Another Shade of Adolescence

wpid-imag0782.jpgA few hours after my Cumberbatch experience, I hurried to the theatre for my next film, a feature from France called Girlhood (Bande des filles).

It’s the third feature film from screenwriter/director Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies and Tomboy), and was shown at Cannes in May.

Girlhood takes a look at life for teenage girls in the rough banlieues which surround Paris, through the eyes of Mariame, a shy sixteen-year-old who looks out for her younger sisters, but steers clear of her older brother Djibril – who’s a bit of a bully – and does as best she can.

Things change when Mariame is told she can’t go to high school because she doesn’t have the grades, and should enrol in vocational school instead. Angry over the hand she’s dealt, she rebels and falls in with a girl gang, who spend their days living by their own rules and pushing limits.

But it’s while spending time with her newfound band of sisters — Lady, the ringleader; Adiatou; and Fily — that Mariame decides to buck the system she’s supposed to follow, and define herself by her own code.


I really, really liked this movie, in that it was so starkly different from anything I’ve seen – not just at this film festival, but even last year’s.

But where to begin? There is so much that came at me at once … perhaps I’ve missed things, or read too much into aspects of the film. But here’s what I came away with:

First, there are the obvious things that remind the characters – and illustrate to us – that they are  “the other”, not fully accepted because they live on these fringes created by society.

It’s in the interaction Mariame has with a white shopgirl, who follows her from rack to rack until her new friends surround the shopgirl and call her out on her behaviour. It’s in a scene on the metro, where you see the girls carry on and dance and enjoy each other’s company, the white commuters surrounding them out of focus, and in the background. It’s in the scene where Mariame works a shift at the hotel where her mother works as a cleaner.

But then, there’s this lingering, irritating sense that, in their world, they are only ever in ownership of their own bodies, comfortable in their own skin, when they’re around each other.  Outside of that — and this is true for Mariame, for most of the film — there’s this sense they’re a bit on guard, aware of themselves in the presence of boys and men.

But it’s not a completely heavy movie. There are funny moments, and other scenes in the movie – that serve to remind us viewers that, hey, these are teenagers trying to deal with, and enjoy, these moments in their lives as best as they can.

There’s more to say, but at the risk of giving away the rest of the plot, I’m going to stop here. If you consider seeing it, I’d rather have you make up your own minds.

(If you really want a proper review to read, check out this Hollywood Reporter write-up from mid-May.)

wpid-imag0780.jpgKaridja Touré is the actress who portrays the title role of Mariame.

As we found out in the brief discussion following the screening, this was her first movie role. But, man, is she ever arresting in each frame of this film.

You see her transformation, not only in the way she dresses, but in the way she carries herself and moves across the screen. And the actresses who portray the girl gang she falls in with, are great as well.

I absolutely recommend seeing this movie, whether it’s in limited release, or if it’s later released on DVD.

Di Di’s Red Carpet Reprise

wpid-imag0335.jpgLast year, my friend Renée and I went to TIFF’s red carpet for The Fifth Estate to see Benedict Cumberbatch, and experienced the frenzy of being surrounded by many, MANY (mostly young) fans of his.

The experience was actually decent. Renée got a really good look at him. And although I captured his face on camera, I really only got to see a fraction of his face in real life. So whenever we made small-talk with folks about which actors we saw during TIFF, I’d joke that I got to see Benedict’s left cheekbone.

As I mentioned in my post last week, Renée and I had talked about making another trip down to the red carpet if he returned to Toronto. But she recently started a new (and, may I add, pretty rad) job, so she wouldn’t be able to join me.

Did I really want to endure the commute and brave the crazy crowds alone, just to have another crack at taking a better photo and seeing him in the flesh? I mean, the thing that made it fun was that I was doing this with a friend. But now, the idea of going solo made me feel kind of … sheepish.

But last Tuesday, after some waffling, I shoved my dignity deep into my purse and trekked down to this year’s red carpet for The Imitation Game, a historical drama starring Cumberbatch as mathematician, cryptographer, code-breaker and forefather of the modern-day computer, Alan Turing.

wpid-imag0768.jpgBased on last year’s experience, I’d originally intended to get down to the barricades across from the theatre for around 3:30 p.m. But I dragged my feet and didn’t arrive until 4:15 p.m.

Naturally, the place was teeming with people by the time I arrived. The area directly in front of the theatre entrance was already clogged with fans.

I approached the easternmost edge of the crowd and gradually sidled about 30 feet westward until I was directly behind a group of young women, chatting excitedly and getting to know each other through their love of Benedict (or “Ben C.”, as one of them called him, as if he was the high school heartthrob.)

Eventually, a woman dressed in black, wearing a headset and bedazzled TIFF lanyard, made her way along the crowds to explain to us that (1) she was the red carpet coordinator, and (2) she’d do our best to let us know when the actors arrived outside the theatre.

The young women in front of me had been hedging their bets that, since Benedict was the biggest star of the film, he’d likely arrive last.


wpid-imag0770.jpgAt about 5:10 p.m., the red carpet coordinator walked eastward along King St., and — just in front of our section — announced in a loud voice, “BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH.”

Colour me surprised.

The whoops and shrieks started.

Sure enough, an SUV pulled up, and out he jumped.

The crowd lost. Their. Minds.

He strode over to the largest fan cluster, took a selfie (or, more accurately, group shot) with fans — his TIFF trademark — then shuffled eastward toward us, signing autographs.

The young women in front of me yelled his name, clamouring to get their items signed; when he reached our section, maybe one or two got an autograph, leaving the rest of the group a bit disappointed.

But since I got closer to the barricades than I did last year (I may have cut my distance by half), I definitely got what I wanted.

I didn’t hear him speak this time around, but I couldn’t believe my good fortune at what I could see.

Gone was last yeawpid-imag0775.jpgr’s tux, replaced with a sharp suit. His hair – lighter in hue – was doing great things, and he’d donned some specs for the occasion.

I held up my phone and clicked.

(Then, I did what seemed like the next logical step – I posted that bad boy onto Instagram and Twitter. And that’s when the retweets from Japan began.

Within a few hours, I’d gotten over 120 retweets and almost as many favourites — which, I admit, filled me with absolute glee.)

It’s a very bizarre sort of high, snapping a photo of someone I’ll probably never meet. He’s just another human being, who happens to have a very creative job.

But as he breezed by — his publicist a pace or so behind — and we set eyes upon him, we couldn’t help gasping amongst ourselves, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I saw him! That’s amazing!” and grinning uncontrollably.

And as quickly as he’d come, he strode in the other direction for another half-lap, before heading inside for red carpet photos and a gauntlet of TV interviews.

The girls in front of me kept yelling and screaming, in hopes he might come back. But he was gone.

The other stars arrived; only Keira Knightley briefly stopped outside for autographs before heading inside. But the frenzy was over.

I had a brief chat with a Japanese woman who’d come to Toronto for this (well, the movie as well as the red carpet). She’d gotten a lady right against the barricades to snap a photo with her digital camera, and it was super-close. But after seeing mine, she wanted a copy for herself. I tried to send her a copy, but was unsuccessful.

Now that I’ve done it, do I still feel foolish? Not as much, no. And I also saw the film Friday night, which I’ll write about in the coming days. But at this moment, two words filled me with a sense of satisfaction:

Mission. Accomplished.


 **All photos taken by me. Please do not re-use without asking permission.**






Horror in the Woods

wpid-imag0762.jpgSo … I was supposed to write this on Thursday, but life got in the way. My apologies for lying to y’all … again.

Time to catch up!

Last Monday night, I hiked it downtown to see my second TIFF selection — a thriller/horror flick called Backcountry, by writer-director Adam MacDonald.

Full disclosure: I HAAATE scary movies. I do about as well as a five-year-old girl when it comes to these things. (Don’t believe me? Ask my mom about her memories of me, the Incredible Hulk TV series, and my relationship with our front hallway coat closet.)

So why on earth would I pay money to see this (and potentially soil myself)?

First, and foremost (and another full disclosure): I know and have met the director in person, through friends. He’s good people, and fiercely dedicated to honing his craft. I saw a short film he directed several years ago, and remember him speaking at the time about his next project — a movie, much like Open Water, but in the woods.

So imagine my surprise when – scanning through online descriptions and picking movies at random – I saw the listing for his movie.

As IF there was any question about whether I’d see it.

But acquaintanceship aside, I try to support Canadian films when I have the chance.

I can only imagine how tough it is to make movies of any kind, anywhere, period. But – and I’m basing this on what I’ve heard about the film industry here, so correct me if I’m wrong – it’s not the easiest to do in (English-speaking) Canada. So when an idea is brought to life and it’s something I’m interested in seeing, I’ll get my backside down to the theatre.

Okay, the plot:

The film centres around a couple, Jenn (Missy Peregrym) and Alex (Jeff Roop), who decide to get off the grid and go on a weekend camping trip – a getaway that has promising beginnings. But the mood of the trip changes when they have a run-in with a mysterious man (Eric Balfour) near their campsite, with an Irish accent and a strange story to match.

The encounter causes a bit of tension between Jenn and Alex. But when they take a detour while hiking and end up lost, things take a terrifying turn.

For his first feature-length film, I think it was a solid effort on MacDonald’s part. Shot in northern Ontario (near North Bay), the film’s location is beautiful, the editing’s great, and the plot pretty straightforward.

And while I did spend part of the movie peering through my fingers, keep in mind what I said earlier – I’m a big suck. People looking for super-scary movies won’t find this as scary as me. There is some gore, but this type of horror is more psychological (which I think is much more effective).

Also? I don’t think I’ll be going camping anytime in the near future.

If this movie ends up being released anywhere, check it out and see what you think — and please support Canadian cinema!


The Sound of “Gay”

wpid-imag0752.jpgMy TIFF experience started this past Sunday, when I lined up with at least a couple hundred other ticket-holders in the noon-time sun to see the documentary Do I Sound Gay?

It’s the first from director David Thorpe, whose work was made possible with help from a successful Kickstarter campaign, as well as family and friends.

And on this day, we had the pleasure of being the first public, international audience to screen it.

The documentary’s premise stems from Thorpe’s self-consciousness over the sound of his own voice – particularly his anxiety over sounding stereotypically “gay”, which he says comes from an internalized homophobia that constantly tells him that being gay – and “sounding gay” – still isn’t a good thing.

So he sets out on a personal journey to change the way he sounds, but also to investigate where this particular way of speaking comes from, and to illustrate the evolution and struggle of the gay voice through the gay rights movement, and even amidst the current issues of bullying and violence against LGBT youth.

In the process, he comes to find his own voice, and comfort in his own skin.

What did I like about this movie? Thorpe’s first-person storytelling to get his point across – both through his footage and his use of other devices. It was funny, engaging, and it resonated with me.

It was great seeing him with vocal coaches, talking to people on the street, his interviews with linguists, with such prominent personalities as David Sedaris, George Takei and Dan Savage (who was at the screening), and even broaching the subject with some of his closest friends, and family members.

But it goes beyond linguistics. There’s historical context. There is discussion of gender issues, and the masculine still being held as the ideal. There are people who choose to own their voice, even if it means being physically attacked.

And the whole idea of changing one’s voice to fit in or draw less attention to oneself? It’s not just confined to the LGBT community – it’s universal. Just think about that time someone made fun of you, or made you feel self-conscious, because of the sound/tone of your voice, or because you had an accent. (I know it’s happened to me.)

wpid-imag0755.jpgFollowing the film, Thorpe participated in a discussion with one of the programmers and Savage – best known to me for his syndicated sex and relationship column, Savage Love (use Google to find it, it’s great) – followed by a question-and-answer segment with the audience.

There were some good questions about Thorpe’s filmmaking process and about the idea around finding one’s voice.

I recall one audience member asking Thorpe whether the idea of lesbians having anxiety over sounding too “masculine” was a subject he tried to pursue during the filmmaking process.

Thorpe explained that while there are perhaps cases, it’s not as prevalent – perhaps because sounding masculine is more valued/accepted, because the idea of the masculine in society is generally valued/accepted, whereas the feminine simply isn’t.

It’s been said that eyes are the windows to the soul. Does that make one’s voice the front door?

Seeing this film has certainly made me aware – but not self-conscious – of my own voice, in terms of how interesting and valuable an instrument it is.

And it’s up to us whether we take ownership and find ways of making ourselves (in all our vocal variations) heard … and being comfortable with what we hear.


And Then There Were Four


If you dropped by my blog around this time last year, you’d know three things:

(1) My friend Renée and I are huge fans of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, and braved the crowds for a real-life glimpse on the opening night red carpet for The Fifth Estate.

(2) We made a point of going to see the aforementioned film.

(3) We sort of made a ladies’ agreement that, should Mr. Cumberbatch return, we would be back. Of course, that pact also included throwing our money at gala tickets, donning hot dresses and painting the town red.

On that third point, we obviously talk a big game, but don’t have any follow-through, because none of that’s transpired.

For starters, things have been so busy in general that neither of us had the time to try to score gala screening tickets.

Plus, Renée’s gotten herself a great new job, which means no hanging out on red carpets. (Which, obviously, is completely valid.)

So, up until Thursday, I was pondering whether I should:

(a) reprise my role as amateur fan-gawker (albeit solo) next Tuesday evening (September 9), when The Imitation Game – a historical drama in which Cumberbatch portrays British mathematician (logician, and computer scientist, among other things) Alan Turing – has its first screening and red carpet,


(b) join the rush line for the second screening on the following day (September 10).

I’d been on the fence for several days over what to do.

Then, I had a little conversation with my friend Tess.

She’s a TIFF veteran (or is that TIFFicianado? Just check out her ever-relevant handy guide for navigating the festival right here), to whom I’d mentioned that I really wanted to see The Imitation Game and figured – between the Cumberbatch fans and cinephiles in general – my chances were extremely low.

She directed me to a really handy blog, where on one post, people would trade or sell tickets. Perhaps someone would have a lone ticket. I did check, but no dice.

But then, Thursday happened.

While chatting online with Tess, she caught wind (via Twitter) that the festival had added a third screening on September 11th.

Well, of COURSE, I told Renée. And by 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning, she managed to secure three tickets for her, a mutual friend, and me.

Mission. Accomplished.

Only a few questions remain: Will I see more than a chiseled cheekbone this time around? Will I be the Lady Who Lingers? Or – being a year older, and hopefully wiser – know when to walk away?


A Dinner, to Finish

IMAG0425After the cinematic catastrophe that was MARY, Queen of Scots, Renée and I decided that could NOT be how our TIFF experience ended.

(Also: we wanted to use up two more vouchers.)

So on Sunday night, we rushed for a Dutch movie called The Dinner.

According to the blurb I read, this film is adapted from the 2009 best-selling novel of the same name (by Herman Koch), which was based on a real-life crime.

The majority of the film takes place at a restaurant where two brothers, Paul (a former teacher whose emotional volatility and unpopular opinions forced him to leave the profession) and Serge (an ambitious politician) and their wives meet to discuss what to do about Paul’s son – who may have committed a horrific crime.

The film starts off fairly innocuous – showing Paul’s supposedly happy home life – but as the storyline ambles along, it suggests that things aren’t what they seem.

Again, I admit I wasn’t fully sure if I understood everything that happened in the film. (And perhaps this indicates my lack of understanding regarding European-made films.) But it was better than The Film From The Night Before.

And I didn’t mind the way the film ended – anything that challenges my perception and leaves me asking questions at the end isn’t a bad thing.

And so ended my first – and only – complete TIFF experience.

It had its ups and downs, frustrations and surprises. But while I enjoyed it for the most part, I’m never doing TIFF in this fashion again.

I will tell you this: if a certain actor returns to TIFF next year, Renée and I have agreed to shell out the money for the gala, don dresses hot enough to stop traffic, and make an evening of it. Any movies after that will be bought at the box office or in a rush line.

And if the opportunity to gaze upon an actor I admire presents itself, I will wait and LINGER until I get it out of my system. If I’m going to be The Lady Who Lingers, I might as well own it.

Mary, Queen of WHUT?

When I watched this trailer for MARY, Queen of Scots, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this HAD to be on my TIFF “to-see” list.

So last Saturday, Renée and I crammed ourselves into a packed theatre and prepared ourselves for what we thought would be a good show. Given what I knew in general about the story behind Mary, I figured what I would see would be bat-shit crazy in the best way possible.

Two hours later, when the movie’s title card flashed on-screen at the end?


And when the lead actress’s name flashed on the screen, it was met with sparse, scattered applause.

Honestly – at first, I thought I just didn’t understand what I’d just watched. Was I just not intelligent enough to get it? Was I that basic?

And then I turned to Renée, and she was wearing the same expression.

So. What was the deal with this film?

From what I could surmise, the story is depicted (in a very non-linear fashion) through a series of flashbacks and hallucinations leading up to Mary’s execution. But to be honest, I really couldn’t be sure. I’m STILL confused about this film, as I write this.

Mary (portrayed by actress Camille Rutherford) came across as a REALLY incompetent ruler, and only interested in the men she bedded, in her social commitments, and unhealthily obsession with wanting to meet (and be accepted with open arms by) her English cousin, Queen Elizabeth.

Um. Okay.

Now, I understand that, when such a well-known historical story has been told so many times, you can’t fault someone for wanting to try an unconventional approach. And the actors involved tried to work with what they were given.

But it’s hard to take a steaming pile of manure and try to pass it off as a thing of beauty.

This really, REALLY didn’t work. At all.

Sure, there were really neat shots of the fog enveloping the Scottish landscape, or reaching its wispy fingers across the wet sand. And some of the costuming for Rutherford’s character was neat (especially that vibrant red dress she wore to her execution).

But random yelling while riding a horse through the woods, because you’re stressed (I think?), among other things? What?

This film – directed by Swiss-based director Thomas Imbach – was bat-shit crazy for ALL the wrong reasons.

Everyone hits a dud movie now and then. But this wasn’t how I’d imagined ending my TIFF experience.

Finding Out About Vivian

IMAG0414On Friday night, Renée and I saw the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, directed by John Maloof and produced by Charlie Siskel.

Originally, there were only two screenings programmed into the festival’s schedule. But early Thursday afternoon, TIFF announced via Twitter that a third screening had been added. And knowing a bit about the story beforehand, it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t turn down.

The back-story – about the discovery of Vivian Maier‘s skillful work as an amateur street photographer – received quite a bit of press in 2010 and 2011, thanks to efforts by individuals to get her photographs the recognition they felt she was due. In fact, there are several Web sites that showcase and sell some of her work.

This particular documentary portrays the journey from John Maloof’s perspective, when he first discovered a portion of Maier’s negatives at a 2007 auction (two years before Maier’s death), which was followed by Maloof’s efforts (as portrayed in the film) to find out more about the woman behind the lens.

What Maier – a pack-rat, as it turns out – left behind is, admittedly, astounding, and (according to the film) this is what Maloof uses to piece her life together. We do get to find out a bit of what she looked and sounded like. We learn a bit about her life working as a nanny, through interviews with some of her former charges and employers, and get fleeting glimpses into the existence of Vivian the woman – for better and for worse.

But Maier – whose story is supposed to be the focus of the film – is slightly overshadowed by Maloof’s presence, and his near-obsessive quest to find out about her life.

Initially – because I love a good story – my reaction to the documentary was overwhelmingly positive.

But, in sharing thoughts with Renée following the movie, it seems a number of questions were left unanswered. But I won’t go into those questions here. I’ll leave you to watch for yourself. (Renée will likely be sharing her thoughts in the days ahead, so you can visit her blog then.)

But what we know now about a life that had, up until 6 or so years ago, existed in obscurity, has proven intriguing. And now that the film has been released, it’s going to be interesting to see what discussions develop about Maier and her work.

All TIFF-ed Out

Hey, folks!

So, as you’ve probably guessed by now, TIFF is done!

And when it was all over, I ended up seeing 11 movies – 10 of them with Renée.

(Seriously – how do veteran TIFF-ers see 20, 30, 40 movies?! Sheeesh.)

While we take this time to uncross our eyes and decompress from the movie bubble we just left, I’m going to try my best to post my thoughts (however fleeting) on the remaining films.

And after this week, that’ll be it from me – for a couple of weeks, anyhow. Hopefully I’ll be able to explain why, later this week.

Watch this space.

Almost Late for Movie # 8!

1379032838476Thursday was my first attempt to juggle my work schedule with the remainder of TIFF’s schedule.

Tonight’s film was the only Canadian feature Renée and I were planning on seeing, called Sarah Prefers to Run.

But due to TIFF fatigue, I almost missed it! I was supposed to meet Renée at the theatre at 8:15 p.m.

But somehow my eyes interpreted our plan as “let’s meet in our neighbourhood at 8:15”.

So when I got her text telling me she was at the theatre, that literally sent me running to the subway. (Idiot.)

I did get there in time before the film, thank goodness. And to keep myself from falling asleep (I did feel very sleepy the night before), I opted to chew some gum to stay alert,

Sarah Prefers to Run (Sarah préfère la course in French) follows the titular character (played by Sophie Desmarais) as a young athlete who lives to race. It’s a drive that seems to consume her, and yet, as you watch her on-screen, it’s the thing where she’s in control, and looks the least like a fish out of water. The anxiety and extreme awkwardness off the track is there for all to see, and that’s what I liked about it.

The film is Chloé Robichaud‘s sixth directing credit, but it’s her first full-length feature, and it also got a berth in the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s Cannes film festival.

IMAG0408Robichaud, Desmarais and producer Fanny-Laure Malo were present after the film for questions. Robichaud shared with the audience her directorial inspirations, where (in her mind) she saw her character Sarah going beyond what we saw on the screen, and also that she’d like her next movie to be about women in politics. Go, Chloé!

Honestly, I haven’t seen that many Québec-made films in my lifetime, but Sarah Prefers to Run honestly reinforces what I hear about the quality of films that come out of French Canada, versus English Canada. (Sorry, English homies.)

Friday night, Renée and I would tackle another documentary – one that I’ve been hearing quite a lot about.

Until then …

Oh! And check out Renée‘s blog for her take on TIFF, and 21-plus things to know if you’re considering doing TIFF next year. (I threw in a few suggestions as well. Hey, you never know – I could be sitting next to you in 2014, grizzled veteran that I am, so take heed!)