As a means of rounding up Toronto’s various cinematic goings-on each week, Movie Mondays compiles the best rep cinema and art house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements.
Usually this column makes a point of rounding up the best art and crappy cult films playing in town in a given week. But this week, a special treat: four art films! Four! Each artier than the next! And not a single one of them expendable!
Don’t let the title and your poor grasp on the French language fool you. Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 feature-length debut À Bout de Soufflé is not about a soufflé at all. Not even a little a bit. What À Bout de Soufflé (a.k.a. Breathless) is about is a slick chain-smoking Parisian hipster (Jean-Paul Belmondo) stylishly eluding arrest after shooting a motorcycle cop. As he bops around from café to café, he shacks up with a flighty young American woman (Jean Seberg), and the two hatch a plan to escape to Italy. Godard once remarked that all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, and in Breathless he proves his theory with virtuosity. Though propelled by Belmondo’s random act of violence (he finds a gun in the glove compartment of a car he hotwires on a whim), the film is sustained by the effortless beauty of Seberg, whose pixie-pretty haircut and clinging New York Herald Tribune sweater make her Godard’s most enduring on-screen beauty (with apologies to Anna Karina, Brigitte Bardot, and Jane Fonda).
But besides the busty babes and laissez gunplay, Breathless served as the pace-car for the career of a director who would consistently redefine the aesthetic boundaries of the cinema. And with its jerky editing rhythms and general narrative insouciance, Breathless feels as vibrant today as it must have fifty years ago. Even better: the film has been painstakingly restored on the occasion of its golden anniversary, with the new circulating print so crisp it could pass for Criterion’s recent Blu-Ray release. But of course all these boasts would be pointless if the film wasn’t playing in town. Well good news, everyone: it is. The gorgeous new Breathless print is unspooling at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West) all week, sometimes screening two or three times a day (check listings here), so you have no real excuse to miss it. If you’ve never seen the film, treat yourself to this undisputed classic of French New Wave cinema. And if your DVD copy is all laser-worn and unreadable, make a point to take in this new, stunning transfer. You’d swear you were seeing it for the first time.
Speaking of incredibly crisp masterpieces of French New Wave Cinema: Sly Stallone’s The Expendables isn’t one. But it’s no less artful in its competent lensing of chiselled male bodies and exploding head élan. It was also probably the second most fun movie of this summer, nipping at the heels of our beloved Scott Pilgrim. And don’t just take our word for it. Even the high-minded cinephile aesthetes have been championing Stallone’s action hero epic. In the latest issue of Cinema Scope, Christoph Huber calls the film “serious filmmaking,” an endorsement from a mag more prone to campaigning for the delicacies of directors like Apichatpong and Costa.
And as Huber also knows, “[w]hile other current revivals of Cold War–era action models, like Joe Carnahan’s abysmal The A-Team, thrive on a paradoxical, hypocritical mix of superficial nostalgia (in their reprise of ancient success formats) and historical denial (of their circumstances and intentions, which at best are good for ironic disdain), Stallone’s film has ingrained within it the history, not just by virtue of its casting, but as part of the auteur’s sensibility.” So in short, yes, it ranks up there with all the kick-ass ’80s action films it equally homages and apes. See for yourself as The Expendables enters its second run at The Fox starting at 9:30 p.m. on Monday.
As much as the 1980s in American cinema were marked by cheesy, muscle-bound action romps, there were also some top-shelf blockbusters that would redefine (for better or worse) the entire landscape of Hollywood filmmaking. Chief amongst these—well, after maybe Jaws and the Star Wars films—is Stephen Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Like Star Wars, Raiders did for ’30s and ’40s genre serials what The Expendables did for ’80s action flicks: expertly repackage their charms, while transcending their constituent parts in the process. Still one of the most fun blockbusters ever made (with zero apologies to Inception), Radiers‘ mix of swashbuckling archaeological adventure, supernatural fantasy, and Nazi intrigue still holds up wonderfully. See it as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen at The Bloor at 9:10 p.m. on Thursday. And don’t let the conniving René Belloq try and stop you.
And now back to the art. In case you missed it when it played at TIFF (where we raved about it) or its subsequent limited engagement at the Lightbox, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s excellent Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is now making its rounds through Toronto’s rep cinemas. A graceful, and often very funny, sketch of life, death, and rebirth, Uncle Boonmee has even managed to impress those who have found Apichatpong’s other films a little, well, docile. It’s an excellent film, and if you’re at all eager to see what all the fuss is about, you can catch Uncle Boonmee this week at The Royal, where its limited engagement begins at 9 p.m. on Friday.
Photos by Eugen Sakhnenko/Torontoist.