Toronto International FIlm Festival ’13 Diary: Day 1

September 7, 2013
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Each year that I come to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), I adjust a few things and alter a few habits in a constant effort to “get better” at being a festivalgoer. This year I took the train so I could begin the festival well-rested and not have to deal with Toronto parking, I got most of my tickets through a pre-selected package for a more solidified schedule, and I made a commitment to no early shows and no midnight shows so I can maintain a regular sleeping and writing routine. But if Day One taught me anything, it’s that virtually all of that was in vain.

I slept on the train, but not enough. I was still tired and dozed off during about 15 minutes of my second screening. I might not have had to deal with last year’s parking debacle, but it seems no matter what time I arrive in Toronto and no matter how little I have to do prior to the first screening, circumstances will conspire to make me nearly late anyway. (This time it was waiting over two hours in line to pick up my tickets.) And the last screening started so late that not only did I sleep through a small chunk of it, it also meant that the first night of the fest already broke my two cardinal rules for TIFF ’13: Write and go to bed by 2:00am every night. So here we are, the end of Day Two, my schedule is jacked up, I’ve already fallen asleep in one movie, and I’m just now sitting down to write about Day One. Sigh.

Anyway, my #whitegirlproblems aside, I’m at a film festival! For the first time in my four years coming to TIFF, the fest kicked off with an archival screening.

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The Big Chill

Why You Might Care: The Big Chill had its world premiere at TIFF in 1983, and to commemorate the 30th anniversary, it rescreened as the opening event this year. The film’s writer/director Laurence Kasdan brought along most of the original cast and crew for a rousing on-stage interview and Q&A afterward. Six of the eight main cast members (Tom Beringer, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams) were all in attendance, with only William Hurt and Jeff Goldblum absent.

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At the original Toronto premiere in 1983, L to R: Glenn Close, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, and Jeff Goldblum

Why You Should Care: Put simply, this is one of the best American films of the 1980s. In many ways, it was the last gasp of the 70’s style of filmmaking that cinephiles so frequently romanticize. But just as surely, it’s one of the films that defined the 80’s style with its blockbuster soundtrack, and the way some the film’s characters shed the idealism of their youth seemed to almost preordain what Hollywood would turn into for the rest of that maligned decade. But for anyone who didn’t grow up to be whom they thought they would (translation: all of us), The Big Chill remains a startlingly relevant film about friendship, ideals, changing priorities, and really, adulthood itself.

If you haven’t seen the film yet (and you really, really should), the gist is pretty simple: A group of baby-boomers who were tight nit college friends in the 1960s reunite at the funeral of one of the friends who killed himself. The group then stays together for the weekend at a South Carolina vacation house and they reminisce on their lives. Meanwhile, the soundtrack of old Motown and Rock & Roll tunes is a ubiquitous and essential part of the film.

For a movie that was already about a reunion of people who hadn’t really seen each other in over ten years, it was especially meta to bring the cast and crew back together 30 years on. But the interview and Q&A was wonderful, and everyone shared fun anecdotes about the making of the film (for instance, Kevin Kline and Jeff Goldblum nicknamed the condo they shared during filming “The G-Spot”). For me, the most valuable bit was Kasdan himself commenting on where the film’s title derived from: “That moment when you realize your values are so at odds with someone that you literally feel a chill running down your spine.”

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The assembled cast & crew of The Big Chill, thirty years later

 

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The Past

Why You Might Care: The Past was written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, whose previous film, the immensely powerful A Separation, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film two years ago. Berenice Bejo (the female lead in The Artist) won Best Actress in Cannes for her performance here.

Why You Should Care: Moving the action from Iran to France, The Past thematically feels like a bit of a follow-up to A Separation, as this time around, the protagonists are already separated and starting the legal process of divorce. Gone are all of the religious catalysts that fired up the drama and intensity in the previous film, but The Past finds its way there regardless. Three children, who each give staggering performances that will surprise and move you, complicate matters, and the emotional beats the film hits all feel natural and palpable.

Like in A Separation, Farhadi employs a realism style that utilizes no music until the end and minimal camera movements or editing that calls attention to itself. The feel of the film is almost like Michael Haneke, only Farhadi isn’t being deliberately confrontational with his audience. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get some good screaming, and Bejo brings her A-Game. After most American audiences were introduced to her through a silent film, her lungs really get a workout in the heated emotional exchanges Farhadi captures. Her Cannes honors were well deserved. Unfortunately I dozed a bit during the final third of the film—due to sleep problems, definitely not because the film lost my interest—so I can’t really speak on the film’s conclusion. But what I saw was mostly great, and nearly up to the standard Farhadi set with A Separation. I would expect The Past to contend for this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

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Asghar Farhadi (and his interpreter) discussing his film The Past

Tomorrow: The new Kristen Wiig film, an Errol Flynn biopic starring Kevin Kline, and Jason Reitman directing a live table read of Boogie Nights.

 

Daniel Joyaux is a film and entertainment critic living in Ann Arbor. You can follow him on Twitter @thirdmanmovies for constant updates throughout the fest, and see more of his writing at thirdmanmovies.blogspot.com