Wednesday, 11 September 2013

TIFF13: Meeting Concrete Night Director, Pirjo Honkasalo

Pirjo Honkasalo at TIFF '13
Photo by donna g
CONCRETE NIGHT
Remaining Screening:
Saturday, September 14
Scotiabank 14
9:45 PM

Deciding that we both liked the cool temperatures of the September morning, Finnish director, Pirjo Honkasalo, and I decided to sit on the patio of our downtown meeting place rather than chat inside the "old boys club" (her words) ambiance of the main floor bar. 

While she had a cappuccino and patiently sat through my mishap, first with my recorder then camera, she delighted in my reversion to pen and paper, lamenting the fact that digital technology doesn't allow our memories to retain information the way we used to. When you write, you remember, when you allow technology to do everything, your mind doesn't have to retain it in the same way. "Will you remember what we had discussed?" I assured her that I would and we segued into talking about Concrete Night, her thoughts on filmmaking, and the film industry. 

A fearless director, who clings to her indie spirit of making films on her terms, Pirjo filmed Concrete Night using only the shots she would need for the final cut. As a veteran director, cinematographer and editor, she has the experience to shoot a seven-minute sequence in the film, despite her gaffer's suggestion that they might need a master shot for coverage. "Why start something with the thought that it might not succeed?" is Pirjo's attitude. Knowing the scene in question, I am amazed at her guts and even more in awe of her experience.

Based on the much-lauded Finnish novel Betoniyö by Pirkko Saisio, Concrete Night is set in a rough Helsinki neighbourhood and relates the story of a teenage boy on the eve of his elder brother going to jail. After reading the book, Pirjo knew the one hundred and eighty-eight page book could be transitioned completely into a feature film. She strongly believes that distilling longer books into film language inevitably leads to a diminished creation.

After being tempted away from the book-to-film project by documentary work (The 3 Rooms of Melancholia, Ito Diary of an Uban Priest) Pirjo returned to the novel ten years later. In crafting the film, Pirjo immediately began planning the lighting she would use in the film: "I begin with images, rather than the story." Allowing the images to develop in her mind, she simplifies everything to the essential elements until the film is an expression of what is needed. She chose to shoot in black and white because she trained in black and white, and that is what she felt was was called for in Concrete Night. Why use colour if it's not needed? "Finns will be surprised at how the city looks," she says of the cinematic vision of Helsinki which she has created with black and white and lights. Why use artificial rain if the weather is cooperating? "Nothing is as good as natural rain. With artificial you can always see the source of the rain somehow."  


She called actor Jari Virman whom she had originally chosen for the roll of the elder brother, Ikko, and demanded that he"come and show his face." Upon seeing him, Pirjo decided that he was even better for the roll than he had been years earlier. As for the casting of Johannes Brotherus as younger brother Simo, she awarded him the role based on his ability to pass the audition of listening to a twenty-minute symphonic piece and reacting naturally and without words. "He was different from the others," Pirjo points out. While she observed them through her lens to see if they were suitable for the character of Simo, some young men would become restless, bored, and even leave mid-audition. Brotherus was able to react to the music, which is what she was looking for and why she didn't have a rehearsal period for the film. "I chose well," she says with conviction, to which I agree readily and whole-heartedly. Simo is at the core of the film, and had Brotherus been miscast, the dramatic tension in the film would have fallen flat; the boy's gradual awakening to the harsh truth about life would not have been communicated to us so thoroughly.

Making up the main quartet of actors in Concrete Night is, Anneli Karppinen as the Mother and Juhan Ulfsak as The Man. While Estonia-born Ulfsak is quite well-known in Finland, Karppinen is from what Pirjo calls "the treasure of older women" living in areas outside Helsinki, who are quite well-known in their small theatres but are not given a chance to participate in major projects. While she understands the financial need of some filmmakers to choose continually from the same roster of "twenty actors" she says that style of working is not what she wants. 
Pirjo's belief in her actors is what allows young Brotherus to show the innocence and experience necessary for his close up shots, and it is what allows him to withstand the nerves needed for the many underwater sequences that are a part of the film's metaphor. Virman, as the hardened older brother, is ruthless and irresponsible which makes his cry from the soul so much the more devastating when it arrives on screen. Karppinen's garishly made up face shows the age and hard living of her character, and Ulfsak's monologue on life manifests splendidly his years of training.

As the publicist gives us the five-minute warning and disappears inside to set up Pirjo's Skype interview, I ask Pirjo if she had any advice for young filmmakers. She acknowledges that there are many ways to learn and that film school shouldn't be mandatory, she does say that attending school gave her "the peace to try anything, to experiment without fear. You can make films and not succeed, but you can grow." Whichever way young filmmakers choose to go, she suggests that "they take the time to decide the type of filmmaker that they are going to be, to make films without self-censoring, and to make films for themselves, never for the financiers." Making films for financiers leads to a treadmill of compromise that will take them away from their original passion. Even at her stage of the game, she secured her financing before she started shooting because she  didn't want to go through the experience of filmmakers she knows who make a film and spend the rest of their lives paying for it. She wanted to make the film she wanted to make, not something that would be turned into a "product" as she calls the Hollywood system.
In a twist of fate, Pirjo and Betoniyö author, Pirkko Saisio now live together. I ask if her partner has any plans to have the book translated into English. I assure her that after seeing the film at TIFF many people would probably want to read the book. Apparently, Saisio is content with being famous in Finland and although a reprint of the book is scheduled for launch when Concrete Night opens there, we English speakers will either have to learn Finnish or be content with the magic that Pirjo has translated through the language of cinema.

The honking horns, truck deliveries, and Monday morning pedestrians stream by, oblivious to the fact that one of Finland's celebrated filmmakers is in their midst. I sit and enjoy a fresh, well-made Americano--the coffee shared earlier with another Finn, Dome Karukoski (Heart of a Lion) had grown cold in my travel mug--and looked forward to my second screening of my favourite film at TIFF '13, Concrete Night.

For all this TIFF13 visit http://tiff.net/thefestival
416-599-TIFF (8433) or 1-888-599-8433
Film stills courtesy of tiff.net

TIFF13: Metalhead Interview

Thinking of going to see METALHEAD at TIFF? Here is my interview with director, Ragnar Bragason and the lead actress, Þorbjörg Helga Þorgilsdóttir.

REMAINING SCREENING

Friday September 13
Scotiabank 10
9:00 PM





For all this TIFF13 visit http://tiff.net/thefestival
416-599-TIFF (8433) or 1-888-599-8433


Monday, 9 September 2013

TIFF13: Canadian Filmmakers Rock!

As the host country, and with Toronto being the location for an "A" list festival such as TIFF, lets show our filmmakers that we acknowledge and respect their work. What impression are we giving if our guests are going to our films, but we choose to skip them? To get you started here are a few feature film selections from some of my favourite Canadian filmmakers. (Note, I've already posted about Alanis Obomsawin's  Hi-Ho Mistahey and the Short Cuts Canada programe.)



THE ANIMAL PROJECT. I've been following Ingrid Veninger's work for a while now both as producer (NURSE. FIGHTER.BOY) and director (MODRA, i am a good person/i am a bad person). I adore her independent spirit in making films that she is passionate about.

TIFF Description: A Toronto theatre director endures a series of creative and personal travails in this affecting and typically inventive new film from Festival favourite Ingrid Veninger. 


Wednesday September 11
Isabel Bader Theatre
7:30 PM
Thursday September 12
Scotiabank 13
5:00 PM
Saturday September 14
TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
7:45 PM



SIDDARTH. I fell in love with Richie Mehta's first feature, Amal, and can't wait to see how he has matured in his sophomore film.

TIFF Description: A powerful and heart-rending tale about a poor Delhi street merchant desperately searching for his missing young son.


Tuesday September 10

Winter Garden Theatre
5:00 PM

Thursday September 12

TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
12:00 PM

THE HUSBAND. That's right the guy you see around town in the cowboy hat!

TIFF Description: Saddled with an infant son, and a wife doing jail time for sleeping with a 14-year-old, a disgruntled Toronto ad-agency copywriter struggles to deal with his impotent rage, in this gutsy black comedy from beloved Canadian maverick Bruce McDonald.


Wednesday September 11
Ryerson Theatre
9:00 PM
Saturday September 14
Scotiabank 14
12:00 PM

WHEN JEWS WERE FUNNY. I have never been disappointed by Alan's work!

TIFF Description: Insightful and often hilarious, the latest from documentary filmmaker Alan Zweig surveys the history of Jewish comedy, from the early days of Borsht belt to the present, ultimately exploring not just ethnicity in the entertainment industry, but also the entire unruly question of what it means to be Jewish.


Tuesday September 10
Scotiabank 13
9:15 PM
Thursday September 12
The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
9:15 PM
Sunday September 15
Scotiabank 9
4:45 PM


TIFF Descriptions by Senior Programmer, Steve Gravestock.
For more Canadian Films CLICK HERE
For all this TIFF13 visit http://tiff.net/thefestival
416-599-TIFF (8433) or 1-888-599-8433

Saturday, 7 September 2013

TIFF13: Nordic Observations ( Concrete Night, Heart of a Lion, Hotell, Sex Drugs & Taxation)

Okay, so how are my Nordic films faring at TIFF? I haven't had a chance to see them all, and my schedule is full, so I can only share quick thoughts now about the ones I've seen.


CONCRETE NIGHT. What happens when a boy on the cusp of manhood cloaks himself in the mantle of adulthood? Remember in a previous post I said I wasn't sure I would be able to handle the devastation of Pirjo Honkasalo's Concrete Night? Well, I am thankful that I sucked it up and went to see this Master's brilliant silver screen work of sight, sound and story. For those who were at the Chuck Workman What is Cinema? Maverick session, here is one answer to add to the list of definitions; for those who were not there, this film is a piece of art worth investing in.


Well, I've seen four of the films on my list, and the frontrunner for an audience pleaser with a solid contemplative plot is  HEART OF A LION. If you haven't bought your ticket yet, then do it now! Can a skinhead in love with a woman with a Black child forge an independent future or will he succumb to the "White Finland" dictates of his compatriots? A delicate balance of drama and comedy, well-controlled by director, Dome Karukoski (Lapland Odyssey).


HOTELL After seeing her in A Royal Affair with Mads, it was my first time seeing Alicia Vikander carry a film and does she ever do it well. I love watching actresses that could have reigned in the Silent Film era, because they know how to communicate emotions with their faces. After watching Vikander play a woman whose early delivery of a brain damaged son leaves her emotionallyy absent, I can definitely say that she would have given Garbo a run for her money! This is the second time that Vikander has worked with director Lisa Langseth and after seeing Hotell, I am now determined to see their previous collaboration, Pure. Langseth has also managed to create a real team out of the actors playing roles as support group members. It was easy to buy into the non-traditional manner in which they decide to combat their respective mental health issues.

SEX, DRUGS & TAXATION You get everything the English title spells out in this film of truth and fiction: a boozing womanizer whose fortune leaves him searching for the meaning of life in meditation and drug experimentation, and a sad sack tax attorney obsessed with revenge and extreme social politics.  The Swedish title of this film is Spies & Glistrup, and loosely documents their swinging 60's rise as economy airline moguls and the taxation scandal that made their names household fodder through Swedish headlines. Since this scandal is not common knowledge outside of Sweden, the English title makes the most sense to us, however, once you have observed the work of actors, Pilou Asbæk (Spies) and Nicolas Bro (Glisrup), you realize that this is a true symbiotic partnership in character development and acting. The film drags in the beginning, but what plays out in the remaining two-thirds of the film makes this a noteworthy study. Watch for a young actress named Camilla Cornelia Lehmann (Inger) whose luminous beauty and unaffected acting is captivating.

Toronto International Film Festival
September 5 - 15, 2013
Get Tickets: 
416.599.TIFF | 1.888.599.8433 | http://tiff.net/thefestival

Thursday, 5 September 2013

TIFF13: There's Something About Alanis Obomsawin (Hi-Ho Mistahey)


HI-HO MISTAHEY. There's something about award-winning director Alanis Obomsawin that the subjects of her documentaries must see as well. I'm not going to try and define it except to say that she has a touch that enables her to draw you into watching difficult subject matters on screen. A documentary about First Nations children demanding their rights to an education? Haven't I heard about these issues before? Yes, but what Alanis does in Hi-Ho Mistahey (as she does in all films) is engage both her participants and her viewers so that they connect: their story becomes ours. How can the Canadian government turn a blind eye to children loosing interest in school as early as grade 4? A string of freeing cold, vermin-infested portables has been the only "school" available to Attawapiskat First Nation children for over a decade, ever since their school proper was demolished because it turned out it was build on a toxic dump. Inspired by the late child activist Shannen Koostachin, Attawapiskat children took their cry for "safe and comfy schools, and equal education" rights to the UN in Geneva. Hi-Ho Mistahey is an eye-opening documentary about a subject we thought we knew all about, a subject whose easy fix makes its continuance all the more heartbreaking and infuriating.

SCREENINGS:
Saturday September 7
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
4:30 PM

Monday September 9
Jackman Hall
2:00 PM

Saturday September 14
Jackman Hall
6:00 PM


Toronto International Film Festival
September 5 - 15, 2013
Get Tickets: 
416.599.TIFF | 1.888.599.8433 | http://tiff.net/thefestival

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

TIFF13: Bad Boys, Bad Boys (Brazilian Western and iNumber Number)


BRAZILIAN WESTERN. I've looked up at enough screens to recognize a star when I see one, and there is no doubt in my mind that Brazillian television actor, Fabrício Boliveira, is a star. I'm talking the old school kind of star, a star that is both charismatic and an outstanding actor. The screen magic in Boliveira's soulful eyes and the restrained passion with which he plays his character, João, captivated me from the moment he appeared on screen. 

The Brazilian title of this film is based on a famous fold ballad, Faroeste Caboclo, in which an impoverished man murders his father's killer, moves to the city and tries to eschew his life of crime when he falls in love with a middle-class young woman, Maria Lúcia (Isis Valverde). Impeding João's ability to leave a life of crime is a rival drug dealer, Jeremias, who is obsessed with Maria Lúcia. In director, René Sampaio's version of the song, the love triangle, rather than the politics, is the focus of the film--a wise decision since to veer into the politics would have slowed down the screenplay and put the focus on Maria Lúcia's senator father, and we would loose screen time with the best part of this film, Boliveira's interpretation of João.  We get enough of the back story through the racial slurs cast at João, the and economic and complexion contrast between João and Maria Lúcia, and the actions of corrupt police officers, to fill in what is not expressed overtly. While I wasn't impressed with the chemistry between Boliveira and Valverde to really root for the couple, I had enough of an emotional investment in Boliveira to make up for the imbalance in the screen relationship. I can't wait to see where this young Brazilian actor's career is going; he's incredible.



iNUMBER NUMBER. After finding out that Presley Chweneyagae, the leading actor in Tsotsi was in a film at TIFF, I had to see it! iNumber Number (pronounced e-number, number) turned out to be the perfect little gangster heist (with a kicking soundtrack) that I was in the mood for, and the type of film that I would recommend to my guy friends looking to experience TIFF, but wouldn't step foot in a theatre showing an art-house movie. Chweneyagae's character, Shoes, plays the cop/sidekick to S'dumo Mtshali's (pictured above) Chilli. Chilli and Shoes are friends for life, but Chilli has become tired of playing by the rules, especially when his undercover role as a gangster exposes him to the potential riches of a bank heist. Director, Donovan Marsh, knows how to stretch his budget with pleasing spins on familiar situations, dialogue that is both witty and dark, and action sequences that pay off richly. In the mix, is the dramatic tension between the tag team duo of Shoes and Chilli, who leave us wondering if morality or economic temptation will win out at the end of the South African film. 


Toronto International Film Festival
September 5 - 15, 2013
Get Tickets: 
416.599.TIFF | 1.888.599.8433 | http://tiff.net/thefestival

Monday, 2 September 2013

TIFF13: Short Cuts Canada Programmes 6 and 5

I love short films. I'm always fascinated by how filmmakers rise to the challenge of constructing and delivering a compact visual story that has all the impact of a full-length feature. To me they are like the perfect hors d'oeuvres: a bite of bliss in one bite, or a bite of blech that conjures the Tom Hanks caviar moment in Big. I had a few blech moments watching the Short Cuts Canada Programme this year, with individual bites of perfection in each section, but with Programme 6 being the most satisfying viewing followed Programme 5.

 PROGRAMME 6

At left is director/writer, Jasmin Mozaffari, whose work, Firecrackers surprised me with the overall quality of the filmmaking and the depth of the acting (by Vanessa Orford and Lindsay Smith). Who hasn't seen the story before of two young women wanting to escape their small town prisons to make it in the big city? Mozaffari has crafted a film cloaked in gray and black, in which you can feel the girls' dreams and smell the despair of truck stop diners.


Nova Scotia's Cory Bowles has discovered a talent in young Keeya King (left), whose character Talia has much to learn about the Anatomy of Assistance. Surrounding King is a wealth of Canadian talent with the casting of Raven Dauda, Clé Bennett, and bit part by Sandi Ross.

Wayne Robinson's Foreclosure uses full-frontal male nudity to perfection as a metaphor for the vagaries of office life while Chris Goldade's Drop flips the switch by showing how a stay-at-home son interprets the sudden arrival of a World War II soldier landing in his parents' front yard. Jordan Hayes delivers a bit of romance to this section with a Lay Over, in which two twenty-somethings spend an evening taking in the sites of L.A. while Devan Scott's grad film, Paradiso, is a broad send up about brotherly love and being stuck in a hell of a heaven.

SCREENING DATES:
Thursday September 12
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
7:00 PM
Friday September 13
TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
12:15 PM 

PROGRAMME 5 HIGHLIGHTS

Two of my favourites in this section are Impromptu and Roland.

IMPROMPTU  is a gorgeous animated short by Bruce Alcock whose sweeping lines and colourations exquisitely complement the music of Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu and the actions and dialogue of Chuck and Sylvie as they negotiate their relationship and the mixed bag of abrasive, perplexing, amusing and increasingly inebriated guests that Sylvie has invited home for dinner. Bravo!

ROLAND directed by Trevor Cornish (co-written with Niall Kelly) is a hilarious satire set in the world of retail. "How can I help your art today?" is the greeting art store employee Roland (Daniel Beirne) spews by rote as he meets each client that comes into the store. While his coworker (stage/screen actress Lindsey Clark) chats on the phone leaving him to deal with customers, Roland's evening turns into a store clerk's nightmare (both perceived and real).

For information on other films in this section CLICK HERE.

SCREENING DATES:
Wednesday September 11
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
9:15 PM
Thursday September 12
TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
2:30 PM 

 

Toronto International Film Festival Sept. 5-15

Get Tickets: 416.599.TIFF | 1.888.599.8433

http://tiff.net/thefestival


Sunday, 1 September 2013

TIFF13: Nordic Films


When I get my TIFF programme book each year, I automatically flip to the back and look up Iceland to see which films will be screening. I developed this passion thanks to TIFF programmer Jane Schoettle, when she ran Sprockets (now TIFF Kids). From listings under Iceland, I peruse the rest of the Nordic film offerings before moving on to other countries to see what my favourite TIFF programmers have selected. Here are my thoughts on this year's Nordic films programmed by Steve Gravestock. (At left, me with Mamma Gogo director, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson).



FILMS FROM ICELAND...

METALHEAD. I haven't had a chance to see works by director, Ragnar Bragason, but programmer Steve Gravestock calls this film a "darkly comic drama about a grief-stricken young woman who adopts the persona — and decibel-blasting predilections — of her deceased brother." The editor on this one is Valdís Óskarsdóttir, who directed  a blast of a road comedy, Country Wedding (TIFF '08) and edited such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Finding Forrester, to name a few.

THIS IS SANLITUN. I'm curious to see how Reykiavik director, Róbert I. Douglas handles this comic co-pro (China, Iceland, Ireland) in which a "pair of hapless ex-pats discover that Beijing isn’t the hotbed of entrepreneurial opportunity they had anticipated" (Steve Gravestock). I enjoyed Douglas' last film at TIFF '05, Eleven Men Out, so I have high hopes for this one.


FROM DENMARK...
 
SEX, DRUGS & TAXATION. In this film "an alcoholic playboy and a meek tax lawyer join forces to revolutionize the travel industry and alter the country’s political landscape ."
Actor, Jesper Christensen's ("Mr. White" in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) name in the cast makes me curious to see this film set in the 1960's Denmark; as does Pilou Asbæk, who starred in TIFF12's A Highjacking. Another cast member, Nicolas Bro, has worked with director, Christoffer Boe on his film Beast, so the collaboration on this film places it fairly high on my Try to See list.


FROM NORWAY...

I AM YOURS. More ex-pats, but this time the setting is the Pakistani community in Norway. First time director, Iram Haq is one of the lucky and talented filmmakers whose work has made it into TIFF's Discovery programme. With dialogue in Norwegian, Urdu and Swedish, how can I resist this cultural invitation, especially when the editors are the team that cut my TIFF12 fave, The Hunt (Anne Østerud and Janus Billeskov Jansen), and Axel Helgeland, a producer on one of my favourite melodramas, I Am Dina, and for dogma fans, Lars Von Trier's' Breaking the Waves?


PIONEER. Axel Hennie, is an actor who can make me both love (Max, in Max Manus) and hate (Trond, in 90 Minutes) his characters with equal passion, is back on the TIFF screen this year in Pioneer, a film by Erik Skjoldbjærg, the director Insomnia (later remade by Christopher Nolan). Steve describes this one as a "propulsive, gritty film about the birth of the Norwegian oil industry in the early 1980s."


THE IMMORAL. I'm not familiar with director, Lars Daniel Krutzkoff Jacobsen's work, so I'm going to this one, simply because Steve's description promises something beyond the ordinary for this film. He calls it a boundary-pushing comedy that is both "corrosive" and "provocative." I'm a sucker for a film that "rampages through notions of good taste, as it follows an ex-soldier and a single mother who go into the prostitution business after getting kicked off welfare." Bring. It. On.

FROM SWEDEN...

HOTEL. Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair) stars in this comedy-drama as a recovering control freak who finds support and a new lease on life when she enters group therapy.

Confession time: I think I'm a 75% control freak. Not as tightly wound as Lisa Langseth lead character, but I do wonder how much of myself I'll see in this director's second feature film. There's nothing like the personal connection to get you into a theatre seat. Who's with me on this one? Control freaks unite!

WE ARE THE BEST. My punk rock soul is urging me on to see Lukas Moodysson's latest TIFF presentation, but my control freak mind is wondering how I'm going to mange to see all of these films! I love the idea of sitting in a movie theatre cheering on these three young women as they navigate high school and the 1980's scene in Stockholm. No doubt cinematographer, Ulf Brantås, will do as spectacular a job on this project as he did in other Moodyson films such as Show Me Love, Together and Fucking Amal.

FROM FINLAND...

CONCRETE NIGHT. Believe it or not I sometimes enjoy the catharsis of an "emotionally devastating work", which is why veteran filmmaker, Pirjo Honkasalo's film appeals to me. Honkasalo's film is in the Masters section at TIFF13, and I usually include a viewing of one of these works as I can sit back and let the film unfold, certain that I am in the hands of greatness; however, the bleakness of this tale about "a fourteen-year-old boy in a stifling Helsinki slum [who] takes some unwise life lessons from his soon-to-be-incarcerated older brother" might be too much for me. I don't know...


HEART OF A LION. This one is definitely on my Must See list, as the director, Dome Karukoski, is someone I interviewed at TIFF10, and whose film Lapland Odyssey, I thoroughly enjoyed. I can't wait to see how he shapes this film about a skinhead who falls in love with a woman with a child who is half Black. Perkele!


Toronto International Film Festival
September 5 - 15, 2013
Get Tickets: 
416.599.TIFF | 1.888.599.8433 | http://tiff.net/thefestival