We stand on guard for thee

As ever, TIFF sets the tone for the con­ver­sa­tion on Cana­dian cin­ema

NOW Magazine - TIFF - - FILM FESTIVAL PREVIEW - By JOHN SEM­LEY

We may take our home­grown cin­ema for granted, lost as it is in that weird black hole of seem­ing nei­ther Hol­ly­wood enough nor for­eign enough, and watch as most Cana­dian films (or EnglishCana­dian films any­way) nobly floun­der at the box of­fice.

But be­lieve it or not, plenty of peo­ple come to TIFF to see Cana­dian films.

Be­tween the an­nual fes­ti­val and its Canada’s Top Ten fete (usu­ally an ex­cuse to re­launch films that pre­miered at the fes­ti­val), TIFF plays a cru­cial canon-form­ing role in defin­ing the land­scape of our na­tional cin­ema. So if you don’t go see at least one Cana­dian film, you are a Bad Cana­dian and should not be al­lowed vote. (Just kid­ding. No­body in Canada votes any­way.)

Trend-spot­ting-wise, some in­ter­est­ing stuff is go­ing on in CanCin that’s re­flected in this year’s lineup. Most no­tably, the an­glo in­dus­try seems keen to make good on the suc­cess of Que­be­cois films by, well, remaking Que­be­cois films in English. Don McKel­lar’s The Grand Se­duc­tion is a re­make of the 2003 French-Cana­dian com­edy. It’s co-writ­ten by Michael Dowse (whose The F Word is also pre­mier­ing at TIFF; see my top 5 picks, page 18) and Ken Scott (who’s just re­made his own French-lan­guage film, Star­buck, in Hol­ly­wood, star­ring Vince Vaughn).

The English-lan­guage re­make of La Grande Sé­duc­tion may serve as a lit­mus test to see if sto­ries can cross the lan­guage bar­rier. It cer­tainly can’t be worse than Cana­dian film­mak­ers’ pre­vi­ous at­tempts to pan­der to an­glo and franco au­di­ences simultaneously. (See Bon Cop, Bad Cop. Ac­tu­ally, scratch that. Don’t see Bon Cop, Bad Cop.)

Much-lauded Que­be­cois di­rec­tor De­nis Vil­leneuve makes his ma­jor English-lan­guage de­but (not count­ing the an­glo ver­sion of 2009’s Polytech­nique) with En­emy. Jake Gyl­len­haal plays a his­tory pro­fes­sor track­ing down an ac­tor who looks un­can­nily like him. Nat­u­rally, this be­ing a film, their lives be­come in­sep­a­ra­bly twinned as the line be­tween para­noia and re­al­ity blurs. Is Vil­leneuve’s dop­pel­gänger theme a com­ment on what he per­ceives as the false schism be­tween French- and English-lan­guage cin­ema in Canada? Dunno. But you could almost cer­tainly write an up­per-level cin­ema stud­ies pa­per about that.

Speak­ing of the much-lauded: Xavier Dolan suc­cess­fully shed his ob­nox­ious, over­stated “wun­derkind!” trap­pings with last year’s beau­ti­fully af­fect­ing Lau­rence Any­ways. I’m not sure if I buy TIFF’s pro­gram-copy claim that he’s Canada’s “true cin­e­matic poet of de­sire” (what is Fubar II about if not stymied ho­moso­cial bond­ing?), but I cau­tiously await his ru­ral thriller, Tom At The Farm.

English-lan­guage film­mak­ers are do­ing some trap­pings-shed­ding, too. Con­sid­er­ing the way Toronto film­maker In­grid Veninger’s ear­lier films (2010’s Mo­dra and 2011’s I Am A Good Per­son/I Am A Bad Per­son) suc­cess­fully drew on her own fam­ily his­tory for dra­matic res­o­nance, her lat­est, The An­i­mal Project, seems like its own an­i­mal. Aaron Poole (Small Town Mur­der Songs) plays a the­atre di­rec­tor who dresses his troupe in an­i­mal cos­tumes and sends them into the world in hopes of in­spir­ing them. It may not be the sort of hy­per-per­sonal near-meta-fic­tion Veninger de­fined her ca­reer with, but The An­i­mal Project seems to sim­i­larly prod the re­la­tion­ship be­tween in­te­ri­or­ity and out­side world.

Else­where, Jonathan Sobol’s The Art Of The Steal flips the stan­dard suc­cess-story script of Cana­dian ac­tors de­camp­ing to Hol­ly­wood to val­i­date their suc­cess by bring­ing to­gether Amer­i­can ( Kurt Rus­sell, Matt Dil­lon), Cana­dian ( Jay Baruchel, Ken­neth Welsh) and Bri­tish ( Ter­ence Stamp) ac­tors. Our his­tory of at­tempts to pull off Amer­i­can-style genre films feels at times a bit like a botched heist. As Cana­dian crime movies go, it’ll almost cer­tainly be bet­ter than Fool­proof. But will it be as good The Silent Part­ner?

Also: Robert Lepage is in the Masters pro­gram with his lat­est, Trip­tych (co-di­rected with Pe­dro Pires). Lepage has some Ju­tras un­der his belt, sure. But a “master”? Of the cin­ema?

Cana­dian con­tent, eh?

The Grand Se­duc­tion

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