Today was my 2nd day of screenings for the festival, and the first film I saw was ON CHESIL BEACH, directed by Dominic Cooke – based on the novel by Ian McEwan (McEwan wrote the screenplay too and was part of the Q&A). This very British film has an incredible central performance by Saoirse Ronan. Set mostly in the 1960s, the film is about two newlyweds who are having trouble consummating their relationship while on their beachside honeymoon. A series of flashbacks help us understand their backstories and courtship, and the story is beautifully told. The film might be described as a bit staid by some, but I think it’s quite eloquent…though it could use one more cut. There are a couple scenes that are absolutely brilliant, and I think this film will eventually find distribution.
GRACE JONES: BLOODLIGHT AND BAMI was the second film I saw today. Directed by Sophie Fiennes, this documentary was funded by folks in Ireland and the UK. Though Ms. Jones is an exceptional and striking performance artist, this film is entirely too long given the footage on display. It makes sense that the director attempted to make an unconventional doc given her subject, but the grainy (VHS-looking) quality of the footage does a disservice to the material – especially the concert footage. There are a lot of gems in this film, but an hour-long version would be much stronger. (And I’d still love to see a documentary that contextualizes Ms. Jones and her artistic process in the fabric of the music scene.)
LADY BIRD, Greta Gerwig’s feature-length directorial debut, was the winner for today. Saoirse Ronan stars as a high school senior living in Sacramento, California who really wants to get out of town, and her parents are expertly played by Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts. This quirky comedy seems to have flavors of so many people with whom Gerwig has worked. It’s a little bit Baumbach, a little bit Stillman…but still a whole lot of Gerwig. This film is a treat. (Timothee Chalamet also has a small part in this film. This officially makes Saoirse and Timothee two of the “It” gang for the season. Both have incredible ranges and are a joy to watch on screen.) During the Q&A (check out the photo I took below), Gerwig said that the film is about realizing how much you love something as you’re preparing to leave. When she came to the stage to a standing ovation, she was in tears. This personal film is certainly worth celebrating, and it’s clear that the film is coming from someone with a sincere, lovely attachment to the material.
During the Q&A, Gerwig also noted that the casting of Saoirse Ronan was born at TIFF in 2015. The two both had films at the festival that year (BROOKLYN and MAGGIE’S PLAN) – and that’s when they met and read the script together in Ronan’s hotel room (Ronan read the lead and Gerwig read all the other parts). Gerwig knew that Ronan was perfect for the role, and she pushed back production by 6 months to make certain it would work for everyone’s schedule.
I capped off the night at a fun party hosted by IFC with a couple friends who I met in Dayton over the years. My friend Glenn works at Dolby and was a guest of the Dayton LGBT Film Festival several years ago (we’ll see several films together over the next few days), and Charlie is a publicist (representing a great roster of films this year) who regularly visits Dayton with his partner who grew up in Miamisburg. It’s been great catching up with both of them.
Thanks for reading!