleil, découvre soudain Gens de Dublin de John Huston et éprouve un choc au point d’accrocher l’affiche dans sa chambre? Qu’est-ce qui fait que cet enfant habitué au cinéma spectaculaire est bouleversée par ce cinéma de chambre? Qu’est-ce qui dans cette histoire de Dublinois de la bonne société, vieux et moins vieux, du début du siècle, qui passe un réveillon à ne presque rien faire, sinon chanter, danser et reciter des poèmes, peut toucher un enfant qui est à milles lieues de cela?
Je me souviens des pas des chevaux dans la neige, de l’ambiance chaleureuse et feutrée, de danses qui s’arrêtent et reprennent, de regards détourneés, à la fois d’un endroit où on veut être et en même temps d’un malaise diffuse, qui devient tristesse et désastre. Un trou noir loge au coeur même de la maison la plus chaude. La comprehension qu’un film peut être fait de ces petits riens, de ces sensations, de ces lumières, de ces danses, de ces chambres vides, de ces paysages déserts, de la tessiture d’une voix qui chante, que l’émotion peut être encore plus grande à partir de ces presque riens. Que le cinéma, ce peut être ça.”
The contrast to this emotional and intellectual awakening – of experiencing John Huston’s The Dead as a teenager and being overwhelmed by it – appears later in the Cahiersdossier on technological totalitarianism (“Dans quel monde entrons-nous?”). The enemy for them becomes a person’s relationship of co-dependence with hyper-mediated digital technologies that are fostered by neoliberal societies. Delorme writes,
“L’idée même que le cinéma est un art est en train de disparaître: avec l’informatique, c’est logique, tout n’est plus qu’information. Les ‘produits’ et ‘programmes’ suffisent amplement aux dispositifs. Et il ne faut jamais oublier ce que ce totalitarisme tech part d’une haine originelle: le monde n’est pas assez, il en faut un autre. L’homme n’est pas assez, il faut le modifier. Le geek ne veut qu’une chose: fuir. Réel et rêve que jadis certains opposaient se retrouvent ensemble main dans la main à lutter contre le monde virtuel standardisé, d’autant plus dangereux qu’il se prétend personnalisé.”
Cahiers bring an urgency and vitalness to their critiques. When online social media platforms and streaming services become so common place – whether they be Facebook, Twitter, Netflix – they become habits that reoriented behaviours and thoughts. Here the Cahiers team becomes really critical. Especially in regard to how these technologies are designing and changing minds, which create addictions to their operations due to their constant gratification, whether they be momentary engagement or ‘likes’. They don’t operate through discovery and imagination, protest or challenge but through habit and routine. There’s a submission and policing through their ambivalent ‘neutral’ interface. Delorme writes,
“Si tout nous est donné immédiatement, pourquoi accorder encore du prix à la patience? À la persévérance? À l’obstination? Au gout de la découverte et de l’exploration? Et de fait beaucoup deviennent incapables d’admirer ce qui demande de la curiosité, de l’exigence, de l’invention. L’indépendance est traité d’individualisme, et l’audace devient une faute de goût. Les nouvelles vertus seront tout le contraire: la réactivité, la souplesse, la disponibilité… Des mots très en vogue dans la novlangue du moment qui ne désignent en rien des vertus et qui masquent une tout autre réalité: l’obéissance, la lâcheté, la soumission.”
Jean-Philippe Tessé nicely concludes his contribution, “Contre l’ordre algorithmique, la cinéphilie comme désordre.” It’s a call for adventures and disorder. To disrupt routine and to get folks out of their bubbles. To encounter and experience others – a film, a public, a community – not as a social formation but as part of larger human community. Delorme really hits this home after the suicide of Oxana Shashko – one of the creators of FEMEN – as he writes, “Elle n’a pas laissé de lettre, mais sur Instagram, son dernier post nous brave: “You are fake.” Qu’est-ce qui prouve que nous ne le sommes pas? Que faisons-nous pour ne pas l’être?”
So Cahiers becomes a place to think differently – away from laptops and cellphones – and to think about the world, the larger human community that everyone is a part of, through films. And Cahiersdoes this really well, I think.
The Cahiers project is unique: it works through the curation of a limited selection of films. For every issue, for every month of the year, these are ‘the films to see’. It’s an affirmation that these are Cahiers films. They showcase them through a pop iconography. For example, last year they had Dolan, Spielberg, Anderson, Varda, Dumont and von Trier on their covers. They create events around these films as they give them the time and space to be thought through over many pages. Their lengthy features become a way for them to assert their priorities. They make particular arguments for the appreciation of the works in relation to a longer Cahiers history. They feature historical personalities that have been important to its past while also supporting the new eccentrics of French cinema (Mandico, Gonzalez, Dupieux).
Cahiersis very international as they try to connect to the world and explore new cinematographic territories. By travelling the world, they expand their geography. In 2018 it reached a culmination with their special travelling issue, which focused on the real locations and the films had been set there. How do particular films and filmmakers see the world? Some examples of them include Apichatpong and Thailand, Mouratova and Ukraine, Chahine and Egypt.
Their reviews of the Spielberg, Dumont, Godard and interview with von Trier offer interesting examples of particular Cahiersarguments and how through films they have a particular political relationship to the world.
Spielberg’s The Post was really important for Cahiersin 2018 (it would make its top ten list) for its portrait of a press outlet in crisis and what it’s like running a paper. The emphasis is not so much on bearing witness to the times but on acting upon it and changing it.The Post is about the decision-making moment. Delorme’s editorial seems almost like a veiled self-portrait of what it’s like being a chief-editor,
“Enfin pour qui travaille dans la presse, Pentagon Papersest un cadeau enchanté. Du stagiaire qui court à sa mission jusqu’à la mise en acte de l’impression, c’est toute une chaîne qui est montrée avec un amour presque nostalgique. ‘Presque’ parce que l’aventure de la presse n’est pas finie, même si on n’en est plus très loin. Quand on voit les difficultés financières du distributeur de presse français Presstalis, on se demande quand les pouvoirs publics prendront la mesure du désastre en cours… Avec ce film ils applaudiront à la démocratie, à la liberation des femmes, au quatrième pouvoir, et ils retourneront pianoter candidement sur Twitter. Or le film nous rappelle ceci: qu’il ne peut y avoir de collusion entre la presse et un milieu. C’est aux mondanités que doit dire adieu Meryl Streep, c’est le prix de son indépendance. Et ceci: que la presse, son souci de vérité, d’intelligence, et de partage, et le temps de sa fabrication, de sa gestation, de sa pensée, est la seule condition pour que la communication n’emporte pas le monde dans sa frénésie.”
In their review of Coincoin et les Z'inhumains they make a particular argument about Dumont’s representation of refugees – a relevant world concern – that it’s not instrumentalizing or mocking but its positioned as part of a relationship of equalityof people shaken up by a world that is in flux. Vincent Malausa and Jean-Philippe Tessé write,
“Quand le cinéma cherche un moyen de prendre en charge, par le documentaire ou la fiction, la question des migrants, Dumont, lui, se contente de prendre puissamment acte de leur présence, ici et maintenant, dans les paysages du Nord… Dumont se prive bien de tout propos à leur égard, parcequ’ici comme ailleurs il n’y a rien à dire, rien à redire: ils sont là, et la série rappelle en sourdine cette vérité qu’il n’y pas d’acceuil possible qui ne commence par prendre acte d’une présence. C’est bien ce qui est fait ici au-delà, c’est un autre temps, ce sont d’autres considération, mais qui n’appartiennent pas à la série.”
The major event at Cannes 2018 was Godard’s Le livre d’image. In anticipation for it Cahiers featured the ’68 disruption with Godard and Truffaut on cover. The anniversary of France imagining itself a more humane future becomes for Delorme an opportunity to write about the divide between both the past and the present,
“Rarement commémoration aura finalement été aussi obscene, entre d’un côté la mythologie euphorique et exsangue et de l’autre un serrage de boulons sourd à la moindre revindication. Entre le tout était permis, et le plus rien n’est possible… Il ne faut pas pour autant rejeter la commemoration. Car penser 68, c’est penser de nouvelles manières de resister, d’imaginer et d’être ensemble, mais aussi l’ouvertures de nouveaux espaces.”
And on Le livre d’image after it had premiered,
“Et toute la mélancolie des Histoire(s) du cinéma, ce deuil d’un siècle centre sur la guerre, se transforme en un discours d’urgence et d’alarme, un cri. Il fallait ce brouhaha, ce chaos, cette complexité pour que soudain une main tendue vers nous surgisse de l’écran et nous donne tout le courage du monde. En sortant de la sale, notre gratitude était immense.”
To conclude, von Trier offers some interesting remarks about his film The House That Jack Built,
“Ce que je tourne, ce sont les ‘films qui manquent’ (missing films). Si vous prenez tous les films du monde, il resque quelques trous sur des idées qui n’ont pas été débattues ou qui vont peut-être top loin. J’essaye de remplir ces trous.”
I find the idea of the missing film interesting and I want to posit that Cahiers is like the missing film magazine. There isn’t anything else really like. It’s an object to think about and to dissent with. It organizes one’s relationship to the world through films. It’s for cinephiles and its political in a way that’s different than what you would usually see on social media or in cultural organizations. It’s home base in Paris accentuates the diversity of the films that it features. And it feels like it is at the forefront of something.
If I needed to pick two word to describe the Delorme editorship of 2018 it would be glorious and angry. The two terms work together. Cahiers is a beautiful object with admiring reviews, but its authority only comes across through the intelligence of its writing and its critiques. That’s where it gets its substance. And their critiques have a way to infiltrate the things that it admires. It’s a reminder of the old adage: that you can only love if you can really hate.
All of these things kind-of sum up what I think about Cahiers today. And I like them. I don’t want it to change. So I’m concerned about its future sale.
Included in Jean-Luc Godard’s palimpsest Le livre d’image are photographs of Jacques Rivette and the title of one of his ultimate interviews “Le secret et la loi”. Though it’s an elusive allusion, it’s still the first instance that Godard acknowledges the passing of his friend in 2016. It’s a tender gesture – one of sorrow and pride – as it’s a sign of lack due to regret and the missing of a friend and an act of solidarity to what they experienced together and their long history.
Speaking to Alain Bergala, Godard remembered highly the esteem he held for Rivette:
“Rivette, lui, représentait une sorte de terrorisme cinématographique… J’aimais beaucoup un film et si Rivette disait ‘c’est de la connerie’ je disais comme lui. Il y avait un côté stalinien dans ces rapports-là. Avec Rivette, c’était comme s’il avait détenu la vérité cinématographique, différente de celle des autres, et pendant un temps j’ai accepté ça.”
This form of memorialization is part of a longer tradition for Godard of eulogizing his nouvelle vague peers who he had been friends with in the fifties: both in an enigmatic fashion, he would express his conflicting feelings towards François Truffaut in a special Cahiers issue “Le roman de François Truffaut” and he would make a short video-essay for Éric Rohmer. Now Rivette has been assumed.
The idea of the complot – conspiracy – is strongly present in Rivette’s film and his mysterious aura. There’s the Balzacian secret society in Out 1 (1971). There’s the elusiveness to Céline et Julie Vont en Bateau (1974) and Le Pont du Nord (1981), which don’t follow standard dramatic arches and conclusive resolutions. Rivette does something different and his private persona and his reticence for interviews and reluctance to re-publish his writing has only heightened its mystery. All of this recalls how Bulle Ogier, who had worked with Rivette on numerous films, speaks of him in the documentary Le veilleur,
“It’s hard to talk about Jacques Rivette because he’s so secret that if you say something about him or about his films or the way he works or lives, you feel terribly indiscreet, impolite… It would be in bad taste. A betrayal almost.”
Because he was so private, the publishing after his death of an anthology of his writing (and the same thing could be said about the opening up of the Chris Marker archives) seems somewhat indiscreet as it provides such an easy access point to his film criticism that he wished to remain obscure, even though there are some privileges of having them all in one place.
The French publisher post-éditions, under the editorship of Miguel Armas and Luc Chessel, has recently published Jacques Rivette: Textes Critiques where you can find for the first in one book ‘all’ of Rivette’s published film writing from his first essays in Bulletin du ciné-club du Quartier latin and Gazette du cinéma to the majority of it from Cahiers du Cinéma and Arts. There are long reviews to short capsules, top ten lists to unpublished writing; a long group essay “Montage” with Jean Narboni and Sylvie Pierre (1969) and “Le Secret et la Loi” by Hélène Frappat (1999). In terms of what it doesn’t have, you can’t find many of his interviews or the plethora of material that still makes his archive at the Cinémathèque française such a treasure trove (though even this, I suspect, is still lacking material).
What can be gleaned now from being able to go over the entirety of Rivette’s writing all in one place? First off: the pleasure of being around such a legendary cinephile, film critic and filmmaker. It needs to be said: Serge Daney was right about Rivette and Rivette was right about the films that he wrote about. For anyone who grew up with the Cahiers politique des auteurs and watched the films of Hitchcock and Hawks through their eyes there’s a real pleasure of re-reading and discovering some of Rivette’s original arguments and hyperbole.
On Howard Hawks: “L’évidence est la marque du génie de Hawks; Monkey Business est un film génial et s’impose à l’esprit par l’évidence” (“Génie de Howard Hawks”).
On Alfred Hitchcock: “Les films d’Hitchcock relèvent du secret professionnel… seul le metteur en scène, j’entends celui qui s’est posé les vrais poblèmes de son art, peut en pressentir la beauté”(“L’art de la fugue”).
On Roberto Rossellini: “S’il est un cinéma modern, le voilà”(“Lettre sur Rossellini”).
On Josef von Sternberg: “Anatahan, couronnement logique de l’oeuvre de Sternberg, est également le meilleur film japonais.”
But beneath these claims Rivette is situating himself within a larger context of French film theory and criticism. There are reoccurring concepts that are interspersed throughout his writing such as realism, mise-en-scène, genius, liberty and modernity. There’s an evolution to his thought from participating in debates around cinégénie along the lines of Louis Delluc and Jean Epstein; to debates around realism along the lines of André Bazin and Maurice Schérer (Rohmer); and finally, to debates around structuralism along the lines of Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss. All of the while implementing his own point of view. Rivette’s writing has the pointedness and authority of defining the films and filmmakers of his era. His film analyses are able to explain how these directors gives expression to an idea through their representation of the world. He would write on some of the most important filmmakers, dictating the Cahiers line as it was being conceived. I would highly suggest reading his pieces on Monsieur Verdoux, Under Capricorn and Les quatre cents coups.
Rivette’s first essay “Nous ne sommes plus innocents” (1950) is interesting for laying down many of his key theories that he would remain loyal to over time. In particular how through its focus on humans and their gestures there can be an existential position of the world that comes across. This is the réel and presence of a film, the focus on bodies and gestures, as opposed to conventional storytelling which is seen as superficial and formulaic. Rivettte described realism as:
“Inscrire simplement sur film les manifestations, le mode de vie et d’être, le comportement du petit cosmos individual… l’univers du créateur n’est que la manifestation, l’efflorescence concrète de son regard et de son mode d’apparaître.”
This idea, with some variation and adapting to specific refence points, reappears numerous times throughout his essays. For example, Rivette wrote on Jean Renoir’s use of improvisation,
“L’esprit d’improvisation anime en effet son oeuvre entière; mais se refuser à prévoir, filmer chaque plan suivant les seules nécessités de l’instant, ne sont pour lui qu’un moyen, pour appréhender le concret plus directement, sans intermédiaire, et dans toute sa spontanéité.”
Though abstract, these excerpt from Rivette’s earliest texts read like a manifesto of what he would champion the most and bring to his own filmmaking practice: intimate behaviours of individuals, capturing the way of life of beings, an improvisational spirit, refusing preconceptions and the necessity of the instant in all of its spontaneity.
There’s an attempt in “Le Secret et la Loi” for Rivette to directly explain some of his ideas and what they mean for him. He presents his theory of film rather succinctly: narrative films circulate around laws and secrets. For Rivette la loi is,
“c’est-à-dire quelque chose qui est construit par la raison pour donner à l’homme ce qui va lui permettre de constituer, de prolonger, de faire survivre son humanité, c’est-à-dire, et là je continue à essayer de citer Legendre, ce qui va lui permettre de faire exister tant le sujet que la fiction, deux termes qu’il met sur le même plan.”
For Rivette le secret is,
“Mais secret au sens le plus fundamental: pour continuer à citer Paulhan qui dit qu’il ne faut jamais oublier que le propre du mystère est d’être mystérieux, ce secret-là est un secret de l’être, un secret que ne connaît pas le cinéaste, c’est un secret que le cinéaste porte sans le savoir, c’est le secret de choses très personnelles, très existentielles, très suggestives, et que le film se trouve porter: au-delà de ce que voulait consciemment le cinéaste, il dit des choses sur lui, et donc, à travers lui, sur l’humanité, choses qu’il n’avait pas la moindre intention de dire.”
These points offer a way to re-read the anthology and Rivette’s body of work. He’s speaking about the symbolic and the super-ego to use Lacan’s terms. What social factors motivate behaviour in contrast to a subject’s most intimate and hidden desires. For the modern filmmakers that Rivette wrote about they were able to accomplish this. But what’s so great is that Rivette’s theory doesn’t leave you with anything tangible. This emphasis on the relation between both terms relies on the imposition of a point of view while simultaneously eluding mastery. It only leaves more questions unanswered, creates more thought and allows more mysteries to propagate. There are still new inquiries to be had.
The idea behind the “Toronto on Film!” series is to share important and undervalued films that have been made in this country. It’s meant to be a cinémathèque for older films that aren’t necessarily recognized as classics but that are important historically, aesthetically and socially as a way to explore the rich and diverse output of Canadian cinema and more specifically Toronto films. Instead of attempting any form of totalizing gesture to explain what Canadian cinema is (as per the tradition in many ‘official’ world cinema anthologies), this series begins with the specific: not only is its goal to introduce, show and discuss a ‘Toronto film’ but its project is quasi-archeological as the films that will be emphasized will ideally be outside of the public-domain, forgotten about and unearthed from the archives. By being specific, the aim of this series is to go against preconceived notions of Canadian cinema and to show its heterogeneity. Canadian film scholarship should be more than just re-writing twice-told clichés but instead it should bring something out of the past to illuminate the present and it should involve showing the work and sharing it with others. It has to mean something to more than just one person.
The cinémathèque quality of the “Toronto on Film!” series comes from how it will program older work. As interesting as some new short- and feature-length films can be, there is a sense, in Toronto specifically and I reckon nation-wide too, that knowledge of Canadian film history is lacking, and, if you’ve even gotten around to take a Canadian film course, too predicated on certain ‘mainstream’ titles. The idea that Canadian film history should be restricted to feature-length narrative films is also too limiting. Instead “Toronto on Film!” will open itself towards alternative media objects: the short film, NFB documentaries and television.
This is in response to a general apathy I see in others on the topic of Canadian film history. It’s always sad when I talk to people who tell me they don’t watch Canadian films. It’s always sad to hear emerging Canadian filmmakers looking up to someone like Denis Villeneuve for inspiration or looking to Netflix as a solution to where they can create work that resembles ‘universal’ content. This is how regional specificity gets loss and it erases such a rich and exciting film history to draw inspiration from.
For example, last season we showed Glenn Gould’s Toronto (1979) with its filmmaker John McGreevy in attendance. In his best-known City Series, he would get famous guides to provide tours of the world’s urban metropolises: Elie Wiesel in Jerusalem, John Huston in Dublin and, in the work that we showed, Glenn Gould in Toronto. What makes the later so special is that Gould, who is known for his genius piano skills and reclusive temperament, opens himself up, with the help of McGreevy, to the simple pleasures and quotidian life of the city that he has always called home, while also expressing doubt and reticence towards its urban expansion. More people should be discussing McGreevy and his extensive filmography is worth taking the time to explore. The archive for McGreevy Productions is available at Media Commons at the Robarts Library on the University of Toronto campus.
The 2019 Winter Season of “Toronto on Film!” should be equally exciting as we’ll be focusing on the pioneering filmmakers Martin Defalco, Jennifer Hodge de Silva and Peter Lynch.
Indigenous filmmaking in Canada is now more important and vital than ever. So I want to look back at one of the ground-breaking indigenous feature-length films: Martin Defalco’s 1975 NFB-produced narrative film Cold Journey. It’s a film about the negative effects of colonialism and the violence of cultural erasure that took place through the federal residential school initiatives, which forced the separation of indigenous children from their parents and then punished them for holding on to their values and not assimilating. Martin Defalco has a unique approach that is noteworthy: he casted non-professional indigenous actors in the lead roles and remained steadfast to the necessity of bleakness to end the story. These traits would be held against the film at its initial release, along with a lack of a theatrical infrastructure, that led to it not reaching an audience. That Cold Journey was made back when it did is incredible. Defalco needs to be recognized as one of the master indigenous filmmakers alongside Gil Cardinal, Alanis Obomsawin and Zacharias Kunuk; and Cold Journey needs to be recognized as one of the masterpieces of Canadian cinema up there with Nobody Waved Good-bye (1964), La vie heureuse de Léopold Z (1965), Crime Wave (1985) and Loyalties (1987).
Defalco’s work in general deserves a critical reappraisal for how it treated indigenous cultures and interests within the constraints of National Film Board projects. There are the more explicit works like The Other Side of the Ledger: An Indian View of the Hudson's Bay Company(1972) that was co-directed with Willie Dunn, which deals explicitly with how social welfare and trading shops exploited indigenous communities; and Trawler Fisherman (1966) about the negative effects of industry expansion in the Northern Saskatchewan countryside that spoiled the water with high mercury levels and prevented and reoriented traditional fishing lifestyles. Defalco’s work presents indigenous communities with a great deal of care and dignity along with a rage and resourcefulness in regard to their maltreatment. You can also see how this permeates through environmental themes that keep resurfacing in his other work like Northen Fisherman (1966) and Class Project: The Garbage Movie (1980).
The availability of these works on the NFB’s website is part of a larger project to promote indigenous cinema, which has only been growing in the last few years. They currently have five of Defalco’s films online, even though there is still a lot more of it to make public. I also want to highlight Donald Brittain’s Starblanket(1973), on the young indigenous chief Noel Starblanket, which is part of this larger project. Starblanket is particularly relevant in regard to the film Cold Journey as he was the one who suggested to Defalco to make the film and he would have a small role in it. Defalco has a great respect for the documentary form and believes in its ability to effect change, which makes him one of its best filmmakers to have worked at the NFB.
The 2:30PM Sunday, February 10th “Toronto on Film!” screening should not be missed. The focus of this screening will be on the pioneer African-Canadian filmmaker Jennifer Hodge de Silva. Her most famous work is Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community (1983) that was co-directed with Roger McTair, which looks at the Jane and Finch community in Northern Toronto by focusing on the folks, most notably its Caribbean population, that are effected by structural injustices and police discrimination. Go watch this on the NFB’s website right now if you haven’t seen it yet. Cameron Bailey, who wrote the definitive essay on her writes, “Whether or not future histories of black filmmaking in Canada begin with Jennifer Hodge de Silva, they will have to acknowledge her importance.” It’s an injustice that not more of Hodge de Silva’s work is available. Luckily I found two works related to her at the Ryerson University Library: Toronto's Ethnic Police Squad(1979) and a documentary about her Jennifer Hodge: The Pain and The Glory (1992) by Roger McTair and Claire Prieto (both of whom are impressive filmmakers and authors in their own right). I’ll do my best to try to get a speaker to come.
While for the March event we’ll look at two of Peter Lynch’s film: the Toronto-centric short-film Arrowhead (1994), which stars Don McKellar, and also his newest film, Birdland (2018). This screening is organized by fellow film studies graduate student Meghan McDonald. The director will there in attendance for this screening to give an introduction and participate in a post-screening discussion. It will be at 2:30PM on Sunday, March 3rd at the Theater in Media Commons at Robarts Library.
If you haven’t heard of or seen any of these titles I wholeheartedly recommend you check at least one of screenings out. It’s what a Canadian open fault should look like.
5. Frost (Sharunas Bartas) and Leto(Kirill Serebrennikov)
6.Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan) and On the Beach at Night Alone (Hong Sang-soo)
7. The House That Jack Built (Lars von Trier) and High Life (Claire Denis)
8. Coincoin et les z’inhumains (Bruno Dumont), Au poste! (Quentin Dupieux), Un couteau dans le coeur (Yann Gonzalez) and Madame Hyde (Serge Bozon)
9. The Other Side of Wind (Orson Welles), Eight Hours Don't Make a Day (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972) and Glenn Gould’s Toronto (John McGreevy, 1979)
10.My Thesis Film: A Thesis Film by Erik Anderson(Erik Anderson), Mouthful (Alfio Foti), A Woman’s Block (Rebeccah Love), Fail to Appear (Antoine Bourges), Firecrackers (Jasmin Mozaffari), Ian Lagarde’s Festival du nouveau cinema Cartes Blanches short film, The Stone Speakers (Igor Drljača), Spice It Up (Calvin Thomas, Lev and Yonah Lewis) and Norman Norman(Sophy Romvari)
- Anthropocene (Baichwal, De Pencier, Burtynsky)
- Aquaman (James Wan)
- Bodied (Joseph Kahn)
- Green Book (Peter Farrelly)
- Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry)
- The Mule (Clint Eastwood)
- Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
- Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg)
- A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)
- Through Black Spruce (Don McKellar)
- A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)
- Annihilation (Alex Garland)
- Aquaman (James Wan)
- Avengers Infinity War (Anthony and Joe Russo)
- First Man (Damian Chazelle)
- Hereditary (Ari Aster)
- Mid90s (Jonah Hill)
- Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg)
- Revenge (Coralie Fargeat)
- Upgrade (Leigh Whannell)
- A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)
- Hereditary (Ari Aster)
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (David Yates)
- Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
- Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)
- Widows (Steve McQueen)
- Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson)
- I Feel Pretty (Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein)
- First Man (Damien Chazelle)
- Venom (Ruben Fleischer)
- Milla (Valérie Massadian)
- Transit (Christian Petzold)
- Den of Thieves (Christian Gudegast)
- Djamilia (Aminatou Echard)
- Hemlock Forest (Moyra Davey)
- Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (Travis Wilkerson)
- The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack)
- The Glass Note (Mary Helena Clark)
- First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
- Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
Nicole Brenez (researcher and curator, France)
- Maré (Amaranta César)
- Djamilia (Aminatou Echard)
- Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival Trailer (Jean-Luc Godard)
- Un couteau dans le coeur (Yann Gonzalez)
- Film Catastrophe (Paul Grivas)
- L’Héroïque Lande. La Frontière brûle (Nicolas Klotz and Elisabeth Perceval)
- Mues (Daniel Nehm)
- De cendres et de braises (Manon Ott)
- Down Claiborne (Moira Tierney)
- 8th Continent (Yorgos Zois)
Best screening ever: « Avec les G.M. et S., Bordel ! » de Lech Kowalski, Écran de Saint-Denis, February 10, 2018.
Most unforgettable introduction to a film:Valérie Massadian introducing Chantal Akerman’s D’Est, Cinéma du Réel, March 30, 2018.
Best press conference ever:Jean-Luc Godard, Cannes Film Festival, May 12, 2018
Most moving constructive conversation about a film:Boris Pollet, Dominique Païni, Yannick Haenel, Jean Narboni, Jean-Paul Fargier, around Jean-Daniel Pollet, Méditerranée/Bassae (published by Les Editions de l’Œil), Potemkine Bookshop, November 17, 2018.
1. The House That Jack Built (Lars von Trier)
1a. Billabong (Will Hindle, 1969)
2.Climax (Gaspar Noé)
2a. Love It/Leave It (Tom Palazzolo, 1973)
3.Le livre d’image (Jean-Luc Godard)
3a. A Child’s Garden and the Serious Sea (Stan Brakhage, 1991)
4. more than everything (Kohlberger)
4a. Shape Shift (Scott Stark, 2004)
5. Words, Planets (Lertxundi)
5a. Daisy Kenyon (Preminger, 1947)
6. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan)
6a. The Text of Light (Stan Brakhage, 1974)
7. Fainting Spells (Hopinka)
7a. Hatari! (Howard Hawks, 1962)
8. Burning (Lee Chang-dong)
8a. Starlight (Robert Fulton, 1970)
9.L. COHEN (James Benning)
9a. Tortured Dust (Stan Brakhage, 1984)
10. “Quantification Trilogy” (Jeremy Shaw)
10a. Flesh for Frankenstein (Paul Morrissey, 1973)
aa.High Life (Claire Denis)
ab. The Heartbreak Kid (Elaine May, 1972)
ac.Blue (Apitchatpong Weerasethakul)
ad. Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983, Ferdinando Baldi)
ae.Black Mother (Khalik Allah)
1. High Life (Claire Denis)
2.Le livre d’image (Jean-Luc Godard)
3. Cities of Lost Things (Wi Ding Ho)
4. Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)
5. Burning (Lee Chang-dong)
6. Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
7. Anthropocene (Baichwal, De Pencier, Burtynsky)
8. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
9. Mademoiselle de Jonquieres (Emmanuel Mouret)
10. Dog Man (Matteo Garrone)
1.The Post (Steven Spielberg)
2.First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
3. Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)
4.Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno (Abdelatif Kechiche)
5. Mes provinciales (Jean-Paul Civeyrac)
6. Leto (Kirill Serebrenikov)
7. High Life (Claire Denis)
8. Paul Sanchez est revenu! (Patricia Mazuy)
9. Sophia Antipolis (Virgil Vernier)
10.Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti, Rodney Rothman)
+ Mandy and Le livre d’image (unreleased in France)
- Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno (Abdelatif Kechiche)
- Six Portraits XL (Alain Cavalier)
- Les quatre sœurs (Claude Lanzmann)
- Phantom Thread(Paul Thomas Anderson)
- Senses (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
- Happy As Lazzaro(Alice Rohrwacher)
- Shéhérazade (Jean-Bernard Marlin)
- En liberté! (Pierre Salvadori)
- Donbass (Sergei. Loznitsa)
- Le Grand Bal (Laetitia Carton)
1.Madame Hyde (Serge Bozon)
2. Le livre d’image (Jean-Luc Godard)
3. Les Âmes mortes (Wang Bing)
4. On the Beach at Night Alone (Hong Sang-soo)
5. Grass (Hong Sang-soo)
6. Classical Period (Ted Fendt)
7. Senses (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
8. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
9. Un couteau dans le coeur (Yann Gonzalez)
10. Coincoin et les z’inhumains (Bruno Dumont)
11+. La Caméra de Claire, Paul Sanchez est revenu !, Mes provinciales, Le lion est mort ce soir and A Bread Factory, Part 1
• Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
• La flor (Mariano Llinas)
• L. COHEN (James Benning)
• Roi soleil (Albert Serra
• Le livre d’image(Jean-Luc Godard)
• An elephant sitting still (Hu Bo)
• Les Âmes mortes (Wang Bing)
• Classical Period (Ted Fendt
• Transit (Christian Petzold)
• Hotel by the River (Hong Sang-soo)
• Monelle (Diego Marcon)
• Blue (Apitchatpong Weerasethakul)
• Caniba (Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor)
• Milla (Valérie Massadian)
• Sophia Antipolis (Virgil Vernier)
• Film catastrophe (Paul Grivas)
• L'empire de la perfection (Julien Faraut)
• Better Call Saul Season 4 (Vince Gilligan)
• Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell)
• Phantom Thread(Paul Thomas Anderson)
1. Burning (Lee Chang-dong)
2. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
3. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
4. The House that Jack Built (Lars von Trier)
5. Madeline’s Madeline (Josephine Decker)
6. Donbass (Serguei Loznitsa)
7. Braguino (Clément Cogitore)
8. Hale County: This Morning This Evening (RaMell Ross)
9. Le livre d’image (Jean-Luc Godard)
10. Ray and Liz (Richard Billingham)
- Speechless by Salome Jashi.
A stunning, stirring, sober serial portrait movie. It was made shortly after the Russian invasion of Georgia, some years ago, but remains as hurtingly fresh as the moments filmed.
- Recreations by Jorge Lozano
One of this prolific artist's most personal statements, a one-shot romp through an abandoned drug dealer's home and a childhood flight.
- The Island by Alexandra Gelis.
Another portrait of the underclass by the most open-hearted filmer of the fringe. Awash in emulsion, a public gardener holds forth.
- Not Moldova, 1937 by Madi Piller.
A rich materialist tapestry of Jewish expulsion, her best yet.
- Greetings from Free Forests by Ian Soroka.
A detailed rhizomatic look at caves and resistance.
- What Madness by Diego Governatori,
A bravura autistic monologue set in Spain during the running of the bulls. Derrida wrote: Ethics means listening to the other in their own language.
- Shakedownby Leilah Weinraub.
Joyous, affectless, an insider's account of a lost queer scene on the coast.
- Hemlock Forest by Moyra Davey.
A culminating effort, punctuated with iPhone monologues the artist's embrace is wide and deep.
- Wutharr, Saltwater Dreams by Karrabing Film Collective.
The strangest and deeply moving thing I saw all year. Collective!
- Dislocation Blues by Sky Hopinka.
Framed by a trans dialogue, Standing Rock glimmers with hope and resistance in this essential artist's poetic reverie doc.
- Biidaaban: First Light (Lisa Jackson)
- Becoming Animal (Emma Davie, Peter Mettler)
- Traje de Luces (Francisca Duran)
- Erodium Thunk (Winston Hacking)
- Terror Nullius (Soda_Jerk)
- Fainting Spells (Sky Hopinka)
- Fallen Arches (Simon Liu)
- Please step out of the frame (Karissa Hahn)
- The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack)
- The Air of the Earth in Your Lungs (Ross Meckfessel)
- A Return (James Edmonds)
- Instructions on How to Make a Film (Nazlı Dinçel)
- Dailies From Dumpland (M. Woods)
- God Straightens Legs (Joële Walinga)
- Saint Bathans Repetitions (Alexandre Larose)
- Territorio (Alexandra Cuesta)
- Second Star (Scott Fitzpatrick)
- The Text Of Light (Stan Brakhage)
1. Drift (Helena Wittmann)
2. Fainting Spells (Sky Hopinka)
3. The Nucleus of the Great Union (The Otolith Group)
4. Minding the Gap (Bing Liu)
5. ALTIPLANO (Malena Szlam)
6. Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt)
7. L. COHEN (James Benning)
8. Transit (Christian Petzold)
9. The Image You Missed (Donal Foreman)
10. Personal Problems (Bill Gunn)
11. Monrovia, Indiana (Frederick Wiseman)
12. Caballerango (Juan Pablo González)
13. My First Film (Zia Anger)
Honourable Mentions:Black Mother (Khalik Allah), August at Akiko’s (Christopher Makoto Yogi), Beychella
1. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)
2. Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhang-ke)
3. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo)
4. Le livre d’image (Jean-Luc Godard)
5. Reason (Anand Patwardhan)
6. Asako I and II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
7. Transit (Christian Petzold)
8. High Life (Claire Denis)
9. Kinshasa Makambo (Dieudo Hamadi)
10. Ray and Liz (Richard Billingham)
1. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)
2. High Life (Claire Denis)
3.Le livre d’image (Jean-Luc Godard)
4. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan)
5. La Flor (Mariano Llinás)
6. Les Âmes mortes (Wang Bing)
7. What You Gonna Do When the World’s On Fire? (Roberto Minervini)
8. Infinite Football (Corneliu Porumboiu)
9. The Arboretum Cycle (Nathaniel Dorsky)
10. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo)
- Antigone (Tacita Dean
- First Man (Damien Chazelle
- Les Salopes or the Naturally Wanton Pleasures of the Skin(Renée Beaulieu)
- Let the Sunshine in (Claire Denis)
- Fainting Spells (Sky Hopinka)
- Lover for a Day (Philippe Garrel)
- Heartbound (Janus Metz Pederson, Sine Plambech)
- Vox Lux (Brady Corbet)
- King’s Dead (Dave Free and Jack Begert)
- A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper)
1. The 15:17 to Paris (Clint Eastwood)
2. The House That Jack Built (Lars von Trier)
3. Transit (Christian Petzold)
4. Milla (Valérie Massadian)
5. Den of Thieves (Christian Gudegast)
6. Lover For a Day (Philippe Garrel)
7. A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper)
8. The Mule (Clint Eastwood)
9. Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
10. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)
- The Mule (Clint Eastwood)
- The 15:17 to Paris(Clint Eastwood)
- Den of Thieves (Christian Gudegast)
- First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
- Sorry to Bother You(Boots Riley)
- Annihilation (Alex Garland)
- Mile 22 (Peter Berg)
- The House That Jack Built (Lars von Trier)
- The Other Side Of The Wind (Orson Welles)
1. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles) / Personal Problems (Bill Gunn)
1. Our Time by Carlos Reygadas (Mexico): The second part of an ostensibly autobiographical pairing with Post Tenebras Lux, Reygadas’ poetic exploration of trust, desire, and time is an allegorical tapestry and his most challenging—even daring—film to date.
2. In My Room by Ulrich Köhler (Germany): I’ve sometimes heard the creation stories of krautrock or the first wave of Detroit techno explained as a unifying myth of only tangentially-related figures. Likewise, I’ve wondered if the disparate but institutionally-related circle of dffb filmmakers collected under the name Berliner Schule was as much a school as it was a creation of film critics. Either way, its individual members (like Petzold, Grisebach, and Köhler’s partner Ade) have been collectively delivering some of their best work in recent years and this genre-hopping, apocalyptical adventure film continues the trend. The DVD-choosing/watching scene filled my heart.
3. Burning by Lee Chang-dong (South Korea): Dressed up as a moody mystery thriller, Burning is a film about the political tension between two South Koreas: one populist, traditional, angry; the other, American, ostentatious, capitalist. It beautifully articulates the uneasiness of our historical period—a time of two dead ends— and highlights the disappearance of any third option. Far and away the best Oscar nominee.
4. ALTIPLANO by Melena Szlam (Chile): The most outstanding short I saw from TIFF’s Wavelengths series was this beautiful experiment with texture and time set to shifting landscapes of the widest part of the Andes in Chile and Argentina.
5. Angelo by Markus Schleinzer (Austria): Every bit as unsettling and challenging a topic as as his first film, Michael, Schleinzer’s Angelo interprets the story of Angelo Soliman (a man bought as a slave and raised as an 18th Century Austrian nobleman) and presents a very contemporary lesson on the different ways colonial power operates to dominate, exoticize, and re-represent its perceived “other.”
6. Donbass by Sergey Loznitsa (Ukraine): With 3 films in 2018, Loznitsa had a prodigious year. I haven’t seen Victory Day, but The Trial and Donbasswork together to highlight the complicated stories coming out of Russia and the Ukraine today. The Trial is a documentary repurposing of footage from Stalin’s show trials and Donbass is an acidic tour through the War in Donbass, every moment burnt into your memory and possibly false.
7. An Elephant Sitting Still by Hu Bo (China): I was lucky enough to catch Bela Tarr introduce this film at the TIFF screening I attended. Tarr tearfully euologized the death of his former student, Hu Bo, who killed himself before finishing his first feature film. The preface almost served as a caution to anyone unprepared to sit through a powerful, contemplative love poem to suicide. For the same reason, I can not blindly recommend this film: feel well before you see this. Had the haunting post-rock soundtrack by Hualun been released, it would have probably made my music list of this year.
8. Suspiria by Luca Guadagnino (Italy): Luadagnino creatively reimagines Argento’s masterpiece by boldly shifting its tone. It’s a move reminiscent of what De Palma’s Blow Out does to Antonioni’s Blow Up and a move sure to disappoint those who were comfortable with an unmoving picture of the original classic or of Guadagnino’s filmography.
9. A Faithful Man by Louis Garrel (France): This light-hearted story on the reflexivity of lust offers a comic twist on the usual love triangles Garrell tends to act in, whether it be in his father’s work or others. If Our Timeis the red wine, this would pair nicely as the white.
10. Shoplifters by Hirokazu Kore-eda (Japan): The way this film was marketed caused me to half expect a certain film festival brand of Hallmark humanism. So, I was pleasantly surprised with what turned out to be a quiet, touching, but never cloying film that was elevated by understated performances by the two child actors and an unfussy Haruomi Hosono score.
1. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
3. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo)
4. Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhang-ke)
5. Hotel By the River (Hong Sang-soo)
6. Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh (Steven Brill)
7. Long Day’s Journey into Night (Bi Gan)
8. Burning (Lee Chang-dong)
9. The Life and Death John F. Donovan (Xavier Dolan)
10. Mandy (Panos Cosmatos)
1.Burning (Lee Chang-dong)
2. Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)
3. Lean On Pete (Andrew Haigh)
4. Annihilation (Alex Garland)
5. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham)
6. A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)
7.Mid90s (Jonah Hill)
8. Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino)
9. Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
10. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
Honourable Mention: Mission: Impossible - Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie), Happy As Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher), Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg), Wildlife (Paul Dano), The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos), Hereditary(Ari Aster), Vox Lux (Brady Corbet)
Best Canadian Film:Armie(Mark Cira) and Mouthful (Alfio Foti)
Best Films Not Released Yet:Our Time (Carlos Reygadas), Transit (Christian Petzold), High Life (Claire Denis), Sunset (László Nemes), Peterloo (Mike Leigh), Maya (Mia Hansen-Løve) and Black Mother (Khalik..
“You eat because you know another plate is coming. The promise of a new plate is the promise of a new start.” – All You Can Eat Buddha
I don’t think anyone was really ready for Ian Lagarde’s All You Can Eat Buddhawhen itpremiered at TIFF in 2017. Who was this Montreal filmmaker? What was this Québécois film set in a Caribbean resort? Why mix the sacred with the profane, the spirituality of Buddhism with the indulgence of an all you can eat buffet? But as per the sad realities of Canadian film exhibition and marketing, I reckon few people saw it outside of its own province (where it received some accolades and awards), which is a shame, because it’s one of the most luminous and mysterious films recently made in this country that continuously offers itself up for contemplation and inspiration. I’m sure it’ll come as no shock or offence to anyone if I state that 2018 was a bad year for Canadian cinema. Some noteworthy exceptions aside, most of which reached any form of mainstream attention was aesthetically worthless and culturally correct, if it even had aspirations of cultural expression, a trait that has been diminishing in front of a weak federal cultural policy that prioritizes international co-productions that continuously erase any form of regional specificity.
It’s not that All You Can Eat Buddha is a beacon of Québécois culture, as aside from the accent of the spoken French language and a couple of references to the French-Canadian province there isn’t much discussion about the country. But instead it stands out for its mystery and style. It tells the story of Mike, a diabetic larger fellow, who goes on vacation to the Hotel Palacio in Cuba. After saving an octopus he receives supernatural powers that allows him to heal others but which comes at a self-destructive cost. The more he helps, the more it harms his own body. It culminates with Mike’s body half blue due to his diabetes and with the El Palacio half torn-down because of a civil war. If describing the plot of All You Can Eat Buddha seems absurd its that it works best as an aesthetic experience of a cosmic consciousness: its simple absurdity allows for the opening up to thinking differently.
The beauty of All You Can Eat Buddha comes from how it doesn’t resemble anything you would have seen. Lagarde’s project begins with the sublime: What new images can be created? How to encounter the unknown? And what would be the stakes of this project? As Lagarde not only creates new visions but through them there is also the possibility of new human relations and new thoughts to exist. This is the total liberty of All You Can Eat Buddha.There is a total refusal of a naturalism and the sociological as it rather experiment in film technique, an ambiguousness and a dream-like temporality. It works through minimal dialogue, ambient exposition and slow zooms, piercing stares and voice-over narration. It works on a register of wonder and mystery, beauty and contemplation. There is the suggestion is that there is something holy and spiritual in regards to Mike’s story but which is never explicitly explained.
The experience of watching All You Can Eat Buddha is beyond reason and intention. It’s colourful, unsettling, strange and beautiful. There isn’t anything really like it in Canadian film: First off its carnivalesque characters, then there is its Caribbean setting, and finally a talking octopus. The closest thing to it is Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. It’s perhaps the best thing Lagarde has done. His other works include a Carte blanche short film for the Festival du nouveau cinéma where in a Guy Maddin style a man and a women meet in a cabin and he ends up giving birth to a large golden egg. While some of his previous short films include Vent Solaire (2011) about a strange cult and Merce (2017) that follows a few teens in central Havana. But perhaps the two best ones are Éclat du Jour (2013) about delinquent Québécois teenagers that cause trouble in neighbourhood while they try to find themselves (this one has a real punk quality)and Grimaces (2016) which is a Tashlinesque tale of otherness through the continuation of the weird and funny faces children make well in adulthood. All of these works, which are created with the artistic collaborator Gabrielle Tougas-Fréchette, aim to show and create something new but which reach with All You Can Eat Buddha a real accomplished quality. I’m really excited to see what Lagarde does next and I have no qualms stating that he's one of the country's best directors.
But it's hard to really position Lagarde or this film as a model for others. The film ecosystem in Canada is so risk-adverse and fragile while it explicitly aims towards an ‘American’ universalism to the detriment of any cultural expression (especially in English Canada). If All You Can Eat Budhha teaches us anything it's that we should: experience differently, think differently, feel differently, see differently. As long as there is a collective consciousness that is threading on tired clichés from south of the border and has a mentality of defeat in face of a perceived sense of lack then the battle is lost before it even started. Better to follow Mike’s footsteps and to find inspiration in the divine even if it shows its face in the profane.
A unique experience in Canadian cinema, Erik Anderson's first feature to get a public screening is impressive for its liberty and vulnerability. Just like Rebeccah Love’s Acres from last year, My Thesis Film, with its uncharacteristic lengthy running time of nearly four hours, reorients the traditional length onto its own narrative terms. When the aesthetic norm for first time features is either an ascetic formalism or a social naturalism (usually due to film festival imperatives), Anderson's film impresses in its ability to successfully entertain and captivate, to make you think and laugh. And even though its duration is lengthy, it never feels long as through its character’s excitement and vulnerability it is able to capture a thoughtfulness, pleasure and doubt. And this is especially redeeming as the first feature norm seems to be to oppress or to bore, that is if they are even properly made or dramatic. But thankfully My Thesis Film bypasses these shortcomings as it is surprisingly well acted, stylistically polished, entertaining and most importantly funny.
My Thesis Film is about struggling to find your place – for Erik in Toronto, trying to complete his thesis film – but it does so with a lightness and a melancholy. Though the narrative is obviously fictionalized it still seems closer to a self-portrait for Anderson as, having known him over the years, I can attest that he has really put a lot of himself into his film, let alone that he stars in it and that he’s the one experiencing these re-enactments. My Thesis Filmdoes a really good job at capturing a distinct experience of Toronto from the perspective of a grad student in film production, which in this case is at York University. It captures the bond between friends, interpersonal debate and conflict about representation in the arts, and feelings of insecurity experienced in these settings. It’s a quite distinct experience of the city, which isn’t always welcoming. But it does so with a humour that comes from an awkwardness in the addressing of these prickly topics that would make any fans of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm both smile and cringe.
There is its prologue Plato that sets the rhythm and tone to the film. It is a modern day adaptation of a discourse on justice from Plato’s Republic. Anderson, in the lead role, surprises in terms of his acting and his range of emotions. But what’s especially noteworthy is the film’s dialogues. Words pop, language is nuanced and thoughtful, and most conversations progress as if all of these characters have spent years in the debate club. The character types are all different and have these well-defined personalities that provides the richness of the mosaic of voices and perspectives of this milieu. And there’s a naturalness and articulateness to all of them, which provides a more realistic portrait of a certain young educated class in Toronto more so than the inarticulateness of so many other Canadian first features. And their wit and opposing views is also the source of the film’s humour.
Following the Plato prologue, My Thesis Film progresses through three different chapters: Chapter 1. Erik arrives to Toronto from Montreal to start his MFA at York. There he starts to question his idea for his thesis film as he encounters overwhelming critiques in regards to gender parity and diversity. Throughout the year he spends a lot of time with his friend Juan and Franco while they start encountering other types that would be recognizable for anyone that has gone through a film studies degree: there is the brash young filmmaker who just got his first film into Slamdance, an esteemed Mexican filmmaker who is known for his 'slow' films, and the militant feminist and the spiritual hippie, among some others. The first year is a struggle for Erik and afterwards, as he didn’t receive any financial support, he's forced to return to his mother's in Victoria to spend the summer. Chapter 2. This is a sad summer for Erik as he starts to take on menial tasks to make a living – including, and even failing at, being a barista – and where, however well intentioned his mother, aunt and her husband try to be, they are actually not that encouraging. But Erik finally returns to Toronto, hopeful that it'll be a better year, but that is still to be determined. Chapter 3. After struggling with his Plato adaptation to take off, through a discussion with his best friend, he decides to incorporate his initial idea into a making-of of a making-of of his film. And there he finds success, well sort-of, at least he completes it before he has to go through a lengthy critique period.
With My Thesis Film and Calvin Thomas, Yonah and Lev Lewis’s Spice It Up!, another new Toronto film that had fraught production history, it appears that the new generation of local filmmakers, which have started making work around 2010, are starting to be more explicit about the challenges of creation and getting programmed in this city. This reflexive tendencies tends to be more funny than dour and recalls something like Luc Moullet’s Les Sièges de l'Alcazar meets the CBC. It’s very interesting and I highly recommend both of these films if you have a chance to see them. Spice It Up! is about a young woman filmmaker who also arrives to Toronto from out of town to complete her thesis film and that also has some shades of ancient Greek philosophy, though for her she is studying at Ryerson. In it you can find the local film critic Adam Nayman (after his small role earlier on this year in Fail to Appear) as a film professor giving his students advice and feedback that sounds just like he does in person. Matt Johnson also has a surprising small role in it as a playful and lewd photographer.
So with both My Thesis Film and Spice It Up a new landscape and geography of the city emerges and with that different characters and ways of being and talking. The freedom of these works, and especially of My Thesis Film, is that it elides conventional filmmaking trappings, and there's also a sense or urgency and necessity at play. Anderson talks about My Thesis Film as being thought out and conceived over a five year period and that it was made with the barest of crews (usually one or two people) and without any of the usual arts grants or funding. It's this necessity of creation, vulnerability of representation and the pulling off of the project that makes it so admirable. My Thesis Filmis a great model for all struggling filmmakers.
It will be a real shame if it does not get more then the only two screenings that it has received so far.
There's a truism in Canadian cinema which is that it's surprising it even exists. Just look at some of its major figures like Don Shebib, Joyce Wieland or even Patricia Rozema and you'd see that sometime throughout their career, and with good reason, that they've lamented the sad state of production, distribution and even reception in this country. However much cultural prestige they've been conferred, I would posit that all Canadian filmmakers are 'orphans' of a national media industry that was never that interested in fostering a domestic film industry with the goals of cultural expression or regional specificity. Instead you keep hearing about the creation of 'global' oriented 'content', while screen incentives keep being directed towards runaway American productions.
And if you've heard as many horror stories as I have from film production students about the difficulties each step of their way to make their work and get it seen then you would understand how even just the completion of a project and then getting only one public projection could be seen as a success.
And it's not that there hasn't been other interesting Canadian films that I came out this year - I've seen more then my fair share, though I'm still wondering why... - but they seem to come out with a build-in ephemerality: Catch us if you can, or not at all...
With that in mind, I just want to signal a unique screening happening this week: I forget how many years exactly it has been in the making for - four years? or is it five, or is it even more? - and how many requests I regret not taking up with its director, but Erik Anderson's thesis film, My Thesis Film: A Thesis Film by Erik Anderson, is finally getting screened in Toronto: On Wednesday at 6:30PM at the Lightbox. I can only speak for myself to say this is a cause for celebration and that I'm really excited to see it.
And it's another great sign of the uniqueness and perseverance of Toronto DIY filmmakers that so far this year have already produced Fail to Appear, Mouthful, A Woman's Block, Spice it Up! and 22 Chaser (if I can indulge myself by including this gritty thriller). It's time for folks to start listening.
Well August is almost over but summer doesn't officially end until September 22nd. So even though it's back to school and business for a lot of folks, why not try to enjoy the next few weeks to the fullest? Instead of packing up the outdoor gear and returning to a routine, it'll be good to relax and enjoy yourself and the city as much as you can while you still can. In the Toronto film community there's an exciting screening this week: Rebeccah Love is premiering her new short A Woman's Block, which has her team up again with Sarah Swire from Acres and is shot in her own neighborhood of Regal Heights but with a new improvisational style. It'll be on Tuesday, August 28th at The Pilot and it starts at 7:10PM sharp. There will be some special guests, too. See this great MUFF interview with Love for more information about the new short film and her process. And if you want to support more local filmmakers here at Toronto Film Review, with the help of local filmmaker Mark Cira, we'll be presenting a program of shorts on Wednesday, September 5th at CineCycle. Hope to see some of you there and enjoy the next few weeks!