The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: Canada’s longest-running Latin film festival, a resurrected cult favourite from the ’80s, and Leos Carax’s endlessly inventive star vehicle.
aluCine Toronto Latin Film + Media Arts Festival
Jackman Hall AGO (317 Dundas Street West)
Founded in 1995, aluCine (otherwise known as the Toronto Latin Film + Media Arts Festival) has since become one of Canada’s largest and longest-running Latin film festivals. It gives a platform to new and established filmmakers who are based either in Latin America or in Canada.
The festival kicks off its screening series on Wednesday with the Canadian premiere of Juan Andrés Arango’s La Playa DC, which screened in the prestigious Un Certain Regard programme at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Arango’s feature debut is a coming-of-age story about a pair of Afro-Columbian brothers navigating the streets of Bogota. Scored to hip-hop and pitched somewhere between the observational cinema of the Dardennes brothers and the youthful verve of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, it’s an auspicious first film, even if its subject matter and tone are a bit familiar.
In addition to celebrating new talents like Arango, the festival’s organizers are also spotlighting the work of more established filmmakers. They will, among other things, be mounting a retrospective of the experimental shorts of Raul Ferrera-Balanquet, which span both video art and dramatic monologue, slipping with ease from Spanish to English. The films, made over the course of more than two decades (up to and including 2013’s Mariposa Ancestral Memory), interrogate the filmmaker’s complex history as a queer Cuban exile and political radical. They’re performance pieces, set to a mixture of archival footage and interviews.
Those seeking more variety than this auteurist sidebar can offer might wish to take in one of the festival’s many anthologies of short films. Saturday afternoon’s programme of Afro-Brazillian documentaries, which examine racial identity in contemporary Brazil, are a nice compliment to both the opening-night film and the Ferrera-Balanquet retrospective, while “Contemporary Visions Canada,” screening on Thursday, offers a range of new work from Latin-Canadian filmmakers.
Directed by Woo-sang Park and Y.K. Kim
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
You could argue that Miami Connection owes its status as a cult phenomenon mostly to the efforts of Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson, who in 2009 first brought the 1987-made martial arts curio to the genre-hungry audience it always deserved. It would be a crime, though, to downplay the efforts of directors Woo-sang Park and Y.K. Kim in bringing this moony-eyed baby to life. Tempting as it is to celebrate the strange fruit of their labour as transcendentally bad storytelling, only the worst cynic could deny their good spirit and their savant-like genius for comic set pieces.
A martial-arts musical about a showdown between Orlando-based Taekwondo-fighting musical artists and some motorcycle-riding ninjas with a grip on the city’s cocaine trade, Miami Connection feels like a bizarre mirror image of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Kim, credited as a grandmaster, stars as the nigh-incomprehensible leader of the good-guy pack, a multiracial synth-rock troupe known as Dragon Sound, whose members devote their off-nights to cleaning up the streets in the name of of nonviolence.
Of course, one might wonder how that message squares with Dragon Sound’s preferred method of peacekeeping: systematically maiming their enemies. But it’s a testament to the directors’ and stars’ guilelessness and lightness of tone that you never really ask the question. More than anything, this is a sweet movie with a sublime soundtrack, including the standout cut, a mind-numbingly repetitive but infectious anthem about the protagonists’ abiding friendship, which sticks “through thick and thin”—and presumably also through ninja offensives. It’s a song about loyalty, which is all too fitting given the kind of sincere devotion the film inspires among its followers.
Directed by Leos Carax
Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex Avenue)
The key to Leos Carax’s wickedly smart and genial Holy Motors might be a throwaway moment at the start of its most sobering scene. Frequent Carax collaborator Denis Lavant plays a depressed single father collecting his sullen daughter from a party. As he pulls up to the apartment, he’s greeted by the sounds of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” pulsing from the window, an odd choice for a Parisian teen dance party, but an appropriate one for the film, which costars Minogue as a seasoned performer nostalgic for the old parts she’s played.
Though it scans as a joke, that sly callback to Minogue’s career (despite the fact that she isn’t, ostensibly, playing herself) is central to Carax’s project—a warm tribute to actors and to the real moments of tenderness couched in every unreal performance they pull off. Lavant, it should be explained, isn’t playing the father so much as a man (identified only as Monsieur Oscar) who’s tasked with playing him. Oscar is something like a hybrid between a professional actor and a secret agent: based in a limo that roams the streets of Paris at night, he gets his assignments in a manilla envelope, then drives off to play whatever small-time crook, banker, or uncouth imp the situation demands. As the Minogue reference suggests, though, on some level Lavant is also playing himself, an actor of great range in a particular body that’s carried along with him to every performance, rather like the titular car.
Holy Motors will be most enjoyable to viewers who have a passing familiarity with Lavant’s prior work, particularly his lithe, full-bodied performances in Carax’s Mauvais sang and Claire Denis’s Beau travail. But the manic energy of the lighter segments and the deep melancholy of Oscar’s last few assignments, which bring him ever closer to his natural persona (or so we think), can be appreciated by anyone who’s ever marvelled at the sheer amount of roles they’ve inhabited over the years—which is to say, anyone.