Monday 1 October 2012

TIFF12 - Day 11

OK, I'll admit it...Maybe it was the tiredness that made me susceptible, but I kinda fell a bit in love with director Nina Davenport during her latest documentary First Comes Love. I was already a fan due to two of her excellent prior films (Operation: Filmmaker and Parallel Lines), but the deeply personal nature of the story of her quest to become a single mother (at the age of forty) is one of the best examinations of the joys and pitfalls of becoming a parent that I've seen. It can also rejuvenate your faith in humanity. As she works through the decision, the insemination (through a close male friend), the pregnancy, the birth and the first year of her son's life, she follows it all with her camera. We get to know her friends, her family, her past and there's a great deal of warmth and humour in her life. She gets incredible support, advice and true commitment from the people around her and as well as a great deal of constructive criticism. Well, except from her Dad - his criticism isn't overly constructive. Her mother, though, is all over the film in old family holiday reels and Nina's own footage shot around the house. You can literally see the impact she had on her daughter...As for Nina, she's nothing if not as honest as she can possibly be - brutally honest sometimes. But even in front of her own camera, we can tell that she somewhat idealizes her own childhood. Of course, I'm totally biased since I'm a parent and can't help but flashback to my own experiences as a father, so I don't know if everyone will have the same emotional responses I did. All I know is I had them. In a dead heat with Rhino Season as best of the fest.

I don't know how many others were fans of Eva Sorhaug's previous film Cold Lunch - an austere, cold and difficult film - but I greatly enjoyed it at TIFF a few years back. Her latest, 90 Minutes, is a step forward in her filmmaking as it takes a razor-sharp, focused look at what can happen when the male role of being a provider gets taken away. It's also a grueling, unflinching and makes her last film feel like a sitcom. Across three separate stories - an old married couple, a middle aged recently divorced couple and a young adult boyfriend/girlfriend living together (though when we join their story, it's likely that he's the only one thinking "boyfriend/girlfriend") - we spend some nerve-wracking minutes with these men as they realize, for various reasons, that their primary dominant bread-winning roles have come to an end. We visit each story 3 times - a short 5 minute intro to each, then lengthy 20 minute arcs and finally a 5 minute coda per - and it's frankly hard to watch at times. The coldness of the environment and the people is all around and it feels stifling while each man attempts to regain control of the fate of their mates. Harrowing and not something I need to watch again, it's also worldclass filmmaking with a serious point to make. And even a shred of hope at the end...

Let me just get this out of the way right now: I'm a Kiyoshi Kurosawa fanboy. Nobody uses sound and light together better than Kurosawa. So when I heard that his made-for-TV film was going to be presented in its entirety at TIFF, I rejoiced. Yes, there was actual rejoicing in my household. I mean, what better way to program your 39th and final film of an 11-day film festival then by making it an almost 5 hour, atmospheric, Japanese mini-series? I suppose last year's 15-hour The Story Of Film wasn't too shabby of a way either, but whatever - I was psyched. Told in five chapters, Penance works its way through the story of four young girls who witnessed the kidnapping of a friend, but never told the police any information about the man they saw even after learning their schoolmate has been found dead. The mother of the murdered young girl vows that unless the girls help find the killer, they will each pay a severe penance. After the initial setup, the first four chapters check back in with each one of the girls 15 years later. And so does the mother. The girls are all facing different issues and their penance is paid in different ways. Kurosawa brings a ghostly feel to these four stories by playing with, you guessed it, sound and light. A flickering light (like someone is bouncing sunlight off the girls faces) returns in all the chapters and subtle aural cues abound (along with my favourite device - the sudden and complete dropout of all noise). The fifth and final story brings everything back to the mother and her final search for the man who committed this act years ago. While the previous sections each have their own feel, they all live within a prickly tense bubble. The mother's, however, goes for full melodrama. Unlike many other people who saw it, I don't have a problem with that approach, but the implementation of that final chapter (and its plot points) is a bit hit or miss in how it tries to wrap things up. In the end, though, that means I got 4 pretty brilliant hours out of 4 and a half. I'll take that any day.

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