With the pass that I have, I can screen as many “press/industry screenings” that I’d like during the festival. That said, those screenings are just screenings. It’s awesome to have the opportunity to see so many films with an audience, but part of the reason I come to a festival (people come for a variety of reasons) is to hear filmmakers talk about their craft. Thus I have the opportunity to obtain two “public screening” tickets per day. Public screenings are the fun, glamorous screenings where they roll out the red carpet and hold Q&A’s with directors, producers, screenwriters and actors. These tickets are only available two days in advance of each screening, so I find myself in line every day during the festival…usually before 7am.
This morning, I was out to obtain tickets for Barry Jenkins’ MOONLIGHT and a curated interview with Isabelle Huppert. Both take place on Saturday…and I got both!
Then I was off to my first screening at 9:00am – Kenneth Lonergan’s MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. This film had a lot of tonal qualities of Lonergan’s first feature – YOU CAN COUNT ON ME. With a wonderful central performance by Casey Affleck (and a spectacularly touching small role by Michelle Williams), the story is about a man who seems to lead a rather thankless life of mundane routines (he’s a janitorial handy man for an apartment complex). When he gets a call that his brother has passed away, he is forced to confront lingering pain from his past – told through a series of flashbacks. Though I thought the film was a bit overscored, the drama really works and the story unfolds in a lovely way. There were a couple moments of schtick that I thought seemed a bit out of place – but so is life. I think this film will go far.
Olivier Assayas’ PERSONAL SHOPPER was next on my list. This non-traditional ghost story had me teetering back and forth throughout…I was invested, I was raising my eyebrows, I was intrigued, I was disappointed…and then I ultimately was sold by the final 10 minutes. Kristen Stewart gives a great performance as a woman who shops for high-end designer clothing and jewelry for a wealthy client who is always on the go. She’s also a medium. While trying to connect to the spirit world for a client, she’s also hoping to catch a sign from her recently deceased brother. Assayas’ previous work included THE CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (with Juliette Binoche as well as Stewart) and of my favorites from TIFF in 2008 – SUMMER HOURS. This film won’t go down as one of my favorites, and I know many people will be quite disappointed, but I was a fan by the end.
The third film of the day for me was Terence Davies’ A QUIET PASSION – a film about Emily Dickinson starring Cynthia Nixon. The film opens in a sort of parochial school. A teacher asks students who have given themselves to Christ to go to one side and for students who are still working toward giving themselves to Christ to the other. Left in the middle is one student – a young Emily Dickinson (at this point played by Emma Bell). The dialog is sharp and thoughtful (one of the best strengths throughout the film), and the teacher eventually tell Dickinson, “You stand alone in your rebellion.” This telling line haunts the remainder of the film. Though I found some filmmaking devices to be odd choices (one superimposed was particularly weird), it’s ultimately a thoughtful and visually stunning film with wonderful performances and some very funny moments due to razor sharp dialog.
The official “Opening Night Film” was a big Hollywood remake – THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, directed by Antoine Fuqua (SOUTHPAW, BROOKLYN’S FINEST) and starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and many more. Here’s the point that some of you might find disappointing…I left 20 minutes into the film. (I almost never write about films that I don’t finish.) I went to the Opening night with my friend Glenn Kiser – a great filmmaker who attended The Dayton LGBT Film Festival with his short film SABBATICAL. We had “great” seats – very close to the stage…only paces from all of the stars and director. The movie started an hour late and the speakers were above us – thus pushing the sound far behind us and bouncing off the back walls. Having difficulty understanding any of the dialog, we decided to leave. Not being a film I would seek out under any other circumstances, I wasn’t disappointed…it gave me a great opportunity to catch up with Glenn and finally grab dinner.
At the end of the day, I’ll simply say I’ve seen 3 films (and a dozen stars) so far.
Thanks for reading!