The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a newly restored cult classic of Canadian horror in 3D, the most dangerous film ever made, and a delicate portrait of contemporary Tehran.
Directed by Julian Roffman
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Canadian horror fans get a rare Halloween treat courtesy of TIFF and the 3-D Film Archive—the architects behind a new restoration and re-release of Julian Roffman’s The Mask, a 1961 curio known in some circles as Eyes of Hell. As the first feature-length horror movie and first feature-length 3D film produced in Canada, The Mask’s pedigree mostly rests on its historical significance, but that isn’t to take away from Roffman’s gorgeous and macabre setpieces, which occasionally interrupt an otherwise fairly mundane melodrama to launch us into the surreal.
The film follows the slow mental deterioration of a psychiatrist who, following the suicide of his former patient, inherits a creepy tribal mask—as racist as it sounds—that takes him into the deeper recesses of his uncouth mind, flashing scenes of grizzly torture and dark rites that turn him from mild-mannered professional to violent offender.
Roffman keeps the film’s mask-free stretches watchable with some eerie camerawork and expressionist lighting, but the reason to see the film in a theatre is undoubtedly its anaglyph 3D show-stoppers, signaled by a booming voice that tells hapless hero and spectator alike to please put on the mask, which in the audience’s case is a darling little prosthetic called a “Magic Mystic Mask.” That commandment is quaint and fun enough to merit admission—a throwback to old cinematic experiences mostly un-visited in recent years, until Francis Ford Coppola beckoned viewers to don their goggles for a few minutes of the criminally under-seen Twixt—but the 3D spectacle impresses in its own right, making genuinely good use of perspective to draw chills if not gasps. Some will undoubtedly giggle ironically through the screening, as any rep aficionado knows, but we can think of no better compliment than to say that The Mask is no joke.
Directed by Noel Marshall
The Royal (608 College Street)
What is there to say about Roar, whose reputation for being one of the most dangerous and foolish productions of all time precedes it? Somewhere between a nature film, a behind-the-scenes documentary about animal wrangling, and a wildly inept thriller, Roar is the goofy handiwork of director, star, and objectively bad husband Noel Marshall. Marshall plays Hank, a naturalist who, at the outset, has ditched his family for a few years to set up a preservation on the African plains (played here by a ranch in California) for a host of duelling lions, tigers, elephants, and more, all of whom are played by, well, a host of real live lions, tigers, elephants, and more. Occasional head wounds aside, all is fine until his wife (Marshall’s real-life spouse Tippi Hedren) and children (including real-life daughter Melanie Griffith) decide to visit, and things get very real indeed for characters and actors alike.
Roar more than lives up to its renown as the sort of hybrid fiction/nonfiction curio you have to see in a theatre, in part because you’re never quite sure how to watch it. Over 70 members of the cast and crew, including Marshall, Hedren, and Griffith, were wounded in the process of making the film, and a number of the injuries are captured onscreen in what increasingly unfolds as an accidental snuff film—this despite Hank’s unconvincing onscreen protestations that everything is fine, and his big cat friends are just playing. That makes the work of watching Roar—and it certainly feels like work—an absorbing process of sifting through the tedious semi-scripted folly that is Marshall’s apparent vision for the film, and the completely uncontrolled, breathtaking acts-of-God that animate it into something compelling.
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.