I met Werner Schroeter about two years before he died, at the 2008 Vienna Film Festival. I was a member of the International Critics' Jury, and he was there as the Viennale's guest of honour.
One evening, towards the end of the festival, there was a gala celebration of his work, and the list of artists who emerged to pay tribute to the man they called the Rose King read like a who's who of the German cinema revolution of the 1970s. Ingrid Caven - widow of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and the star of several of that legendary director's movies - serenaded him with opera. It was surreal and wonderful and intimate, and I felt incredibly fortunate to have been invited.
Schroeter wasn't in the best of health, and he spoke so softly that the audience couldn't hear him, but his friends on stage could. It was an almost perfect metaphor for his cinema, which very often seems to be following a rhythm or an aesthetic only he and his collaborators fully understand.
Two years after Schroeter's death, TIFF Cinematheque is celebrating his legacy with a retrospective, Magnificent Obsession: The Films Of Werner Schroeter, which got underway last night with a screening of his operatic The Rose King. Tonight, the series continues with a 6:30 pm screening of Malina, his complex 1991 study of an academic (his frequent collaborator Isabelle Huppert) whose love for two men sets her on a course of self-destructive madness. If you think Huppert goes to the wall for Michael Haneke, well, you should see what she delivers when directed by someone who's not afraid of real emotions.
Among the other titles screening in the series are Mondo Lux (Sunday, 6 pm), a loving but clear-eyed documentary by Schroeter's cinematographer Elfi Mikesch; Palermo Or Wolfsburg (Monday, 6:30 pm), a three-hour, three-part 1980 drama about a Sicilian teenager (Nicola Zarbo) corrupted and destroyed by his experiences in a miserable German factory town, and his 1975 fantasia The Death Of Maria Malibran (November 25, 7 pm). A demented counter-biography of the 19th century mezzo-soprano which also weirdly presages the jukebox musicals of the present era, it'll be introduced by Alexander Neef, the General Director of the Canadian Opera Company. Which seems entirely appropriate, if you ask me.
The Schroeter series isn't the only thing happening at the Lightbox, though. Tonight, TIFF launches Beyond Bond: The Other Secret Agents, a program designed to supplement the ongoing retrospective of proper Bond films that accompanies TIFF's Designing 007 exhibition. (Multi-level marketing seems exhausting, doesn't it?)
The series kicks off with a 9:15 pm screening of Sydney Pollack's Three Days Of The Condor, starring Robert Redford as a CIA analyst who must figure out why his entire office was wiped out - while running for his own life.
Featuring a terrified, confused hero working with no information and zero support, it's the polar opposite of a Bond movie - as is another title in the series, Sidney J. Furie's The Ipcress File, screening November 23. That's the one where Michael Caine plays a British Secret Service agent as a working-class drone who spends most of his time moving paperwork from one office to another - well, until he's yanked into a really bizarre brainwashing scheme. It's great. Don't miss it.
But wait, there's more! Saturday night, Todd Brown of Twitch Film kicks off his latest late-night TIFF series, Birth Of A Villain. The title is a little misleading, as the films screened aren't about villains, but monsters.
These are the movies that launched the biggest horror franchises of the 70s, 80s and 90s - Wes Craven's A Nightmare On Elm Street, which launches the program Saturday at 10 pm; John Carpenter's Halloween (November 17), Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (December 1), Clive Barker's Hellraiser (December 8), Joe Dante's The Howling (December 22) and more. I'll see you at Halloween.