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By Mark Peranson
As the world continues to implode at an alarming pace, for what it’s worth we still have cinema and, at this time of year, film festivals to distract us from whatever puerile nonsense is being tweet-stormed on any given morning. A fair number of articles in Issue 72 (and others from recent issues) cover works premiering in North America at what could be the last-ever Toronto International Film Festival, while over at cinema-scope.com right now you can find, oh, let’s say more than 150 or so pieces on other films making their continental debuts. (TIFF has gone under the circumcision knife this year, so I can’t promise at the time of writing that we will reach the magic number of 200 again, though we’ll do our very best.) In the following pages you can find extensive coverage of a number of nonfiction-heavy fall festival titles that I personally recommend, including Denis Côté’s Ta peau si lisse, Ben Russell’s Good Luck, Narimane Mari’s Le fort de fous, and, yes, a film by one Lucrecia Martel called Zama.
I have seen Zama, and it does indeed have a llama. The mysterious circumstances of the film’s long-overdue birth into this world continue with an out-of-competition slot in Venice, an odd happenstance which you can interpret as you wish. I’m not a big fan of second-guessing, but I have my own hypotheses as to why this happened, some of which relate to the increasing marginalization of “difficult” artistic work from the international competition in favour of—especially in Venice’s case—the clear and present danger of Oscar bait; it’s for obvious reasons that the overlap of titles that play in both Venice and Toronto saw no decline at all this year.
Of course, it could very well be that the programmers in Venice just didn’t like Zama that much, although I guarantee not all 21 of the films in that star-heavy competition are successful even on their own terms. (Ai Weiwhy?) That there is only one female filmmaker in the competition makes Martel’s glaring omission even more ridiculous, and the whole situation reaches the height of absurdity with Venice’s inclusion of Manuel Abramovich’s Años Luz, a documentary on the making of Zama (in the competitive section of Venice Classics). The obvious conclusion is that the film itself must be cursed, so if you are planning on seeing the film at one of its too-rare festival appearances this fall, I suggest watching your heads for falling ceiling tiles.
The death march meanwhile continues apace, in some cases a matter of age, while in others it comes as an unpleasant shock. The former category includes two of the all-time greats, George A. Romero (whose career is elegantly summarized in this issue by Christoph Huber) and, of course, the one and only Jerry Lewis, who we’ve written about at length a number of times in recent years. Lewis’ death came after we had locked the magazine, but there are numerous examples of sharp writing on the Total Film-Maker available, including Chris Fujiwara’s 2009 book in the University of Illinois’ Contemporary Film Directors series. In the category of shocks, I’ll briefly note the passing of gifted Mexican filmmaker Eugenio Polgovsky—please take a look at Tropic of Cancer, it should be easy enough to find—and, from the film-festival world, Viennale director (and one-time critic) Hans Hurch, a man truly cut from the old cinephile cloth, who had a pretty good idea of how to put together a film festival without bowing to the numerous pressures and interest groups. I don’t know if he had the chance to watch and/or select Zama before his untimely passing, but if he had decided not to program it, it would have been for the right reason.