Toronto 08 — Day 5 capsules
I’m gonna save the two Terence Davies movies to write about after the fest because they dredge up a series of issues about Catholicism and sexuality that I don’t want to write about on a quick deadline, in short capsule form or with several drunken-Welshman-inspired Strongbows in me.
ASHES OF TIME (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, 1994) — 7 (formerly 8)
Ultimately, it’s a lot of gorgeous pictures, but really not a movie. This “redux” cut of Wong’s one attempt at the wuxia genre, which I saw with The Man Himself doing the intro 20 feet from me, straightens out the chronology and provides back story with seasonal title cards and “rest of the story” codas, but without really managing to make the film more emotionally involving. The all-new score doesn’t help either — the old electronic score avoided the problem of supplying emotion that isn’t in the image or drama. This one, Yo-Yo Ma solos and all, is trying WAY too hard and in quite blunt ways. Still … this will always remain one of the most visually gorgeous movies ever made. And the plots remains what it is through all the fog — the same brother-sister feud, the same eggs, the same spinning birdcages, the same peach blossom story, the same memory-erasing wine, the same confusion over which Tony Leung it is, and the same realization that memory is both painful and what makes man man. The grainy stock and the combination of beige-orange sand and azure sky, plus the visual strategy of hiding faces create a film that isn’t realistic at all, but looks more like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA as shot by a French Impressionist rather than a British Realist. And this haziness and dreamy quality is perfect for a memory film, as if the images are burned in orange-glow light. There is little green or red in the film, which makes the few times either appears so startling. The fighting scenes you either got the first time or never will get — all quick edits, smeared-light on the images, but relatively realistic sound. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and CHUNGKING EXPRESS are still Wong’s best films though, because of their tight focus, which “compensates” for Wong’s elliptical style. Whereas, ASHES is more sprawling (see below for Victor’s Rule). Unlike APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX, which I thought was an addition to an already great film, I see ASHES OF TIME REDUX is an inferior cut of a film that was “only” a flawed masterpiece to begin with. But everyone still HAS to see it.
GOODBYE SOLO (Ramin Bahrani, USA) — 8
If you’ve ever ridden in a taxicab in a major (North) American city, you’ve met Solo. He may be from West Africa (as Solo is in this movie), or from the Caribbean, the Middle East or South Asia. In fact, on my way to another movie, I took a ride with a Toronto cabbie who was a Sikh and when he discerned I was in town for the film festival, told me he already had seen SINGH IS KINNGH. I told him of my being within spitting distance of Amitabh Bachchan serenading an Indian matriarch at BLACK and sang to the cabbie Dharmendra’s opening bars of “Yeh Dosti” from SHOLAY (prompting a huge laugh from him that this white boy knew that song). All of which is just a way of saying that Bahrani, whose first two films MAN PUSH CART and CHOP SHOP I didn’t see, creates real characters in a way that no other American indie director does. GOODBYE SOLO was the sort of movie Sundance Film Festival pushed into the American consciousness before “Sundance” became a brand name in its own right, and a shorthand term for preciousness, quirkiness and perkiness. It’s offhand, naturalistic, perfectly acted and written, and utterly authentic even while the story is a bit fanciful, though never fantastical. Basically North Carolina cabbie Solo (do Senegalese dominate the Winston Salem cab industry? I have no idea, but I *trusted* this movie in a way I didn’t the YOUSSOU NDOUR film) picks up a depressed old white man William who makes an appointment with him for a couple of weeks hence to take him to a peak in the Appalachians that has the wind blow up from the valley (meaning if you toss something down, the wind blows it back to you). What follows is quite predictable, though like with the best cab rides, the journey is as important as the destination. In that interim period they become sort-of friends and they find out about each other’s life beyond the relationship that defined their meeting. Solo, in other words, is the ultimate Helper Guy and William keeps trying to toss him away, but the wind keeps blowing him back. To make the Ultimate Wack Comparison, GOODBYE SOLO is what AMELIE would have been if it had been directed in the American indie realist vein — and it has all the tough subtexts that Jeunet’s films is often not credited with. Solo’s and Amelie’s helpfulness both cover up vast emptinesses in their own lives and often irritate the people they’re intended to help.