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culture

Rep Cinema This Week: Señoritas, Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater, and Wellness

The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.

Still from Señoritas.

At rep cinemas this week: a Toronto filmmaker’s feature debut about a twentysomething Colombian woman, a look at the friendship between American filmmakers Richard Linklater and James Benning, and a tragicomedy about a travelling salesman.


Señoritas
Directed by Lina Rodriguez

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Showtimes


Despite a zeitgeist-encapsulating title that will likely invite comparisons with Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls, Colombian-born, Toronto-based filmmaker Lina Rodriguez’s accomplished feature debut Señoritas is very much its own thing, a keenly observed portrait of the family and social life of a young Colombian woman. An untraditional coming-of-age story that focuses on its protagonist’s rich sensory experience of the world more than on any transformative personal development, Señoritas is as attuned to the sights and sounds of Bogotá, Colombia, as it is to its characters’ sometimes fumbling, usually earnest attempts to articulate themselves.

María Serrano stars as Alejandra, a twentysomething who lives with her mother—the kind of supportive but concerned parent who encourages her daughter to down a glass of juice before heading out for the night, the better to soak up the drinks to come. Much of the film focuses on Alejandra’s nightlife in the company of a small, rotating cast of young men, but there’s nothing moralizing about the way Rodriguez captures these scenes as a string of incidents in a life defined mostly by its formlessness and flow. Indeed, what most impresses about Señoritas is its strong sense of rhythm—the way it puts us in Alejandra’s shoes in one dark night’s walk to a party in heels, captured in an anxious long take that tracks her from behind, and the way it gets momentarily lost at one point in Alejandra’s repetitive workout routine, the sort of bodily maintenance you rarely see in films about young people, let alone women.

Rodriguez and producer Brad Deane will be on hand at Friday’s 7 p.m. screening for an audience Q&A.


Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater
Directed by Gabe Klinger
20140818doubleplay

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Saturday, August 23, 6:30 p.m.


On the face of it, Richard Linklater and James Benning don’t seem to have much in common. Despite his status as one of the luminaries of American independent filmmaking, the Texas-born Linklater has worked largely within the confines of narrative cinema, at most a couple of steps away from the mainstream—while the Wisconsin-born Benning has honed his craft as an avant-garde filmmaker prone to exploring the effects of duration on still, serenely observed landscapes. Yet after Linklater invited Benning to be the inaugural visiting guest at his newly formed Austin Film Society in 1985, the two filmmakers struck up an unusual friendship, the subject of Gabe Klinger’s unassuming documentary Double Play, which dwells on the men’s amiable conversations about their respective processes, as well as the intersections and disjunction between their work.

Produced for André S. Labarthe’s series Cinéastes de notre temps, Klinger’s film is an intimate and delicately constructed video essay. Double Play is sensitive to the easy-going rhythms of its subjects’ dialogue and to the formal and thematic preoccupations of their films, which are excerpted and juxtaposed in a playful and illuminating manner. Klinger makes a particularly fine point about the accidental symmetries between Linklater’s recent Boyhood, which follows the development of its protagonist (and the actor who plays him) over the course of a 12-year shoot in discrete yearly sections, and Benning’s 13 Lakes (2004), which unfolds through 13 consecutive static shots, each a portrait of a different lake. Whatever their formal differences—which they respectfully bicker over with the air of old friends—the two artists obviously share a certain conceptual interest in the way film can observe time, and to its credit, so does Klinger’s evocative profile, which gracefully alternates between the men’s younger days and a present-day chat over a game of catch.

Double Play screens as part of TIFF’s Free Screen series. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the box office beginning at 5 p.m. on Saturday.


Wellness
Directed by Jake Mahaffy
20140818Wellness

Double Double Land (209 Augusta Avenue)
Tuesday, August 19, 9 p.m.


Initially toured around festivals in the months before the 2008 financial meltdown, Jake Mahaffy’s Wellness now feels like a haunted time piece and a slice of sad Americana. Following a lonely travelling salesman as he attempts to pitch a miracle vitamin supplement called Wellness to mostly hostile would-be marks who couldn’t afford to invest in it even if they wanted to, the film is a tragicomic character study of a contemporary Willy Loman who gives just about all he has to his empty product.

Produced for next to nothing and shot on the fly with a handheld camera, Wellness takes a pseudo-documentary approach to the ambles of its central character, the hopeless Thomas Lindsey, played with resolve and quiet desperation by the superb Jeff Clark. As Lindsey’s journey wears on, the increasingly rumpled Clark gives a restrained performance that brings out both his character’s desperation and his dignity. Although Lindsey’s useless odyssey into Pennsylvania certainly becomes sad, Mahaffy often strikes a nice comic note amid all the struggle, letting the absurdity of Lindsey’s pyramid scheme pitches hang uneasily in the air between Lindsey, his immediate audience, and us.

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