Piers Marchant at Toronto: Day Six

September 14, 2016

By Piers Marchant
for blood,dirt & angels

TIFF 2016: Day 6

Films: 3
Vibe: Nostalgic Afterglow

Blue Jay: A black and white talkie from the Duplass brothers (though the film is directed by Alex Lehmann), it essentially stars only two actors: Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson, who play Jim and Amanda, a pair of former high school sweethearts who happen to meet each other back in their hometown in the tangled mountains of northern California. The pair spend the rest of the day and night hanging out, being silly, getting nostalgic, very nearly having sex, and then, finally, spilling some of the bitterness and pain from their break-up 22 years before. As can be expected, the film has a kind of actor’s workshop feel to some of the larger scenes – the emotional climax is fueled by Duplass, of all people, who generally plays the sardonically impervious type of character – but the chemistry between them is strong, and Lehmann’s camera captures the landscape around them that really adds to the atmosphere of the piece. It’s a bit scattershot, tonally, but you care about these people and hope things turn out okay for them.

La La Land: To my stunned surprise – I am decidedly not a fan of the musical form, generally speaking – I was absolutely blown away by Damien Chazelle’s audacious follow-up to the excellent Whiplash. It utilizes all the standard elements of the genre –  big, show-stopping numbers; mooning, star-crossed lovers (played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone); soliloquy songs; dual dance choreographies, etc. – but plays them just enough against type (the show-stopper that opens the film takes place on a jammed up on-ramp on an L.A. highway, for example), and with such a pure heart, that you have no choice but to be taken along for the ride. Chazelle also imbues the film with humor, sharp dialogue, pointed jabs at the Hollywood lifestyle, and, most amazingly, a heart-rendering closing riff that will leave you in a puddle. Whether or not this jumpstarts the genre again – we haven’t exactly seen a tidal wave of silent films since The Artist won its Oscar – Chazelle’s film is both a loving ode to old Hollywood, and a strike for his own uniquely personal vision. Of all the films I’ve seen at this year’s TIFF, this is the one that will hit the biggest culturally, sort of like Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, but with brassy ballads and piercing duets in place of the stars.

Marija: Michael Koch’s film is an examination of the immigrant experience, and what it takes to survive in a country hostile to their success. The title character (played note-perfect by Margarita Breitkreiz) starts with next to nothing – she gets fired from her hotel cleaning job for stealing from the guests – and has to turn to unsavory practices in order to pay her rent. But she’s far savvier than the brutish men she has to deal with give her credit for, and proves her mettle and dedication to her own future over and over again. The film starts with her walking down a shady street, the camera in back of her so we can’t even see her face; by the end, she’s confidently walking towards us, finally an accepted member of her new country, which she’s only achieved by her steely grit and unflappable determination.

Tomorrow: On the last full day of the festival (already!?), we bring things home with a full slate: Tom Ford’s celebrated Nocturnal Animals; the Sci-fi extravaganza ARQ; the Michael Fassbinder/__Gleason thriller Trespass Against Us; the soulful character study Katie Says Goodbye; and we close out the festival with the

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