In my previous dispatch, I said the back half of the festival is often the best half. Perhaps that needs a little more elaboration. Yes, the excitement and hype is over, but for a local, the more relaxed atmosphere of the last few days has its appeal. Most of the guests are gone, press screenings have come to an end, and King Street is starting to look like its normal self again. The mania has dissipated, allowing a certain sense of purity to emerge on the second weekend. The festival is a lot more accessible; it’s easy to just run up the street and hit up a film after work. And it’s a great time to just hang out and watch movies, casually walking into screenings for some of the year’s biggest festival debuts.
Over three-hundred films were invited to TIFF, and as we settle into the final weekend, these films are getting second or even third screenings. It’s a good time to cram in a few more movies, or catch up with the ones you couldn’t fit into your schedule earlier. And beyond the allure of the red carpet is an opportunity to catch up with films from, say, the Cannes Film Festival. One of the most discussed films this year was Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, which wowed audiences with its technical showmanship. I raced down to the Scotiabank theatre after work to squeeze in a screening, and I’m glad I did. This kind of movie is the reason big screens exist.
I don’t know how much I can really say about the film right now. Festival fatigue started to catch up to me again (working all day didn’t help, I’m sure) and I was feeling fairly drowsy as the film started to roll. I didn’t fall asleep at any point—that I can remember—but I struggled for a while and found it difficult to focus. As it turns out, I may have stumbled upon the best way to watch the film. Long Day’s Journey into Night is literally about a dude who falls asleep in a movie theatre, resulting in an astonishing narrative bifurcation, the details of which I don’t want to spoil (but if you’ve already read about the film, you may have heard about its impressive technical feats).
Confusion also seems to be a deliberate element of the films’s design, as the first half is highly fragmented and non-linear, operating more like a reverie than a rational detective story. The film’s second half stands in stark contrast, stylistically, and continually references or reconfigures the first, resulting in a hazy, shadow-soaked landscape of memories and filmic echoes. Every element of the production, from the gorgeous lighting (the film had three different cinematographers working on it) to the haunting music (provided by Hsu Chih-Yuan and Lim Giong), works together to mesmerizing effect. I have no idea what any of this is about. All I know for sure, at this moment, is that I can’t wait to see it again.
Premiering just two weeks ago at the Telluride Film Festival, Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer finds Nicole Kidman kicking ass and taking names—when she’s not hungover or puking or getting the shit kicked out of her as well. Kidman stars as Erin Bell, a homicide detective convinced that a phantom from her past has resurfaced. She’s a stereotypical “loose cannon,” attempting to track him down and bring him in while ghosting her partner and throwing out the rule book. All that’s missing is a scene where she throws her badge; hilariously, though, we get a couple scenes where she flashes her badge and nobody cares. She also struggles to raise a daughter who blatantly disrespects her. That’s to say, you’ve seen this material before, but you’ve never seen Kidman muscle her way through it like this.
I found myself somewhere in the middle on Destroyer. The material, alas, is frustratingly underdeveloped and even unimpressive. There are a couple different angles I could think to explore when considering the film’s structure, but they involve ending spoilers, so I’ll save them for another time. Suffice to say, however I slice it, I just don’t think a lot of it works. Kidman does her best, and Kusama’s visual sensibilities are at times striking. I like a lot of what Kusama is doing here on paper, particularly with the ending. But none of it is enough to salvage poor scripting. The film’s problems are best illustrated by the big plot twist, sure to leave you scratching your head—not because it is confusing, but because it is so incredibly, hilariously inconsequential to the story itself.
Premiering exactly one week ago here in Toronto, Yury Bykov’s The Factory is a tense and taut action thriller, suffused with ethical dilemmas and, dare I say, economic anxiety. Five years ago at this very festival, as I was looking for a couple extra films to slot into my closing weekend schedule, I was attracted by some critical buzz to a little-known Russian film, The Major. I had never heard of Bykov before, but after getting my ass kicked by that film’s bleak, unrelenting drama, I made sure to file his name away as one to watch. As I’ve said before, the glitz and glamour is appealing and exciting, but this is a festival for everyone, with hidden gems scattered throughout, waiting to be discovered. The Major was one such gem, ensuring I would turn up whenever Bykov returned to TIFF; five years was a long time to wait (his previous film, The Fool, did not screen here), but The Factory did not disappoint.
The film stars Denis Shvedov, who worked with Bykov before on The Major, playing Greyhair, a factory worker who springs into action when the owner decides to shut down operations and lay off the staff. He convinces a few of his co-workers to kidnap the factory owner, demanding a ransom with the pretext of unpaid wages. The film is a lean, mean and ruthless genre exercise, with one particularly intense action sequence that Bykov directs with exceptional skill. But it’s a grounded film, never losing sight of harsh realities and the thorny moral maze into which each character helplessly stumbles. I remember thinking The Major stumbled in its plotting towards the end, but The Factory builds confidently to an unsettling and clear-eyed conclusion, boasting one of the most simple and effective closing shots I’ve seen in a movie all year.
Up next, my final dispatch for the year, in which I take a look at Lee Chang-dong’s Burning and Shinya Tsukamoto’s Killing and reflect on the festival as a whole.
The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6th to 16th, 2018.