Wednesday, January 18, 2012

50 Years of Discoveries at TIFF Bell Lightbox

For the next week, TIFF Bell Lightbox will be hosting a series of screenings to celebrate the 50 years of the Semaine de la critique (International Critics Week) at the Festival international du film de Cannes. The Semaine de la critique is a sidebar at Cannes organized by the (French Syndicate of Cinema Critics). Its mandate is to discover new talents and they showcase first or second feature films by international directors.

Starting tonight, Lightbox will screen a selection of films that have played at Cannes' Semaine de la critique over these five decades. Each screening will be hosted by a film critic or media personality.

The series begins tonight with Peter Howell of The Toronto Star presenting the Spanish film The Spirit of the Beehive by Victor Erice. It will be followed by a presentation by George Stroumboulopoulos of CBC of Kevin Smith's Clerks.

As part of the 50 Years of Discoveries program, there will be a free panel discussion on Film Criticism Today. Critics participating include Fabien Gaffez, Peter Howell, Liam Lacey and Jonathan Rosenbaum and they'll discuss their work over the years. This should make for a very lively discussion as their work comes under increasing pressure from the economy and media downsizing, the proliferation of bloggers, and studio interference.

I've posted before about how critics can get things very wrong, especially last year. Yet they do provide a valuable service and this year they flexed their muscles in order to do some good in raising awareness about the film Margaret. The film was mired in legal problems with the director fighting the studio and the studio trying to bury it. But the insistent praise from critics pushed Fox Searchlight to give it a better release and something of an Oscar campaign.

50 Years of Discoveries continues until January 22 at TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King Street West, Toronto.


50 Years of Discoveries: Cannes Critics Week
January 18 — January 22, 2012
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto

Launched in 1962 as a parallel section to the Cannes Film Festival by the French Union of Film Critics, and presided over by critics to this day, the mission of Semaine de la Critique (Critics Week) has been to provide an international showcase for the works of first- and second-time directors. In the fifty years since its inception, the Critics Week sidebar has helped introduce the world to some of the most prominent artists in international cinema: Bernardo Bertolucci, Chris Marker, Ken Loach, Wong Kar-wai, John Sayles, Leos Carax, Arnaud Desplechin, Denys Arcand, Guillermo del Toro, Gaspar Noe, and many more.

In honour of the 50th anniversary of Critics Week, TIFF Cinematheque presents a weekend series featuring a selection of films chosen by eight local and international critics and opinion-makers that were discovered at the festival. The diversity of the selections testifies to the festival’s remarkable breadth and eclecticism and its key role in discovering new generations of filmmaking talent. The eight films in the series are: Jean Eustache‘s Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes (1966) and The Virgin of Pessac (1968), presented by Fabien Gaffez, film critic for Positif and a member of the feature film selection committee for Semaine de la Critique; Anna Karina’s Living Together (1973), presented by former film critic for the Chicago Reader Jonathan Rosenbaum; Kevin Smith’s Clerks (1994), presented by George Stroumboulopoulos, host and executive producer of CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and The Strombo Show; Victor Erice‘s The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), presented by Peter Howell, film critic for The Toronto Star; Jerzy Skolimowski’s Walkover (1965), presented by Liam Lacey, film critic for The Globe and Mail; Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel and Benoit Poelvoorde’s Man Bites Dog (1991), presented by Norm Wilner, film critic for NOW Magazine; Tony Scott’s Loving Memory (1969), presented by Chris Knight, film critic for the National Post; and Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage (2007), presented by Liz Braun, film critic for the Toronto Sun.

The series is organized by Brad Deane, Manager of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Higher Learning - Cannes Critics Week Panel: Film Criticism Today
On January 20 (11:00am to 1:00pm), Fabien Gaffez, Peter Howell, Liam Lacey and Jonathan Rosenbaum will discuss their experiences working across various media, and how their engagement with film criticism has changed over the years. The panel is free and open to the public.

50 Years of Discoveries: Cannes Critics Week
The Spirit of the Beehive (El espiritu de la colmena)
dir. Victor Erice | Spain 1973 | 97 min. | PG
Peter Howell: “The Spirit of the Beehive transcends language in its virtuoso weaving of the Frankenstein myth, family tensions and the harsh realities of Franco’s fascist Spain. Victor Erice has a painter’s eye and a poet’s soul.”

In a small Spanish village shortly after the 1940 victory of Franco’s fascists in the civil war, a screening of Frankenstein captures the imagination of six-year-old Ana (Ana Torrent), who lives on a large estate with her parents and older sister Isabel. While her aging father tends to the apiaries on the estate and her much younger mother writes letters to a distant lover, Ana ventures out into the countryside and forest searching for the monster that Isabel teasingly tells her lives there—but the horrors she finds are revealed to be all too tragically human. “The consummate masterpiece of Spanish cinema” (Paul Julian mith), Victor Erice’s poetic mood piece has frequently been read as a commentary on Franco’s Spain, but to reduce it to a strictly allegorical level does a grave injustice to its entrancing, mysterious power; at the very least, its mesmerizing depiction of the relationship between Ana and Isabel—which combines kindness and affection with startling cruelty—marks it as one of the greatest and most insightful films ever made about children.

dir. Kevin Smith | USA 1994 | 92 min. | R
George Stroumboulopoulos: “When Kevin Smith made Clerks and it got on the big screen, you felt like our voice was winning.”

Along with Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Kevin Smith’s chatty, micro-budgeted comedy helped set the tone for much of the American independent cinema to follow over the next two decades (for better or worse). Set almost entirely inside a New Jersey convenience store, Clerks focuses on depressed counter jockey Dante (Brian O’Halloran), who whiles away the workday hours discussing relationships, Star Wars ephemera, unusual sexual acrobatics and various and sundry other topics with his buddy Randal (Jeff Anderson) and the parade of acquaintances, customers, girlfriends past and present and assorted hangers-on—including, of course, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith)—who troop through the store over the course of the day. Scrappy, witty, and often hilariously vulgar, Clerks spawned a host of extra-cinematic spin-offs (and a decade-later sequel), defined a generation too disaffected to bother to define itself, and became the foundation stone for the View Askew mini-empire.

Walkover (Walkower)
dir. Jerzy Skolimowski | Poland 1965 | 78 min.
Liam Lacey: “Roman Polanski’s contemporary and collaborator on the screenplay for Knife in the Water, Jerzy Skolimowski was a jazzloving boxer, writer and actor. In his 1965 second feature, he stars as Andrzej Leszezyc, a cynical non-conformist, itinerant boxing hustler and poet, who soliloquizes in voiceover ‘with my hand on my neck, I want to fix everything [. . .] but only fix my tie.’ Taking its title from a mismatch, or uncontested fight, Walkover is famous for a dazzling one-take sequence, where an opponent on a motorcyle convinces Andrzej to jump off a train to return for a fight.”

Polish enfant terrible Skolimowski’s sophomore effort picks up the autobiographical thread of his debut feature Identification Marks: None, with the ex-boxer writer director-star playing Andrzej, an amateur prizefighter who is drifting across the country after finishing his military service, picking up fights where he can. When he meets Teresa (Aleksandra Zawieruszanka), a government engineer in a bleak industrial town, he decides to take off with her rather than turning up for his bout against a much stronger opponent the next day—but in a stultifying Communist society still very much enslaved to the dictates of machismo, even the beck and call of a “man’s duty” is subordinated to the overwhelming ennui of everyday alienation and aimlessness. Echoing the French nouvelle vague in its air of youthful disaffection and intriguing use of formalist devices (Skolimowski’s own poetry is frequently read over top of the action), Walkover heralded a shift towards a more eccentric, individual-oriented cinema within the Soviet bloc during the short-lived period of official leniency in the mid-to-late 1960s.
Special thanks to Filmoteka Narodawa.

Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes (Le Pere Noel a les yeux bleus)
dir. Jean Eustache | France 1966 | 47 min. | 14A
Fabien Gaffez: “The work of Jean Eustache, dark heir of the nouvelle vague, is one of the greatest Semaine de la Critique has ever discovered. Eustache would film with his heart, whether it was a fiction with autobiographical hints (Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes) or a documentary set in the landscapes of his childhood (The Virgin of Pessac). Talking about his films is talking about the origin of cinema: giving the world and its inhabitants a voice, and an image.”

Nouvelle vague icon Jean-Pierre Leaud gives one of his best performances in Jean Eustache’s funny, pungent tale of poverty, longing, and seduction during the Christmas season. Desperate to buy a duffle coat, then a fashion imperative for young French men, the impoverished Leaud takes a job as Santa Claus, discovering that the disguise allows him to do many things he previously only dreamed of. In typical nouvelle vague fashion, Eustache packs the films with in-jokes: he himself has a cameo as a boxer, and he ends the film with an homage to Jean Vigo.
Followed by
The Virgin of Pessac (La Rosiere de Pessac)
dir. Jean Eustache | France 1968 | 65 min. | 14A
Eustache’s first documentary is a fiercely funny portrait of small-town life and politics. Just before the events of May 1968, Eustache returned to his hometown of Pessac to film the traditional election of the rosière, the town’s most virtuous young woman. Eustache captures “the hypocrisies, incongruities and general ridiculousness that dominate such campaigns” (Luc Moullet) with utter objectivity, leaving the young mayor and his cohorts to bumble, blunder, and make fools of themselves. “A devastating look at pomposity, naivete, and human foibles” (Variety); “a triumph of unprompted deadpan humour” (Moullet).
N. B. As this rare film has never been subtitled, The Virgin of Pessac will be screening without English subtitles.

Living Together (Vivre ensemble)
dir. Anna Karina | France 1973 | 92 min. | 14A
Jonathan Rosenbaum: “I saw Living Together when it was first screened at Cannes in 1973, and will never forget the brutality with which this gentle first feature was received. One prominent English critic, the late Alexander Walker, asked Anna Karina after whether she realized that her film was only being shown because she was once married to a famous film director; she sweetly asked in return whether she should have therefore rejected the Critics Week’s invitation. Everyday observation, lack of pretension, and a woman’s viewpoint were all especially rare qualities in art movies of this period, and almost four decades later, I can still recall how gracefully this love story handles its Paris and New York locations.”

Anna Karina, former wife and muse of Jean-Luc Godard, established her own auteurial credentials with her debut as writer and director; she also stars and sings on the soundtrack. Stuffy professor Alain (Michel Lancelot) lives his life according to a rigorously regimented routine until he meets the vivacious Julie (Karina). Loosening up as he slips into her liberated, bohemian world, he soon finds himself sliding down the slippery slope of decadence. Rarely screened since its chilly reception at its Cannes debut, Living Together is one of the true buried treasures of our Critics Week series.

Man Bites Dog (C’est arrive pres de chez vous)
dirs. Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel & Benoit Poelvoorde | Belgium 1991 | 95 min. | 18A
Norm Wilner: “Almost twenty years on, Man Bites Dog has lost none of its teeth: it’s second only to Albert Brooks’ brilliant Real Life in its prophetic satire of the ethical blindness of our media culture. It’s hysterically funny, but when it reveals its ingenious endgame— indicting the real audience along with the fictional characters—the laughter dies in the throat.”

Slyly satirical and strikingly violent, the notorious Man Bites Dog is a prescient mockumentary that brilliantly predicts the participatory culture of reality television that would arise at the end of the decade. A documentary film crew finds their new subject in the charismatic Ben (co-director Benoit Poelvoorde), a spiffily-dressed and briskly professional serial killer who is happy to give the filmmakers an insight on his work in both theory and practice. As the crew follows Ben on his daily rounds of body-dumping, choreographed strangulations and Manson-like rape-and-murder sessions, their veneer of liberal concern strips away and they become giddily enthusiastic participants in their subject’s orgies of slaughter. A provocative parable about the seductions of spectatorship, Man Bites Dog “doesn’t simply condemn the desire to watch; it first provides its own audience with enough distance to enjoy a seductive spectacle. . . . By the time Man Bites Dog ends, you may wish you’d stopped watching. But you didn’t” (Matt Zoller Seitz).

Loving Memory
dir. Tony Scott | UK 1969 | 52 min. | 14A
Chris Knight: “Tony Scott has never exactly been known for his sense of nuance and subtlety, but before such blockbusters as Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide, Man on Fire and Unstoppable, he wrote and directed this hour-long black-and-white film set in rural Yorkshire. What does young Tony’s first feature reveal of the adrenaline-junkie filmmaker to come?”

An atypical (to say the least) entry in l’oeuvre Tony, Scott the Younger’s intriguing first feature (and the first production for his and brother Ridley’s still extant production company, Scott Free Films) is a curiously low-keyed mixture of the Gothic and grotesque. When an aged brother and sister who live together on an isolated farm accidentally kill a teenage delivery boy with their car, they nonchalantly take him back to their homestead for a secret burial. As brother Ambrose prepares the makeshift grave and coffin, sister Jessica tends to the corpse in the bedroom of their dearly departed elder brother James—and as she dresses the body in James’ old clothes and brings it numerous cups of tea that inevitably go untouched, there are indications that she is not at all prepared to lose her “brother” a second time. Beautifully shot in black and white by renowned cinematographer Chris Menges, Loving Memory is a revelation for those who only know Master Tony as the crown prince of cinema bombast.

The Orphanage (El Orfanato)
dir. Juan Antonio Bayona | Spain/Mexico 2007 | 105 min. | 14A
Liz Braun: “A visually stunning horror film and an auspicious directorial debut for Juan Antonio Bayona, The Orphanage engages the imagination in a terrifying fashion. No cheap thrills or manipulative shock tactics: what we have here is a scary story for grown-ups.”

Guillermo del Toro served as executive producer on director Juan Antonio Bayona’s debut feature, a chilling ghost story that echoes many of del Toro’s own fascinations: the dream life of children, strong female characters, and a distinctly modern twist on classic Gothic horror. Laura (Belen Rueda) returns to the dilapidated orphanage in which she grew up with her husband and adopted seven-year-old son Simon in tow, intending to reopen the institution as a facility for disabled children. When Simon claims that he has found a new playmate in the abandoned building—a boy named Tomas who wears a sack mask over his head—Laura is led to discover a dreadful secret about her upbringing, and the restless spirits that attest to a horrible, long ago crime. Rapturously received at its Cannes premiere and a smash hit worldwide, The Orphanage is a prime example of the intriguing overlap between arthouse and genre cinema that has brought such directors as Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and, of course, del Toro, to international prominence.


The Spirit of the Beehive (El espiritu de la colmena) dir. Victor Erice | Spain 1973 | 97 min. | PG
Wednesday, January 18, 6:30 pm
Peter Howell in person!

Clerks dir. Kevin Smith | USA 1994 | 92 min. | R
Wednesday, January 18, 9:00 pm
George Stroumboulopoulos in person!

Walkover (Walkower) dir. Jerzy Skolimowski | Poland 1965 | 78 min.
Thursday, January 19, 6:30 pm
Liam Lacey in person!

Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes (Le Pere Noel a les yeux bleus) dir. Jean Eustache | France 1966 | 47 min. | 14A
Followed by
The Virgin of Pessac (La Rosiere de Pessac) dir. Jean Eustache | France 1968 | 65 min. | 14A
Friday, January 20, 6:30 pm
Fabien Gaffez in person!

Living Together (Vivre ensemble) dir. Anna Karina | France 1973 | 92 min. | 14A
Saturday, January 21, 7:00 pm
Jonathan Rosenbaum in person!

Man Bites Dog (C’est arrive pres de chez vous) dirs. Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel & Benoit Poelvoorde | Belgium 1991 | 95 min. | 18A
Saturday, January 21, 10:00 pm
Norm Wilner in person!

Loving Memory dir. Tony Scott | UK 1969 | 52 min. | 14A
Sunday, January 22, 1:00 pm
Chris Knight in person!

The Orphanage (El Orfanato) dir. Juan Antonio Bayona | Spain/Mexico 2007 | 105 min. | 14A
Sunday, January 22, 4:00 pm
Liz Braun in person!

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