The final day of this year's festival ends in fittingly woozy fashion courtesy of Terrence Malick.
Since premiering in Venice, To the Wonder has been a bit of a whipping boy for critics with previous beef with director Terrence Malick. If anything, however, the film serves as proof that a misfiring Malick is still better than most current filmmakers.
Here Malick follows a near-silent Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko, who meet in Paris and have the type of dreamy, magical courtship that could only come when filtered through Emmanuel Lubezki’s flowing steadicam and accompanied by constant poetic narration. Meanwhile the film constantly cuts to Javier Bardem’s priest and his complex relationship with God, and there is a brief segment where Affleck has a quiet affair with Rachel McAdams' farmgirl that feels truncated. The message is that true love is a constant battle and it's a subject Malick explores it well. The trouble is we're used to Malick taking on the horrors of war or the meaning of life, and a bittersweet love song feels minor in comparison.
With dialogue kept to a minimum the character's emotional arcs are expressed almost purely through visuals, with hushed voiceover offering little in the way of explanation. While some plot details are lost through this approach, the emotional pull is fully communicated through Malick’s unique style and there’s something undeniably moving and fascinating about that. Had a lesser-known filmmaker released To the Wonder, it would be hailed and praised beyond what it deserves. As it is, perhaps the reason many have been quick to attack is because Malick is so highly regarded. In any case, you'd be foolish to dismiss this rather beautifully flawed visual poem.
To say Leviathan is completely unlike any film to have screened at TIFF this year feels like an understatement. It’s quite frankly unlike any movie ever made. It's a kind of non-fiction psuedo-documentary, but other than that classification becomes difficult. Describing the subject matter doesn’t offer much clarity either. It’s quite simply a night aboard a commercial fishing vessel detailing all the mundane tasks of collecting, cutting up, and disposing of fish as well as in one amusing moment, struggling to stay awake over the course of the long haul.
Yet, the way in which experimental filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel shoot their subject transcends the material and the form. Their film is an overwhelming swell of imagery that plunges the viewer into this world with a peculiar, almost inexplicable force.
There are no voiceovers or explanations in Leviathan, nor is there anything close to resembling conventional cinematic structure. The directors have strapped their digital cameras to workers' heads, fish carcasses, and every conceivable place on the boat. The collection of elliptical imagery always clearly presents what’s happening, just in a very unexpected way.
Shots of cameras dangling off the bow plunging in and out of water, strapped to the side of the boat as entrails pour out like vomit, or attached to a fish sliding along the rocking ship floor as workers grab and gut others from the pile have an almost hypnotic quality that makes it impossible to turn away. The experience can be incredibly disorienting, yet while the filmmakers provide no clear structure in a narrative sense, they weave the imagery together thoughtfully, gently gliding viewers in an out of the most visually oppressive sequences so that it never becomes overwhelming.
All of that makes the film sound maddeningly complex and impossibly arty. In a sense that’s true and yet this 87-minute odyssey is also a surprisingly gripping. The project suits the filmmakers' art gallery background, while also deserving of a more conventional theatre presentation as it's hardly a sluggish viewing experience. Imagine a fishing documentary shot by Gasper Noé with all of the disorienting acrobatic camerawork and face-first plunges into grotesque imagery that implies, only one that some how sends you out of the theatre feeling elated rather than crushed. Leviathan is a film that you have to see first hand to fully understand, and you should seek it out the second the opportunity arises.