Starting at 11am and ending at 7pm the lineup for the day consisted of three very different films that would culminate in a discussion event with two of the industries most successful directors to have come out of Canada. The first was A Brother’s Love, a French speaking Quebecian film by first time feature director Monia Chokri that tells the story of a relationship between a brother and sister and the ironic pressures of modern middle class life. Following that was White Snake an animation to come out of the quickly expanding Chinese animation market, retelling a tradition Chinese fairy tale. Coming towards the end of the day was a revisit to 2009’s Oscar nominated Up in the Air, something that I personally was actually visiting for the first time. The last portion of the day was a live talk with Jason Reitman (director of Up in the Air) and a surprise guest, his father Ivan Reitman, to hear their views on the filmmaking process, their own experiences throughout said process and how best to approach the industry for newcomers.
A Brother’s Love
A wonderful surprise and feature directorial debut from Quebecian Monia Chokri following the relationship between sister and brother, Sophia and Karim, as they both navigate true love and the social pressures of modern middle class life. The script is utterly wonderful in its abrasiveness showcasing a fantastically dry sense of humour that touches on the nihilism of the lonely and the cringey optimism of those in love. Anne-Élisabeth Bossé leads with a performance full of conviction, balanced with supreme apathy. Josée Deshaies’ cinematography captures the moment to moment dialogue pieces with true flair, typical of the French New Wave scene of the late 1960s. The colour palette pops from the screen in every shot, bathing every character in personality and energy. What holds the whole thing together however is the editing. Chakri co-edited with Justine Gauthier and shows true restraint, allowing the film to move along at a lightening pace, slowing down just enough when necessary, only to rocket the audience through the events in an exciting and captivating manner. If you have the chance to catch this, I strongly recommend you don’t miss it. A wonderful portrayal on the meaningless struggles of the middle class, and a testament to the importance of family, optimism and love.
Following the outstanding opener was another of my most anticipated for the film festival, Chinese animation White Snake. It would be harsh of me to call this film a disappointment but unfortunately my high expectations were not quite met. It is by no means a bad film or something you should skip but sleeping on it would not cause you to miss out on much either. The story is a classic Chinese fairy tale romance with little in the way of surprises or twists. Furthermore the film lacks any kind of central antagonist and moves along at such a break neck pace, it is difficult to keep up with everything. Saying that however the animation style is visually spectacular. Utterly surreal in its realisation, White Snake is a fine ambassador for the growing Chinese animation market to western movie-goers. Excellent action sequences, intriguing character design and smooth transitions make for an intensely pleasing experience aesthetically even though emotionally and thematically, the story struggles to keep viewers engaged. I do believe it’s worth a watch however simply for its visual prowess but it’s unlikely you’ll remember the story a few days following a viewing, and it’s unlikely to stand out among much of what this festival has to offer.
Up in the Air
The precursor to the day’s Behind the Scenes talk with Jason Reitman was a revisiting of his Oscar nominated, across multiple categories, Up in the Air from 2009. This was actually my first viewing of the film and also my first exposure to Jason Reitman as a filmmaker. It’s always a fascinating experience viewing a film, very much of its time, in the way those who saw it on release did, on the big screen. I’ve always pushed the idea that film’s should be seen in viewing theatres and much is lost when viewing them second hand through a smaller screen. Therefore I was pretty grateful to have my experience of Up in the Air be on the big screen and I was pleasantly surprised by Reitman’s style. Subtle in many ways whilst still showcasing some stylistic flair, Reitman pulls excellent performances out of all the cast members and perfectly captures the mood following the 2008 recession. If you haven’t seen Up in the Air yet I would highly recommend the 10 year old Oscar nominee. Much has changed in the modern film market in that time (more than you would think) but the subject matter is still relevant to many today.
Jason and Ivan Reitman
Following the screening was a talk with Up in the Air Director Jason Reitman with surprise guest, Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Meatballs). Both had interesting and inspiring thoughts to share with all the prospective filmmakers and screenwriters in the audience. Much of the conversation, as a talk like this generally does, went in the direction of the creative process and how one forms their thoughts from a simple idea, to a script, to a casting call, to a set, to a film. It was fascinating to hear Jason’s ideas on filmmaking as a profession with his greatest mentor, his father, sat right beside him. Ivan himself had many interesting stories, particularly one concerning Bill Murray, on the difficulties of bringing people together to make a film, and the undeniable satisfaction of a project coming together. What really struck me however is the connection both of them still have to film and screen media as a source of entertainment for them, even after all these years behind the curtain of Hollywood. They spoke about 24 and how wonderful they both found it. Jason referenced the American Indie wave of the 1990’s and talked about the directors of that era as his heroes. It was wonderful to see that even after so much success in that family in this industry, they were both incredibly humble of their beginnings and appreciative of the hard work so many put into the projects they are a part of.
Although the talk with Jason and his father was incredibly illuminating, especially to one such as myself who is still so new to the inside of this industry, the highlight of the day was without a doubt A Brother’s Love. Every so often you walk into the theatre having no pre-conceptions about what it is you are about to witness. Sometimes you are pleasantly surprised, mildly amused or downright disappointed by what you’ve taken a chance on. But A Brother’s Love really grabbed me and I was utterly enthralled all the way to the end. There’s still a lot of films to see but its gonna take something pretty amazing to knock Monia Chokri’s debut of the top of my list.
Written by Alfie Smith