By Leonard Klady Klady@moviecitynews.com

Confessions Of A Film Festival Junkie — TIFF40

It’s a tradition that my first TIFF pic is Cannes’ Palme d’or winner. Dheepan is unquestionably potent stuff as one would expect from Jacques Audiard, whose filmography includes The Prophet and Rust and Bone.

The title character is a former Tamil Tiger who’s escaped Sri Lanka in an unusual way. He’s been bundled with a woman and a young girl and told to pose as a family. It works well enough to get them to France where he becomes a caretaker at a housing complex outside Paris that proves to be a war zone of a different stripe with Arab and French gangs involved in a bloody war for supremacy over drugs and protection. The film has its share of violent truths without overshadowing the social and humanitarian elements that provide gravitas. It’s hard to quibble about the politics involved in its festival kudos.

Another Cannes winner, Son of Saul, is also worthy. The Hungarian film that’s likely to make Oscar’s foreign-language short list, follows a member of the Sonderkommando – the unit of primarily Jewish concentration camp prisoners assigned to shepherd new arrivals into the gas chambers and clean up afterward. It’s saved from the grisly ashes by Saul’s quest to find a rabbi and perform final rites. The picture is incredibly accomplished for first time filmmaker Laszlo Nemes (a protégé of Bela Tarr) and owes a debt to its cameraman Matyas Erdely who conveys mayhem in long, unbroken tracking shots and via lighting gives a strong taste of soot, dirt and death.

Another film, the German Victoria, is actually done in a single continuous shot; something electronic cinema allows that the 35mm-shot Saul could not do even if it wanted to. It’s a long night in Berlin with a group of young, bad boys and the transplanted Spanish girl of the title. Hijinx escalate into something considerably darker and the “gimmick” strains to be fresh and valid and mostly succeeds though when it meanders you might find yourself looking for the little cheats.

And walking back to the Holocaust, there is Atom Egoyan’s Remember about a survivor who has pledged to find and kill the German officer who murdered his family. Other than the usual hurdles, there’s the fact that early-onset dementia necessitates precise written instructions from a fellow internee and conspirator. And then there’s the complication that there are four known men who share the assumed name of the villain. Ultimately it’s all grounded by another stunning performance by Christopher Plummer and there’s an “honest” twist which sends everything back on its heels.

Fortunately I stumbled upon an unknown titled Spear, based on a dance drama from Australia. Steeped in Aboriginal history, its focus is on a young man’s journey to the big city and conveys largely through image and movement a proud history and a cruel saga of submission and abuse. I’ve been told that the director and co-writer Stephen Page is considered a wunderkind in theater circles and he’s certainly created a singular film experience with one of the most spectacular and delightfully unexpected dance numbers smack in the middle of it all.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin