Every summer, the programmers at TIFF Cinematheque put together a European retrospective of European films. Sometimes it's Italian cinema, sometimes it's French, sometimes it's an assortment of films from especially photogenic nations. (You'll notice no one ever floats a "Summer in England" series; too many clouds, and all the Ken Loach would drive the audience straight to the bar afterward.)
This year, it's Summer In France. And while it'd be easy enough to scoff at the same old movies being trotted out again, I'd be an ass if I stood between you seeing films by Renoir, Truffaut, Melville and Godard - among others - on a big screen.
Featuring some 40-odd titles over the next two months, Summer In France opens tonight with a double bill of Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion and The Rules Of The Game, arguably the finest French films ever produced.
I have the pleasure of introducing The Rules Of The Game at 9 pm, and I'll do my best make it interesting - but really, Renoir's exquisite pre-WWII tale of aristocrats blithely playing out their bourgeois little problems while the world prepares to burn speaks so eloquently for itself that I'm not sure what I need to say. (It was John Harkness's favourite film, so expect me to quote him at length.)
There's more Renoir Saturday afternoon with French Cancan, and things get more serious as with Jean-Pierre Melville's Army Of Shadows Tuesday evening and a pair of Jean Grémillon titles July 19, Remorques and Summer Light. That serves as a gateway to Marcel Carné's Port Of Shadows and Henri-Georges Clouzot's Diabolique July 20, which bring us into the post-war era alongside Marcel Carné's epic Children of Paradise (July 21). From there, it's a short hop to the New Wave and the emergence of François Truffaut, who married classical style with contemporary moral concerns - The 400 Blows (July 23) and Small Change (July 24), Jules And Jim and The Bride Wore Black (both July 27) and The Soft Skin (July 29).
As French cinema became more frank and confrontational, filmmakers began to nudge at the boundaries of acceptable subjects - the masochism of Luis Buñuel's Belle De Jour (July 26); the blunt sexuality of Maurice Pialat's L'Enfance Nue (July 28); the tense marital relations of Claude Chabrol's La Femme Infidèle (August 3), the grim resignation of Louis Malle's The Fire Within (August 4).
A jump forward to the early 80s for Jacques Rivette's on-the-lam thriller Le Pont Du Nord (August 4) sets the stage for its antecedent, Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (August 9). From there, it's a sprint through Godard at his most fecund - Vivre Sa Vie! (also August 9), 2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her and Pierrot Le Fou (both August 10), Weekend (August 16, introduced by TIFF director and CEO Piers Handling).
Godard, in turn, serves as a gateway to the New Wave's more playful and surrealistic side: Alain Resnais's Last Year At Marienbad and Muriel (both August 17), Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, Agnès Varda's Cleo From 5 To 7 (August 20).
Chris Marker's essential experimental double-bill, Sans Soleil and La Jetée, caps that section August 21; relative naturalism returns with Maurice Pialat's Van Gogh (August 25), Eric Rohmer's Summer and Jean Eustache's kitchen-sink epic The Mother And The Whore (both August 26). We slide into September with a trio of George Franju titles, Eyes Without A Face (August 29) and the comparatively obscure Thomas The Imposter (August 30) and Thérèse Desqueyroux (September 1), a limited 70mm run of Jacques Tati's Playtime (August 31 to September 2) and Louis Malle's great thriller Elevator To The Gallows (September 2).
Yes, if you own the complete Criterion Collection catalogue, you've likely got most of these on DVD. But watching them on DVD - or even Blu-ray - is not nearly as rewarding an experience as seeing them projected in the company of dozens or even hundreds of strangers.
Don't believe me? Come on down to The Rules Of The Game tonight, and I'll prove it. It would be my pleasure.
Now, should your tastes lean more towards the contemporary and the Japanese, there's the Shinsedai Festival, which kicked off last night and runs through Sunday at the Revue Cinema.
You'll also need a taste for the unapologetically weird; tonight's lineup includes Ghost Cat And The Mysterious Shamisen and Zero Man Vs. The Half Virgin, while Saturday night offers a double bill of the "pink films" Sexy Battle Girls and New Tokyo Decadence: The Slave (with atmosphere provided by North Bound Leather) and Sunday's lineup includes an evening anime program promising to explore The Outer Limits of cutting-edge Japanimation.
It's not all extreme, mind you. There are documentaries about dance (The Naked Summer, screening Saturday afternoon) and the current generation's attempt to come to terms with the Allied bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Hiroshima Nagasaki Download, Sunday afternoon), and Sunday night's closing gala, Masafumi Yamada's drama Tentsuki, may or may not have fantasy elements.
Me, I'm hoping to catch up to Saturday night's screening of End Of The Night, a thriller about a young man (Kuniaki Nakamura) raised by assassins to join the family business. Director Daisuke Miyazaki and cinematographer Akiki Ashizawa have worked with Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who made his name on taut thrillers like Cure and Pulse before shifting to the holistic drama of Tokyo Sonata; I'm awfully curious to see what Miyazaki and Ashizawa taken away from the experience, and how they apply it here. Assuming I can tear myself away from the French films, of course.