The Notebook is covering TIFF with an on-going correspondence between critics Fernando F. Croce Kelley Dong, and editor Daniel Kasman.
Dear Danny and Fern,
The festival has come to an end and exhaustion has caught up to me. The end of press screenings and industry gatherings signals the start of sleep and, whenever awake, reading Jack London’s Martin Eden (sadly, I missed my chance to see Pietro Marcello’s adaptation, which won this year’s Platform award; the book will more than suffice). Having seen so many films in a short timespan means that while I can enjoy a much-needed physical break, my mind is still racing with ideas on the verge of being unearthed. I benefit much from sorting through these and thinking with you, and as always, consider myself very lucky.
You each mention being jolted and throttled, good news amid an assortment of lulls. I'd been searching for such ferocity all throughout the festival until finally I encountered Rose Glass’s Saint Maud, which left me so petrified and perplexed that seconds of the film still interrupt trains of thought in the days since. Glass’s feature debut follows a recently-converted young nurse (Morfydd Clark) whose efforts to save the soul of a dying patient (Jennifer Ehle) hint that she may be obeying the will of a force beyond organized religion. I reserve the last days of the festival's end for public screenings, an invaluable and frequently more alive space (at the end of Albert Serra's Liberté, for instance, the audience did not clap but instead cackled very, very loudly, booming from the theatre to the streets). Such a reactive atmosphere is especially fruitful for Saint Maud, which leads the viewer through chuckles and groans with little warning.
Whether faith or fanaticism, Glass devotes less to the subject of zeal than to the daily rituals of the zealous, involving body and soul in movements big and small. The lonely hilltop estate where Maud cares for Amanda hisses with the noises of the stove, the fan, the creaking of the floorboards, a soundscape so pristine that any words spoken ring like shrill inquisitions. Cross-cuts from preparing Amanda's meals to holding her body during daily stretches create a shrine of deeds dedicated to God with the continuing voiceover of prayers that report on Amanda's path to salvation. The Lord, however, rarely responds; meanwhile, Amanda becomes hostile to Maud's evolution from a sweet prude to a bigot. Maud can only wait for the higher purpose of her calling to reveal itself, but violence (self-flagellation, especially) seems to draw God closer—one of many red flags indicating that Maud is not, in fact, on the straight and narrow path of righteousness. Cinematographer Ben Fordesman chooses to paint spiritual ascension as a mental descent, catching Maud at a canted angle, occasionally with a split diopter (again, Brian De Palma comes to mind). The result is a despicable spiral of maroon, beige, and chestnut, a boldly crafted object that demands to be seen with eyes wide open.
Another public screening with an apt entrance; just as the lights dimmed and commercials concluded, I stumbled into Kiyoshi Kurosawa's To the Ends of the Earth, a film about falling in and out of worlds that contains nothing but warmth and grace. For TV show host Yoko (Atsuko Maeda), a trip to Uzbekistan becomes a transformative journey that illuminates dividing lines between occupations and passions, labor and leisure. Accompanied by a small crew and guide, she endures tourist activities (including a terrifying amusement park ride and an uncooked dish of food) that, through repeated takes and dissatisfied shouts of "Cut!", are overwhelmingly alienating. On camera, she must always perform enjoyment as a vessel for the audience's projection.
Kurosawa's transition between the on-screen smile and off-screen sigh, however, should not be confused for a disparagement of television. There are demands of the content; but these do not diminish the significance of a life constructed by and comprehended through media. And in the number of cameras it uses in a single scene, To the Ends of the Earth at times invokes the meta-narrative of William Greaves's Symbiopsychotaxiplasm. Rather, the central production (a rocky affair, but nothing unusual for its genre) serves as a means of comparison to Yoko's own picture of Uzbekistan.
The film is divided by work hours, switching between each day's filming to Yoko afterwards. Alone, she is at first weighed down by melancholy, provoked by a daunting dream of quitting this job and becoming a singer, and a homesick desire to be reunited with her boyfriend, who she constantly texts, hoping to pierce through the timezone difference. With a barely comprehensible map in hand, Yoko wanders into the corners of the country and meets both the mundane and majestic (a goat tied to a fence, an orchestra performing in a legendary theatre), moments that the rest of the crew deem inappropriate and unwanted by their audience but are, for Yoko, silently revelatory. With more opportunities to get lost come even scarier anxieties, but every time Yoko conquers her nervousness, like when she successfully finds her hotel or safely passes by groups of men, inspires an invisible burst of encouragement that continually reconfigures her relation to this foreign nation, and her belief that her dreams will come true. Though she is only later handed an actual camera by a member of the crew, Yoko has been making a movie all along.
Now onto other journeys and other movies.
Until next time,