Thursday, September 20, 2007

'A Winter Tale' at TTFF

I'm no 'academic critic', but I will try to give a review of each movie I see at the TTFF. The first one I saw was the first one screened (last night). N.B. This review is written from the perspective of how I experienced it. You will see it and experience it in your own way and different aspects will stand out (or not) for you.Photo source

For me, even if or particularly when there is so much going on in something or someone, it takes a while for it to sink in and be assimilated. I therefore did not know what to think or say immediately after viewing A Winter Tale (Dir: Frances-Anne Solomon). It was only as I drove home after the screening that different impressions started coming to me.

It reminded me of a snow globe. Not only because it happens in winter (hence snow) and not only because the world of this small black Toronto community gets shaken (as snow globes do) by the accidental shooting death of a young child ... but also because of the closeness and intimacy of everything. The feeling was of being invited into a small space (like a snow globe) to meet these characters, experienced with an emotional and visual closeness (e.g. many close up shots of their eyes, faces, mouths) which pressed them and their lives against me as a viewer. How could we all fit into this small globe without becoming more intimately involved (visually and emotionally) or without feeling some kind of intensity?

Gene, one of the main characters (a social worker), forms a male support group, which addresses the need for 'dialogue' among the men of the community. In contrast, there are points in the film where there is no dialogue ... where what is not said speaks as loudly as (louder than?) what is or could be. This absence (of dialogue) stood out for me for two scenes in particular:
(i) after the shooting of the boy, one of the men returns to the eatery to tell the grandfather that his grandson is dead. This is done so wordlessly and powerfully that in the moment I was aware of the power of silence (absence of words). Anything voiced at that point would have ruined it.
(ii) Gene (social worker) crying in bed after the shooting of the boy, his wife's long, white arm reaching out to touch his turned back. He eventually turns to her, still crying, and there is an overhead shot of their naked interracial bodies intertwined. Sensual yet maternal. Come to think of it, the men in the film often come across as boys, particularly when in the presence of the women in their lives (whether wife, girlfriend or mother). They seemed to be reflections of that little boy who got shot: just as vulnerable - both emotionally and in the sense of being potential victims of gun violence themselves.

These (and other) no-dialogue parts stood out for me because it was something I had been dwelling on during the day ... no dialogue. I had spent the entire day in a fantastic screenwriting workshop with Dr. Donahue Tuitt. At one point, the topic of letting visuals speak (rather than words) came up. Show it, don't say it. Made me remember a great movie, The Red Balloon, which wordlessly tells the story of a little boy and a red balloon with simplicity, clarity and power. After seeing Red Balloon I was blown away and inspired to do an entirely wordless film myself. (Have not done it yet).

One scene I appreciated was the one where we see Gene's wife (Emma?) getting up off the toilet and flushing it. I have a scene in 'All of Emily' where we see Elliot sitting on the toilet reading Emily's diary. He gets up and, being so absorbed in his reading, flushes without wiping. (I noticed the wife in AWT didn't wipe either, but that's not the point). It always strikes me in movies that we very rarely see people going to or using the toilet. Not that I specifically want to see it or that we have to ... but it's something which (on the odd occasion that I have seen it) brings a simple peep of reality into the person's life. It's one of those things that we all do, but seldom see or show. As simple as that moment was, it was a microcosm of AWT's larger reality.

I enjoyed it visually: the textures, camera work and editing. At times I found myself thinking that I could have been looking at a painting - particularly in the scenes that showed the city of Toronto. I saw it in a blurred, abstract, almost surreal way - in contrast with the realness of the life of the main characters. The close up red of a street car passing was like a paintbrush with red paint on it, streaking across the screen. The silhouetted CN tower against a golden watercolour blur of sky. A quick, haunting glimpse of a black brush-stroked female figure standing alone on a snowy sidewalk. Blurry memories of childhood. At points the editing, angles and distance of the shots worked together to make me feel as though I was seeing this urban painting through the window of a passing train: quick snippets. Not much of the city had to be shown to depict it. Like a few simple Japanese brush strokes creating the whole picture.

The soundtrack: it was there throughout, supporting and driving, but never standing above. The only point where I consciously became aware of it and found myself listening to what the music was 'made up' of was a looped instrumental part just before the little boy gets shot. I remember listening to it and being aware of the silence and spacing between the notes enhancing the tension of 'something about to happen'.

Going back to the snow globe closeness ... it was also a reminder to the Trini audience of how close the topic/reality of gun violence is here as well. One woman stood up after the film and related her own experience with such violence in her own neighbourhood - recently right next door to her. Toward the end of the film when the Canadian woman's news voice states that there have been "70 murders for the year", my friend and I laughed ... not because it was funny, but in a kind of 'wow, imagine that's all' way. As my friend said: "... and we are probably at 300 and something murders already and the year isn't even done."

I don't normally look at films so 'closely'. Normally I just look at them and like them or not. But maybe I saw this one closer because I was in the scriptwriting workshop all day (therefore was 'looking' at plot points and other little details we had been dwelling on, etc.) ... maybe because it was made by someone I know ... or maybe because it was so intimately presented that one could not help but see it close up or give it attention.

It was way past my bedtime, I was exhausted after a long day and I am known to fall asleep in long films, but my eyes were kept open.

You can see this film for yourself on Sunday 23rd and form your own impressions.

Lots of other films are on at the TTFF. I'll be going to see the ones that I can ... and will give my own little reviews after. Most (if not all) are repeated throughout the run of the festival, so if you like the sound of a particular film, you can go and see it. A Winter Tale runs again on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.



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