Wednesday, September 11, 2013

TIFF Day 5

Finding Vivian Maier
A man buys one of a number of boxes of negatives in the hopes he'll find some old pictures of his Chicago neighbourhood for an upcoming book. He glances a bit, gives up, and puts the box in a closet. Later on he starts scanning the pictures and discovers they're very good. This is the beginning of how the world discovered Vivian Maier.

You may have heard the story. A nanny since the mid 20th century, Vivian Maier took lots of pictures. Over 100,000 of them in her lifetime. Almost all of them street photography, largely in Chicago, but some in New York and France as well. The pictures are stunning, and could have disappeared if not for the above twist of serendipity.

What you probably don't know is anything else about this woman. John Maloof, who discovered Maier, aims to change that with his movie seeking out what he can about her. Starting with scraps he's able to track down former employers and children she looked after, where he finds more information, and more people. Each has some scraps of information that he's finally able to piece together into a more complete history. Of course, to be a good documentary, there must be more lurking beneath the surface of the subject.

Maloof traces her roots, gets her charges to reveal tales they'd never told their parents, and eventually has her former clients wondering and guessing about her hidden secrets. Through it all though is the photography, and where it fits into her life. Amazing shots, critiqued by experts as among the best of her contemporaries, yet rejected by the major institutions of today. MoMA and its ilk don't like dealing with unknown artists, especially posthumously, where a third party has interpreted their work. Despite the reluctance of the old guard to accept her work, Maier's photographs have captured the public's imagination and drawn masses to her exhibits at smaller galleries.

I loved this documentary. Despite the darker aspects of Maier's life, despite the lingering questions surrounding this fame, it is a story of recognition. Of a life's work being discovered and adored  and accepted. And it's as much about Maloof's journey to get this recognition for someone he never knew as it is about Maier's work.

The Husband
Tense. That's the one word I'll use to describe Bruce McDonald's latest film. The tale of a husband having a terrible year. His wife Alyssa (Sarah Allen) is in jail for sleeping with a 14-year old student.  He has a newborn baby to care for by himself. He secretly loathes his job. And he has to deal with the fallout, both real and imagined, from his wife's crime.

We join Henry (writer Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) as his wife is weeks away from parole. The toll of the past year is clearly weighing heavily on him. His happy, if modest, life is briefly shown in flashback, and now it is crumbling, taking him along with it. The car is breaking down, he's juggling between being a father and a breadwinner. He dutifully makes trips to visit his wife in prison with baby in tow. His coworkers are concerned about him, his father-in-law (Stephen McHattie, who should be in everything always) helps where he can with money and advice, he never sees his friends and dreads encountering them. Over all of this is a growing and very unhealthy obsession with the teenage boy he blames for all of it.

As the day of Alyssa's release nears, Henry's psychological breakdown becomes increasingly imminent. He can't keep it together by himself, but feels he has nobody to turn to, so takes his own, destructive path. McDonald ramps up the tension steadily through the film, creating a looming sense of dread - whatever is going to happen, it won't be good.

Set in Toronto, the final climax struck me as oddly... Canadian. It was damned polite, all things considered.

McDonald just continues to grow as a filmmaker. I missed his early work, coming in at Pontypool (still one of my all-time festival favourites), and this may be his most accessible and complete work I've seen.

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