Monday, October 22, 2012

Festival Preview/Advance Reviews: Ekran 2012

Ekran 2012: Toronto Polish Film Festival

October 25–28, 2012

Now in its fourth year, Ekran shines a light on Poland's film culture, with over a dozen screenings of recent work. As with any "niche" festival, this is a chance to see something that might not otherwise make it onto a big screen near you. After an opening night at Innis Town Hall, the festival settles into the Revue Cinema, which means you should be able to find some Polish food after your screening along the Roncesvalles strip. There's also a satellite outreach series of free screenings at the Runnymede library branch. And while there's some populist heart-warming and inspring fare here that I wouldn't be any more interested in seeing than their Hollywood analogues, there's also some more ambitious programming — which is to say that there's probably something here to interest most everyone. Don't worry if you don't know your Wajda from your Kieslowski, and don't worry about the language gap — all films are offered with English subtitles.

Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the box office. Check Ekran's website for the full schedule and ticket into.


The Secret / Sekret (Dir: Przemyslaw Wojcieszek, Poland, 2012, 82 min.)

Screens: Saturday, October 27, 2012, 9 p.m. @ Revue Cinema

There's no easy answers in this film. The past, and how we deal with it, are filled with ambiguity. Wojcieszek confidently extends that uncertainty into the very grammar of his film, with exposition sometimes somewhere out of reach, just as it so often is in real life. He also imbues the wobbly feeling of not knowing into the visual presentation, with a series of distancing alienation effects keeping us as far from the truth as the characters are.

Jan lives a quiet life in his country home, cheerfully puttering in his garden. He's pleased to have a visit from Ksawery, his grandson, with his agent Karolina in tow. Ksawery, now a queer performance artist specializing in transgressive modern dance, shows a great deal of affection for his grandfather, and in return it's clear that Jan is accepting of Ksawery's life and sexuality.

Karolina has revealed that something happened with Jan after the war. The family home had once belonged to a Jewish family — until, suddenly, it didn't. Documentation has come to light showing how Jan had been on trial regarding the family's disappearance, but the charges were dropped under murky circumstances. The possibility that Jan, a "respectable man" of good standing in the community, might have been involved in something sinister causes great consternation to his grandson. As the facts around this secret are slowly unveiled, the film lets Ksawery's ambiguous relationships with the other characters slowly reveal themselves.

Director Wojcieszek here shows a talent for isolating emotionally-revealing moments, whether in quiet back-porch conversations or in the middle of a crowded wedding. He also chooses to keep the viewer at a distance from the film's events with the use of jumpcuts, sped-up motion, and occasional dreamlike sequences. The "truth" of what we see on the screen is as much in flux as it is for the characters. At another level, as we cut from the main narrative to scenes of a completed dance sequence that we have seen Ksawery working on while visiting his grandfather, we get a hint at how his emotional turmoil has informed his art. And in the end, it's the effects that these struggles have had on us that are more present than any resolution to the secrets the past has held.

The Fourth Dimension / Czwarty wymiar (Dir: Harmony Korine/Aleksei Fedorchenko/Jan Kwiecinski, U.S.A./Russia/Poland, 2012, 106 min.)

Screens: Sunday, October 28, 2012, 9 p.m. @ Revue Cinema

A trilogy of mid-length films released, curiously, under the auspices of Vice Magazine, it's probably best to consider each of these on their own merits rather than as aspects of its putative overarching thematic title.

The presence of cult director Harmony Korine is the biggest "name" here and may, in fact, bring in some patrons on its own merit. His Lotus Community Workshop is a vehicle for Val Kilmer's self-parodic turn as a self-help guru named Val Kilmer. Bringing awesome secrets and cotton candy to the masses, this is really over-the-top stuff, with a chance for Kilmer to deliver a lot of goofy non-sequiturs. ("Some of you ride horses... stop riding horses.") And while it has some fun moments, it's neither much of a meditation on the Fourth Dimension ("simply heaven on earth") or very revealing as a character study, feeling in the end more like an over-long comedy sketch.

Aleksei Fedorchenko's Chronoeye is more on point, with its portrayal of a man so obsessed with the past that he's forgotten how to live in the present. Grigory Mikhailovich hasn't been able to invent a time machine, but he is putting the finishing touches on a device that at least lets him see into the past. He's as frustrated with its inability to do that with an omniscient point-of-view as he is with his upstairs neighbour, who has the temerity to interrupt his research with her dancing. The film is interested in some ideas — especially in the idea of perspectives — but the romantic resolution it settles for is a little too pat.

Jan Kwiecinski's Fawns — the Polish contribution that has this playing at this festival — just happens to be the best by a good stretch, with a strong sense of place and mood. In the face of an oncoming flood of seeming Biblical proportions, four young people have stayed behind to experience their evacuated town as their own private playground. With the narcissistic invulnerability of youth, they seem to be in no rush to flee, even as grim news reports and distant air raid sirens hint at the magnitude of the emergency. Instead, they take over the park and explore their neighbours' homes, as hints of sexual tension between the comely Koko and her three accompanying lads ratchets upwards. When one of their group disappears just as it starts to look like it's really, definitely time to get out, they have to begin making hard decisions, and find out if their moral imperatives outweigh their survival instincts. Shot with a striking visual sense, this segment is quite definitely worth seeing, and hopefully Jan Kwiecinski's work will grace this festival again.

No comments:

Post a Comment