The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
Directed by Giulio Paradisi
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
It’s hard to convey the sheer lunacy of 1979’s The Visitor, a daffy near-gem from the exquisitely named Italian director Giulio Paradisi, without citing the broad range of films from which it pilfers—a list that spans everything from The Greatest Story Ever Told to Rosemary’s Baby. Rather than plow through the titles more systematically, let us simply say that it seems compiled, with a breathtaking indifference to tone and narrative coherence, from the detritus of every horror film about a demon child and every space opera about a lone crusader sent to do battle with an evil force.
The story follows the exploits of a satanic cult that hopes to breed itself into infinity by impregnating poor Barbara (Joanne Nail) with a male child who will serve as a brother and eventual lover to his already evil sister Katy (Paige Conner), a sinister 8-year-old with a penchant for hurling deranged birds at her enemies. Humanity’s only hope lies in a competing cult run by itinerant alien Jerzy Colsowicz—director John Huston, in only the second most curious casting decision after Franco Nero’s uncredited appearance as Jesus Christ—and his cadre of benevolent bald children.
The Visitor is a surprisingly tedious sit, given the absurd plot and the glut of celebrity cameos, including Lance Henriksen, Shelley Winters, and, why not, Western master Sam Peckinpah. Its pacing could charitably be called slack. But its obsession with remixing better-established film plots into its own strange concoction is never less than inspired: We’ve seen evil children hiding under Lolita sunglasses before, for example, but have we seen them commit murder by astral projection while they lounge in their favourite basketball team jerseys? A special citation must also go to the dialogue, never better than when a team of crack investigators deliberates over Katy’s unusual coolness after shooting her mother in the back at a birthday party: “That bugs me, man. It really bugs me.” As it should.
The Visitor’s limited engagement is co-presented by Fangoria Magazine and Films We Like. Lock up your birds.
Expedition to the End of the World
Directed by Daniel Dencik
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
The best sea novels feel like roving salons—chatty discussions among a motley crew of experts stuck in a confined space en route to strange new lands. Expedition to the End of the World, a documentary by Danish filmmaker Daniel Dencik, captures some of the inherent excitement of that conceit, sending an interdisciplinary team of artists and scientists to the top of Greenland, where the melting North Pole briefly opens up a channel for them to sail through.
That’s an admittedly contrived set-up, and it hurts the film, which is more impressive in concept than in execution. One craves a bit more insight about the Arctic and the extreme experience it results in for both scientists and arts-types, and could do with fewer of the pronouncements we get here—tired nuggets like “The only thing an artist is good at is not knowing something,” and “Who wouldn’t want to be a bird and fly?” Who indeed?
Still, this is a refreshingly quiet and meditative film, especially impressive given its potential to degrade into more standard eco-political commentary on global warming. It’s also beautifully lensed, capturing the sublimity of the surroundings more astutely in its images than in its occasionally charming but often familiar narration about the sublime.
The Broken Circle Breakdown
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen
The Royal (608 College Street)
Whatever else you might say about The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium’s selection to compete in the Best Foreign Film category at the upcoming Academy Awards, it surely has the best cinematic depiction of a bluegrass band performance at a hospital bedside in some time, if such a precedent even exists. An overlong and undercooked melodrama about a bohemian couple’s efforts to hold it together when their six-year-old daughter is diagnosed with cancer, Felix Van Groeningen’s film is, as that set piece suggests, an odd mix of naturalism and romanticism, with predictably inconsistent results.
Screenwriter Johan Heldenbergh, who also authored the play on which his script was based, plays Didier, a banjo-playing singer-songwriter who loves bluegrass, American individualism, and his partner Elise (Veerle Baetens), a tattoo artist and free spirit who, in the film’s fractured timeline, is eventually revealed to be the mother of his precocious child, Maybelle. Though they’re bound by their shared eccentricities (and evidently their careers, as Elise soon becomes the band’s frontwoman), the couple is tested by Maybelle’s illness and their respective beliefs about what it means—his atheist fatalism clashing against her faith in the afterlife.
Groeningen takes an ambitious approach to Heldenbergh’s unorthodox text, presenting watershed moments in the couple’s relationship out of sequence, withholding major information, and constantly switching up the film’s style. Didier and Elise’s performances are presented as dreamlike musical interludes, for example, while their fights have a naturalistic urgency to them. The project is obviously a labour of love for all involved, but one wishes these diverging tones and styles gelled into something more substantial than the bizarre concoction of anti-Americanism and New Age spiritualism we end up with. A more coherent product would have been more deserving of the actors’ rich performances.