Sunday, September 02, 2007

Festival Flashback : 2005

In the absence of any news or discussion in the days leading up to the festival, I'm going to hop in the wayback machine and take a look at TIFF in 2005 and 2006.

'05 was a heady year for my wife and I. Somehow, we got it into our heads to travel hundreds of miles to attend a fairly expensive and elaborate film festival. I say this not out of regret, but out of odd admiration. I still can't quite believe we do this every single year. The first day of the 2005 festival was definitely one of the best days I've had, starting as it did with a new Terry Gilliam film (Tideland) and following up with a brand-new Quay brothers film (The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes). Yes, it's absolutely one of the highlights of my filmgoing life.

Anyway, before I start getting too deep in the nostalgia here, I'll get this thing going:

Six Favorite Films of 2005 TIFF:

6. The President's Last Bang (Im Sang-Soo)

Imagine JFK crossed with Dr. Strangelove and you might get near the oddball tone of this political thriller. Equal parts hilarious and disturbing, it's the story of the assassination of the South Korean president in the early eighties, in all its half-bungled glory. Great stuff.

5. Cache (Michael Haneke)

Haneke's film has one scene--and those who've seen it know which one I'm talking about--that elicited the best reaction I've ever seen in a packed audience. I won't divulge the moment--it's too shocking to spoil--but I've never heard such a reaction from a group of people before. It was a wave of gasps and screams that lent the moment a credibility and power that no solo viewing could provide. Oh, and the film itself is also pretty damned good.

4. Duelist (Lee Myung-Se)

Confession time: I didn't like this the first time I saw it. The trailer gave the impression that this was a straight-up action flick, sort of a Korean take on Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The movie, though...oh, lord, the movie. Never before have I witnessed a film so distant from its marketing. I guess I knew it was gonna be a change of pace when a marketplace chase turned inexplicably into a slow-motion football game. Or maybe it was when a standard "catch the bad guy" scene included sped-up, Benny Hill-esque running and mugging. Or...well, I could go on, but I'll spare you. It's one of the weirdest movies I've ever seen, with a tone that refuses to play straight. On first viewing, I assumed this was a problem, and hated it accordingly. On further viewings, however, one can see that the narrative hiccups are deliberate, borne out of a need to riff on the very nature of narrative. If one's up for the ride, it's a wonderful experience.

3. The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (Brothers Quay)

A real audience-divider, this is one of my favorite film viewings of all time. Allow me to set the scene: you've been traveling since 6:00 am that morning. You've flown hundreds of miles, driven a hundred or so more, ridden buses and subways, and raced from hotels to box offices to restaurants. You've just watched a very difficult Terry Gilliam film and raced to yet another theater you've never been to in your life to make it to your next screening. Simply put, you're freaking exhausted. And now, you're being asked to process a truly bizarre Brothers Quay experience. Strangely enough, utter exhaustion is actually the best way to watch the Quay's latest oddity. I think it's about a mad scientist who hires a piano tuner to fine-tune his oddball tableaux, and the love that blossoms between the tuner and an amnesiac opera singer the scientist has kidnapped, but I'm not sure. Regardless, there's nothing--nothing--that compares to the experience of nodding off, only to find yourself staring at a gigantic stop-motion doll in a boat, or an entire scene where half the onscreen cast is walking and talking backwards. Pure celluloid madness, through and through.

2. The Proposition (John Hillcoat)

Nick Cave's super-brutal anti-western had the second most memorable audience reaction of the festival: a single "how-did-they-do-that?" gore shot that made the entire audience gasp in unison. The film itself is not bad either. It's got a particularly grungy poetic sensibility that's light years from what Westerns have been producing for the last decade or so.

1. The Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming-Liang)

The world's first long-take intensive, post-apocalyptic porno-musical. That description doesn't really do this amazing film justice. In telling the story of a Taiwan gripped by drought and the slow-burn relationship simmering between two lost souls, Tsai pushes his distinctive style to the breaking point, punctuating his extended scenes of cooking, walking and sex with brash musical sequences that emphasize the distance between his character's dreams and their reality. Dazzling and unforgettable, with a jaw-dropping ending that manages to cram an entire movie's worth of emotions into a handful of shots.

Worst Film:

Neverwas (Joshua Stern)

AKA, oh, good lord, what was I thinking? The Fisher King meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, if they were made by idiots. The festival's nadir, without a doubt.

Film I Most Regret Not Seeing:

The Wild, Wild Rose (1960, Wang Tianlin)

A one-of-a-kind opportunity that I just couldn't find the room for, a phenomenon that is all too common at a festival the size of TIFF. A musical, much of it's soundtrack was used ironically in The Wayward Cloud. And, it was followed by a dialogue with Tsai Ming-Liang, who apparently loves the film. Oh well...

Best Q&A:

Nick Cave, mumbling, shuffling and cracking jokes after The Proposition. Runner-up: Lee Kang-Sheng, also mumbling and shuffling, following The Wayward Cloud.

So that's about it. I could really go on and on about 2005's festival. Nearly every moment is etched in my brain, even two years down the line. It was a great, great experience and I'm going to try to replicate it every year for as long as I can.

1 comment:

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Duelist was my fave of 2005 and I love your description of it! I'm thrilled that I've secured a tix for M this year, can't wait.

Oh, what I would have given to see the Nick Cave Q&A! I was working (in that very theatre) at the time, I didn't even see him. Sounds like it was a great time.