What’s it like to spend the entire day in one cinema, watching whatever comes along? Jay Stone sets out to find out at the Toronto film festival
By Jay Stone
TORONTO — Today I decided to test the fates by spending the entire day in one movie theatre at the Toronto International Film Festival. Most of the press and industry screenings are held at the Scotiabank cinema on Richmond Street, and I chose Auditorium 12, for reasons that will become more obscure as we go on.
The result was a kind of mini-film festival, with all the delights, disappointments — and meals of dry popcorn — that one associates with the glamorous life of the freelance film critic. This is what I saw:
On Chesil Beach: The first film of the day in Auditorium 12 — which turns out to be the Imax theatre, so you get a nice big screen — is this adaptation of what is, frankly, a rather thin 2007 novella by the otherwise estimable Ian McEwan. It stars Saoirse Ronan (whose appearance in both this and Adaptation makes her the foremost interpreter of McEwan) and young British actor Billy Howie as a couple on their honeymoon on the British coast in 1962. Their fumbling steps toward wedding night intimacy is enriched with a lot of flashbacks about who they are — he’s something of a country bumpkin; she’s the musically gifted daughter of a middle-class family — and how they met.
It’s a beautifully evocative, awkward and sometimes humiliating love story that hinges on the sexual innocence of the principals; one is reminded that it is set a year before the erotic revolution written about by poet Philip Larkin (“sexual intercourse began / in nineteen sixty-three/ which was rather late for me,”) back when one could still find virgins among the general population of youth. I don’t know where they all went. I mean, they must start somewhere.
The screenplay, written by McEwan, captures the uncomfortable tone of nostalgia in which the author specializes, but it such a slight drama, at once dated, poignant and unlikely, that you expect it to blow away in the breeze that rolls along the titular seashore. The acting is great, however, and people who loved Ronan in Brooklyn with have similar feelings about her here.
Papillon: Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek take the Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman roles in this remake of the 1973 drama — based on a memoir by Henri Charriere — about a man sentenced to life in prison on Devil’s Island.
That’s about all I know because the computer key in Auditorium 12 was broken or missing or something, the digital equivalent of the old days when the film stock would occasionally melt. There was a long lineup, but everyone gradually drifted away as the delay increased. The good news was that I got closer to the front of the queue; the bad news was that I was getting closer to nothing. It was an exercise in existential futility that could have stood for a life on Devil’s Island itself, which is the only good thing I can find to say about the experience.
After an hour, the screening was cancelled, thus ending my love affair with Auditorium 12 before I even got to know where the best seats might be.
Bodied: In keeping with my surrender to kismet, I went to the next available screening — in Auditorium 3, a much more reliable cinema — of this Midnight Madness movie, a satire of the hip-hop world that, sadly, was sort of wasted on me.
It’s about a nerdy white student named Adam (Calum Worthy) who’s doing a thesis on “The poetic functions of the N-word in battle rap.” This means he has to attend a lot of battle rap, which turns out to be tattooed young men and women hurling sexist, misogynistic and racist insults at one another in near rhyme while spectators — who appear to be culled from those audiences in daytime TV talk shows who ooh and aah as abusive ex-husbands confront their angry wives — shout encouragement.
However, Bodied is smart enough to recognize the other side of the cultural equation, and politically correct academics who deplore the language and attitudes are themselves accused of colonialism for their attitudes toward a grassroots African-American art form.
Directed by music video veteran Joseph Kahn (Detention), Bodied turns Adam himself into an unlikely rapper with an unexpected facility for abuse. It’s subversive and amusing in an aggressive way, but an hour of it went a long way, and I left before the end. For the record, I appeared to be the oldest patron at the screening, certainly the least hip-hop friendly and, in many important metaphorical ways, the whitest.
The Breadwinner: And so I returned to 12 for The Breadwinner. This turned out to be an animated movie, directed by Nora Twomey (and executive produced by Angelina Jolie) with a political message. Based on a novel by Deborah Ellis, it tells the story of an 11-year-old girl growing up in Afghanistan in 2001, during the rule of the Taliban. When her father is arrested, she has to disguise herself as a boy so she can go into the streets — where no unescorted women are allowed — to get food and water for her mother, sister and baby brother.
Told with deceptively simple animation, it’s a rich, humane story that would have been difficult to tell as a live-action movie. Like many stories about young girls in countries under repressive religious rule, it showcases a smart, resourceful heroine of the sort who have come to dominate the animation genre. It was a good, strong work, and it restored Auditorium 12’s status as a place to see worthwhile cinema.
– 30 –