September 7th, 2012

TIFF Day 1

TIFF 2012 had a great start for me yesterday; I went to three films in the TIFF Cinematheque programme, which is entirely free of charge at the festival this year.

The procedure at Bell Lightbox (which last night was subject to information picketing by CEP, whose workers were locked out by Bell) was as follows: a TIFF staff member would begin handing out tickets two hours prior to the film’s start time. Before that, people queued in front of the building. For example, Dial M for Murder was scheduled for 9:15pm. I got in line at 6:30 or so and was fairly close to the front. At 7:15 promptly, a man came down the line and gave everyone one ticket. Then we were free to go; a separate ticket-holders line (just as for any other film) began later. I believe this is a good, fair procedure by TIFF for handling gratis films. Dial M for Murder was officially sold out (I believe there were some seats in the front two rows, but it still counts as a sellout) while the other two free films yesterday, Sans Soleil and Tess, were surprisingly only about two-thirds full.

Sans Soleil (dir. Chris Marker, 1983) was introduced by Cameron Bailey, who noted that this film was the reason he is now artistic director of TIFF, and was being presented in commemoration of Chris Marker, who died on July 29 this year. The film has a dense narration of a woman reading letters from a man who is travelling the world — particularly Japan, Mauritius, and Guinea-Bissau — accompanied by footage supposedly shot by this traveller. There were a few spots where I got impatient, but by the second half of the film I think I started to see what he was trying to accomplish. I am going to come back to this film on DVD because there are certain sections I need to re-watch a couple of times to follow the French narration, but I was glad to see it on 35mm at Jackman Hall yesterday.

Tess (dir. Roman Polanski, 1979) was amazing. I almost didn’t see it because I was afraid the two-hours-and-53-minute long film would be dull, and the airplane-style design of the Lightbox theatres means you have to crawl over a bunch of people if you want to leave. Fortunately the film kept me awake and interested throughout its length. This is a restored version presented digitally and it was visually sumptuous. Okay, Nastassja Kinski isn’t a great actress, and I kept wondering why her accent sounded vaguely Irish (isn’t she German or Czech or something?, I kept thinking) but that doesn’t matter; Kinski was good enough considering the well-plotted source material (Hardy’s novel) and the skill of Peter Firth (no relation to Colin) and other supporting cast. This was Polanski’s first film after he fled the US, having pleaded guilty to the crime of sex with a minor but before sentencing. It was quite odd thinking about that during the film, knowing that separate from the California crime, Polanski had also had a relationship with Nastassja Kinski when she was 15, and in the film she plays a character who is taken advantage of by a much older man, her quasi-cousin. I was thinking to myself, is Polanski trying to justify himself here? Or is he condemning, maybe expiating himself? But I came to no conclusions on that point. Adam Nayman gave an engaging intro to the film; one puzzling thing is that he discussed in some detail the significance of the film’s dedication reading “for Sharon” instead of “to Sharon”. But when the film began, the dedication on screen did say, “to Sharon”. So was this an alteration made in the restoration that Nayman was unaware of? Or had the film’s dedication always been “to Sharon” and Nayman just had it backwards. Personally I don’t see much point in overanalysing a preposition especially when used by a non-native speaker of English. (Sharon Tate was Polanski’s late wife.) According to IMDb, two alternate versions of Tess are 184 minutes and 134 minutes. I guess this 173-minute version is a third cut; I will be interested to find out if a version of that length already existed or is it new in this restoration.

Dial M for Murder (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) is a 3D digital restoration; it was introduced by film theorist David Bordwell, who today posted in his blog a detailed analysis of the film. Interestingly, Bordwell noted that a 3D print of this film had been shown 31 years ago at TIFF (then known as the Festival of Festivals). At the start of the film I thought there was way too much exposition, but it paid off well in the end. Although the movie seems comparable to Rear Window and Rope in that the action is tightly confined to one apartment suite, I found that in plot and tone it was more similar to the work Hitchcock directed for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and other TV anthologies, which I saw within the last two months at Pacific Cinémathèque, also of course I recognized John Williams from three of those episodes, playing the police inspector in Dial M. Throughout the film I was trying to remember whether I had ever seen it before; I think probably I had seen ten minutes of it once when flipping channels on TV, but not the entire film. I did suddenly remember seeing the remake, A Perfect Murder (1998) with Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

TIFF free screenings

Further to my last entry about the TIFF Cinematheque programme of free screenings at the festival, I might mention that the screening of Loin du Viêtnam this Sunday morning looks pretty interesting, but I have a ticket for something else at the same time. Another one, The Bitter Ash, I saw a few years ago in Vancouver; all I remember about it is that some of the (now elderly) actors were in attendance and commenting during the screening and I was annoyed but decided it would be inappropriate to shush them since it was kind of their own film.