The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a powerful documentary-comedy hybrid set in contemporary Tehran, Quentin Tarantino’s blood-soaked revenge thriller, and a surreal Japanese cult-horror classic.
Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
Directed by Jafar Panahi
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Iranian New Wave master Jafar Panahi hosts a roving salon on everything from the power of documentary to contemporary life in Tehran in Taxi, a charming but powerful film that forms a tryptic with the director’s previous Closed Curtain and his masterpiece, This Is Not a Film. Like those earlier works, Taxi sees Panahi pushing back against the government’s 20-year filmmaking ban on him with a playful and politically nervy hybrid form, partway between nonfiction and semi-scripted neorealism.
Panahi stars as himself, a politically repressed filmmaker turned taxi driver whose passengers over the course of a single day’s work run from the Iranian capital’s wealthy to working class, spanning a disabled DVD bootlegger who fancies himself Panahi’s collaborator and a human rights lawyer fighting for the right to do her job. The Golden Bear prize winner is a delicate statement on the impulse to create and marshal the empathy-making powers of cinema, never more than when the art and the artists who make it come under fire. It’s as fiercely intelligent as you’d expect from Panahi, but it’s also his funniest—with regrets to his pet iguana’s antics in This Is Not a Film— finding real warmth and dignity in the human foibles of both passengers and driver.
Kill Bill Vol. 1
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Quentin Tarantino cemented his status as the pulp remix artist par excellence with Kill Bill Vol. 1, a lovingly blood-soaked, postmodern mashup of martial arts and western films past, as well as the best work of pop Americana with a female lead since his own Jackie Brown, which brought Pam Grier back into the spotlight as surely as Pulp Fiction resuscitated John Travolta. In that regard, for all the authorial credit Tarantino has reaped for the leaner, meaner first part of his four-hour saga, praise should equally go to star and all-purpose tone setter Uma Thurman, delivering one of the great genre performances of the 2000s.
Thurman plays the conspicuously unchristened The Bride—codename Black Mamba— the so-described deadliest woman in the world, at least until she’s shot in the head by the titular (and unseen) dark force, played by David Carradine, moments before tying the knot and giving up her life of violence. Fresh out of her coma, The Bride launches a full-scale assault on her former colleagues, starting with fellow Vipers Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) before working her way up to Bill in the next volume.
If the serialized form unfortunately defers the emotional payoff demanded of a proper revenge thriller— which would be nailed in the next chapter—Vol. 1 still packs a punch, ecstatically revelling in old aesthetic references and traditions (consider The Bride’s knockoff of Bruce Lee’s tracksuit from Game of Death in the climactic moments) while grounding itself in Thurman’s beautifully modulated performance as a woman crawling her way back to life by knocking the chair out from under each of her enemies.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 screens as part of TIFF’s Beyond Badass: Female Action Heroes series, programmed by former Torontoist contributor Kiva Reardon.
Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi
Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
Though it was originally envisioned as the Japanese answer to American blockbusters like Jaws, experimental filmmaker and commercial director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House (also known by its Japanese title Hausu) is just about indescribable—a hysterical mix of high camp, low-grade horror, goofy allegory, and inscrutable surrealism. The story of seven schoolgirls who retire to a country home haunted by an undead aunt with a taste for young flesh, House is as infectious and pure as cult cinema gets, a weird montage of atomic bombs, possessed cats, and severed heads.
While some cult classics come bound up with labyrinthine fan rules—one ought not to see The Room for the first time, for example, in a crowd armed with plastic spoons and mini-footballs—House is immediately accessible, its pleasures entirely derived from the lunatic energy on screen rather than any snarky attitude one brings to it. It’s also distinct from its cult brethren in that it seems to have been engineered to create a maximally delirious theatrical experience—it’s not an accidentally so-bad-it’s-good movie that’s been rescued from the dustbins for midnight screenings. In other words, with its makeshift matte effects, its riotous musical numbers, and its kitschy animated interludes, House is singularly strange—the unmistakable product of Obayashi’s daffy mind.
House screens for free, co-presented by the Japan Foundation, Toronto and Art For Eternity. The screening will be preceded by a showing of Yoshitaro Kataoka’s 1935 anime The Monster Exterminator.