Now Playing at the Row Three Rep: The Nazi Occupation Triple Bill

[Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema]

The Nazi Occupation Triple Bill

Rome Open City – 5pm
The Last Metro – 7pm
Army of Shadows – 9:30pm

Europe in the earlier half of the 1940s was thick with uncertainty, fear, and violence, gripped by the ever-spreading menace of Nazi Germany. The cities and countries that fell before it – not least of all portions of Italy and France – were forced to confront the new, stifling conditions of occupation. The civilians who chose to stay carried on as best they could while others rose to new challenges in their tireless efforts to evade, thwart, and defeat the invaders. This time of soldiers, spies, traitors, and heroes has become the stuff of many great films that span a gamut of genres from action to romance to tragic drama. The three films chosen for this triple bill come from some of Europe’s most renowned arthouse legends, each of whom produced their own distinct and personal chronicle of life under Nazi occupation. Through strikingly different cinematic styles and perspectives, viewers will be led along a winding path of tense situations, deep emotions, and ethical conflicts brought about by this dramatic chapter of history.
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Mark Cousins’ Film Festival Manifesto

It seems that this past September, Mark Cousins, creator of The Story of Film: An Odyssey, published an intriguing manifesto calling for a re-evaluation of values and aims among the film festival programmers of the world that is just beginning to emerge within the online film community (I only discovered it this past week courtesy of MUBI’s Notebook). You can view and save it in .PDF form here; I for one, as someone who loves to attend and cover film festivals when I can, am definitely in support of this document’s spirit of adventure and call for positive change in the rather insular world of film festivals. Whenever I go to a film festival, it’s not just the films that draw me in, but also all the other delights that that specific experience can offer. Thus, I am all for the inclusiveness, creativity, sense of identity, and close-knit, communal vibe that make film festivals so special and that Cousins is beseeching fest organizers to not lose sight of.

How about everyone else – thoughts?

Toronto After Dark 2012: Crave

Crave is one of those cinematic character studies that maintains a constant up-close proximity to its main subject, reflecting his yearning, frustration, and self-acknowledged inadequacies with stinging clarity. Portrayed with great skill by Josh Lawson, Aiden is a solitary freelance photographer who most often finds work shooting grisly crime scenes. As he spends his days and nights traveling through Detroit’s seamier areas, he becomes increasingly bitter and angry about the sickening flood of crime and death he witnesses on a regular basis. He frequently supplies himself with sad little hits of relief and pleasure from his overactive imagination: exaggerated fantasies of gruesome revenge and sexual rewards that repeatedly backfire on Aiden once he is forced to return once more to the pathetic reality of his own passivity and cowardice. His inner storm of loathing and violence growing by the day, he desperately seeks advice and peace of mind from the closest thing to a friend he has, Ron Perlman’s weary, wise veteran cop Pete. Things begin to look up for Aiden after a heat-of-the-moment fling with his attractive younger neighbor Virginia (Emma Lung) slowly gives way to the promise of a meaningful relationship, though the new connection only leads to a new crop of complications and disasters as he finds it more and more difficult to keep his simmering emotions and poorly executed vigilante schemes in check.
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Shorts That Are Not Pants – October 2012

Last week, Toronto filmgoers were given a very special treat courtesy of James McNally and his labor of love since late 2009, Shorts That Are Not Pants. The latest edition of the screening series, which is exclusively devoted to short films and occurs at various points throughout the year, was held in a brand new venue for the first time: the newly renovated Carlton Cinema, located in the heart of Toronto near Yonge-Dundas Square. With the closing of the series’ previous home, the NFB Cinematheque, and the recent announcement of the Worldwide Short Film Festival’s indefinite hiatus, such events devoted to independent and short films are more important than ever in a city that seems to be becoming increasingly problematic for film programmers and festival curators outside of established players like TIFF and Hot Docs. But thankfully, all the signs point to Shorts That Are Not Pants only continuing to thrive, as not only did last week’s screening get a great turnout, but all seven films shown were very well-made and enjoyable and the whole program clocked in at just under seventy minutes, a perfect running time for a shorts program. There’s no doubt that James has cultivated a real knack for preparing these marvelous events, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll have planned for the program’s next edition, which will hit Toronto in January 2013. Until then, here are some of my thoughts on the assorted gems I recently got to see.

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Cinephilia Française: The Lower Depths (1936)


Early on in his filmmaking career, Jean Renoir struggled to find critical success and financial stability. Whether forced to sell the paintings passed down to him from his father, Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir, to cover his debts or subjected to mixed audience reactions and considerable cuts made to his films, he had to face many uncertain years before reaching the success and respect he would enjoy later in his life. His 1936 adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s play The Lower Depths gave him a helpful boost in that direction, earning him the very first Louis Delluc Prize and positive results from both critics and the box office. Additionally, it was his first collaboration with French star Jean Gabin, who would work with Renoir again in such notable films as La bête humaine, Grand Illusion, and French Cancan.
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Cinephilia Française: Children of Paradise (1945)

Within the immense gallery of great French films, Children of Paradise stands out like a grand mural painted with many colors, bold brush strokes, and precise attention to detail. Directed by the great Marcel Carné and written by his regular collaborator Jacques Prévert, it is an ambitious feat of cinema; a period piece set in Paris in the 1820s and ‘30s that seemed to have all the odds against its creation. Its production slowly progressed throughout the German occupation of France during World War II, which made film stock and construction material for the sets in short supply. The project served as a fortuitous hiding place for Resistance fighters who worked throughout the shoot as extras while two more central figures, production designer Alexandre Trauner and composer Joseph Kosma, had to made their contributions covertly due to their Jewish roots (in the cut presented on the Criterion Collection DVD, they share a special title card at the end of the opening credits). Following France’s liberation, the film was finally released in 1945, its three-hour running time split into two parts entitled The Boulevard of Crime and The Man in White due to a restriction on film duration at the time.
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TIFF 2012 / Cinephilia Française: Something in the Air (2012)

“Nothing tells memories from ordinary moments. Only afterwards do they claim remembrance on account of their scars.” – from Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962)

By 1971, the year in which Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air (titled Après Mai in French) kicks off, the film containing this wise bit of narration was already nine years old, and the French New Wave, to which it is loosely connected through timing and Marker’s affiliation with such figures as Agnès Varda and Alain Resnais (who are linked to that key period of film history, but often considered as a separate contingent of it under the term “Left Bank”), was a thing of the past. So too was May 1968, along with the feelings of solidarity and turbulence given off by the student and worker uprisings that gripped France in that short period of time, born from the striking parties’ broiling anger and determination to fight against the inadequacies of President de Gaulle’s government. Assayas grew up in a post-May ’68 France (as he describes in his autobiographical book A Post-May Adolescence: Letter to Alice Debord, which has been recently published in English for the first time by the Austrian Film Museum to coincide with Something in the Air’s expanding festival run) and established himself as both a film critic for the hallowed Cahiers du Cinéma and a filmmaker in a post-New Wave French film industry. Thus, in both politics and cinema, he was forced to come of age and find his true place without the comforting, unifying pull of a focused cause shaped by the hopes and fervor of like-minded comrades. He was truly of a lost generation left in the shadows of momentous changes and dramatic events that had long since passed, leaving behind a strange climate of ambiguity and aimlessness. Fortunately, Assayas (as well as other filmmakers of his time, including Claire Denis and Arnaud Desplechin) realized that the best way to challenge the New Wave’s legacy was to simply not challenge it, opting instead to better understand his personal relationship with story, character, theme, and form in cinematic terms, a focus that has successfully resulted in one of contemporary cinema’s most inspiring and exciting bodies of work.
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Cinephilia Française: Zero for Conduct (1933)

Arriving after the avant-garde city tour À propos de Nice (1930) and short profile piece Taris (1931) featuring French swimming champion Jean Taris, Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct marked the filmmaker’s first proper foray into fiction, though it is anything but a conventional storytelling exercise. Sadly, this forty-four minute-long film and the remarkable 1934 feature L’Atalante would be all that the world would see of Vigo’s highly original experimentations with narrative due to his death at the age of twenty-nine from tuberculosis. But the film world continues to cherish the precious gifts he left behind, with Zero for Conduct easily one of the most adored among them.
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Introducing Cinephilia Française

Recently, while considering films I wanted to write about to get me back into the review game, I realized that a great many of them either hailed from France or were international productions from French filmmakers. That, plus my long-standing fondness for certain French filmmakers like Truffaut, Tati, Varda, Melville, and many others, got me thinking about an idea for a new column that I’m happy to unveil here on Row Three: Cinephilia Française. Basically, about once a week I will provide a fresh review of a film that, whether through setting, subject, or filmmaker origins, can be considered part of France’s rich cinematic legacy. There won’t be any strict chronological order to the films selected (though little thematic arcs may pop up occasionally); therefore, you could get a classic of 1930s poetic realism one week, a lesser-known film from the 2000s the next, a New Wave or Left Bank gem after that. In this free and winding manner, I’m hoping this column provides a fun and informative look at the diversity of fascinating works that have emerged from France since the days of the Lumières and Méliès.

You can click on the new “Cinephilia Française” category tab on the side of this and other postings to check out French film reviews that will be filed in this series and that I’ve contributed to Row Three in the past, including the unofficial debut review for the column which explores Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum. Stay tuned for more in the weeks ahead, and thanks for reading!

Review: 35 Shots of Rum (2008)

35 Shots of Rum is one of the more recent efforts from the remarkable Claire Denis, made just one year before 2009’s White Material and nine after 1999’s haunting, poetic Beau Travail. It features many of her regular collaborators, including actor Grégoire Colin, cinematographer Agnès Godard, co-writer Jean-Pol Fargeau and the band Tindersticks. Set in a working class Paris neighborhood, it could be considered a tamer exercise than some of her more intense and abstract works – but by no means is it any less impactful.

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An Early Taste of the 2012 Shinsedai Cinema Festival

In one corner, a fiction-nonfiction hybrid following innovative rock band Shinsei Kamattechan and a number of their fans. In the other, a dark and eccentric tale in the vein of David Lynch. These are the films that will be bookending the fourth annual Shinsedai Cinema Festival in Toronto this upcoming summer. Last Saturday (March 10th), the festival organizers hosted a special screening of the 2011 omnibus film Quirky Guys and Gals at the Cinecycle event space on Spadina Avenue. Along with the screening, the event helped raise $151 for the Niji-Iro ‘Rainbow’ Cinema Support Project, which aids those still affected by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami one year later, and gave people a glimpse at some of the Japanese independent films that the festival will be featuring.

Here, you can see the trailers for the opening and closing night films. They are Yu Irie’s Ringing in Their Ears (pictured above) and Masafumi Yamada’s Tentsuki, both of which seeming to promise a refreshing and eclectic selection of films for viewers to dig into in a few months’ time.

The 2012 Shinsedai Cinema Festival will be hosted at the Revue Cinema in Toronto from July 12th to 15th. Check out the festival’s website for more information and to keep track of upcoming developments via Facebook and Twitter.