Written by Robert Pasiak
The very best of Francophone cinema in our own backyard
One of my most vivid childhood memories is sitting cross-legged in the middle of our living room and staring at the TV and taking in ‘W Starym Kinie’ - ‘At the Old Cinema’. Until today I am not really sure why I followed the weekly series with such passion at the tender age of five, but the old, black and white movies mesmerized me just as much as Disney’s cartoons and adventure movies.
There was no color, oftentimes no sound and certainly no special effects and visual gimmicks to supplement the plot, just the story in its simplest form and that was all that mattered to me.
Now, why the heck would I write about this? Just recently and decades after my love-in with the TV show passed, I had a chance to revisit my sentiments for movies with a vintage and feel to them. Just weeks ago my girlfriend, in her never ending search for interesting venues around town, suggested ditching a group of friends that we had planned to see the movie ‘300’ with and checking out CineFranco – The Toronto International Francophone Movie Festival.
I must say that I was intrigued, and we walked down College Street that brisk March evening only to find a lengthy lineup in front of Royal Cinema. There, I was surprised to find out that this was already the Festival’s tenth rendition and I had never heard anything about it in the mainstream media. Despite an annually impressive lineup, strong corporate backing and an obviously high regard among the Francophile and Allophone populations of Toronto, I had managed to miss out on nine previous Festivals!
We saw ‘Peindre ou faire l’amour’ (‘To paint or make love’) that night and neither one of us had any qualms about missing out on ‘300’. In fact, the sharp and refreshing portrayal of a middle-aged couple and their rather unexpected mid-life lifestyle change, set against the breathtaking backdrop of the French Vercors region flooded both of us with emotions. We literally could not stop talking about the film, and it is this emotional upheaval that it created within us that is the true measure of its strength. ‘The sign of a good painting is the mood that it creates in the room’, proclaims the ageless Daniel Auteuil, cast here as William Lasser, an affluent, middle-aged retiree who upon moving out of the city faces a realm of new and tempting sensualities. As we walked back from the viewing I could not help but think that this quote holds so true for movies as well.
Just before the screening I actually had the pleasure of meeting Marcelle Lean - the founder and artistic director of CineFranco. She is a charming lady with a warm, big smile and an even bigger dream – the dream of making French-language cinema a part of the cultural fabric of Canada’s most multicultural city. However, despite CineFranco’s successes over the past decade, even Lean is still surprised at the relative obscurity in which movies of such depth and quality dwell in Canada. "I cannot explain why they don't go to commercial cinemas," she says, "but I certainly see a growth of the Anglophones, and the Allophones who are Francophiles."
This certainly bodes well for the future and my hopes of seeing more than one film in 2008. I look forward to exploring these affirming, liberated, and almost grassroots feelings aroused in us by the film. According to Lean, they actually permeate the entire event and "there is something magical about a festival like this; it attracts people. There is a freedom of reaching out to people, of sharing your impressions. It's like a big family getting together because they love something. In a commercial venue, you buy your ticket, and you might be with your companion, but it's not the same atmosphere."
While the glitter of The Toronto International Film Festival annually captures the city’s collective imagination, CineFranco remains Toronto’s hidden gem that illustrates so well the difference between North American movies and European cinema. As much as I appreciate the Hollywood movie industry and many of its stars such as Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson to name a mere few, there is a different kind of depth in foreign movies and their artistic value can be monumental. While Hollywood movies often seem to follow a synthetic blockbuster formula that deals with many aspects of the movie-making business but NOT the story, cinema refers to more independent, free-thinking art, characterized by emphasis on dialogue, exploration of emotions, and an intensity that is more cerebral than corporal.
It is not easy to define this cinematographic dichotomy, this difference between ‘movies’ and ‘cinema’, which despite the fact that many people in North America actually consider the words interchangeable, certainly exists. Perhaps the words of Samuel Goldwyn, one of the forefathers of Hollywood as we know it, best illustrate the differences in reasoning behind this paradox: "Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union." This certainly holds true even today, as while surfing the internet in Europe you will usually find film listed under Art & Culture, while in America movies are listed under Entertainment. I guess that a night at the cinema gave us both an understanding of the more cultural value of film that we may at times take for granted. And we did not have to go far – it happens every year, among the hustle and bustle of College Street, in our own backyard.
|< Prev||Next >|