Arts Review, Movies

The Masters at TIFF 2016

The Masters at TIFF 2016 featured image

The Masters
TIFF Report #3
By Marc Glassman

For a lot of Zoomer age film critics, it was the auteur theory that first attracted us to cinema. The idea that a great director was an artist, whose style and philosophy could work through a variety of different genres conferred a respect to the whole process of viewing film. Approached with the right kind of discipline, it was possible to enjoy film not just because it was exciting and pleasurable to watch but as an art form, one worthy of as much consideration as painting, sculpting, classical music or dance.

It’s more than 60 years since Francois Truffaut first proposed la politique des auteurs. His theory is now considered old-fashioned in academic circles and has been supplanted by many other “readings” of cinema. But the romance of the director with the singular vision has persisted. It informs much of journalistic criticism and is often used to organise films at festivals.

TIFF is no exception. The Masters is their on-going celebration of the director as auteur. One of the elements that makes this programme exciting is the growing number of accepted auteurs. In the programme this year are such names as: Hirokazu Kore-eda from Japan; the Korean Kim Ki-Duk; Chile’s Pablo Lorraine; Gianfranco Rosi from Italy; and Canada’s own Deepa Mehta. They deserve to be in the august company of more established auteurs such as the Marco Bellochio from Italy; Poland’s Andrei Wajda; the Belgian Dardenne Brothers; Britain’s Terence Davies; Romania’s Christian Mungiu and Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar.

Quite frankly—and obviously I haven’t seen all of the films in this category—you can’t go seriously wrong attending Masters’ screenings. Some may prove to be slow-paced and there is always the risk of an artistic misfire, but you’re going to see the latest works by some of the greatest film artists on the planet.

Here are some recommendations—though, in accordance with TIFF’s embargo rules, I may or may not have seen these films—and am merely mentioning certain works as examples of the quality in the entire programming.

certainwomen_01Certain Women. Kelly Reichardt. US.

If this is the year for female directors, then surely one of the top people in the evolving canon is Ms. Reichardt, the director of Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and other exquisite mood pieces. Set in Montana, where the vast sky and mountainous terrain encourage quietude, Reichardt has placed four women: a mother dealing with her husband and teen daughter while building their house; a lawyer fighting sexism in her office and a ranch hand who forms a deep relationship with the woman teaching in her adult education class. The actors are Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and a newcomer, Lily Gladstone. And the director is Kelly Reichardt, which says everything if you still subscribe to the auteur theory.

A Quiet Passion
. Terence Davies. England.

One of the intriguing ways that people approach TIFF is to choose certain programmers as favourites. Though I see films selected by all the programmers, I think this can be a good tactic in such a big festival. If you do think about choosing programmers to follow, one of my recommendations is Piers Handling. The CEO of the festival has spent his life programming and writing about cinema and he has great taste. One of his choices this years is Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion.

Handling wrote this about the film: “Emily Dickinson is an ideal subject for a filmmaker as unremittingly erudite as Terence Davies.” No doubt that’s true and it should be added that Cynthia Nixon is the right person to play the determined, brilliant individual, who may have been America’s greatest poet.

This film is the antidote to a summer of comic book hero action films. Here is a quiet, hermetic film about a poet who did nothing brazenly heroic over the years apart from baring her soul in piece after piece. Should you see this film? It would help if you love Dickinson or at least enjoy poetry a lot.

julieta_01Julieta. Pedro Almodóvar. Spain.

I can’t tell you if I love a new film but nothing says that I can’t quote a critic in the U.K. Here’s what Mark Kermode in the Guardian wrote about Julieta: “Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s latest, his most moving and entrancing work since 2006’s Volver, is a sumptuous and heartbreaking study of the viral nature of guilt, the mystery of memory and the often unendurable power of love.”

That sounds like an endorsement, doesn’t it? But it’s not from me.

What makes this film particularly intriguing for Torontonians is that its literary source is Alice Munro’s collection of short stories Runaway. It still feels uniquely like an Almodóvar film but Munro’s underpinning may, indeed, make the work stronger. One hopes so—and one applauds Mr. Kermode.

The Unknown Girl (La fille inconnu).
The Dardennes. Belgium

A doctor refuses to see a potential patient. The next day, the woman is found dead. The doctor (played by Adele Haenel) is struck with guilt and is determined to find out as much as possible about the unknown woman. So begins a fascinating medically driven investigative procedural, much in line with the Dardennes’ works.

The film has, by all accounts, a wonderful narrative and some superb performances. It’s a film by the Dardennes, which means, for some, including me, a visceral look at Belgium’s class system and politics. This is clearly an auteur film but one which confronts issues of racism and immigration policies. It’s certainly a Masters film.

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

Tune in to hear Marc Glassman’s Art Reviews
Friday’s at 9:07am on Good Day GTA.

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