Tag Archives: film

Reading as imaginative co-creation

As the lights darkened in the TIFF cinema Monday night, I leaned over to my friend and said “We’re so lucky to live in this city.”

We were there for the season opener of the Books in Film series. Eleanor Wachtel had just introduced Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and special guest flown in from Lahore for the screening of Mira Nair’s film based on the novel. From his brief comments before the film, it was clear this was going to be a highlight of the series.

No spoilers here. This Man Booker nominated novel is a must-read. But it was an interesting exercise in teasing out the differences between the experience of reading and that of watching a film. The novel has two basic acts: Changez (the protagonist, pronounced Chong’-iz) at Princeton and working as a financial analyst in New York City; and Changez after he returns to Lahore. The novel is written in the second person: Changez is telling his story to an American while sitting in a cafe in Lahore. We don’t know much about the American and the ending is not tidy.

In the film, there is a third act that ties the story together. There are other significant changes, and much more of a back story. Hamid stated that movie-goers don’t want to leave the cinema not knowing what “the ending” meant. But more than that, he had interesting things to say about the experience of reading versus watching a film.

In his view, a book leaves greater space for “imaginative co-creation” on the part of the reader. And particularly so in this novel where one half of the conversation is missing. Readers are required to imagine a lot, to create their own reality, to “engage in make-believe, or imaginative play for adults.”  He said that film is more “pre-chewed”, with less space for the viewer to enter into their own minds. Hamid stated that “books and film are completely different art forms.”

There was more. A discussion of the meaning of a beard. Nair’s changes to the screenplay to highlight powerful women. The importance (or not) of 9/11 in the novel. How one’s identification as part of a group can be (always is?) uncomfortable.

This was an evening to remember, and one of the reasons that I love my adopted city, and TIFF in particular. If you’re a reader and love film (and live in Toronto), single tickets are now available for this terrific series.

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TIFF – Opening Day

logo_tiff_top_largestTIFF opens today, and for the first time I’m entering the Festival with 8 vouchers out of the 30 tickets I purchased, which means I’ll be adding some films as I go out of those that are still on sale.

Today I’m picking up my tickets and hoping to make use of a few of the vouchers over the next few days.

I’m scheduled to see Blue is the Warmest Colour tonight, winner of the Palme D’Or at Cannes and panned by a number of columnists in the paper today. It’s a long one, coming in at just under 3 hours. Tomorrow evening, I looking forward to seeing the Jason Reitman live read of Boogie NIghts.

Films I’m hoping to pick up:

Friday: either Southcliffe, a four part series made for television in the UK, or Tim’s Veneer, a Penn & Teller doc looking into the methods of Vermeer.

Saturday: either Therese, an adaptation of the novel by Zola, or Ilo Ilo, the story of a Singaporean family during the Asian financial crisis.

On Sunday morning,  I’m seeing a members-only screening of Philomena, courtesty of TIFF. It stars Judi Dench as an Irish-Catholic woman who is looking for the child she was forced to give up. Later in the day I’m seeing September and Le Week-End.

I’m going stag for most of the Festival, so if you’ll be at a screening I’m at, let me know and we can meet up!

Finally, a special shout-out to Mike Rudolph, TIFF customer service, who assisted me when there were difficulties with the online ticket fulfillment process. He’s the son of a friend, and saw my pleas for assistance on the TIFF twitter feed. He gave me a call and did my ticketing over the phone.

“Love, Marilyn”: Coming to HBO this summer.

I saw this film last fall at TIFF and absolutely loved it. Directed by Liz Garbus, it’s a documentary based on Marilyn Monroe’s own writings, read by actors.  It will be screening on HBO Canada this month and next (dates) and HBO (US). Set your DVR to catch this one.

Here’s Liz Smith’s take on the doc.

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TIFF roundup: Monday

I’m (obviously) quite far behind on my mini-reviews, but a day of film-screening leaves me wiped by the end of the day. I’ve been tweeting some thoughts, but here are my capsule summaries.

Rampart (Dir. Oren Moverman, USA)

Woody Harrelson stars in this rogue-cop drama set in LA. A masterful performance with strong support from the actors playing his ex-wives (who are sisters in the film and live together) and daughters. The twist (for me, who’s not really a rogue-cop-film viewer) is that this guy is very articulate and wraps his crap in big words and charming delivery. (4/5)

(One more screening Sunday the 18th)

Behold the Lamb (Dir. John McIlduff, UK)

A small film (budget $200,000 and filmed in 20 days) it stars a young actress who had only done stage work and a lorry driver and amateur theatre actor. This is a gritty but somehow charming story of two people whose lives intersect over a 24 hour period. It involves a car theft, the transport of a lamb, a foster child, and a lot of beautiful, grey Irish scenery. And a lot of Catholic imagery that the director said was not originally part of the story, but was pointed out to him part way through the writing of the screenplay. (3/5)

(One more screening on evening of Friday the 16th)


Anonymous (Dir Roland Emmerich, Germany)

This is soon-to-be-released in theatres (Oct 28) and there’s been lots of press about it. The premise is that there was no-one names William Shakespeare who actually wrote the plays and poetry attributed to him. Good performances and terrific cinematography. My ignorance of British history made it a bit difficult to follow the family/dynastic relationships. (4/5) ( The Official site has lots of good info that I wish I’d read before seeing the film.)

(One more screening on Saturday the 17th, but save your cash and see it in commercial run.)

Beloved (Les Bien-Aimés) (Dir Christophe Honoré, France)

Starring Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni, this musical(!) set in France, spanning decades from 1964 to the 90s, was extremely enjoyable. When asked “why a musica’l in the Q&A, Honoré claimed that he is not comfortable writing about love and it was easier for him to have his characters sing during the emotional moments of the film. Not a typical musical, there are no big theatrical moments, or much dancing. Just characters, walking down the street (or playing billiards) and singing about their feelings.

(One more screening on Saturday the 17th)



TIFF roundup: Weekend 1

Well, things are off to a great start.  I saw four films this weekend and here are my thoughts.

Friday afternoon:  Urbanized (Director: Gary Hustwit, USA/UK)

This was the world premiere for this film and the Ryerson Theatre was filled with Jane Jacobites and other #TorontoElite (to use a hashtag favoured by Spacing editor Shawn Micallef.) Inspiring and uplifting, this is a film that should be seen by anyone interested in the future of our cities, how to make them more liveable and sustainable, and how to improve the lives of even the poorest of slumdwellers by thoughtful, citizen-centric design. A survey of cities from around the world, this film calls us to action, even in the face of a city government that seems intent on turning the clock back. Official website.  (5/5) 

Saturday Morning: Ides of March (Director: George Clooney, USA)

We attended the second (and last) screening of this film at the festival.  Clooney plays a presidential candidate during the Ohio primary and Ryan Gosling is his media guy. The story is good, well-paced, and interesting, and the film was very enjoyable. Clooney was fine, but I thought Gosling was slightly miscast for the part. His character didn’t come across as bright enough for the role, but I’m not sure whether it was the casting or the writing. The big buzz should go to Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Marisa Tomei for their supporting roles as campaign managers for the opposing candidates and a NY Times reporter. It was their performances that really carried the film. Official website. (4/5)

Saturday afternoon: House of Tolerance (Director: Bertrand Bonello, France)

A languid, sensual, two-hour film about a fin de siecle brothel in Paris, this film was carefully researched and brought to being with great care. It’s a frank look at the lives of these women, at the same time enslaved and surrounded by opulence, at the risks they encountered and the friendships they formed. There was a good Q&A with the director after the film and I asked about the use of music behind some key scenes. The opening credits have a kind of 60s blues thing (see trailer), and a climactic scene close to the end is scored with The Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin. Bonello did not see this as any more anachronistic than using opera music not coming from a gramaphone. This was also a subject of great discussion after the premiere at Cannes. (4/5)


Sunday noon:  Take this Waltz (Director: Sarah Polley, Canada)

This was a stunner of a film. What hits you right from the beginning is the warm, vivid, palette she has chosen for the film, representing female desire (as Polley remarked in the Q&A after the screening.) Very well cast with Michelle Williams as a twenty-something woman Margot, married for five years to Lou (Seth Rogen). When Daniel (Luke Kirby) enters her life in one of the many comedic scenes in the film), her previously domestic situation starts to unravel. This is a film with both intense drama and high humour, handled deftly by Polley and woven into a dreamy yet realistic portrayal of what happens when the gleam starts to go off a relationship. Sarah Silverman plays Lou’s sister, a recovering alcoholic, and had vocal coaching for the film to “speak Canadian”. See this movie! Official site. (5/5)

Here’s a shot from the Q&A after the screening.  From L to R: Sarah Polley, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogen.


TIFF is coming: my first weekend lineup.

The Toronto International Film Festival, that is.

This year, I’m jumping in with both feet, seeing 5 films with my spouse when he’s not at work, and ….ahem… 20 on my own during the day. Because we’re “castmembers” at TIFF, we got our order processed early and got 23 out of 25 of our first picks, 1 second pick, and one voucher.  I’m hoping to get another ticket (with my voucher) to Habibi so that Z can come with me to that screening (it’s a Saturday morning at 9 am.) It’s a recasting of a classical 9th century Arabic tragic love epic, Mad for Layla (Majnoun Layla), set in modern day Gaza.

On the first weekend (Sep 9-11), this is my lineup:

Friday afternoon:  Urbanized – Documentary on Urban Design

Saturday morning: Ides of March – George Clooney and Ryan Gosling star in this polical drama about a presidential primary.

Saturday afternoon: House of Tolerance – A look at a fin-de-siecle brothel in Paris. 

Sunday noon: Take This Waltz – Sarah Polley directs (and wrote) this romantic drama.

My fears about having to run from venue to venue have been allayed as I have at least 45 minutes between any two films, so with my TTC pass and comfy shoes, I’m good to go!


“As the Poet Said”: A film about Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish

We attended our second screening at the TPFF last night, the film “As the Poet Said”, a lyrical documentary about Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008).  The film consisted of footage of the various places he’d lived and worked, with poets reading from his work, both in Arabic and in various translations, including Hebrew, French, English, Portugese, Kurdish, and Spanish.  The score was mainly piano and harp, both women improvising music based on his poetry.

It was clear in the 65 minutes that Darwish has had a huge influence, not only in the hearts of Palestinians, but also on poetry.  Readers included Jose Saramago, Michael Palmer, Dominique de Villepin, and Joumana Haddad.  One of the most moving moments in the film was a scene of a group of schoolgirls reciting “We have on this earth what makes life worth living”:

We have on this earth what makes life worth living
Mahmoud Darwish, 1986

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
April’s hesitation
The aroma of bread at dawn
A woman’s opinion of men
The works of Aeschylus
The beginning of love
Grass on a stone
Mothers living on a flute’s sigh and,
The invaders’ fear of memories

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
The final days of September
A woman leaving forty in full blossom*
The hour of sunlight in prison
A cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures
The peoples’ applause for those who face death with a smile
The tyrants’ fear of songs.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
On this earth, the lady of earth,
Mother of all beginnings
Mother of all ends.
She was called… Palestine.
Her name later became… Palestine.

My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life.

*Alternate translation “A woman keeping her apricots ripe after forty.”

This was my first exposure to Darwish, and I plan to read more of his poetry.  Zouheir wants to get a book of his work in Arabic, but I will have to settle for an English translation.  This is, in fact, what made the film a little awkward for me.  While everything was subtitled, there is so much lost in trying to match the reader’s intonation and expression with the translation.  When I mentioned this to Zouheir, he confessed to closing his eyes from time to time so that he would not be distracted by the subtitles. 

This film was not so much a documentary but rather an homage to the life of Darwish.  We are not left with facts about him; not even his birth and death dates are presented.  Rather, we have a collage of his work on a backdrop of visuals from his wanderings and an intense score that seemed to capture the longing of his people.

I embed a trailer for the film that gives an idea of the experience. Note that the print that was screened had English subtitles.




Weekend Update

This weekend has felt incredibly long, probably because we stuffed too much in to it.

Zouheir took Michael and a band-mate up to band camp this weekend, so that pretty much ate up Friday night.  On Saturday, we relaxed in our empty nest in the morning, and then headed to Bloor West mid-afternoon to pick up our TPFF tickets at Beit Zatoun and grab dinner before the opening film.  We had some time to kill, so we wandered around Bloor/Bathurst area, dropping in to the By the Way Cafe for tea, and then Sarah’s Shawarma and Falafel for a satisfactory (but not great) dinner.  Our film last night was The Time That Remains, directed by Elia Suleiman, a kind of memoir of living as a “present absentee” in Nazareth.  It was a packed house at the Bloor, and it was interesting to see it again with a mainly Palestinian audience, as opposed to the TIFF audience last year.  There were some definite cheers from last night’s audience at certain points in the film that didn’t raise a peep a year ago.

After the film, we walked over to Yorkville and took in some of the Nuit Blanche sights.  There were long lineups for some of the venues and we decided not to wait.  We got in to the RCM and the Gardiner, the former an exciting installation and the latter somewhat disappointing.  We walked down Bloor and back along Cumberland, streets closed off for the event, but by 10:30, we were kind of cold and tired and decided to head back to the subway and home.

This morning, we had tickets for a Palestinian breakfast, part of TPFF, but I needed to head out to pick up Michael around 12:30, so Zouheir took a cousin and I went to choir and mass.  This morning’s music was entirely sung in unison, including hymns, which was not much of a work out.  We did Viadana’s Fratres, ego enim accepi a Domino and Accipite et manducate during the Offertory and Ralph Vaughn Williams setting of a George Herbert poem The Call.  The text of this song is beautiful:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, My Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in love.

Right after mass, I hopped in the car and headed up to Lake Simcoe (Jackson’s Point) to pick up Michael from band camp.  He had a great time, and parents and other visitors were treated to a brief concert before everyone left.  The sound was terrific, and the students clearly enjoy the ensemble.  It is something of a stretch for Michael, but he’s loving it and learning a lot.  As soon as we got home, he crashed in his bed for an hour, and then came down and started practicing!  This, after a weekend full of rehearsals and clinics. He’s certainly got the bug.

I spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the couch trying to finish In the Woods by Tana French, an engrossing mystery that I’ve been too busy or tired to spend much time on the past few days.  But it’s a great story, and I just want to get it done before I have to get it back to the library.  I predict a significant plot twist shortly, so I’m desperate to get it done!

Seven Quick Takes Friday – The I-love-cheese edition.



I lasted 11 days on the paleo diet.  I had a couple of mishaps…I ordered a hotdog at Costco without thinking, and then I had a little mishap at Union Station involving a Cinnabon, but I’ve realised that I’m just not cut out to give up cheese.  Not to mention the paltry 2 pounds that I lost during that time, eating very healthily.  So last night I had a little party with some Mrs. Fields cookies and Ferrero Rocher thingy’s that came in some get-well baskets for Zouheir.  And that I’d been staring at for the entire 11 days.  This morning, I had cream in my coffee, three pieces of raisin toast with butter and some cheese.  Maybe I’d just rather be….curvaceous. 


Speaking of curvaceous, Zou and I went to see the Arabesque Dance Company at the Four Season’s Centre yesterday, during their free lunchtime presentations in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheater.  There were both female and male dancers, and the women were are all extraordinarily thin for belly-dancers.  Zouheir leaned over to me and whispered “you can see why middle eastern men like their women full!” as skinny belly-dancers just don’t really yield the full effect.  So you can see that cheese will also help me maintain my marriage.


We attended a screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc at the Bell Lightbox on Wednesday.  A silent film by Carl Theodor Dreyer, it was astounding, even taken on it’s own. But the two screenings were accompanied by Richard Einhorn’s oratorio Voices of Light, performed by the Toronto Consort and Choir 21.  Einhorn wanted to compose something based around Joan of Arc, and around that time a print of the film was discovered in a janitor’s closet in a mental institution in Norway.  He decided to write music to accompany the film, and this is what was presented at the screenings.

It was incredible.  The beauty and emotional weight of the film was masterfully underscored by the oratorio.  The vocal part was in Latin and Old French, and not meant to really be understood by contemporary audiences, although I recognized a lot of the Latin.  Zouheir and I talked about it well into the night, and more the next day.  Apparently Dreyer was one of the early filmmakers to use a lot of closeups, as well as kind of kooky shooting angles.  David Fallis, the conductor for the screenings, held a Q&A afterwards and talked about the film and the process of coordinating the music with the visuals.  A very enjoyable evening, our first Lightbox screening post-TIFF.


Michael heads up to the Hannaford Youth Band camp this weekend for lots of playing and a clinic with Glen Gould School tubist Sasha Johnson.  He’s fighting a cold and I kept him home from school today to rest before the weekend.  As it turns out, his school music teacher’s daughter (trumpter, out of high school for three years) is also in the band and we’ll be giving her a lift to and from camp this weekend.  


This weekend is the opening of the Toronto Palestine Film Festival and we’ve got a bunch of tickets for events.  Films:

The Time That Remains (2009; Elia Suleiman) – trailer

9 Aab (short film) and As the Poet Saidtrailer  (two films about poet Mahmoud Darwish)

Targeted Citizen (short) and Zindeeq

Nine to Five (short) and Jaffa, The Orange’s Clockworkfilm website

Budrus (2009; Julia Bacha) – film website

We also have tickets for Sahtain! A Traditional Palestinian Brunch on Sunday, followed by films and discussion with directors, but I will probably have to skip that to pick up Michael from band camp. 


This Saturday is Nuit Blanche in Toronto.  I attended it in the past, but this year we’ll be on Bloor Street and the opening night of TPFF, so my plan is to wander around the Avenue Road/Bloor area and drop into some of the installations in that area.  I’ve downloaded a free app for my iPhone which will make finding events easy. 


Zou goes back to work on Monday.  His surgery and recovery has been better than we could have anticipated and he’s feeling great.  He’s sleeping well, and keeps marvelling at how the lack of pain/discomfort has rippled through so much of his life.  He is anxious to start exercising, which his surgeon told him not to do for six weeks.  He may start swimming to at least get himself moving, now that his incision is completely healed.  The only issue is that he’s been having some headaches, but he attributes that to lack of exercise, or possibly a slightly higher blood pressure than is normal for him.  But otherwise, all systems are go!


For more Seven Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary.