Monday, September 17, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, Sept. 10, 2012 - Sept. 16, 2012: "All Movies, All the Time at TIFF" Edition



Toronto International Film Festival 2012, all films seen in Toronto:
The Company You Keep (2012, Robert Redford), seen at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Gebo and the Shadow (2012, Manoel de Oliveira), seen at TIFF Bell Lightbox
The Cloud-Capped Star (1960, Ritwik Ghatak), seen at TIFF Bell Lightbox
The Lords of Salem (2012, Rob Zombie), seen at Ryerson Theatre
Byzantium (2012, Neil Jordan), seen at Visa Screening Room
To the Wonder (2012, Terrence Malick), seen at Princess of Wales Theatre
The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012, João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata), seen at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Aftershock (2012, Nicolás López), seen at Ryerson Theatre
Clandestine Childhood (2012, Benjamín Ávila), seen at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Three Sisters (2012, Wang Bing), seen at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Reality (2012, Matteo Garrone), seen at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Post Tenebras Lux (2012, Carlos Reygadas), seen at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sightseers (2012, Ben Wheatley), seen at Ryerson Theatre
The Capsule (2012, Athina Rachel Tsangari), seen at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Walker (2012, Tsai Ming-liang), seen at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Laurence Anyways (2012, Xavier Dolan), seen at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Much Ado About Nothing (2012, Joss Whedon), seen at Winter Garden Theatre
Dormant Beauty (2012, Marco Bellocchio), seen at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
In Another Country (2012, Hong Sang-soo), seen at Scotiabank Theatre
Well, I guess I disappointed all of you out there who were actually "watching this space" to see posts from me from the Toronto International Film Festival as the festival was actually going on. Turns out, whenever I wasn't inside a movie theater, I usually found myself either socializing, tweeting or doing something other than working on actual full-length reviews of stuff I've seen. I feel somewhat guilty about this; on the other hand, I felt like I had a richer, more well-rounded experience this year at TIFF than I did last year, especially thanks to said socializing. So I have no regrets—notwithstanding the two TIFF-related pieces of writing that have yet to be finished. And crap, press & industry New York Film Festival screenings have already started!

In the meantime, here are my five favorite films of this year's Toronto International Film Festival:
1. Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan)
2. The Land of Hope (Sion Sono)
3. Dormant Beauty (Marco Bellocchio)
4. To the Wonder (Terrence Malick)
5. The Lords of Salem (Rob Zombie)

Just missing the cut: Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths, probably the most purely entertaining film I saw in Toronto (though Hong Sang-soo's In Another Country did provide a perfectly charming way to end my time at the festival).

And while it wasn't quite the mind-blower Chris Marker's Sans Soleil was, Indian director Ritwik Ghatak's 1960 epic The Cloud-Capped Star—a lyrical Magnificent Ambersons-style family saga—was nevertheless quite the breathtaking cinephiliac discovery I made at TIFF. I look forward to seeing more of Ghatak's work; heck, I need to explore more of Indian cinema in general, with this, a handful of Satyajit Ray films and the Bollywood classic Sholay (1975) being my only frames of reference in that regard.

The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson), seen at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13
Some rough initial impressions on a film that I'm still turning over in my mind:

Dammit, Paul Thomas Anderson! I'm not even sure I like your newest film, and yet I can't stop thinking about it! Especially when cult leader Lancaster Dodd suddenly just randomly blurts out "pig fuck" to some guy at a party who dares to question his ideology. Imagine more or less an entire film made out of moments like the last scene of There Will Be Blood—that wacky concluding 10-minute stretch that somehow manages to strike some kind of insane balance between comedy and tragedy—and you have The Master.

Actually, that's an oversimplification, because, if nothing else, this is a film that absolutely refuses easy pigeonholing. To call it a black comedy about the absurdity of Dodd's Scientology-like cult is to ignore the film's focus on the extravagantly disturbed World War II vet Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and the way he tries to fit in with "The Cause" yet is fundamentally unsuited for it. And while the film is as fixated on the growing father-and-son-like relationship between Quell and Dodd, there's hardly the same warmth that even There Will Be Blood occasionally (very occasionally) found in Daniel Plainview's relationship with H.W. It is a consistently strange environment Anderson presents to us, and part of the thrill of his latest film lies in simply basking in its wonky tone and oddball characters/character dynamics.

On the level of a spectacle, then, I enjoyed The Master; it has a quality of mad unpredictability that keeps a viewer on his/her toes throughout. Is that enough to make this the great film that many have suggested this is? On this, I harbor doubts—but then, I've always harbored such doubts when it comes to this much-celebrated filmmaker, some of which I expressed recently in a contribution to this recent Criticwire survey. With There Will Be Blood and now The Master, Anderson is moving further away from the recognizable humanity one could sense even in the nutty idiosyncracies of Punch-Drunk Love (2002) and focusing on (all-American) eccentrics, seeming to deliberately obfuscate us from easy ways to emotionally access, much less relate to, such people. At least Stanley Kubrick—to which Anderson seems to owe his recent artistic evolution the most—applied his cold-sober approach to characters who seemed convincingly human; Anderson, by contrast, reserves his increasingly chilly vision for the contemplation of emotionally opaque monsters, basically—and, to my mind, the results strike me as considerably less revelatory, losing in humanity and resonance what they gain in artistry. Others' mileage may vary, but I still have yet to find much use for Anderson as an artist, even as I acknowledge the originality of his vision. No one is making movies quite like his right now, and The Master is, like it or not, a singular work.


Josh Baggins said...

I like your point about Anderson moving away from recognizable humanity. I see his last two works as a type of allegory where America is becoming less humane through selfish desires and greed that define our nation (corporate greed and oil companies) and blind devotion to self-interested people and movements (or religions) without understanding.

Kenji Fujishima said...

Yeah, I see what you mean. I'm not entirely sure I meant that in a positive way, though. I may be seeing The Master again this weekend, just to be clearer about what I actually think of this strange, strange film.

Josh Baggins said...

Yeah haha, I didn't think you meant it in a positive way either. Just agreed with the statement and wanted to express how I perceive it as a positive in terms of Anderson's thematic intentions. I plan on seeing it again as well.