The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: one of the great rock documentaries, about the Rolling Stones’ fateful Altamont show in 1969, a thriller about Oregon eco-terrorists, and an old-fashioned melodrama about an immigrant navigating 1920s New York City.
Directed by Albert Maysles and David Maysles
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
“This could be the greatest party of 1969,” Rolling Stones manager Sam Cutler tells an unsporting crowd of several hundred thousand at the infamous Altamont Free Concert late in Albert and David Maysles’s direct-cinema classic Gimme Shelter. If only. A bracing record of the last leg of the tour that culminated in four deaths in one show, including the killing of a young man by members of the Hells Angels (incredibly hired as concert security), Gimme Shelter is the rare rock documentary that’s simultaneously historically relevant, formally interesting, and just plain absorbing.
Gimme Shelter has become a fixture on lists of essential documentaries, and for good reason. On the one hand its subject, an enormous free concert that quickly turned from love-in to near zombie apocalypse, is an ideal vehicle for the Maysles brothers’ observational, fly-on-the-wall aesthetic, which traded techniques of standard nonfiction filmmaking (interviews, voiceovers, and so on) for something more free-floating. In retrospect, it also plays like a perfectly sculpted time capsule for the instant that 1960s idealism curdled into 1970s cynicism, with an increasingly vacant-eyed Mick Jagger, unable to rein in either his audience or his security team, as its desperate hero.
Memorable as both its loose style and volatile content are, what lingers long after the crushing finale of Jagger watching the violent footage from his own show back on an endless loop are the lyrical moments. Rolling Stones fans will find a lot to love, but we’re especially partial to the fragments of a Tina and Ike Turner rendition of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”—scored over images of the band flirting with fans backstage—and a woozy, time-tripping montage of Jagger sauntering his way through “Love in Vain” in calmer times, before the fateful show.
The screening, co-presented by NXNE, will be preceded by a DJ set. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Kelly Reichardt makes slow-burning movies, the kind you have to lean into with patience to appreciate. Though for the better part of its running time it’s nearly a silent film, showing its characters at work and in thought, Night Moves is arguably Reichhardt’s most mainstream effort to date—a no-nonsense, direct look at three young radical environmentalists who plot to blow up a dam. Set in the same region as her last film, Meek’s Cutoff, which was a minimalist portrait of 19-century homesteaders roving aimlessly across the Oregon Trail, the film has a more immediate hook and more obvious genre appeal as a procedural thriller. Yet it’s clearly the work of the same filmmaker—an artist more interested in the smouldering aftermath of a bomb blast than in the gory details of the explosion.
Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard star as the loosely affiliated group of Oregon activists, whose motivations are not elucidated beyond the general ideas you might expect: casual disdain for the way the dam—and, by extension, our smartphone-saturated, energy-hogging lives—casually disrupts salmon migration. We meet them initially during the planning phase of their attack, when they’re engaged in the mundane work of buying materials and securing a boat to transport them, which in Reichardt’s capable hands is thrilling stuff.
There’s an ominous weight to these moments, as well as to Reichardt’s offhanded staging of the actual bombing, which we watch at a remove, from the inside of the trio’s truck. It’s the long, tense fallout from the explosion, though, that makes this one of the more haunting films of the year, a paranoid thriller about the way the air seems to get sucked out of the room the moment one becomes haunted by one’s past.
Directed by James Gray
The Royal (608 College Street)
The finest American filmmaker most Americans haven’t heard of, James Gray has been telling uncommonly rich stories about the hardscrabble lives of second- and third-generation immigrant families making their way in New York City since his 1994 debut, Little Odessa, earning critical praise in Europe and box office shrugs domestically. With The Immigrant he flips the calendar back to the early 20th century, making the kind of beautifully realized, character-driven period piece that’s been all too scarce since The Godfather trilogy.
Marion Cotillard stars as Ewa, a young Polish woman who arrives in 1920s New York hoping to build a better life for herself and her sister Magda. Those dreams are soon dashed when Magda is quarantined for tuberculosis, and Ewa is advanced into the country only on the recommendation of the suspicious Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), who hears her passable English and notices her considerable beauty and sees money in both. With that ambiguous favour comes a price, as Ewa learns when Bruno initiates her into his burlesque company, to pay her dues, and nudges her into sex work, while harbouring not-so-secret private designs on her himself.
That the film’s title could refer either to Ewa or to Bruno, a Jewish-American hustler who might well be an ancestor to some of Gray’s earlier protagonists (many played by Phoenix), is a testament to the film’s complexity as a character study of two wildly different people bound to each other by accidents of economics and geography. Cotillard is wonderful in what is surely her best work in English: it’s a quiet, largely reactive turn, and Cotillard lets us watch Ewa think her way through major decisions without signposting them. Phoenix is just as strong, bringing a feral intensity to his boorish, self-hating loser. And Gray never lets them down, crafting a classy, old-fashioned melodrama around their nicely modulated performances—an intimate two-hander that doubles as an indelible portrait of a specific historical moment.