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TIFF 2013. Correspondences #2

Our Toronto International Film Festival dialogue continues with notes on Jarmusch, Ozon and Jodorowsky.
Fernando F. Croce

Above: Only Lovers Left Alive.

Caro Danny,

Thank you for setting the stage with your lovely intro, my friend. Film festivals have always struck me as sci-fi experiences, a procession of visions that heighten the traveling cinephile’s dislocation, tossed from one flurry of images to the next with often very little time to process them. “Did I watch that, or dream it?” That’s the question I’ve been asking throughout my first day here at TIFF, as much for the inherently oneiric nature of cinema as for the fact that I’ve made my way through almost half a dozen screenings while running on about three hours of sleep.

Jet-lagged, perplexed, suspended between time zones—the ideal mood, in other words, to watch Only Lovers Left Alive. Jim Jarmusch’s characters dwell in the margins of the world, and the world here is all margins. Or maybe that’s how it feels at night, the time when vampires Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) slink out of their modern-day mausoleums (his an isolated Detroit building, hers a hideout in the winding streets of Tangiers) to collect the blood they need. Neck-chomping is déclassé, medieval even; centuries-old aesthetes that they are, they get the red stuff clandestinely from doctors to avoid contamination, and take in big, swooning gulps. Determined to keep a low profile (“The world has enough chaos,” warns John Hurt’s ancient, fanged Christopher Marlowe), the two savor earfuls of rockabilly music, swap name-dropping reminiscences (“Shelley and Byron and all those French assholes…”), and sneer at the sheer vulgarity of the “zombies” (i.e., humans).

Jarmusch eventually feels the need to introduce some kind of plot with the appearance of Eve’s troublemaking little sister (Mia Wasikowska), but for the most part he’s happy to just soak in the voluptuous, sacramental ennui of this twosome as they raptly run their fingers over old guitars and visit Jack White’s childhood home. Hipsterism as an undead state is an easy joke, but Only Lovers Left Alive plays to Jarmusch’s strengths as a director of rhythms, of odd, narcotizing vibes. Starting with the image of a starry night sky slowly spiraling into the shape of a vinyl record, it has the senses-tickling mix of elegance and grunge of a Jean Eustache film. Even with the cute-shaggy gags, it’s a worldview saved from nihilism only by the creation and enjoyment of art, by the hyper-concentrated emotion that can only exist behind the complete deadpan of these characters. The result isn’t Murnau’s “symphony of horror,” but, as Adam at one point says, “some pretty great funeral music,” darkly sweet and elating.

The music heard throughout François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful is that of Françoise Hardy, a quartet of chansons whose lyrics (“I am no longer the girl I once was, no longer a little girl…”) are used a tad blatantly to try to make sense of the impassive heroine. Said heroine is 17-year-old Isabelle (Marine Vacth), who in the introductory segment’s virtual parody of Gallic romance (al fresco meals, beachfront interludes and all) has her first sexual encounter as a literal out-of-body experience. Next seen, she’s a high-priced escort meeting a leathery john in a hotel room. Her encounters with men are boringly joyless transactions, though the film gains momentary interest once her double life is discovered by her mortified family, and the slightest hint of a smirk graces her blank visage as awareness of a potential new power dawns on her. Ozon starts with a panting-voyeur POV shot zooming in on Isabelle’s bikini-clad body and ends with her gazing at her own mirror reflection, though the character is too ultimately slight a mysterious object to withstand such Belle de jour scrutiny. Charlotte Rampling as a widow with provocative regrets is a glad sight, even if all her brief turn amounts to little more than a recitation of Ozon's dubious thesis on the oldest profession.

Another welcome face: Alejandro Jodorowsky is all gusto—half childlike, half demonic—in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, where the eighty-something auteur-guru recounts the saga behind his never-filmed adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic. Hot off his midnight cult hits in the early 1970s, Jodorowsky assembled a veritable dream team of “spiritual warriors” (everybody from Salvador Dali and H.R. Giger to Pink Floyd and Orson Welles) and was poised to unleash “a new, cinematographic god.” Just one problem: no studio would touch it. Jodorowsky’s Dune posits a parallel universe where the Chilean director could have stolen Star Wars’ thunder with his acid opus, a film so visionary that it has influenced just about every other space opera since despite the small obstacle of not really existing. At its center is a thick book of mutating sketches and descriptions of impossible tracking shots, a sort of holy manual fleetingly glimpsed between anecdotes. If only the film had just been its pages flipped one by one before the camera, described by Jodorowsky in his rollercoaster accent…

Looking forward to your discoveries.



FestivalsTIFFTIFF 2013CorrespondencesJim JarmuschFrancois OzonAlejandro Jodorowsky
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