The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: Chris Marker’s playful look at Paris in 1962, Claire Denis’s nasty revenge thriller, and a documentary about the Latin American rockabilly scene in Los Angeles.
Le Joli Mai
Directed by Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme
Carlton Cinema (20 Carlton Street)
While Chris Marker was completing his best-known work, La Jetée, a landmark sci-fi montage on the nature of photography and memory, he was simultaneously developing Le Joli Mai, a two-part, episodic meditation on France’s past and future inspired by the end of the Algerian War in 1962—the nation’s first war-free moment since 1939.
Co-directed by cinematographer Pierre Lhomme, the essay filmmaker’s characteristically digressive and erudite project was compiled from over 55 hours of footage, grounded in impromptu interviews on the streets of Paris, covering issues as diverse as De Gaulle’s France, the cinema, and modern dating.
As in his masterpiece Sans Soleil, Marker is most at home in the startling moments that come out of uncontrolled encounters between unrehearsed subjects and the camera, among them a suit salesman’s surly complaint that Last Year at Marienbad, directed by Marker’s friend and collaborator Alain Resnais, sailed clean over his head. Despite the film’s serious engagement with then-contemporary politics as well as its anthropological bent, Marker is less interested in crafting an encyclopedic look at a particular place and time than in attending to the odd tangential details that define it. His best subjects, to that end, are the various cats he lovingly frames throughout, their inscrutable expressions a ledger for the infinite paradoxes of France’s puzzling new situation. The grin of the cheshire cat is perhaps the key motif of Marker’s cinema—in later years, he was famously prone to using an image of his cat Guillaume as his avatar for director bios—and it’s rarely put to better use than here, in a hysterical montage that cuts between a heady discussion of how increased automation will rob French workers of their jobs and a succession of close-up inserts of quizzical felines. For all the statistics about Paris and firsthand accounts the film compiles, it finds France’s future to be as unknowable as the inner life of the most cryptic animal.
Icarus Films’ newly restored version of Le Joli Mai premiered earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival before playing at TIFF. Supervised by Lhomme, the restoration comes in at just under twenty minutes shorter than the original, as per Marker’s apparent instructions.
Directed by Claire Denis
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
As its almost comically direct title suggests, Claire Denis’s newest is a bit of an outlier in her filmography, a plot-heavy and blunt revenge thriller. Her other films, like The Intruder, are typically more abstract. All the same, Bastards is clearly the work of one of the most deservedly celebrated auteurs in contemporary filmmaking, with its fragmented chronology, sensuous depiction of the body, and evocative score by British band Tindersticks.
Like Denis’s last film, White Material, Bastards deals with some seriously thorny family history. It opens with ominous hints of a late-night death in an apartment complex and a sexual exploitation ring involving a traumatized young woman, whom we see walking naked through the streets of Paris in a daze. Without much audience handholding or explanation, the film then follows both stories through their common link, Marco (Vincent Lindon), a lone-wolf sailor who returns to Paris to right the wrongs done to his family by a business tycoon, only to find that his family matters are significantly more complicated than he’d imagined. Even more than the elliptical way in which this straightforward but complex story is told, what registers most here is Denis’s righteous indignation against the well-heeled bullies and puppeteers Marco attempts to take down on behalf of his dissipated relatives—which makes the fatalistic last act the cinematic equivalent of a middle finger raised in the face of certain defeat.
Denis will be at the Lightbox to introduce Friday’s screening and to participate in a Q&A afterward.
Los Wild Ones
Directed by Elise Salomon
The Royal (608 College Street)
True to its cheeky title, if light on the madness it promises, Elise Salomon’s documentary Los Wild Ones examines the recent resurgence of rockabilly through the lens of a particular L.A. scene. The film profiles Reb Kennedy, founder of Wild Records, a label devoted to rock-and-roll revival acts like Lil Luis y Los Wild Teens, who put a Latin American spin on a traditionally white American genre.
Los Wild Ones is appropriately energetic and uptempo, enlivened by the Wild Records stable’s reliably snappy concerts and recordings, but it isn’t particularly revelatory. Though Kennedy’s characterization as a Dublin punk rascal turned manager is nicely drawn, we don’t get as strong a sense of the artists, who come across as gentle misfits with the garden-variety struggles of most jobbing musicians. Given the idiosyncratic makeup of the label, one might have expected a deeper portrait of the Latino community’s appropriation of rockabilly, and a better sense of how this relatively small scene squares with the higher-profile revisitations of the genre by acts like the White Stripes. There’s undeniable charm, though, to Salomon’s depiction of Kennedy as an eccentric but devoted patriarch of a dysfunctional professional family—the rare hands-on mixer, producer, and all-purpose ringmaster who personally calls his artists when they’re late for soundchecks.
Los Wild Ones kicks off the Reel Indie Film Fest, a music-based film programme organized in conjunction with indieWEEK, which is now in its tenth year. For more information and additional showtimes, see the festival’s website.