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Volume 20 Issue 1 - September 2014

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  • September
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TIFF TIPSBY PAUL ENNISWelcome to The WholeNote’s third annual guide to the TorontoInternational Film Festival (TIFF) spotlighting films in which musicplays an intriguing role. Selections range from music-centreddocumentaries and musicals to movies featuring characters involvedin making music to soundtracks that are integral to the quality of thefilms they help drive. With 285 feature films in this year’s festival,there was some alchemy involved in choosing the 22 titles on thefollowing list – the soundtrack category is particularly difficult topredict in advance.Seymour: An IntroductionYou meet the most interesting people at New York City dinnerparties. That’s where Ethan Hawke first met SeymourBernstein, the 85-year-old subject of his documentarySeymour: An Introduction. Bernstein began playing the pianoas a child in Newark, New Jersey and by the age of 15 was already ateacher. He had a brief concert career after studies with such giantsas Alexander Brailowsky, Clifford Curzon and Nadia Boulanger beforesettling into his role of helping others develop.It was Hawke’s explanation of Bernstein’s teaching mantra inresponse to Hubert Vigilia’s question on two years ago(just as the film was taking shape) that piqued my curiosity and madeSeymour a must-see on my TIFF to-do list: “What is harmony? Whatis dissonance? Why should we practice? Why should we work hard,and what difference does it make when you play the right note ordon’t play the right note? He’s a very deep guy. I was touched by him,and I thought he had a lot to teach me about acting, and then I slowlyrealized that the way he’s talking about the piano relates to everyprofession.”Based on his moving doc Last Train Home, I’m looking forwardto Lixin Fan’s new film I Am Here, which follows the three finalistsof the popular Chinese TV show Super Boy. In an interviewwith TimeOut Beijing Fan talked about wanting to examine thetransformation of Chinese television over the past decade, “theexplosion of a particular kind of consumable entertainment thatfetishizes fame and makes overnight success seem normal.” It seemsthat the West is not the only society mesmerized by the cult of thesuperstar.The film adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s hit show The Last FiveYears, starring Broadway fave Jeremy Jordan and movie darling AnnaKendrick (can’t wait to see her as Cinderella in Into the Woods laterthis year), will receive its world premiere during the festival. Writtenand directed by Richard LaGravenese (perhaps still best known forThe Fisher King screenplay), it’s that rare movie made from an off-Broadway musical. This one deconstructs the relationship of a writerand an aspiring actress sung from their individual perspectives.I have it on good authority from a Canadian director who’s seen arough cut, that Ian LeFeuvre’s and Jeffrey St. Jules’eight original songs in Jules’ sci-fi mutant musicalnightmare Bang Bang Baby feel authentic, arefilled with good hooks and reflect the music they’rereferencing in this version of an early 1960s Elvismovie musical that stars Jane Levy as a wide-eyeddreamy small-town girl in the mould of Lesley Gore.Another Canadian film with an unusual premiseis the aptly titled Songs She Wrote About PeopleShe Knows, about a timid office worker (ArabellaBushnell) who can’t suppress her true feelings about. . . well, you know, “I’m confessin’ that I hate you.”Kris Elgstrand’s feature film debut certainly doesintrigue.An uncharacteristic variation on the conventionsof the bio-pic, Love & Mercy takes off from BrianWilson’s resurrection that began in the 1980sunder the guidance of therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti)and second wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks). The troubled leader ofthe Beach Boys is portrayed in middle age by John Cusack and, in aninspired piece of casting, Paul Dano, as the youthful 60s musical iconresponsible for Pet Sounds.Ole Christian Madsen’s Itsi Bitsi dissects the origins of the legendary1960s Danish band Steppeulvene (Steppenwolf). The promisingpremise: after indulging in a virtual travelogue of countercultureexcess with his paramour, an aspiring writer decides that forminga band (compared in the program note to groups such as Love andCaptain Beefheart’s Magic Band) would cement their love.Rooted more in personal experience than in history, DamienChazelle’s Whiplash, which won both the Grand Jury Prize and theAudience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival (where it waslabelled “Full Metal Jacket at Juilliard”) struck me as being at theopposite end of the spectrum from Seymour: An Introduction. Anambitious jazz drummer (the believable Miles Teller) is terrorizedinto achieving his goals by a drill sergeant of a teacher (played by theusually amiable J. K. Simmons in a performance as highly chargedas the exhilarating 20-minute drum solo that climaxes the film – amusical outburst that is the most memorable thing about this toughview of education).WhiplashEden, the new film by the always-interesting director Mia Hansen-Løve, is a TIFF world premiere. The New York Film Festival programnote describes it as “a rare achievement: an epically scaled work builton the purely ephemeral, breathlessly floating along on currentsof feeling. . . and music, music, and more music.” Based on theexperiences of Hansen-Løve’s brother (and co-writer) Sven, who wasone of the pioneering DJs of the “French touch” generation of the early1990s, Eden features key figures such as Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter (otherwise known as Daft Punk), who,with their friends, “see visions of ecstasy in garage music.”Other movies featuring characters of varying musical talent includeHaligonian Andrea Dorfman’s Heartbeat, which was an outgrowth8 | September 1, 2014 – October 7, 2014

Bang Bang Babyof an immensely popular Bravo!FACT video she shot of the poetmusicianTanya Davis performing her poem “How To Be Alone”(approaching seven million hits on YouTube as this is being written).In the new film, Davis returns to guitar picking and songwriting as ameans to get over a break-up with her artist boyfriend, a lovely idea intheory, but for me, most of the music just didn’t click.A more successful and equally low-key Canadian film, StéphaneLafleur’s Tu Dors Nicole is a finely-etched portrait of a 22-yearoldyoung woman maturing over one aimless summer. The musiccomponent appears in the form of her older brother and his band,who move in to record an album. They, along with Nicole’s best friendand a pre-teen former babysitting charge, all contribute to the comicwisdom of this understated little bijou, filmed in rich black and white.Drawing inspiration from the life and death of the GermanRomantic poet and playwright Heinrich von Kleist, who killed himselfin a suicide pact in his early 30s, Austrian writer-director JessicaHausner’s Amour Fou debunks the romantic myth of dying for love.Not without irony, Hausner makes the most of the distancing effectof the stilted 1811 dialogue. She’s well aware of the absurdly comicformality of her characters and their desires – the film’s title is noaccident. Still, despite its great attention to period detail, beautifullycomposed cinematography and unerring artfulness, it left me cold.You, on the other hand, may be charmed. The musical bonus: threesongs by Mozart, Beethoven and the Danish composer ChristophWeyse, performed without pretense and completely in tune with thetimes.In the Greek film Xenia, a 16-year-old dreams that his older brother,a gifted singer, could become the next “Greek Star.” Boychoir’sprovenance is more promising, since it marks director FrançoisGirard’s return to a musical subject after the superb Thirty-two ShortFilms about Glenn Gould and the immensely popular The Red Violin.Actor Garrett Wareing is its 12-year-old centrepiece chorister, DustinHoffman the demanding choirmaster and the talented Eddie Izzard,his right-hand man.In Timbuktu, Abderrahmane Sissako takes a clear-eyed, moving,humanistic look at the jihadist takeover of northern Mali, bringing uswholly into the lives of his well-developed characters, ordinary peoplewho want nothing more than to make music, play soccer and, for thewomen, to feel the breeze on their hands without being forced to weargloves at all times. The remarkable Malian singer-actress FatoumataDiawara (who appeared in concert at Koerner Hall last February)plays a woman being beaten for making music. As the severity of thebeating builds, her cries intensify into an unforgettable wailing song,defiantly acting out the very thing for which she is being punished.Girlhood, Céline Sciamma’s classical coming-of-age story setin the Parisian suburbs, vibrates like a street opera, reaching itsmusical apex when its protagonists, four teenage black girls whoseenergy and camaraderie are completely natural and infectious, singalong to Rihanna’s song “Diamonds” as they treat themselves to thepleasures of a stay in a fancy hotel. More noteworthy though, is thedirector’s choice of Para One to write an original score consistingof only one theme that returns many times over the course of theContinues on page September 1, 2014 – October 7, 2014 | 9

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