TIFF ’13 – Day 1: Sacre Bleu!

Blue Is the Warmest Colour.
Blue Is the Warmest Color. To put it mildly.

It’s time for the Toronto International Film Festival again. This year TIFF seems to be playing catch up to Cannes, Venice and even Telluride. That said, the lineup is extremely solid, with very little fat. Most movies will be playing only once for the media, turning the event in a veritable marathon for the press. So far, we are off to a good start.

Blue Is the Warmest Color (France): The Palme D’Or winner arrives to Toronto in the midst of a media storm. Lea Seydoux revealed details of a difficult shooting, in which director Abdellatif Kechiche pushed the actresses mercilessly (including ten days dedicated to the film’s pivotal sex scene). But Blue Is the Warmest Color is much more than its erotic content, it’s a poignant love story between two complex women, Adele and Emma. We meet Adele (phenomenal newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos) in high school. A sensible teenager, Adele discovers her latent homosexuality courtesy of a stranger she walks by. It’s love at first sight. The stranger is Emma (career performance by Lea Seydoux), an artist only a few years older than Adele, but with the maturity to guide her into her first full blown lesbian relationship.

The fling lasts a number of years, then the story becomes a potent drama in which domesticity and worldview conspire to pull the girls apart (Emma wants Adele to pursue a career as a writer, but Adele doesn’t have the same drive. The simple life suits her fine). The outcome is gut-wrenching and yet recognizable. I’ll be lying if I say Blue isn’t hot. It’s actually scorching. But it’s the context what makes it such a memorable experience. Four prairie dogs watching the movie for all the wrong reasons. Bad dogs, bad.

La Ultima Película (Mexico/USA): The worst kind of festival films are the ones so unbearable self-aware, at no point you can submerge yourself into it. La Ultima Película is just like that. A mockumentary without a narrative, the movie follows a full-of-himself artist as he attempts to capture in film the end of the world, in the epicenter of Mayan culture (he is a celluloid purist). What ensues is ninety minutes of outtakes trying to pass for deconstructionism. Towards the end (it’s not a spoiler because there is nothing to spoil further), the movie goes even more meta and breaks the fourth wall, with the actors discussing how incomprehensible the whole project is. Shot in digital and Super-8, La Ultima Película it’s not only a failed experiment. It’s patronizing towards Mexicans, Mayan culture and audiences alike. Zero prairie dogs. They have been deconstructed.

Something Necessary (Kenya/UK): At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find the first African film directed by a woman. Born under the One Fine Day banner (a British office that empowers African filmmakers to tell their own stories), Something Necessary follows the effects of the widespread riots that ensued after the controversial presidential election of 2007. Two stories develop in parallel: A headstrong nurse, victim of a ghastly act of violence, attempts to rebuild her home in anticipation to the return of her comatose son. Meanwhile, one of the perpetrators is consumed by regret and wishes to leave the gang life, to no avail. While some of the staple social issues are present, Something Necessary tackles others seldom seen before, such as the economic cost of political unrest at a domestic level and the distrust with truth and reconciliation commissions are received by the population. Some actors are not to pair and the narrative often stumbles. Nonetheless, Something Necessary is a remarkable effort from a continent searching for its own voice. Three solemn prairie dogs.

Tomorrow: Benedict Cumberbatch attempts to become a household name. If Schwarzenegger succeeded, why not him? For snap judgements, random observations, celebrity sightings and Canucks rants, follow me on Twitter: @jicastillo.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.