TIFF 2013 #3: Meh and MADNESS

Our Rating

Today was my first multi-screening day at the festival, and I’m pleased to report I made it through unscathed. Annoyed, frustrated, tired and disappointed, sure, but unscathed.

Much to my dismay, the chaos at the Scotiabank Theatre was apparently not limited to the busy weekend days. My 11am screening (on a Monday) fell victim to the same disorganization and chaos as my Saturday screening had. First, we had to line up outside. For more than an hour. We were let into the theatre AT 11am, which meant the start time was delayed by about 15 minutes… and it was the first screening of the day! Seems the fest organizers were having a hard time clearing out the press and industry folk between films, so the rest of us were forced to wait. And wait. And wait.

I’m not sure what it says about my first film of the day, Bad Hair (4/8) that, by day’s end, I’d actually forgotten that I’d seen it. The Venezuelan drama centers on Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano), a boy with a wild, unruly mop of curly hair. He longs to have straight hair, and wants it straightened in order to have his school photo taken. His overworked, stressed-out single mother (Samantha Castillo) is swallowed by gay panic – she believes her son is gay (and, to be fair, maybe he is), and his obsession with his hair repeatedly drives her into enraged rants.

Thing is, not much happens in writer-director Mariana Rondón’s beautifully shot film. Yes, there are some wonderful moments – Zambrano is a fantastic young actor, as is Castillo, and their tenuous relationship makes for compelling drama – but, ultimately, the story ends exactly as it began. There is no discernable growth or change for the characters. Without spoiling anything, the status quo hasn’t really changed by the time the closing credits roll, and the film ends on a decidedly negative note. Realistic, maybe, but for a cinematic narrative, disappointing.

Next up was my one must-see of TIFF 2013: the documentary Finding Vivian Maier (5/8), a film I’d been waiting to see ever since I’d heard it was in production. Yet the final product didn’t quite live up to my expectations and felt a bit incomplete. For the uninitiated, Vivian Maier was a Chicago nanny who died in 2009, and who left behind hundreds of thousands of photo negatives and undeveloped rolls of film revealing herself to be a brilliant (if completely unknown and never recognized) street photographer.

Director John Maloof was the guy who bought a slew of those negatives at auction and who then set out to uncover more about the mysterious woman behind the camera. In his documentary, he tracks down some of her former charges, traces her family history to a tiny village in France, and shares countless of her stunningly beautiful shots. But, ultimately, there isn’t much “finding” in the film; there are a whole lot of “I didn’t really know much about her” interviews, though. As such, the arc of the storytelling is unclear – is the movie about Maloof and his quest to find out more? Or is it about Vivian Maier herself? Or neither? I wasn’t sure, and I left the theater a little dissatisfied.

Unfortunately for me, my final screening of the day was back at the Scotiabank, which had somehow managed to devolve even further over the course of the day. There was utter pandemonium outside, with no fewer than three lineups crammed onto the sidewalk AND on the street. There were no volunteers to be seen anywhere – and, in their bright orange T-shirts, they’re usually very easy to spot – so I finally caught sight of a headset-wearing staffer and asked where I should be lining up. “Outside,” she said. Great, thanks. WHICH LINE? She didn’t know! She actually said, “I don’t know.” (!!!!)

So, I went outside and tried to find someone who’d know. Another headset-wearing staffer just pointed to the serpentine line on the street. I asked which line was for my film. HE DIDN’T KNOW, EITHER! So, I did what any smart festgoer does and asked the only people who seemed to have a clue: my fellow moviegoers. Doing so, I found my line, and managed to find where it ended. We were crammed shoulder to shoulder out on Richmond, IN TRAFFIC, and all I could think was, “All it would take for a horrible accident would be for one car to veer slightly off course and barrel into all of us.”

We stood outside for what felt like forever. The screening was slated to start at 7pm; they let us in at 6:50pm. But by “let us in,” I mean: we joined the fray as hundreds and hundreds of OTHER festgoers tried to make their way up the four storeys to the theaters for their screenings. It was something that I’ve never ever experienced or witnessed at TIFF before – just complete chaos. You literally could not move once you hit the Scotiabank’s concession area. The “line” disappeared and it was a mad mob-like crush to get to the cinema entrance. People were fuming mad – both because of the long wait and due to the complete organizational FAIL of the fest staff and volunteers. Honestly, they need at least 50 more volunteers at that venue just to keep things moving. As it was, the few volunteers I did see looked absolutely terrified, confused and overwhelmed.

With no time for a pre-film pee, I took my seat for my final screening, director Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best! (4/8) which, sadly, was not quite the best, IMO. The film follows a trio of girls in 1982 Stockholm, who decide to form a punk band… even though only one of them actually knows how to play an instrument. The young actresses (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne) are all first-timers when it comes to film, and the result is mixed – Barkhammar and LeMoyne were very good, but Grosin (perhaps due to the nature of her character) was grating and irritating.

There’s a verité vibe to the film that works in some spots but becomes irritating in others. There were long sequences where it felt like I was watching a bunch of kids with ADHD act out… which isn’t especially fun when it involves one of them banging on a drum set. I will fully admit that my experiences getting in to the venue might have clouded my perception and worn thin my patience, but I was very happy when this one ended and I could go home for the night.


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  1. Too bad about ‘We Are The Best!’. For me, Lukas Moodysson is one of those directors, like Michael Winterbottom, where even his failures are usually more interesting than other directors at their best. Because of this, I’ll probably check it out anyway!

  2. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great. And the pounding of the drums got old really quickly! 😉


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