As if there wasn't enough going on in town this week, TIFF Cinematheque is rolling into summer with a retrospective of Polish film. More specifically, it's Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces Of Polish Cinema, a 21-film run of digital restorations - produced and curated by Scorsese's Film Foundation organization - designed to pull that nation's obscured tradition of great moviemaking back into the light.
The series - which kicked off last night with Krzysztof Zanussi's 1972 experimental character study Illumination - spans nearly half a century and includes films from acknowledged masters as well as filmmakers unknown to modern audiences. Everything has been restored to the best possible presentation, and based on my re-viewings of films I'd already seen in earlier scratchy prints or hastily mastered VHS or DVD editions, a hell of a lot of work has gone into this program.
The technical accomplishment of the restorations would mean little if the films weren't worth watching, of course, and that's what's truly terrific about this series. Over the next month, you have the chance to explore a national cinema that was genuinely varied and unpredictable, with different talents emerging over the years to push boundaries - or, given certain geopolitical realities at play in the 60s, 70s and 80s, to work very carefully within them.
The series screens openly surreal and experimental works like Tadeusz Konwicki's Jump (June 15), Wojciech Has's The Hour-Glass Sanatorium (June 20), Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Mother Joan Of The Angels (June 21, 7:15 pm) and Has's The Saragossa Manuscript (June 27, 6:15 pm) alongside blatantly commercial genre works like Kawaleroiwcz's Night Train (tonight, 8:45 pm) and Pharaoh (June 22) and Aleksander Ford's Knights Of The Black Cross (June 28, 5:15 pm). But I found myself more intrigued by films like Zanussi's Camouflage (which screened last night) and The Constant Factor (screening June 13 at 8:45 pm, with an introduction by Zanussi) and Janusz Morgenstern's To Kill This Love (June 21, 1 pm) - movies that use conventional form to play with genre or tuck allegorical or metaphorical elements into an "ordinary" narrative.
The five features from director Andrzej Wajda - Innocent Sorcerers (Saturday, 1:45 pm), Ashes And Diamonds (Sunday, 4 pm), The Wedding (Sunday, 6:30 pm), Man Of Iron (Tuesday, 6:30 pm) and The Promised Land (June 17, 6:45 pm) - shows his transition from a loose, almost improvisational filmmaker into an assured statesman willing to grapple with profound societal themes; two films from the young Krzysztof Kieslowski - Blind Chance (June 29, 3:15 pm) and A Short Film About Killing (July 1, 6:30 pm) - demonstrate that director's utter mastery of the medium. (His death at age 54 shortly after completing the Three Colors trilogy remains the greatest blow to Polish cinema since Roman Polanski went to America.)
And then there's a genuine find like Tadeusz Konwicki's The Last Day Of Summer (June 24, 6:30 pm), a short feature made in 1958 which finds a man (Jan Machulski) and a woman (Irena Laskowska) spending a day at the beach acting out an entire relationship in microcosm. Beautiful and strange, its narrative at once metaphorical and utterly concrete, it's a strange and lovely work that feels like a precursor to Alain Resnais's very different but rather similar Last Year At Marienbad. If you can only see one movie in this series, try to check that out - but really, you ought to see more than just one.
If you're craving something more modern, there's always this Wednesday night's screening of PEARBLOSSOM HWY, the latest local presentation of a festival-circuit treasure from the guys at Medium Density Fibreboard Films.
Director Mike Ott's followup to his evocative 2010 drama LITTLEROCK reunites that film's leads, Atsuko Okatsuka and Cory Zacharia, as two California friends who've reached personal crossroads. Anna (Okatsuka) is trying to get home to Taipei to see her dying grandmother, while Cory (Zacharia) is trying to find the father he's never met. Ott - who co-wrote the film with Okatsuka, and incorporated Zacharia's own personal history - continues to work his own odd little corner of American cinema, mixing fiction and reality to evocative ends. If you like his other films, you'll almost certainly like this one.
Previous MDFF shows have offered free admission; this one is pay what you can. The show starts at 9 pm at Double Double Land in Kensington Market, and you can read a little more about the film here.
And if you're just planning to stay in this weekend, can I suggest a podcast? Launched earlier this spring, The Dew Over is Toronto podcaster Jamie Dew's ongoing project to reconsider the Oscars, year by year, assembling a panel of local critics to debate whether Hollywood got it right.
I'm on the newest episode, which looks at the nominees and winners of 1985 - and as you might imagine, Out Of Africa doesn't rank too highly in my estimation. If you've been looking for a deep dive into movie geekery - and maybe one too many hyper-nerdy unpackings of Back To The Future - you're going to want to listen in.