I had decided before today even started to use the idea of "audience films vs. festival films" as a theme for my discussion of the day's screenings.
Who knew I would run into such a run of dreary "festival films"? Granted, festivals are always a crapshoot - that's a given. But generally, between knowing the director, cast, source material or synopsis - or all of the above - you can make some educated guesses about which offering to risk your time on during a day of movie viewing.
But sometimes you have days like the one I had Sunday. I walked into five films - and only made it to the end of two of them. I walked out of the other three after between 15 and 45 minutes, in each case ruing the time I'd lost. In only one case was I able to scramble into another screening room, just as a film was starting. Thankfully, I escaped to Last Night, a film starring Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington, which I liked quite a bit.
A film like Made in Dagenham, which I saw on Saturday, though it was being shown at Toronto, is an audience film: not too challenging, a linear plot, characters the audience can identify with, a sense of humor. Festivals always toss a few of these in; they're also screening Easy A, a teen comedy opening in theaters on Friday, for some inexplicable reasons.
And festival films? Well, there are movies like Brighton Rock, my first film of the day which I left after 45 minutes (I stayed as long as I did more out of inertia than anything else), or Bunraku (the one I escaped after 15 minutes) - they challenge the audience by putting plot and character second to style.
Not that Brighton Rock didn't have a story to tell; it is, after all, based on a Graham Greene novel. But writer-director Rowan Joffe used a restless camera and characters who were stylized to the point of making actual film noir look tame. Worse, he used unappealing actors in his central roles.
Still, something like "em>Brighton Rock plays at a festival exactly because a programmer decided it was an experiment in style that he or she wanted to support. Its style may even be mistaken for commercial appeal, particularly if a critic writes something the least bit encouraging - in which case it might get a brief theatrical run.
But it's the kind of movie that can only breathe the rarefied air of a festival, attracting audiences, perhaps, because they see the names of Helen Mirren and John Hurt in the cast (though both play small supporting roles). Set it loose in the real world and it will sink like a stone.
Something like Guy Moshe's film Bunraku could only be seen at a festival - and nowhere else. An expressionistic tale of a world in revolutionaries try to take down a crime boss in a world in which guns have been banned, it begins with a staged samurai-sword showdown between two gangs on a soundstage - sort of a cross between Kung Fu Hustle and Dogville. It's deliberately stagey and self-conscious, so much so that I was choking on the pretension and fled after 15 minutes. It was a one-joke movie and that joke had quickly worn out its welcome.
Then there was the woe begotten What's Wrong with Virginia?, a film written and directed by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for writing Milk. Virginia, however, was like half-baked Nurse Betty...