Wednesday, September 14, 2016

TIFF 2016: In The Radiant City and Wakefield

I saw two films on Tuesday, and they felt a bit like a pair of bookends. Both were about a man who abandons his family, and the impact that has on them and those they left behind. Both were directed by women (like most films I've seen so far this year). And both slowly reveal their background material without any big dramatic scenes, leaving us to decide how we feel.

In The Radiant City, Rachel Lambert's directorial debut, starts off showing hard-working Andrew Yurley (Michael Abbott Jr.) returning to his home town, but avoiding contact with his family and pretty much anyone else. He left years ago after a tragedy, and as we gradually learn what happened we see the impact of the events on him and those he left behind, including his mother and sister, and her daughter. It's a slow-paced film, and no-one in it is happy.

Rachel Lambert spoke and took questions after the film, and said that instead of focusing on the events, she wanted to explore the trauma that affects a family after an event like the one in the film. In response to a question about the lack of a grandfather figure, Lambert said she deliberately constructed a family without men, because they are common in communities like that shown in the film (and the one in which she grew up), and she felt the removal of men from a family contributes to what happens to families like these. There is no dramatic climax to this film, only a lot of pain and broken relationships.

In Wakefield, Brian Cranston plays Howard Wakefield, a successful lawyer who needs a break from his life. Coming home late from work one night, and anticipating yet another conflict with his wife, he decides to hole up in the attic above the garage for a bit before heading into the house. He falls asleep, and then one night become a day, and then another.

As a fan of Breaking Bad, I could not help but draw comparisons between the characters of Howard Wakefield and Walter White. White also abandons his family by opting for a life of crime, including dealing drugs and killing many. Wakefield, who has committed no crimes, comes across as the far less sympathetic character.

Based on a short story by E. L. Doctorow, Wakefield is presented largely as silent scenes with voice-over by Cranston. His wife Diana (Jennifer Garner) and his daughters play their scenes mostly viewed remotely from the garage attic. Garner and Cranston appeared after the film for the Q&A session, and she said there was a "shadow script" for them to perform (though the audience never heard them), and she enjoyed the experience of having the camera very remote from the performance.

My friends often ask me what kinds of films I choose for TIFF, and I tell them there is no rhyme or reason to my selections; I just choose films that sound good after reading the program. But themes emerge each year, and this year the theme (apart from the women who directed 9 of the 15 films I'm seeing) might be films that proceed very slowly without a lot of action, and then end without any major resolution. That doesn't always work well, but for the two films I saw on Tuesday I think it did.

TIFF 2016 Overview

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