It always takes a bit of time to adjust to the schedule and self-contained world of a film festival. Yesterday was the first day of this year's Toronto International Film Festival and, although I attended many festival films that day, I still had one foot in the normal rhythms of living. Yesterday, external issues were the main topic of conversation. Before every screening, most of the conversations revolved around Sarah Palin and the Republican National Convention. The front page story and photo on all of the Toronto newspapers resembled an actual news story (Palin again – front page news even in Canada).
That all changed pretty quickly as I, and everyone else around me, seem to be in full festival mode today. The front page of the papers all featured photos and accounts of the previous evening's celebrity-driven gala screening as the festival pushes news stories off the front page for the next week or two. As could only happen at a film festival, I found myself not skipping a beat as I ran from a 9:45 am screening of a cartoon about repressed memories of the 1982 Lebanon war (Waltz with Bashir
– which is being billed as â€œthe first animated documentary,â€ a debatable and gimmicky conceit) to a showing of a manic Korean Western comedy (The Good, the Bad, and the Weird
). And today all the pre-screening conversations revolved around the perennial festival questions, â€œWhat have you seen?â€ or â€œHave you seen anything good?â€
But this afternoon, I had one of those festival moments that confirms why a person goes to film festivals and movies in general. I saw a film that knocked me out of my film festival routines. The film was such an emotional and rich experience that it wiped the floor with me, and left me devastated afterwards. I had a brief discussion about the film with my screening companions and we all agreed it was a truly incredible piece of work, but instead of joining them for more film festival business I took my leave, and enjoyed a solitary meal to absorb the film – which seemed more substantial with each passing moment. Thankfully I had three hours before my next movie (three quiet hours where you are left to your own thoughts is a rarity – and luxury – at the Toronto festival) so after eating, I walked the streets of Toronto, absorbing the world and allowing the film to blossom within me further.
The film under discussion is Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married
. With Demme being an Oscar-winning director and as close to a household name as a contemporary filmmaker not named Spielberg can be, it can hardly count as a festival discovery. And even though I am a staunch Demme partisan and was looking forward to the film, I was unprepared for the fullness of life that I found within. The film opens soon – it starts its limited release on October 3rd and should come to Columbus shortly thereafter – so you'll have a chance to see it soon. I'll refrain myself from talking too much about the film so that you can discover its many pleasures for yourself. But I will say that it might just be one of the best American films of this decade, although I will need to see it again to make sure because I spent approximately half of this movie wiping away tears.
A troubled woman (Anne Hathaway, in a very strong performance) returns home just as the final preparations are being made for her older sister's wedding. Over the course of the film, Demme, screenwriter Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney), and cinematographer Declan Quinn examine every conceivable family (and extended family) dynamic against the backdrop of an incredible wedding.
The Talking Heads sang in Demme's Stop Making Sense
that â€œheaven is a place where nothing ever happens.â€ At one point in Rachel Getting Married
, a character says about the environment that the film creates, â€œthis is how it is in heaven,â€ and, even though lots of things happen in the film, I am tempted to agree. Then film sweeps the viewer up in the community, music, family, and filmmaking unfurling on the screen and offers up one of the most moving cinematic visions of American life in recent memory. However, at the heart of the film is Anne Hathaway's character who has condemned herself to live outside of that heaven – she knows that it truly is heaven and that she's not able to allow herself to exist there.
If Demme ever finds himself unable to make another movie (which, especially after the success that this film is sure to have, seems unlikely), he could offer his services up as the coolest wedding planner this country has ever seen. This is more than a wedding, it's a celebration of all of art and love and life and all that is worth living for. It's the wedding you hope you get invited to, let alone have for yourself. As Variety
wrote, â€œthe film may just lay the wedding picture to rest, being such a hard act to follow.â€
I won't claim that Rachel Getting Married
is a perfect film, but that doesn't matter to me in the slightest. There is such an ABUNDANCE in this film that to say that two or three tiny moments don't work or seem overly written is miserly. And this is a film that fosters forgiveness.
I'll just quickly touch upon two other highlights of the festival thus far:
As Dave mentioned, Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum
is a lovely, lovely film and it would make a nice double feature with Demme's film – what a great night at the movies that would be! Like Rachel, it deals with a warm, loving community and they both seem to exist on a casual moment-by-moment level but add up to something profound and substantial. They both provide a level of tenderness, caring, respect and empathy that is missing in altogether too many movies. As Dave mentioned, there is an extended sequence where the principal characters are stranded, culminating in a wordless sequence set to The Commodores' â€œNight Shiftâ€ that had me breathless for the duration of the song. Like Denis is so good at, she boils cinema down to its purest essence and finds the heart of drama in a series of glances and actions. It's Denis' most stylistically conventional film – a far cry from the bracing radicalness of Trouble Every Day
and The Intruder
– but still retains her elliptical touches. But it was more that the plentiful rice cookers that often had me thinking of a director that I know Denis greatly admires but is rarely (if ever) compared to: Yasujiro Ozu. When I mentioned this to the Cleveland Cinematheque's John Ewing after the screening, he seconded it and pointed out all sort of similarities the story had with his second favorite film, Ozu's Late Spring
. Perhaps that's another great idea for a double feature. As of this writing, 35 Shots of Rum doesn't have American distribution but that will surely be remedied soon. Either way, I'm sure we'll work to present this delight at the Wexner Center - we've premiered all of Denis' films and this is a fine addition to her filmography.
The festival's Wavelengths section focuses on premieres of contemporary experimental cinema from around the world and this year's program opened with two exceedingly beautiful new films by the highly regarded San Francisco filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky, Winter
. Dorsky might just be the most exquisite filmmaker working today. He strings together a series of short shots of fleeting beauty captured from the everyday environments surrounding him – all captured within walking distance of his home – and, like Denis, gets to the very heart of cinema. Unfortunately, as 16mm technologies continue to get marginalized, Dorsky's films are increasingly more difficult to screen. They are meant to be screened at what Dorsky calls the â€œsacred speedâ€ of 18 frames per second (as opposed to the customary, â€œsecular speedâ€ of 24 frames per second). Unfortunately, the Wexner Center is not able to show 16mm at 18 fps, so if you want to see Dorsky's latest films your next chance will be at the New York Film Festival
There's no time to savor these films, though. Early tomorrow I'll be checking out the latest films by two esteemed filmmakers who have engaged with Columbus audience from the Wexner Center's stage: Terence Davies (who introduced a screening of The House of Mirth
) and Kelly Reichardt (who has visited several times to work in our Art & Technology studio and recently came to present Old Joy
). Stay tuned for the reports.
- Chris Stults, Assistant Curator, Film/Video