Chandler’s TIFF Diary: Days Seven and Eight
Parties, movies, dreamy celebs, etc.: Writer and filmmaker Chandler Levack takes a deep dive into the world of TIFF, and we're all invited to join her.
10 a.m. to 11 a.m.: I wake up, mildly hungover and mostly dehydrated. Today is the first day where I don’t have to stand awkwardly in a room near a celebrity and pretend to be a cool, normal person who is good at socializing and isn’t spending most of the party trying to stake out the whereabouts of the caterers. Today is all about seeing movies and chilling with my friends, and even though I’m down a bike and up a giant, mysterious bruise on my thigh, it feels like a good day to TIFF. I hit snooze for the zillionth time, forgetting about my pledge to see Patricia Rozema’s Into The Forest at 9 a.m. (Dammit!)
11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Okay, I’m officially out of bed now. I take a cab to the Scotiabank for my first film of the day. (I’m 20 minutes late because I am a really bad person.)
12:30 PM to 1:45 PM: Jason Bateman’s second feature The Family Fang represents one of my least favourite genres (art-world satire; only Ghost World does this well) but a pretty capable dramedy from a director who I think is establishing himself as someone who makes great, interesting work. Bateman and Nicole Kidman play siblings damaged by their conceptual artist parents (Maryann Plunkett and Christopher Walken at his Walken-iest) who used them as “child A” and “child B” in a series of art projects over the years to international acclaim. It’s a coming-of-age film based on Kevin Wilson’s 2011 novel, intercut with faux-documentary footage of their parents’ various exploits with a third-act twist that’s supposed to serve as the moral centre of the film. (The parents disappear in a car accident where their children aren’t sure whether they’ve really been killed or have staged their own death.) Yet, the tone feels off. The art-world jokes aren’t that funny and the serious, dramatic unravelling feels distanced by Bateman and Kidman’s flippant delivery. Walken is villainized to the point of caricature and the point of redemption isn’t earned. And yet, my favourite part of the film was a cool, long close-up on Kidman’s face while she looks proudly at her brother while he reads from his new book. It was intimate, original filmmaking that recalled my favourite ’70s filmmakers, Paul Mazursky and Woody Allen, and I make a vow to rip it off HARD for my short. There have been a lot of these pseudo-intellectual family dramedies over the years, from Little Miss Sunshine to The Royal Tennenbaums to The Squid and The Whale. The Family Fang isn’t entering anything new into the canon. But it’s worth seeing to see what Bateman will build upon for his next film. He has a lot of promise.
1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m.: It’s time for my favourite TIFF ritual, standing in a rush line! At this point, I need coffee more than life, so I ask one girl if she’ll hold my spot while I grab something. “Yeah, we’ll just pretend we’re friends,” she says. I come back after 10 minutes with my coffee. “I thought you were gonna go to Tim Hortons,” she says. “Oh, well I didn’t,” I say. “Well, everyone usually goes to Tim Hortons,” she says. She then lectures me and another guy about all the ticket technicalities (she is a volunteer) with our passes. I decide that she is my new rush-line enemy and I spend most of my hour-long wait to get into Room silently hating her to pass the time.
3 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.: Room is Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Canadian author Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel and it is harrowing, sensory filmmaking that left me breathless. (Shout out to the guy beside me who owns an archival cinema in Dayton, Ohio, I am sorry for crying all over you.) I also think it’s a better film if you go into it completely cold, so I just want to say that Brie Larson offers a completely devastating performance and that the five-year-old child (played by Vancouver actor Jacob Tremblay) is an absolute discovery. It’s a wild, emotional movie about captivity, redemption and survival. It’s a personification of childhood as a place where every object has meaning and where rituals define you. It’s also one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen about the mother-son relationship. This is one of the best love stories of the festival. Abraham, who previously directed Frank (aka the movie where Michael Fassbender wears a giant head in a rock band), is excellent at capturing a child’s point of view and the pain and devastation of losing your innocence. This is a Canadian co-production with a chance to really make a mark this awards season. It’s smart, intrepid filmmaking guided by performances that are rich in their humanity. And I cried like a baby, okay?
5:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.: There is a feeling, singular to TIFF, where you just don’t know what to do with yourself. Maybe you’ll see a movie, maybe you’ll eat a burrito. Really, you just wander and hope you run into someone who can tell you what you should do. (I think that’s why that lineup for that new novelty ice cream place is so long.) That’s what happened to me here. I had planned to see Jason Reitman’s TV pilot Casual but by the time I ran into critic Adam Nayman, I was eating a basket of French fries with Nayman, Mark Slutsky (go see his short Never Happened, BTW) and critic Jesse Cumming. There is a long argument about Ben Wheatley’s High Rise that I stay out of.
8:30 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.: Mark and I are vaguely drunk and decide to see Guy Maddin’s installation Give Me The Head Of Tim Horton, which is playing on the main floor of the Bell Lightbox for free. It’s a pretty awesomely funny, cynical look at the making of Paul Gross’ Hyena Road, with speculative narration by Maddin himself. I run into film critic/man about town Will Sloan while watching this installation. And we go up stairs to see Guy Maddin’s new movie, where we sit behind Don McKellar and dream up exactly what will be in Michael Moore’s new documentary. (Ironic nasally narration and infographics, FTW.)
9:15 p.m. to 10:05 p.m.: I’m sure the new Guy Maddin movie is good and really smart people seem to love it, but I just couldn’t get into it. The Forbidden Room is a fanciful exploration of a woodcutter that goes on to save a woman from an evil tribe that decides they want to feed her to a volcano. There’s also an underground submarine, an old man in a bathrobe reading from John Ashbery’s How to Take a Bath, Charlotte Rampling makes an appearance, a song about butts by the band Sparks, etc. It’s lulling and beautifully filmed, but at this point, I need a narrative and characters to sink my teeth into. I bail and text my friends “sorry I’m lame!” but what I’m really saying is “even though I have two film degrees–maybe I’m secretly afraid I hate art cinema?”
10:05 p.m. to 11:45 p.m.: I end my night with Shorts programme #11. I really liked the Norwegian movie about the couple figuring out their sex life and the British movie about the prostitute named Cocoa, which was rendered in LOL-internet speak. And I liked Sophia Banzhaf’s performance in Ashley Mackenzie’s short.
11:45 p.m. to 1 a.m. I walk home alone down Queen Street, as per usual. I like this little ritual.
1 a.m. to 2 a.m.: I finally go to bed. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I have had any dreams in a week. So does consuming cinema all day erase your need to dream? Sidenote: is this the most pretentious thing anyone has ever said?
11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.: I wake up late again, but realize the movie I wanted to see at 9 a.m. is playing at 3 p.m. anyways. #vapechillenhaal
2:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.: I hail a cab and make two stops – the first is to drop off Jade’s fancy Coach bag and shoes, so she can wear them to a party tonight (thanks Jade!) and the second is to the Ryerson Theatre so I can catch Sky. The cab driver spins me around in circles and I freak out for no reason. These are just movies.
3:10 to 5 PM: Sky is a classic Western in the vein of movies like Paris, Texas and Badlands, but with a pseudo-feminist update. This movie irked me. Even though it’s directed by French filmmaker Fabienne Bethaud (a woman), it’s still about a woman who escapes her abusive husband to live life “on her terms” in the wild deserts of Texas but ends up as a waitress, baking a pie. Diane Kruger is stylish and beautiful in the lead role but there’s little exploration of her actual character’s interiority. She’s all blonde hair, French accent and casual daywear. It’s a Harper Bazaar’s shoot masquerading as a feature as she visits Las Vegas on a whim, gets seduced by a seedy cowboy (The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus) and moves to his ranch where he later says he can’t fall in love with her and treats her like shit. (This is redeemed by him later coughing up a bunch of love with a terminal disease.) The film wants us to believe that this woman is changing the course of her life but frankly, all of her choices make no sense. Following someone around hoping they’ll fall in love with you doesn’t mean you’re independent, just because you happen to do it in a different country. About halfway through, it’s weirdly ruptured by a three-scene cameo by Lena Dunham who disfigures herself with a missing tooth, giant pregnant belly and shorty shorts as an idiotic in-law who is constantly having children she can’t take care of. It’s a bizarre performance I kind of loved but am still wondering why it was included in this film. I still can’t understand what Sky was trying to say about women and freedom because there aren’t any real people in this movie. I did like when Kruger wore a Navajo blanket and there was a sunset over the Texan plains, though.
5 p.m. to 6 p.m.: My friend, dope actress/producer Lauren Collins, gave me a ticket to James White, so we meet up in the rush line after I drink a caramel frappucino (that was way too much sugar) at Starbucks and check my email. The crowd for James White is entirely different than the funky mom crowd of Sky. It’s all serious hardcore Toronto actors, including The Animal Project’s Joey Klein (whose upcoming feature with Deragh Campbell and Tatiana Maslany should be a lock for next year’s TIFF) and Sophia Banzhaf (Sophia I saw you in the crowd but didn’t say hi because I am a creep). I feel like something big is going to happen and I am right.
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: James White is the first feature by Josh Mond and it already premiered at Sundance to wild acclaim. It’s carried by three really wonderful performances by Chris Abbot (aka Charlie from Girls) as the titular role–a hard-drinking drug addict prone to punching anyone out, Cynthia Nixon as his mother dying of cancer and Kid Cudi as his best friend. Mond tracks Abbot in intense roving extreme close-up while he tries to avoid the responsibility of caring for his mother who is about to die. He copes by doing drugs, dating a 16-year-old and heading to Mexico for a brief vacation. Mond, who admitted during the Q&A that he had also lost his mother, as well as Nixon who lost her mother to cancer in the same year, really understands the grieving process and what it is like to care for someone who isn’t going to make it. It’s a film where selfishness is used as a coping mechanism and it’s painfully human, in large part due to Abbot’s performance, which is physical and old school in the way Brando and Pacino used to be. The film is incredibly well constructed, with a beautiful use of close-ups, intimate cinematography and simple emoting. (It was edited by Toronto superstar editor Matthew Hannam.) It’s a raw pinched nerve, an antidote to the usual cancer drama where the act of letting go is often uglier and messier than you’d think. The power of James White is in the final close-up of Abbott, smoking a cigarette in a blurred out New York, seconds after his mother’s died. There’s no redemption here but a fucked up guy deciding how to make his next move.
8 p.m. to 9 p.m.: Lauren and I try to make light conversation after our world’s been ripped apart by this movie, so that’s fun. We run into our friend Hanna Puley (the production designer of She Stoops to Conquer, a great short that’s playing at TIFF!) and I convince Hanna to go crash the Hellions pre-party.
We head to Jazz Bistro, sneak in and then do the awkward backpedalling of introducing ourselves to the publicist so we can get a free drink ticket. When the movie’s close to playing at the Winter Garden, the rest of the crowd gravitates toward the exit, but my friend Duff Smith, who edited the film, says we should get a drink instead. I am learning so many things at TIFF, and one of the big things is that cool people never go to the premieres of their own movie, apparently.
9 PM to 12:45 PM: Hanna, Duff and I drink on the patio of the Imperial, where we are joined by Hellions director Bruce MacDonald in between the screening and the final Q&A. The big news is that after a lifetime of never having one, Bruce McDonald finally has gotten a cellphone. It’s even a brand new iPhone. We try to explain that he can now take selfies and download many apps, but I don’t think Bruce is interested. Producer Daniel Bekerman, who I think is making the most interesting films in the country, also joins us (he produced The Witch, which is a witch-positive psychological horror movie that’s filmed like a Caravaggio painting), and talks about being Russell Brand’s “eye double” for a new movie starring Nicholas Cage. I can’t wait to see it.
12:45 a.m. to 2:45 a.m.: Adam Nayman’s hosting a TIFF critic karaoke, so I convince my crew to go with me. I sing Etta James’ “I Just Want To Make Love To You” because I am very drunk now and think I am Sharon Jones and watch a room full of nerdy, white, male film critics attempt to rap and figure out if they should say the n-word or not. Adam Nayman does Kanye West’s “Runaway,” and it is one of the most extraordinary things a human being can see in their lifetime.
2:45 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.: Hannah and I eat McDonald’s at three in the morning and share a cab, and I collapse into my bed again. I can’t believe I’ve only been at this for a week. It feels like a lifetime!