We stand on guard for thee
As ever, TIFF sets the tone for the conversation on Canadian cinema
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