The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: the newest and possibly final beautiful offering from Studio Ghibli, a touch of surrealism from French Canada, and Roman Polanski’s best paranoid thriller.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Directed by Isao Takahata
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
If The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is, as rumoured, one of the last Studio Ghibli productions, then it is a fitting swan song for the Japanese animation house, which has delivered some of the best storytelling for young adults since L.M. Montgomery. A 10th-century folktale reimagined by Ghibli co-founder and Grave of the Fireflies director Isao Takahata, the film tells the story of a bamboo cutter who finds a seemingly royal baby in a bamboo stalk—complete with gold provisions and fine robes—and raises her as his own. Christened Kaguya when she comes of age, the young princess starts her strange life in her adoptive parents’ hard but beautiful pastoral environs before her father insists that she be delivered to the capital, a materialist dystopia that drains her and makes her yearn for home: both the countryside she’s just left and the more mysterious place she comes from.
You could read The Tale of the Princess Kaguya as a kind of sampler platter of the studio’s most resonant themes and motifs, from the importance of raising children with an environmental consciousness to the firm resolve of plucky heroines. But that might do a disservice to what is really a singular, delicate story that hovers somewhere between hope and fatalism, beautifully animated in minimalist watercolours and expressive charcoal lines.
Tu dors Nicole
Directed by Stéphane Lafleur
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
If you followed the mainstream Canadian press reaction to this year’s Cannes Film Festival, you might have been led to think the whole of Canadian cinema was represented internationally by Xavier Dolan, David Cronenberg, and Atom Egoyan, each of whom staked a claim in the festival’s main competition, with wildly varying levels of success. Amidst all that chatter, you might have missed the critical success of Stéphane Lafleur’s Tu dors Nicole in the Directors’ Fortnight programme. A light, nicely observed magic-realist trifle about the titular Nicole (Julianne Côté), a young woman dreaming away her days after graduation in her small-town Quebec home, the film comes with little of the bombast of Canada’s more celebrated trio, and consequently possesses a lot more subtle charm.
If Lafleur’s surrealist blend of reality and dream logic feels a bit strained at times—his off-kilter compositions a little too perfect and cheekily constructed—the film is still a warm portrait of a young woman lounging in a liminal state between late adolescence and adulthood proper. That’s thanks both to the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography of Sara Mishara and Côté’s understated, largely reactive performance, which marks Nicole as a sensitive sort—in no hurry to get anyplace, and all the more likeable for it.
Directed by Roman Polanski
The Royal (608 College Street)
Though it’s widely regarded as one of the great modern horror films and one of the most alarming thrillers ever made about a pregnancy gone wrong, Rosemary’s Baby might work best as a creepy satire of neighbourly relations. Much as Mia Farrow impresses as a bohemian waif whose life is taken over by well-meaning interlopers the moment they discover she’s expecting, it’s no surprise that the film’s lone Oscar went to Ruth Gordon for her portrayal of Minnie Castevet, the pushy, vaguely European old Other down the hall, who always shows up at the appointed hour with her suspiciously green prenatal milkshakes, whether you want her to or not.
In recent years, Roman Polanski’s troubling personal life has overshadowed his work, and some of his later films, such as The Ghost Writer, seem like bad dreams born of his persecution complex. It’s easy, when one is mired in this biographical talk, to forget how sinister his movies are and, paradoxically, how funny. Much of Rosemary’s Baby is hysterical, as when Farrow insists that there’s a sickly “undertaste” to the pudding her neighbour has kindly plied her with. The rest of it is plain scary, the stuff of nightmares about losing control of your own body and finding that the person growing inside you is, like everyone around you, a total stranger.