Sunday, August 13, 2017

MIFF: Shenanigans rewarded, and my second MIFF Lanthimos

On Saturday I caught what would be called a "day-night doubleheader" in baseball terms -- one MIFF movie in the afternoon, a break in between, and another MIFF movie at night. If the schedule holds, I'll be doing the same thing next Saturday to close out the festival.

"If the schedule holds" is an important phrase to include here, because my first film was an example of the schedule not holding -- twice.

The first was a 3:45 screening of Claire Denis' film Let the Sunshine In, whose French title literally translates as "Bright Sunshine In" (and is translated on screen as such). I guess a Hair reference seemed like a slightly better marketing hook for the film.

There were two different reasons I might not have seen Denis' film, whatever you want to call it. The first was that I had originally intended to use that time slot for the moving Van Gogh painting Loving Vincent, which just looks gorgeous. But as I twiddled my thumbs and failed to buy tickets in a timely fashion, it sold out, and I had a conflict for its second screening. I'll just have to catch that in the theater or on video later on.

Then the second shenanigan was when I bought tickets for Let the Sunshine In as a substitute, but bought them for the wrong session. Last Sunday my wife called out to me, freaking out as she received a reminder about my Monday screening of this movie. A screening which conflicted with an event she already had on for the evening. I'd inadvertently clicked on the wrong link, and as the account is under my wife's name and email address, she received the reminder.

Fortunately, MIFF is very forgiving about these things -- surprisingly so. For a fee of only $1, you can exchange a session you can't make for any other session for which there are available tickets. And though it did eventually sell out, the second Let the Sunshine In screening qualified. First time I've had to do an exchange in four years at MIFF, and it worked like gangbusters.

Well it was worth the effort. I really enjoyed this film which has (as you can see from the poster) Juliette Binoche at its center. After one previous Denis film under my belt, Bastards, I had the sense that she was a pretty dark and brooding filmmaker, but this one is pretty much as sunny as its title. That's not to say Binoche's character doesn't both encounter and inflict pain as she fumbles through the romantic life of a divorcee in modern-day Paris, but that most of it is leavened with humor, if not downright comedic in nature. Binoche herself is 53, though I don't know if the character she's playing is meant to be that old. But she's definitely meant to be someone at an age where she has more than enough options for suitors, but none she really wants, or the ones that she wants don't want her. I suppose that describes the romantic fumblings of anyone at any age, but this is a mature, wistful look at the dwindling optimism a woman who is increasingly less sure she will end up with a soulmate. That might sound banal, but this film isn't, in part because all of Binoche's many gifts -- for humor, for pain, to laugh as tears are streaming down her cheeks -- are on display here. She matches and unmatches with a half-dozen potential mates in this movie, almost disregarding logic and chronology, and each teaches her something she doesn't really want to know but is gradually growing to accept.

And though I don't usually like to spend much time on the appearances of actresses on this blog, as that's a bit shallow at best and sexist at worst, allow me a moment to do so in Binoche's case, in part because she is indeed on the wrong side of 50 and it's a bit less leering to do so. Although I've always recognized that Binoche is considered a beautiful woman, she hasn't really done it for me, especially not when she was a young woman (in films like The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The English Patient). Now that she is 53, I have never found her more beautiful, and this film accentuates this wonderfully with a bunch of long takes and intimate close-ups of her face.

I returned at night -- again to the Comedy Theatre, for my fourth time in six MIFF screenings -- for my second Yorgos Lanthimos film at MIFF. Two years ago I saw The Lobster here, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer tied Lanthimos for the most films at MIFF I've seen from a particular director. (I saw Kelly Reichardt's Night Movies in 2014 and Certain Women in 2016.) But this one was not without its shenanigans as well.

Although I'd been caught in the rain riding my bike home from Sunshine -- a bit ironic I guess -- I'd planned on that as my mode of transport back into the city for the 9:30 show of Deer. And five minutes before leaving I reconfirmed that decision by opening our back door and detecting an absence of actively falling precipitation.

Unfortunately, the situation was not the same five minutes after that. A light rain that almost immediately became a pelty rain greeted me when I tried to leave, and I just couldn't use my bike for transportation. And you can't get to this theater quickly by tram, a reality I faced two years ago when I had to call an Uber to get to The End of the Tour before its start time. The difference between two years ago and now was that now we have a car, but that prospect didn't provide me much comfort on a Saturday night, when parking was likely to be scarce in the city.

Well, I did manage to "find a park," to use the local parlance, but there were a few hairy moments in the wet weather, and a few traffic lights that seemed to last an eternity. Actually, I didn't end up cutting it all that close because they didn't let us into the theater until at least five minutes after its start time, and the movie itself did not commence until nearly 9:45. But the final shenanigan was that I inadvertently stood in the MIFF members queue when I first got there, which already seemed long enough. When I was pointed toward the obviously much longer general admission queue, which was an additional three-minute walk from where I'd been, I was pretty sure I'd be the last one in line, guaranteeing me an awful seat. Maybe ten others gathered behind me before we were let in, finally getting shelter from the rain, but the seating still didn't seem promising.

As luck would have it, it turned out great. There was a single seat floating in a row by itself, in the front and off to the side. And though that sounds kind of bad when you just describe it that way, I've never been one who has balked too much at a close seat. I prefer being closer than farther away -- you know, the whole "frame filling your field of vision" thing -- and at least in this case I had no one on either side of me to contend with. Quite a help in a theater not known for its comfortable seating.

And now we finally get to Lanthimos' film, which is an immediate contender for his best, and one of the best of the year. Before The Killing of a Sacred Deer, that honor was reserved for Dogtooth by a long shot. As I continue to process this I will really have to reconsider that.

A big difference between this and The Lobster, both of which star Colin Farrell, was that I knew nothing about the story before coming in. The Lobster's bizarre story could not help but precede it, but as this one is slightly more conventional, it had not yet been revealed to me. That turned out to be a great way to see one of Lanthimos' films, and the first time I'd seen one that way since Dogtooth. Lanthimos is always walking a tightrope between the comedic and the tragic, and he does that even better here than in his other films. In fact, while I laughed quite hard a number of times in this film, its overall tone reminded me much more of something by Stanley Kubrick or Jonathan Glazer than the tone of The Lobster -- and that is most certainly a good thing. The performances are great too, most notably Nicole Kidman and a younger actor I hated when I saw him in Dunkirk, Barry Keoghan, who reminds me a bit of a young Joel Edgerton, and whose contributions to this film defy description.

And that's all I'm going to give you on The Killing of a Sacred Deer at the moment, because I'd like you to go in as blankly as I did -- and because I already promised a friend of mine I would divulge nothing further about it (though hopefully he saw I was going to talk about it and stopped reading this).

I'm taking a few days off from MIFF now, with my next screening scheduled for Wednesday night. Hopefully I'll blog about something not related to a film festival for the first time in like a month in the interim.

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