TIFF 2008 Reviews (3)

Slowly, slowly the reviews are appearing.

Reviewed here:

  • 33 Scenes from Life
  • The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World
  • Every Little Step

As before, hotlinks from the film titles take you to the TIFF website for their descriptions and credits.

Saturday, September 6

33 Szeny Z Zycia (33 Scenes From Life)

Directed by Malgośka Szumowska **½

33 Scenes From Life was a very dark way to start my Saturday morning.  Julia (Julia Jentsch) has a budding career as a photographer, but the framework of her life is coming unstuck.  Her family is dysfunctional in so many ways, one wonders how or why they stay together.  The glue seems to have been Julia’s mother, Barbara (Malgorzata Hajewska), who will die of cancer as the story proceeds.

Julia’s father, Jurek, and older sister, Katia, simply cannot deal with what is happening.  Jurek is in denial, and Katia is having an affair, her third in a year, with a priest in training.  Her brother simply isn’t around at all.

Oddly, it is Julia, the most openly in need of companionship through these events, who is also the strongest.

Everyone smokes, constantly.

There is much good acting here, especially from Hajewska, but the film’s a tad long, at least for a Saturday morning.

The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World

Directed by Weijun Chen **

This is a rather sad documentary, although I’m not sure that’s what Weijun Chen intended in making this film.  We find ourselves in the middle of a hugh complex of restaurants that just grew and grew and grew.  Each room has a theme.  Each kitchen prepares its own special dishes.

Staff from small villages come here to make their fortune, or at least some money to send home.

Why do I say “sad”?  What I see is the worst excesses of the nouveau riche class, people for whom spending a lot of money means much more than spending it well.  These days, we see a lot of Asians in that context, but Westerners are no different, at least when the stock market is rising.

Oh yes, the food.  One member of the staff tells us in an aside that the food when he visits home is better.

This may be the biggest restaurant, but the documentary runs out of new things to say, new cinematic “courses”.  At least 20 minutes too long, The Biggest … seem also to value quantity over quality.

Every Little Step

Directed and produced by James D. Stern & Adam Del Deo *****

My favourite this year, Every Little Step, is a documentary about the casting for the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line.  It’s a view into the heartbreaking process of winnowing hundreds of dancers down to a few dozen who will actually appear in the show, and it parallels the story of the musical itself.  This is no collection of pumped-up, manufactured “stars” in the “Idol” tradition, but real dancers, some with decades of experience, many superb but just not right for the roles.

Every Little Step is also an hommage to Michael Bennett, the originator of the musical, and to the collective creation that went into Broadway’s longest-running show.

ACTRA has never allowed auditions to be filmed, but for this documentary they made an exception.  What an exception!  Over 400 hours of material was shot, and the filmmakers were able to follow many hopefuls from the initial open casting calls through to the final foursomes auditioning for main roles.  Some auditions are just ok, some are very good but not quite on the mark, and a few are breathtaking.

Baayork Lee (the original “Connie”) brought her infectious enthusiasm both to the casting process, and to the Q&A following the screening.  Composer Marvin Hamlisch, fresh from winning an Oscar, wasn’t sure about returning to Broadway, but was persuaded by the material.  He tells how the song now known as “Dance 10, Looks 3” flopped with audiences because its original title gave away the punch line.

Bob Avian, Bennett’s partner of many years and co-choreographer, was central to the 2006 revival.  He has a strong sense of what the characters should be and what types of actor/dancers will fit the roles.  He knows many of the auditioning dancers personally from his long theatrical experience, and chosing among them was difficult. 

Although I don’t attend the film festival just to see the stars now and then, there are times it’s worth it just to cheer them on.  I had the joy of sitting just down the row from two “Cassies”, Donna McKecknie (the original) and Charlotte D’Amboise (2006).  The Q&A was the first time they had been on a stage together.

For those who love theatre and dance, Every Little Step is a gem.

The touring production of the revival of A Chorus Line plays at the Canon Theatre from October 28 to November 30.