TIFF Report Day 1: Painting, Internal Processes & High School Horror
I’ve completed my first day of TIFF-ing and it’s great to be back in Toronto seeing the films enjoy their moment. I started by picking up my tickets at the box office, I’m now up to 39 screenings in 11 days planned. Here’s today’s offerings:
TIM’S VERMEER (dir. Teller)
In the world of artistry there isn’t any oil painter more intriguing than Johannes Vermeer. In today’s world there isn’t anyone more interested in everything and what I like to consider a professional hobbyist — other than maybe Richard Branson — than Tim Jenison. Tim has made his future in technology through software and graphics design and is now in the opportune position to do whatever he wants with his life. What he now seem to want to do is to recreate a “Vermeer” painting as Vermeer probably did it, and in this time he happens to have Penn Jillette as a friend who found this massively interesting and decided that he needed to get this on film.
The process of this painstaking project is so interesting for no other reason than Tim Jenison is interesting. He comes off as pretty much the real version of Tony Stark being the guy who loves engineering and problem solving such that we become invested in watching him solve the problem. Then when we get around to the execution of recreating the painting it becomes a world of artistry that we marvel at. Due to the mechanical nature of this man made process that Jenison discovers we’re left to question whether this is something that diminishes the value of art in itself or increases the value of technology. The two sides of the coin, one being completely subjective and in a analog discussion, and the other being completely objective and discrete in how it measures success and failure. In the world of art sometimes failure by the numbers is the highest form of artistic success, or that’s what a lot of film writers would make you think.
What makes this movie special is that it doesn’t diminish the work. In the world of art or technology while the end product is something that can be consumed and lauded or dismissed particularly quickly the production of it is something that takes years. The film forces us to be there with Tim the entire way as he draws lines so detailed that many others would ignore them saying that they wouldn’t be noticed, but they are, and much appreciated.
CLOSED CURTAIN (dir. Jafar Panahi & Kambuzia Partovi)
The tonal sequel to This is Not a Film, the 2011 film where Jafar Panahi discussed his constriction while being under house arrest and banned from filmmaking by the Iranian government for making propaganda anti-establishment films. Here we’re treated to a more narrative based outing by the filmmaker as we watch a Writer (Kambuzia Partovi) stuck at home as he attempts to hide away with a dog he just saved as it seems to be currently outlawed for dogs to be a part of society. On that same night Melika (Maryam Moqadam) appears and torments Writer as she questions his every habits and choices.
The film preys on what we can imagine is the internal process that is Jafar’s life right now. As a relatively prolific filmmaker in the 90s being restricted today it leaves him with little creative output and even would push a man to question his will to live as we see in the film from time to time. These are all things that I find fascinating as a personal document of one’s self state — and I for one hope that Panahi is fine and moving on to the next project — but at the same time the film falters in barely being able to keep it’s audience truly invested.
For the half of the film we’re left with just Writer and Melika and are left in the dark as to how this film relates to anything. It comes off as ridiculously obtuse and nothing more. However, when the second half comes in and we see Panahi himself appear and things start to come together is when the word “interesting” can be thrown into the mix. By then though most of the audience is already lost. Even for the audience that enjoyed This is Not a Film — not a mainstream effort by any stretch of the imagination — will find a tough time getting into this circular narrative.
ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (dir. Lucky McKee & Chris Sivertson)
If I had to put a stereotypical example of messy horror that attempts to be cheesily funny but fails at every turn this would be it. We have the high school setting with the typically snotty cheerleaders and the football players who think they’re the shit and then there’s the one outsider who just happens to be there… and there’s a witch somewhere in the middle of all that.
The film’s shock value is lost through completely unintentionally bad effects, inexplicable rules to govern the world of the film and villains that appear to be the main threat only in the final moments. At times the film just feels downright lost in it’s own subgenre of horror comedy. There are scenes where these cheerleaders become all powerful and it’s used to do nothing and just frustrates the viewer completely.