The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a bold anti-comedy, a technicolour extravaganza, and a minimalist thriller.
Directed by Rick Alverson
Carlton Cinema (20 Carlton Street)
Rick Alverson makes difficult films, but it’s hard to properly brace yourself for Entertainment, the filmmaker’s arguably even more alienated and uncomfortable follow=up to the anti-comedy of the suitably named The Comedy. Australian comic Gregg Turkington plays an unnamed character who is part himself, and part his infamous alter ego Neil Hamburger, a decrepit and dishevelled comedian who launches ugly, violent punchlines at unappreciative audiences on a tour of the Mojave Desert, prefacing most of them with a halting “Why”—his existentialist alternative to Jerry Seinfeld openly wondering what the deal is.
Entertainment is an ironic title for such a flattening experience, but you can’t help but admire Alverson’s commitment both to his craft and to the onscreen despair it realizes. This is as technically beautiful a bummer story as you’re likely to see, unfolding through a steady procession of ironic musical cues, creepy tracking shots, and impressive, sometimes surreal compositions that frame our somnambulant host as he traipses across an all-American wasteland. (Anyone expecting real levity from brief appearances by the likes of John C. Reilly and Michael Cera need not apply.) It’s not funny ha-ha, but it isn’t meant to be.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Directed by Howard Hawks
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
You can’t really go wrong with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Howard Hawks’ technicolour 1953 adaptation of the Broadway musical. Though it’s best remembered today for featuring one of Marilyn Monroe’s definitive performances—down to her oft-imitated rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”—seen again with about 60 years of hindsight, it remains just as impressive for Hawks’ signature direction of the snappy dialogue and for Jake Cole’s understated jazz-dance choreography.
Monroe stars as Lorelei Lee, a showgirl from Little Rock, Ark., who wants nothing more than to snag herself a well-heeled man to keep her in diamonds through to the grave, while her more serious-minded colleague and loyal friend Dorothy Shaw (a very funny Jane Russell) wants to spend her time with more authentic (read: poorer and handsomer) sorts. Before long, the women find themselves aboard a ship bound for France, where Lorelei would be off to get married to moneybags Gus (Tommy Noonan), if his skeptical father hadn’t banned him from joining and sent a private investigator (Elliott Reid) on Lorelei’s trail instead.
Everything here goes about the way you’d expect and, predictably, certain aspects of the film’s gender and sexual politics haven’t held up so well. But Monroe’s work as the alternately dunderheaded and preternaturally savvy blond is just this side of sublime, and Russell’s witty repartee with Reid is worthy of comparison to Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell’s sparring in Hawks’ His Girl Friday.
Stranger by the Lake
Directed by Alain Guiraudie
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Early in Stranger by the Lake, Alain Guiraudie’s Queer Palm winner out of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, a pair of men sit by the water in which another man has just been found dead, apparently drowned by his lover. They’re at a nude beach unofficially sanctioned as a gay cruising spot, and the younger of the two men secretly witnessed the murder only a few short nights ago. The older man asks why the younger man intends to swim again so soon after the corpse has been removed, and all the younger can muster in response is that he might have another go at the lake in a few days: much as he’s bothered, life goes on.
That mix of eager anticipation and dread is Stranger by the Lake in a nutshell. Though it begins in something of a documentary register as a detached, almost anthropological examination of the random couplings of naive, fresh-faced Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps, the aforementioned younger man), it gradually reveals itself as a thriller, as Franck begins to fall for Michel (Christophe Paou), the murderer—who, soon after vanquishing his old partner, effectively becomes Franck’s boyfriend.
That’s a loaded premise, and at times the film runs the risk of coming across like a polemic about the pathology of gay cruising—a conservative attack, albeit one from inside the community, on cruising as an inherently dangerous sexual practice. But Guiraudie is too smart a filmmaker to fall into such traps altogether, sustaining an ambiguous tone throughout that has us questioning the extent to which Franck’s temporary madness in hooking up with Michel is just a version of the usual heartsickness that accompanies a new crush. More than that, the film works surprisingly well as a thriller, with the last 10 minutes delivering one delirious punch after another.