Movie Of The Day:
To Each His Own Cinema (dir. Various Artists): Whenever a movie at the festival is projected on digital video, the company responsible for the equipment, Christie, is emblazoned on the screen with the Videodrome-esque tagline, “Welcome To The New Reality.” And every time, it makes my teeth grind, not only because I’m about to see a movie in a format that looks substandard 95% of the time, but because of the blunt (and, sadly, true) assertion that celluloid is on its last legs. I’ve always been critical of the speed at which the digital revolution has taken hold, because the “new reality” hadn’t nearly caught up with the old one in terms of quality, but the technology has improved and presumably will continue to improve until the differences are negligible. But the zeroes and ones simply can’t approximate the tactile wonder of celluloid zipping through a projector at 24 frames per second. As a projectionist in high school and college, I spent untold hours just staring at the film as it ran through the aperture plate, mesmerized by an optical illusion that’s never lost its mystery to me.
Judging by the majority of three-minute shorts that comprise To Each His Own Cinema—an anthology on theaters and movie-going produced in honor of the 60th Cannes Film Festival—I’m not alone. Anxiety over cinema’s imminent death has caused many of the world’s best directors to indulge in depressing nostalgia, paying tribute to outdoor communal movie nights or once-vibrant single-screen palaces that have since gone to seed. Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “The Electric Princess House” expresses the crisis most eloquently, opening with exterior shots of patrons gathering together and buying snacks under a gorgeous canopy of vintage billboards, only to cut to a theater interior of splintered wooden seats and debris scattered around like it was hit by a tornado. There are plenty of brighter bits, too, like Zhang Yimou’s gorgeous short (“Movie Night”) about villagers who gather excitedly to see a movie in a makeshift outdoor setting in the mountains. The tone in films like Zhang's is spirited, but you can’t help but think about the other side of the equation, which relegates the cinema to a bittersweet memory.
As with all anthology movies, To Each His Own Cinema is a mixed bag, though the repetition of these death-of-cinema shorts turned me against it overall. The best clips are the funny ones: The Coen Brothers’ “World Cinema,” starring Josh Brolin (still in No Country For Old Men mode) as a cowboy trying to decide between seeing Jean Renoir’s Rules Of The Game and Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates (His message for the usher: “Tell him the guy in the hat enjoyed the hell out of Climates.”); Roman Polanski’s “Cinema Erotique,” about an inappropriate disturbance during a screening of Emmanuelle; and Elia Suleiman’s “Irtebak,” which reveals the director’s gift for subtle visual comedy. Not too many outright stinkers in the bunch, save for Amos Gitai’s embarrassing scene of a Haifa theater struck by a terrorist bomb and Youssef Chahine’s stirring tribute to himself.
And, oh yeah, the entire anthology was projected on digital video. Welcome to the new reality, suckers. (C+)
Chop Shop (dir. Ramin Bahrani): I missed Bahrani’s widely acclaimed Man Push Cart when it slipped briefly into urban arthouses last year, and now I'm more anxious than ever to catch up with it on DVD. (It comes out in early October.) Chop Shop follows a scrappy 12-year-old who works in a slummy auto parts and repair market outside Shea Stadium in Queens. His job is to rope drivers into steering their business to his boss’ shop, and his snake-oil sales pitch and sheer tenacity are enough to make him invaluable. But that’s not the enterprising kid’s only form of income: He also sells candy bars on the subway, hawks bootleg DVDS on the black market, and generally does everything he can for a buck. Without a proper home or parents, he sleeps in a rathole above the shop and looks after his older sister, who’s finding more dangerous ways to make money. Though Chop Shop is an American film, it feels more like an Iranian movie or the Dardenne Brothers’ Rosetta; Bahrani introduces something like a plot point in the late-going, but he mostly focuses, to riveting effect, on how his young hero hustles and claws through everyday life. Only the variable performances kept me from really loving it. Bonus points, too, for a perfect coda of Big Night-like simplicity. (B+)
Mister Lonely (dir. Harmony Korine): I still don’t get Harmony Korine, whose poetic indulgences in human grotesquerie have struck me in the past as empty provocations. It never occurred to me until his latest—and, for what little it means, greatest—film Mister Lonely that his empathy for these outsiders is genuine and not entirely freaks-on-parade. I was also surprised by the recurring thought that one day, maybe Korine will make a film that I’ll like. He’s always had an exceptional eye, and the widescreen images here are lush and beautiful, even if their significance is obscure, like a Michael Jackson impersonator zipping around on a scooter with a stuffed monkey dangling behind him on a string. Unfortunately, Korine’s story about a Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) and a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) who venture off to a special camp filled with other sad, misunderstood impersonators is so nauseatingly precious that you almost wish he cared less about his characters than he does. I found myself wanting more time with another, unrelated thread featuring Werner Herzog and a bunch of skydiving nuns. Still a failure overall, but two or three films from now, maybe Korine will have turned it around. There’s hope for him yet. (C)
Well, that closes the book for me on TIFF ’07. A very strong festival overall and I’m excited to see some of my favorites make their way out into the world, so the rest of you can join in the discussion. And just because I love making lists, I’ll imitate Noel and leave you with the complete breakdown of what I saw by grade, in order of preference:
A: No Country For Old Men, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, And 2 Days, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, Paranoid Park
A-: Into The Wild, Stuck, Persepolis
B+: Silent Light, Juno, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Atonement, The Orphanage, The Savages, Margot At The Wedding, Chop Shop, Lou Reed’s Berlin
B: Angel, Eastern Promises, I’m Not There, Encounters At The End Of The World, My Winnipeg, Married Life, Operation Filmmaker, King Of California, The Brave One
B-: Control, You The Living, Lust, Caution, The Man From London, Nightwatching, George Romero’s Diary Of The Dead, Very Young Girls
C+: To Each His Own Cinema, Inside
C: Mister Lonely, Son Of Rambow, Redacted, Death Defying Acts, Rendition, Jane Austen Book Club
W/O: The Mother Of Tears, The Princess Of Nebraska, M