Rep Cinema This Week: Boyhood, Stranger Than Paradise, and When Pigs Fly
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Rep Cinema This Week: Boyhood, Stranger Than Paradise, and When Pigs Fly

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

Still from Boyhood.

At rep cinemas this week: Richard Linklater’s look at American youth, Jim Jarmusch’s absurdist American road movie, and Sara Driver’s winsome Irish ghost story.

Directed by Richard Linklater

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

The culmination of a 12-year commitment to filming a young actor in yearly instalments from the ages of six to 18, Boyhood is a remarkable formal achievement. That it’s also a fine film, a textured and offhandedly detailed portrait of one Texas family from the early aughts to the present, is a testament to the unsung talents of director Richard Linklater. Though he’s often praised for his storytelling experiments—his Before series spans more than a decade, while Dazed and Confused famously restricts itself to a single summer day—Linklater’s role as one of the most consistent and humane of contemporary American filmmakers has until recently been fairly underrated. Boyhood ought to rectify that.

As any of the critical hosannas the film has received since its Sundance bow will tell you, Ellar Coltrane plays Mason Jr., an adolescent whom we watch develop from his first days in grade school to his first day of college. An aloof sort in his early moments, Coltrane proves himself a sensitive actor in his own right over the course of the film—the passing years are marked by more than a series of haircuts. As impressive as it is to watch him age and mature as a screen presence, though, the finely tuned performances by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his divorced parents are equally striking—and the story of their child becomes also an incidental biography of middle-aged liberal parents in Texas from the Bush years onward.

For all its ambition and its tenderness, Boyhood isn’t perfect: the early moments can feel rudderless at times—a series of pop-music–scored scenes from the early 2000s in search of purpose greater than the creation of either nostalgia or ironic distance. But when it finds its groove, the film becomes not just a longitudinal study of Mason or a paean to American boyhood, but also a record of its own development from a scrappy conceit to a nuanced and entirely real coming-of-age drama about a teenager and his family.

Stranger Than Paradise
Directed by Jim Jarmusch

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Saturday, July 26, 6:45 p.m.

Years before Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld famously turned American comedy on its head with their show about nothing, Jim Jarmusch fired his own unassuming but revolutionary volley at the American independent scene with 1984’s Stranger Than Paradise. Following the ambles of a trio of rudderless, mordantly funny twentysomethings, the film introduced the auteur’s famously deadpan sensibilities to an audience wider than that reached by his largely unseen first feature Permanent Vacation, earning him a Camera D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and marking the proper start of a career at the forefront of underground American filmmaking.

Jazz musician John Lurie plays Willie, a New York City layabout whom we first find sulking on the eve of a weeklong visit from his cousin Eva (Eszter Balint), a Hungarian woman Willie soon exposes to a crash course in American football and TV dinners. A delicate two-hander in the first act gives way to a road movie in the second, as Willie—now fond of his former guest—sets off to visit her in Cleveland with his friend Eddie (Richard Edson), pausing to take in the the sublime beauty of the frozen Lake Erie before heading back again. The final act sees the trio lighting out for Florida, where their aimlessness somehow becomes even more pronounced.

It’s easy to admire Jarmusch’s seemingly out-of-the-box black-and-white aesthetic—which involves single scenes playing out in long takes separated by droll smashes to black—laying the groundwork for his later films’ conversational vignettes over coffee and cigarettes. But what sets Stranger Than Paradise apart from the work of some of the filmmaker’s cohorts in No Wave Cinema is its warmth. Jarmusch has accurately been called an absurdist filmmaker, but there’s also a humanist’s touch to the way he lingers over the staccato rhythms of his characters’ dialogue, and the way their lives progress and then devolve through a series of sleepy takeoffs and landings.

When Pigs Fly
Directed by Sara Driver

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Friday, July 25, 6:15 p.m.

Criminally underrated due to the dearth of proper home video releases and retrospectives until fairly recently, Sara Driver’s lean but accomplished filmography is every bit as distinctive as that of her partner, Jim Jarmusch. If her Paul Bowles adaptation You Are Not I is her most adventuresome work, the most emotionally accessible is surely When Pigs Fly, a beautifully modulated magic realist drama with a score by the Clash’s Joe Strummer.

Alfred Molina stars as Marty, an easygoing and not especially ambitious jazz musician who becomes the unwitting landlord to Lily and Ruthie (the great Marianne Faithful and Rachel Bella), a pair of ghosts haunting an Irish coastal town. Before long, Marty and his would-be girlfriend Sheila (Maggie O’Neill) take to closing out the spirits’ unfinished business by revisiting the crimes of Lily’s former husband and Sheila’s surly boss Frank (Seymour Cassel), a bar owner with a violent past.

Delicately shifting between romantic comedy, fantasy, and social drama, When Pigs Fly is a singular sort of ghost story, rooted in the dive bars and ratty apartments its characters call home. Released in the middle of a major shift toward computer generated special effects, it’s also refreshingly retrograde, bringing its ghosts and dream sequences to life with earnestly low-key matte effects.

Driver will be at the Lightbox to introduce each of the screenings in Magic Realism: The Films of Sara Driver.