The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: Volume II of Lars von Trier’s tragicomic sexual biography, a documentary about an outsider artist introduced by Miriam Toews, and a luminous portrait of a single fiftysomething from Chile.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II
Directed by Lars von Trier
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Ever the puckish sort, Lars von Trier originally conceived Nymphomaniac, the sexual biography of a woman (played in youth by Stacy Martin and in the present by Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounted to a kindly but pushy male listener (Stellan Skarsgård), as a five-and-a-half-hour epic, split into two parts and divided into eight chapters. Though over 90 minutes have been trimmed for the North American release— seemingly not by von Trier himself—that structure holds true in the trimmed version, which makes the second volume of Nymphomaniac the back half of a gloomy coming-of-age story that’s indecipherable without its predecessor but a rich successor when considered in its proper context.
While the first volume lays the groundwork for the film’s structural conceit—that wounded storyteller Joe is possibly gaming her patient auditor Seligman by incorporating details from his apartment into her story to get a rise out of him—the second volume more thoroughly explores the pathological implications of the title, picking up Joe’s narrative in a phase in which she is unable to fulfill her needs and hollowed out as a result. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s any less fun: though it’s of a piece with his previous two films (Antichrist, Melancholia) in its clear-eyed view of the debilitating effects of depression, Nymphomaniac is von Trier at his most stylistically accomplished and thematically sophisticated, and there’s real joy in watching Joe and Seligman warily circle each other through their competing narratives about sexuality, religion, and morality. If the final moments feel a bit on the nose, a cheap joke after such a richly constructed story, we can at least grant that von Trier has earned a laugh at his own expense.
Directed by Jeff Malmberg
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
One of the strongest entries in a recent spate of documentaries about outsider art, Jeff Malmberg’s Marwencol profiles the unusual mind of Mark Hogancamp, who after being severely beaten outside of a bar in his hometown emerged from a brain-altering coma and began to assemble an alternate world in his backyard. Modelling his creation—a weird utopia peopled by Barbie dolls in period garb depicting his family and friends—after a small postwar Belgian village, Hogancamp called it Marwencol, and it’s a place with its own history and mythology that can’t help but be infected by his own violent past.
As a document of the hermetic life and work of an obsessive artist, Marwencol is fascinating stuff, walking us through both the artistry and the therapy involved in Hogancamp’s process, as he works through his traumatic memories and rehabilitates his body through the construction of his parallel universe. It’s a bit less successful when it attempts to pit that closed environment against the New York art world, which over the course of the film takes an increasing interest in Hogancamp’s photographs. That prurient interest in the work of a clearly wounded artist is not unlike our own curiosity about what makes him tick, but Malmberg’s film is on firmer ground when it anchors itself in its subject’s world than when it speculates on what inspires us to gawk at it.
Canadian novelist Miriam Toews will introduce the screening as part of the “PEN Picks” programme, which invites some of PEN Canada’s most celebrated authors to present a documentary of their choice.
Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
Theatre actress, director, and playwright Paulina García deservedly took home the Silver Bear prize at the Berlin Film Festival for her effortless performance in Gloria, the fourth feature from Chilean director Sebastián Lelio. García plays a fiftysomething divorcee with hipster glasses and good style, a contentedly single woman who’s nevertheless hoping to find some companionship at one of the singles mixers she goes to most nights.
Those parties are captured at their most buoyant by Lelio, who often finds Gloria walking across the room at a distance in his long, steady takes. The film is at its most rewarding when it’s in this unfussy, observational mode, diving headlong into Gloria’s romantic life, which includes a strange and sad episode with a more recently divorced older man. At times, Lelio leans too hard on the symbolism, as in Gloria’s fraught exchanges with a hairless cat that wanders into her apartment like an obvious harbinger of death, but he’s always reined in by the beautifully modulated work of his lead actress.