Wavelengths 5: The Return/Aberration of Light: As unburdened, freely (dis)associative works, it’s barking up the wrong tree to assign meaning to a film by Nathaniel Dorsky, but his latest, The Return, with its recurring images of permeable or false boundaries (mesh, dirty windows, trees and shrubs) and final vision of the sun breaking both through and around a cloud seems to me a film of great hope; perhaps that’s what returned following the sadness, paranoia, and uncertainty of Dorsky’s trio at Wavelengths last year. It’s always a challenge to program films beside Dorsky’s, but Aberration of Light: Dark Chamber Disclosure, a live paracinema performance by Sandra Gibson, Luis Recoder, and Olivia Block succeeded precisely by working with the same intellectual energy drives Dorsky to find new registers to push cinema into. The presence of Block’s recorded soundtrack anchors this temporally, which allows Gibson and Recoder, working with filters, refractors, and appropriated commercial film, to build a dialectic between linear time and their light, which effectively lies outside of time. It should be noted that, as an act of pure creation, this was a far better tribute to the memory of those who died on 9/11 than the schlocky, sentimental, self-serving piece of hokum that the festival served up before all of the day’s public screenings (a blemish that was notably absent from the night’s two Wavelengths screenings).
Wavelengths 4: Space Is the Place: The most mixed bag of the three shorts programs in this year’s Wavelengths, the films in Space Is the Place—only one of which, Ute Aurand’s interminable, well observed sketch-diary film Young Pines, was actually shot on celluloid—share an obsession with not just exploring, but defining “space” today. The highlight by a mile was Blake Williams’s Coorow-Latham Road, which takes a simple idea, a linear journey from one place to another, and expands it to a rich ontological inquiry into both the creation of digital space and the situations of subjects within it. Rendered entirely through Google’s street view technology, the “camera” (or “car,” or “explorer,” or…) moves down the road at the virtual equivalent of 90 miles per hour, eventually panning left in what initially seems an easy move to break up the monotony of the journey, but which comes to split the film into two distinct sections: a structuralist travelogue and a digi-landscape film. The latter of these sections, where space, because of the rifts in Google’s technology, is rendered in literal blocks (one can see the edge of each field of vision) is the most exciting landscape footage since James Benning’s RR: As the line between the digital and the material crumbles away, I can’t help but feel that this could wind up being a staggeringly prescient film in the not so distant future. As Chantal Akerman stood witness to the people of the former Soviet bloc in From the East, so too does Williams stand witness to the birth of this imagined nation, implicitly calling into question how one stands witness to a digital space in the first place.
Take This Waltz: Michelle Williams, dutifully trudging her way through the crayon-vomit mise-en-scène of Take This Waltz, a minefield of artfully cluttered apartments, patterned dresses, and garishly lit spaces, once again proves that, through the sheer force of the honesty her face, she can elevate anything. Sarah Polley’s structure, a slyly bifurcated romance that wedges in the entire second love in the space of one ludicrous montage of boho privilege and sexual liberation set to the Leonard Cohen song that gives the film its title, works better in the mind than on the screen. And that’s fine, because for all its annoyances as a movie—and some of these, like the way that its characters all seem to live exponentially beyond their means (it’s so overplayed that it becomes a critique of the financial dream world of so many recent romantic comedies), are actually virtues—Take This Waltz turns out to be a pretty sharp corrective to the usual movie setup: Here it’s the woman who’s allowed to fuck up, break some hearts, and still find happiness, and she doesn’t need a man to do it.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8—18.