Sunday, September 12, 2010

TIFF 2010 reviews: Beginners

You know that whole “feels like” concept that everyone’s always on about at work, that thing that kind of feels like air-filling chatter to mask existential unsettledness? “I can’t believe this is Tuesday, it feels like a Friday already!” “Oh my god, it’s only 11? It feels like lunchtime!” I had that vibe for about half of today. I suppose it’s because, as the TIFF begins every year the Thursday after an always-shifting Labour Day, it kind of slides around the month of September from year to year. It’s already the twelfth, and despite having been to only one of my eleven planned screenings, the overcast skies and blustery breezes that signal the official start of autumn in this city, some part of my brain kept telling me that the festival was in winding down mode.

And maybe it was, sort of. The opening of the Bell Lightbox, a gargantuan fiveplex cinema and gallery with unfathomably expensive condos attached, that has been talked about endlessly for the past few years of the festival, finally came to pass with a ribbon-cutting and block party, and the doors were flung open for the public to explore. Not sure exactly what one expects from a building that’s supposed to celebrate Canadian film by bringing it to the masses right’s not like film fans are going to be able to walk in off the street and chat up David Cronenberg in the bookstore or get popcorn refills served by Bruce McDonald (well, maybe they will at that...). When all is said and done, it is a mighty impressive building, but still one that comes off as a big, clean, movie theatre with a moderately academic feel. The initial programs already feel a bit too indebted to The Canon Of Great Cinema—round-the-clock Rules Of The Game screenings to begin immediately and coming soon, the moderated debate “Citizen Kane: best movie of all time or the greatest film ever? Discuss!”—but I don’t know, maybe the staidness will dissipate in time. Right now the whole thing seems a bit anticlimactic.

Anyway, I only stayed long enough to catch a glimpse of Jason Reitman in the press gaggle, check out the bookstore, collect my free thumb-sized cupcake and hear some band from Quebec with an unclear connection to the whole affair rocking out on an adjacent stage. Fortunately, I had a screening at three so I was unavailable to hear the Surprise Special Guest, smug and annoying rapper K’Naan (What? You were expecting Springsteen?) and the inevitable performance of his metaphor-mangling flag song.

That screening was of Beginners, a touching and subtle dramedy by Mike “not the guy in REM, the other one, dammit!” Mills and I really wish I hadn’t made that connection because I’ve been humming “Texarcana” ever since I did. The film, somewhat autobiographical apparently, stars Ewan McGregor as a Los Angeles graphic artist mourning the death of his father, who had outed himself in his seventies and is played in flashbacks by Christopher Plummer. While grappling with his emotional upheaval, he finds himself involved with a visiting French actress played by Mélanie Laurent, which is exactly how I hope I’ll be able to get through the loss of my parents, with a gamine-like European woman dropping into my life and shagging me silly in a five-star hotel for a few weeks.

Actually...that’s undeserved snark. The movie is really an incisive exploration of the themes of grief and healing, of children coming to terms with the fact that their parents had rich inner lives of their own, all set in the nooks and crannies of L.A. that don’t get seen on the big screen that often. The movie never becomes a Gay Film; that aspect of the father’s life is a dominant theme, but despite plenty of Dolby-loud smooches between Plummer and a creepily youthful-looking Goran Visnjic, Mills simply presents it as an honest and important part of a well-lived life. The title is a bit of a misnomer: the film isn’t so much about beginnings at all, but about endings, of letting things go...and then moving on so I guess it is about beginnings in an ourobouros kind of way, but the film maintains such a fantastic mood of final steps into maturity and understanding that it’s much more a sunset film than a sunrise one, if you know what I mean. (***1/2)

Good Q&A afterwards: McGregor is sadly in Scotland on another shoot so he couldn’t make it and Plummer was also MIA at least for this screening (it premiered last night) but the luminous Mélanie Laurent was on hand as well as a couple of supporting players, all heaping praise on Mills, who absolutely deserves it. I ran into him near the limousine pickup spot as I was heading to dinner and we chatted a bit; I was wondering if a bookstore that makes a few appearances in the movie is the one I loved when I lived in L.A., not too far from Hollywood and Highland (it wasn’t, but he knows the one I was talking about). Off to Zyng for some Szechuan noodles and then some crazy Filipino exploitation fun.

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