Johnnie To's Office
As we head into another set of correspondences
at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, I’m faced with a familiar tangle of emotions. Excitement, naturally—it’s impossible for any cinephile not to be thrilled by the sheer amount of movies being screened these next ten days. Anticipation, of course—many filmmakers I admire and love, along with others brimming with premise and vigor, will be showing their newest works, and I greatly look forward to seeing the friends I’ve made since I started coming to the festival in 2008. Yet I can’t help feeling more than a tinge of trepidation as well, and, as my flight nears its destination, the unmistakable anxiety of a bumpkin facing a behemoth materializes palpably.
Make no mistake, the festival is a behemoth, fierce and omnivorous. To assemble even a tentative viewing schedule is to make your way through categories you never knew existed, to glide from one corner of the globe to another and from established masters to untried tyros. How can one do full justice to such a selection? The completist’s albatross, the need to see everything worth seeing (or, more accurately, the dread of missing anything worth seeing), that’s always been a constant traveling companion of mine this time of year. How do you manage it, Danny, in Berlin and Cannes and Locarno? I’m rather envious of your festival proficiency and speed, the way you can, with well-chosen titles and well-chosen words, weave a comprehensive portrait of the whirl around you. A considerably less frequent traveler and fest habitué, to say nothing of an often sluggish writer, I find myself frequently playing catch-up with films as well as reviews. In the course of my stay in Toronto, delight and apprehension are a yin-yang circle perpetually leaking into each another.
That peculiar combination might be what, after all these visits, still keeps me alert and, ultimately, deeply grateful. Even with art-houses and repertoire theaters back home, I crave different forms of cinema. So despite the sheer, engulfing, at times unmanageable enormity of it, TIFF is my yearly Shangri-La, my filmic oasis. Away from work and surrounded by fellow cinephiles, I can speak the language freely and directly. (Have you ever tried discussing the long takes of Tsai Ming-liang with a harried UPS Store customer in downtown San Jose, Danny? It can be a tad one-sided.) This Canadian sojourn is a rare opportunity to escape the quotidian and dive chest-deep into what old man Dreyer used to describe as “my great passion.” The change of environment, the buzz of witnessing a vision unfold in the darkness and the lively arguments that follow, the whole thing is downright rejuvenating to me. Nervous as I may get, I wouldn’t exchange it for the world.
So here we are, side by side at the movies. Your previous (and exceptional, I might add) coverage gives you a good running start, and I plan to see several of the films you’ve already discussed here at MUBI. For our interchange, however, I’m hoping to step a bit outside of my usual auteur-focused boundaries and venture more into uncharted terrain. Sure, I can’t wait to once more hear Terence Davis’ aching musicality of emotion in Sunset Song. And I’m dying to find out what a Johnnie To musical looks and sounds like in Office. Hell, I’m even hoping to experience that elusive aha! moment with Charlie Kaufman in the middle of Anomalisa. But I’m also looking forward to all the filmmakers whose names I didn’t know at the beginning of the festival, and whom by the end I’ll recognize and possibly love. Over to you then, my friend, and let the correspondence begin.