Toronto International Film Festival launched their 2012 edition Thursday afternoon with a classy touch, a free 35mm screening of the recently departed master filmmaker Chris Marker’s 1983 film essay Sans Soleil.
While the official opening night film came hours later with the Bruce Willis-starring sci-fi title Looper, the choice to open a festival featuring roughly 300 new titles from 70+ countries with this challenging, subtle repertory work signaled a confirmation of sorts that, amidst increasing celebrity and corporate presence, TIFF still holds “pure cinema” as one of its guiding principles. Indeed, in his moving introductory remarks, TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey evoked the term “pure cinema” specifically, naming Sans Soleil as the single experience that made film central to his life and thanking an almost-capacity and very appreciative crowd for beginning their festival with this early screening.
So if one initially sensed a little friction between this exploratory, dissonant film and the supermodel-laden L’oreal ad that runs before each TIFF film this year, all of that dissipated quickly as Marker’s mesmerizing film took over. Set largely in Japan; featuring exhilarating bursts of synthesized visuals and sound; and tackling issues of technology, memory, and film culture (especially with its poignant revisiting of locations from Hitchcock’s Vertigo), Marker’s film reminds us that the artistic possibilities of film are limited only by personal imagination.
Not incidentally, later that afternoon TIFF also served up a free screening of Roman Polanski’s oft-neglected 1979 period piece Tess. Presumably included in TIFF as an accompaniment to Marina Zenovich’s second Polanski documentary, Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, the festival offered a stunning digital restoration of the film. Baltimore currently offers few opportunities to view vintage films presented in state-of-the-art digital, and this DCP presentation of Tess highlighted how far the technology has come. One wonders if every restoration will take such care and if every venue’s presentation standards will be this high. But for this one screening at least, a digital print of a title from the vault flickered and danced with the warm, living grain we expect from film.
As the first full day of programming hit us Friday, we jumped into a 10-day spree of 3-5 features apiece per day. Films we’ve seen so far that may be of particular note to MFF fans include:
FRANCES HA – Noah Baumbach’s new character study, co-written with star (and frequent MFF guest) Greta Gerwig and crafted in tribute to both the French New Wave and the Woody Allen films shot in black-and-white with Gordon Willis.
THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY – Sophie Fiennes’ epic documentary exploration of the philosophical insights of Slavoj Žižek,which uses film history to tackle issues of personal and political conformity, and began with insightful analysis of John Carpenter’s They Live (recently screened in our Gunky’s Basement series).
LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE – A surprising new work from Iranian master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. It follows the story of a young student/call girl as she accidentally entangles a well-respected elderly client into the snare of her personal affairs. The film is set in Tokyo and features outstanding performances by an all-Japanese cast who will be largely unknown to western audiences. Endowed with such fresh and lively filmmaking and story telling, even the most hardened skeptic of Kiarostami’s films will find pleasures here.
PARADISE: LOVE – The latest work by Ulrich Seidl, perhaps best known to our audiences for Dog Days, which John Waters selected to present at MFF in 2004. Seidl’s films can be brutal both in their visual content and their emotional honesty, and he delivered a dark masterpiece of sorts with 2007’s Import/Export. Here, with this first film in a projected “Paradise” trilogy, he looks at middle-aged Austrian women who travel to Kenya to indulge in sexual tourism. Seidl’s eye remains as unflinching as ever, and certainly this film could come across as shocking to those not familiar with his work; but in the context of that body, Paradise: Love felt almost gentle in comparison, at times evoking the wit and humor we might expect from a Todd Solondz or Alexander Payne tackling this subject.
In short: TIFF’s presentation and curatorial skills remain exemplary. Stay tuned, as MFF’s programmers each take in another 40+ films apiece by the end of the week, and we continue to report back here and on the MFF’s Twitter.
–MFF Programming Director Eric Allen Hatch and Programming Administrator Scott Braid