Déjà vu

in 34th Toronto International Film Festival

by Kirill Razlogov

I spent at least several hours, if not days, trying to find a key to my impressions about the extensive program of Toronto this year. One of the biggest film festivals in the world (some say with reason “the second after Cannes”) presented an extensive panorama of several hundred films, ranging from mainstream to queer experiment and, of course, the notorious ‘low budget high quality movie’. Together with Cannes and Venice winners, numerous world and international premieres showed to the crowds everything that was created and worth watching on the Globe to the far edges of the world.

Still going through the special and other presentations I felt, God knows why, frustrated. And then I found the word to designate this feeling – Déjà Vu. At the moment of this discovery I was entering Varsity 8 to see Life During Wartime by Todd Solondz and in the very first episode I heard “Déjà vu”, as if confirming my verdict. The film presented the basic features of a sequel to the director’s famous Happiness: similar characters, similar situations, same feelings, same world. A good, even excellent film, but what’s new about it?

That made me look back at the movies I was able to see, here or elsewhere, included in the Toronto program.

The opening Creation (Charles Darwin and wife) as well as the closing The Young Victoria are perfect examples of British academic high quality: well filmed and well played, presented by stars and directors (Jon Amiel for the first and the French Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee for the second), these films belong but still in my view do not add anything personal to a lifelong tradition of canned historical melodrama.

Speaking of recent sensations let’s move to the opposite aesthetic phenomenon – the Golden Lion of Venice winner Lebanon by Samuel Maoz (Toronto programmers can be proud to have selected in advance most of the subsequent Venice award winners). This brilliant stylistic exercise – war viewed from the inside of a tank – also has antecedents, especially Das Boot which made famous Wolfgang Petersen more than 25 years ago.

The relations between originals and informal sequels are sometimes tortuous and complicated, open to analysis or postmodern associations. The glamorous version of Glorious 39 by Stephen Poliakoff seemed to me a timely reincarnation of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. The specter of the great Alfred looks from behind the screen at the French-Russian-American spy story Farewell.

Tornatore’s Baaria is at the same time a replica to Bertolucci’s Novecento and a symptom of global renaissance of socialist realism with Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story (but the real discovery was Fahrenheit 9/11) and The Front Line (La Prima Linea). A list more impressive than Renato de Mario’s versions of similar stories could take several volumes. The same is true for Bruce Beresfords’s Mao’s Last Dancer – the defection saga worked for Baryshnikov, Godunov and several other ballet dancers, even if they were not Chinese but Russians.

Thinking by genres and cycles, synonymous with mainstream productions, intoxicated the festival network. Film versions of Japanese mangas – Kamui (Kamui Gaiden) by Yoichi Sai, – or oriental ghost stories – The Warrior and the Wolf (Lang Zai Ji) by Tian Zhuang Zhuang, pinpoint the continuity of exotic genres, etc.

Any trace of originality becomes worthy of pure gold. Comedy in the Indian film saga Road, Movie by Dev Benegal or the hysterical quality of both Werner Herzog films (My Son, My Son, What Have Je Done and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans), getting over the top of the sequel principle, becomes extremely important in the overall appreciation.

In this context Hadewijch by Bruno Dumont becomes a sensation, not due to its exceptional qualities, but simply by being the eternal outsider.

Edited by: Steven Yates