TIFF Files: Off to the Races
Reports from the Toronto International Film Festival
By Marjorie Baumgarten,
7:30AM, Sat. Sep. 6, 2014
Greetings from the Toronto International Film Festival, where I arrived on Thursday after about 13 hours of travel from Texas. Travel complications added to the time it normally takes to escape the Lone Star State, but the result is that my entire first fest day was relegated to transportation. Ugh.
Arriving at a film fest worn out is never a good thing, so I went to bed early and crashed hard, sleeping until a phone call woke me up. I’ve seen two films at this point: the curiously named A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence and Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language. That title alone is enough to inspire one to write – or give up altogether.
I’m afraid that it seems like Godard, one of the great semioticians of film grammar, is the one who has given up on language. Curiously, however, this film is in 3-D, and it seems that much of Godard’s interest here is in the exploration of this newfangled visual technique. Godard makes unusual use of the images’ foreground – not, however, for having things appear to jump out from the screen for gotcha effects, which is about all most Hollywood productions can eke out from the technology. Godard looks at the things that interfere with what we’re looking at – the stuff we generally block out as unimportant or peripheral. Only something like 70 minutes long, the film finds Godard pondering his usual array of open-ended philosophical topics.
As for A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, it concludes Swedish director Roy Andersson’s trilogy “on being a human being.” The previous two films are unknown to me. Rather than a straightforward narrative, Pigeon is more like a series of tongue-in-cheek vignettes, although there is something of a throughline in the recurring characters who peddle novelty items such as vampire fangs. “We just want to help people have fun,” say these dour and humorless characters. The tone for the film is set with the first vignette that pictures a husband having a heart attack from the strain of opening a wine bottle at the dinner table, while his wife toils in the kitchen unaware. “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine,” is a refrain characters repeat into their phones in numerous episodes – a mindless platitude that keeps us moving forward. The film is wry delight.
Back to the trenches …