I arrived in Toronto today a little after 2pm and immediately had to start scurrying. It was a big night, after all. The U2 documentary From the Sky Down, about the making of 1991’s Achtung Baby, was opening the festival at 6:30, and I was responsible with doing coverage for the band’s fan site, atu2.com. In the meantime, all I had to do was shower, change, pick up my tickets and press pass, and get across town to the Elgin Theatre. Easy, right? Well, for those of you that have never seen the ticket line for the opening day of a major film festival, it looks a little like the apocalypse. Just picking up will call tickets took an hour and a half. And would you have guessed that I had to pick up my press pass and my press accreditation (two separate things, I might add) in two entirely different buildings? Yes, the world’s largest film festival does have some minor organization and efficiency problems.
I ended up getting to my seat at the Elgin just as Piers Handling (Director of TIFF) was coming out to introduce the film. But luckily, the initial panic of my first 4 hours in Toronto quickly dissipated, and by the end of the night, I had seen two fantastic films.
Film: From the Sky Down
The Gist: A documentary about the making of U2’s landmark 1991 album Achtung Baby, interspersed with footage of the band revisiting the songs at this summer’s Glastonbury Festival, where they celebrated the album’s 20th anniversary.
Director: Davis Guggenheim, who has arguably been the best documentary filmmaker of the last decade. He won an Oscar for 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth, took on America’s school system with last year’s Waiting for Superman, and held the world’s greatest guitar summit in 2009’s It Might Get Loud.
Notable Cast and Crew: Well, the band, for one. But insightful interviews are also conducted with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, engineer Flood, and manager Paul McGuinness.
The Goods: From the Sky Down is a film about trying to turn massive mainstream success into a meaningful artistic career. Many regard Achtung Baby as U2’s greatest and most important album, and this film adequately and profoundly explains why. By the end of the 1980s, U2 had become the most successful band in the world, and The Joshua Tree was, to many, the decade’s best album. But the band had become the very type of “big rock” they hated, and they knew that they couldn’t repeat the same formulas if they wanted to have sustained creative success. So they went to Berlin, and changed their look, their sound, and their attitude. This intimate look inside that creative process is worth the time to anyone that thinks rock and roll is an important form of artistic expression. If the film has a flaw, it’s that it tries to do too much. The first half is mostly devoted to why the band needed a reinvention, and then by the time you throw in the present day footage of the band getting ready for Glastonbury, there just isn’t enough time to show the actual reinvention.
The Grade: B+
For a more in-depth look at the film, see my coverage for atu2 HERE.
Film: Le Havre
The Gist: Taking place in the eponymous Normandy port city of the title, Le Havre is a French dramedy about a poor shoe-shiner who takes in an illegal African immigrant boy on the run. When a police inspector begins to suspect the shoe-shiner of harboring him, a humorous cat and mouse game ensues.
Director: Aki Kaurismaki, a Finnish director who has been making movies in France for decades, most notably 2002’s The Man Without a Past.
Notable Cast and Crew: Kaurismaki typically uses the same cast and crew for all of his films. Andre Wilms is the star here, but Jean-Pierre Leaud (veteran actor of numerous Francois Truffaut films) also has a small role.
The Goods: A truly wonderful film that goes in directions—both in story and in style—that you don’t expect, it manages to be both relevant and a whole lot of fun. Kaurismaki uses a mishmash of styles that at times recalled Douglas Sirk, David Lynch, and Wes Anderson, but never felt like it was copying anyone. The humor in the film is a bit dry but always feels genuine, while the easy moralizing is mostly avoided. Plus, there’s a great rock and roll segue featuring a local legend named Little Bob. This was my first Kaurismaki film, but it definitely won’t be my last.
The Grade: A
On tap for tomorrow: A press conference with Bono & The Edge, silent film homage The Artist, which was a sensation in Cannes, and The Hunter, starring Willem Dafoe on the hunt for the last living Tasmanian Tiger.
For more frequent info on TIFF and more, follow me on Twitter @thirdmanmovies
To see this post on Detroit's Metro Times blog, click here.