Going Artsy at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

It took a few days to decide, but I’m glad I attended the first showing of From Ecstasy to Rapture: 50 Years of the other Spanish Cinema. This series is being presented each Wednesday evening until February 2nd, 2011, at the Free Screen sessions of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the Toronto International Film Festival’s new home and film centre.

Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox buildingAs the presenter told us, each Wednesday evening offers one form of film, following its use over a period of fifty years. So each week, viewers traverse the same fifty-year period in slightly different ways. The first showing was a series of 35mm films entitled “Documents,” featuring five shorts and réalités.

This was, as a companion remarked, an “artsy” experience, which was disconcerting to someone like me. I wasn’t raised to appreciate film, with its different techniques, as an art form in its own right. But I tried to view these five short films with that in mind, and I believe I learned something.

The first black and white piece, Fuego en Castilla, seemed to be re-enacting the Crucifixion using religious statues. Through a startling use of shadow, light, and movement, the statues seemed to come vividly alive. The grief of Mary, especially, was intense and powerful, almost enough to knock you backwards. But even more, you received an impression of deep anger from director José Val del Omar himself, as all these images were contextualized, in rare, brief flashes, in Franco’s Spain.

The films moved into colour and more modern times with director Gabriel Blanco’s De purificatione automobile. In scene after scene,  individuals and families hand-washed their cars with great care and affection on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Yet interspersed with these moments were scenes of old, derelict vehicles being crushed and dumped into a furnace to be melted down. Did the “purification” of the title imply that the old vehicles were “purified” to resurrect as the well-loved cars? Or was the love these people bestowed so lavishly on their cars a form of idolatry that needed purifying?

The fifth film, Le que tu dices que soy, directed by Virginia Garcia del Pino, was described as a documentary featuring people in “professions having to do with death, dirt or sex.” Six people were interviewed (a stripper, a butcher, a pig farmer, a national guard, a cemetery worker, and an unemployed woman). They commented on everything from how they viewed society, to what sort of job they might have preferred instead, to their romantic life, to what they liked about their jobs. The cemetery worker was the most cheerful of all of them, yet each one seemed surprisingly content and philosophical about their lot in life.

It was fascinating to see what preoccupied these filmmakers from 1959, when the first film was created, through 2007 and the last one. When it came to the effects that could be achieved, I was most impressed with the earliest film. Without all the blatant “special effects” in use today, the director was able to create an intense, emotional experience with “mere” light and shadow. I’d actually like to see both it and the fifth film again.

My companion and I also enjoyed what we saw of the Bell Lightbox itself. The upper levels open on one side into the large main entry area, creating a bright impression of space, especially given the high glass windows that front the building. And the seats, at least in our theatre, were to die for. The TIFF people clearly intend us to enjoy our film experience on every level.

The only minor, tiny complaint I might have would be that the screen was too high in our theatre. We sat in the middle rows, and still had to lift our heads to see the screen. If we’d sat in the front, we’d have had stiff necks by the end of the evening. Next time, we’ll sit in the upper rows so we can look straight on.

So there will be a next time? I think so. This was a film experience unlike any I’ve had before, but it’s remained with me and is still making me think, several days later. So yes — I’m sure I’ll be back.


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