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TIFF 2015. Correspondences #3

Our latest Toronto festival correspondence features a look at family crises and a portrait of historical necrophilia.
Eva Doesn’t Sleep
Dear Danny,
Apologies not needed, my friend, downers come with the territory in any festival. I do understand your irritation and boredom with a film like Victoria, especially as a formerly obsessive long-take fetishist. Right before my flight, I watched an old Tay Garnett film which features a slowly zigzagging tracking shot that passes through a bustling crowd, picking up various conversational earfuls along with the off-key beat of a saloon band. It’s a shot that surely must have taken enormous preparation (think of the sheer heft of shooting apparatus back in 1930!), yet Garnett, a rowdy and expedient mechanic, moves on quickly once it’s done, he’s got sailors and flappers to focus on. With weightless cameras and digital lubrication, single-take exercises are too often now little more than “mine’s bigger than yours” contests where the only thing at stake is directorial egotism. No wonder the mind wanders—a technique that Mizoguchi and Preminger would have killed for lies in the hands of ninnies like Schipper and González Iñárritu. (Seize it back, Sokurov!)
But enough of my harangues, back to the festival. I haven’t yet seen In Jackson Heights (though your recommendation has certainly rocketed it to the very top of my too-see list), but I’m with you on the merits of 45 Years. Knowing next to nothing about it as the lights went down, I spent a good deal of its first third praying that it wouldn’t turn out to be a British version of Haneke’s Amour. It is, thankfully, something much more interesting and humane than that, with Andrew Haigh contemplating the fissures opening up between his aged protagonists with a patient and penetrating eye. Precise, pregnant framings are prevalent: In an early moment, the characters talk in the garden while Haigh’s camera stays indoors looking out the window, so that we see them but hear only the ruthless tick-tock of the clock on the wall. Once Swinging London’s perverse lynx and enraged fast-talker revealed now in all their corporeal fragility, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay inhabit their roles with a minimum of fussiness and a maximum of feeling. Funny that you mention The Shining, Danny, because towards the end I half-hoped for a shock cut to Courtenay’s frozen girlfriend à la Jack Torrance. It would have jarred with the film’s subdued tone, of course, but not with its view of life’s past shadows as inescapably physical entities. As Rampling says: “Memories—they’re things, aren’t they?”
45 Years is a mature film, fiercely so, which reminds me of something said by a friend: The works you need to stay away from aren’t the youthful or mature ones, but the middle-aged ones. As if on cue, Nanni Moretti’s My Mother materializes. Maybe that’s too harsh. It’s difficult to get too angry at a film that, after all, aims to address the kind of familial fears we’ve at one point or another experienced or at least thought about. Actually, it’s difficult to get too anything at it, which is the problem. Moretti’s brand of seriocomic introspection is awash in concerns about creativity and mortality, yet its emotional temperature seldom moves beyond lukewarm. Though he’s limited his onscreen presence to a supporting role, the filmmaker’s self-infatuation still dominates in this story of a stressed-out director (Margheritta Buy) struggling to hold together an Elio Petri-style labor drama while coping with her mother’s deteriorating health. Accustomed to controlling the chaos of her set (a chaos exacerbated by the arrival of a capricious American star played by John Turturro), she finds herself utterly unprepared to deal with private grief. (Dreams and memories slightly fray the flow of the narrative, in the film’s solitary departure from stylistic ordinariness.) It seems strange to praise one film for subtlety and then chide another for the same thing, yet Haigh’s restraint in 45 Years feels acquainted with real pain in ways My Mother’s tidiness can’t begin to suggest. Midway through the film, Moretti’s character advises his sister to “break at least one of your patterns.” That’s advice he might consider heeding himself.
Slinking on a dance floor or heedlessly bellowing the names of Italy’s past masters from a moving car, Turturro gooses his scenes in My Mother with some welcome manic energy. The inimitable Denis Lavant enlivens Pablo Agüero's Eva Doesn’t Sleep with some clowning of his own, playing malevolently with shoelaces and boozily showing off the scars on his torso in a small marvel of a scene, a sustained two-shot staged around a crate in the back of a military truck slowly suffused with sunlight. In the crate is the film’s sacred object, the embalmed corpse of beloved Argentine First Lady Eva Peron, now a pale-bluish glow being passed from one vignette to the next over the course of two decades, pondered by officers, soldiers, and revolutionaries. “The bitch is mine now,” smirks Gael García Bernal as Admiral Massera, the actor’s unexpected resemblance to Anthony Perkins in Psycho hinting at pervy depths Agüero isn’t really interested in plumbing. Interspersed with newsreel footage and plastered with Peron’s iconic portraits, Eva Doesn’t Sleep holds the attention with its conceptual bravura, yet remains bizarrely earthbound and antiseptic, as if it were afraid of its own central idea. (If nothing else, this is certainly the most tasteful account of historical quasi-necrophilia I can think of.) Just as you started to think of more creative approaches to Victoria, Danny, so did I begin to imagine how this same idea would have turned out if handled by someone like Pablo Larraín or, why not, Jesús Franco.
So ends my first batch of viewings. Eager for your next letter, as up ahead I see titles we’ve both been looking forward to. May they be every bit as gloriously weird as they sound.
Keenly,
Fern

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