Academic journal article CineAction

Notes on the Toronto Film Festival

Academic journal article CineAction

Notes on the Toronto Film Festival

Article excerpt

The organizing principle of the Toronto Film Festival is the opposite of that of its New York counterpart. The New York festival is so selective that a number of important films are eliminated (and one might well question some of the inclusions and exclusions); the Toronto organizers work on the principle that every film that anyone might consider worthy must be screened. Both systems have their merits and their drawbacks. Here in Toronto, confronted with the dubious guidance of a programme guide committed to championing, and justifying the inclusion of, every film as a work that deserves to be seen, how does the poor bewildered critic cope? Choices have to be made, but on what basis, given that many of the films and their directors are unknown quantities? I know people who go to four, even five, films a day; I lack both their stamina and their apparent capacity to absorb, and limit myself to two, if possible with a lengthy break in between. But on what grounds am I to make my choices? I begin, obviously, by eliminating as far as possible films by established artists which I am confident will open locally or at least receive a release on DVD. But even this is hazardous: those, for example, who missed Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day a couple of years ago will still not have been able to see it unless they have the means to import a DVD copy from Europe which will only play on multi-region machines. I am not of course complaining about this situation: I love the generosity of impulse that wishes to include everything. I am simply indicating the problems involved for the viewer.

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The notion of a festival report poses further problems for me. I seldom write about a film before I have seen it at least three times and there has been sufficient time lapse for my sense of its value and significance to have formed. In short, I am a critic, not a reviewer, a distinction that, within our 'fast food' culture of the instantly disposable, seems to be becoming increasingly blurred to the point where the terms are used interchangeably, a disaster for which academic film study over the last three decades must be held largely responsible. Its insistence upon theory, theory and more theory has been consistently at the expense of questions of value and 'the common pursuit of true judgement'--the ultimate human questions of 'What do we live for? What should we live for? What might we live for?', and, with these ultimate questions always in mind, the urgent question of our relation to the cultural situation within we exist--the questions that criticism (as opposed to 'reviewing') is ultimately (though often implicitly) about. All I can offer here, therefore, is a somewhat perfunctory and provisional overview of some of the films I saw. Despite my basic principle of choice I couldn't resist attending the screenings of the new films by Tsai and Haneke, though I prefer to wait and write about them at length when I have been able o resee them. And I am copping out for the time being on Bruno Dumont's new film, 29 Palms. I disliked it for its apparent reduction of the complexities of human sexuality to a mindless, loveless animalism, but perhaps that is its point and perhaps its final minutes relate significantly to this. I just don't know, and am reluctant to discuss it until I can familiarize myself with it, the maker of L'Humanite having surely earned the benefit of any doubt.

Of the twenty or so films I saw, my favourite is Mille Mois, by the young Moroccan writer/director Faouzi Bensaidi, surely among the most remarkable feature film debuts in film history. Almost no one I spoke to saw it, and it has apparently not been picked up by a distributor, so, unless it appears on DVD, we shall have to wait until Bensaidi's subsequent films build his reputation and induce someone to 'discover' it. What first struck me about the film (a French/Moroccan/Belgian coproduction--the filmmaker studied in France) is its extraordinary technical/aesthetic assurance: Bensaidi has an already fully developed and mature command of the possibilities of the CinemaScope image, and the film is full of breathtakingly complex and beautiful compositions. …

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