The Review/Interview/

Seven road trips that will refuel your TIFF ’18

Are we there yet?

by Andrei Tanasescu
Sep 10, 2018

Good cinema has the power to transport an audience; by comforting, disturbing, or isolating us, filmmakers can take us to new places, both visually and psychologically. The "road-trip" film is perhaps the most classic vehicle for directors, and their audience, to explore the complexities of the world around us.

Hitch a ride with seven filmmakers from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and discover where they will transport their audiences:

Jinpa (Zhuang Si Le Yi Zhi Yang) (China)
dir. Pema Tseden
Next screenings: September 11, 13, and 14

Tell us about the journey your protagonists take in the film. What was your motivation to tell their story?

Mainly the stories from the two short stories attracted me to this project. There is a killer in the story, but the story of the killer in this story is not a traditional one; it’s different from other killer stories. It’s a special story. I like the way the story is told.

Could you describe the formal approach you chose to express their journey?

I chose to use two characters with the same name to express their journey. They are like a mirror to each other, reflecting each other’s destiny.

What are the larger themes and context explored in the protagonists’ journey?

On the surface, it’s a story of revenge, but I think the bigger themes are about future and hope. Because only giving up the obsession of traditional revenge could give hope to a group or an individual.

What journey do you hope the viewer will go on?

In the beginning of the film we used a Tibetan proverb, “If I tell you my dream, you might forget it; if I act on my dream, perhaps you will remember it; but if I involve you, it becomes your dream too.” I hope the audience can enter the dream of the two characters and let it be their dream, too.

The Day I Lost My Shadow (Yom Adaatou Zouli) (Syria, France, Qatar, Lebanon)
dir. Soudade Kaadan
Next screenings: September 11, 13, and 14

Tell us about the journey your protagonist takes in the film. What was your motivation to tell her story?

It’s a physical and emotional journey of three days and two nights, from Damascus, the capital of Syria, to the rural besieged area. With the gas crisis that hit the country, Sana’s initial motivation for this journey is to search for a cylinder of gas. Once she finds herself stuck there, all she wants is to come back to her son that she left alone in the house, in the coldest, darkest winter of Syria.

With each step taken trying to get back to the city, she is dragged more to the war. Once the characters pass by the river to the other side, Sana discovers that people lose their shadows during the war. The film, at this moment, shifts from realism to subtle magic realism, with subtle fantastic elements.

Could you describe the formal approach you chose to express her journey?

In most of the journey I adopted a handheld approach — a camera that runs with urgency with the characters, as if it is their subjective point of view of what’s happening. It’s Sana’s POV, in that place and time. That’s why we don’t see her child at all during her journey, while she is trying everything to get back to him.

During traumatic moments, the camera drifts from the main action, travelling and looking at the landscape or observing banal details, as if the pain is too much to look directly in the eyes of the characters.

What are the larger themes and context explored in the protagonist’s journey?

In Damascus, where Sana's journey starts, the main theme is the impossibility to get basic needs to survive during the war with the crises of gas, electricity cuts, secret agents controlling the country, and the fast deterioration of the economic situation, and the cold winter invading the country. Once Sana finds herself outside the city in the rural landscape, the theme shifts with the open space, from basic needs to the horror of war.

What journey do you hope the viewer will go on?

I hope that this one-and-a-half-hour film will invite the audience to feel and live Sana’s journey of war, love, death, pain, and losing shadows. And hopefully it will also be a rich aesthetic cinematic experience.

Summer Survivors (Lithuania)
dir. Marija Kavtaradz
Next screening: September 15

Tell us about the journey your protagonists take in the film. What was your motivation to tell their story?

My characters go on a trip from one psychiatric hospital in the capital of Lithuania (Vilnius) to another one in Palanga, a seaside resort that is about a four-hour drive (away). During this journey, the main characters evolve from strangers to people you may call friends.

One of the main motivations for making this film was so that people who watch it and who are struggling with the same problems as our characters could say, “Have you seen Summer Survivors? I have what Paulius has.”

Could you describe the formal approach you chose to express their journey?

Writing was very fun for me because I let myself travel together with the characters. I knew the beginning, I knew the ending, but I didn’t know what would happen in between.

I tried to save some of “not knowing” while filming as well, which I think helped. I wanted the camera to be inside the car with the characters most of the time, because I wanted the audience to feel that they were becoming friends with our heroes as well as travelling together with them. Our camera is like one more character that can sometimes see things differently than our protagonists. The camera can see beauty even when the characters are not able to see it around themselves because of their pain.

What are the larger themes and context explored in the protagonists’ journey?

As the film talks about mental health (Paulius is a patient with bipolar disorder, Juste is a patient treated after a suicide attempt, Indre has just become a psychologist, and Danguole is an experienced nurse), the journey from A to B helped me talk about the stigma that surrounds mental health.

What journey do you hope the viewer will go on?

I hope the viewers will really feel like they are travelling together with our characters. If the viewer is familiar with the struggles that our characters face, I hope they will feel less alone at the end of the journey and leave the theatre with hope. If they have no experience with our topic, I hope that this journey will help them understand and accept the people who are fighting their inner demons.

The Great Darkened Days (La grande noirceur) (Canada)
dir. Maxime Giroux
Next screenings: September 12 and 16

Tell us about the journey your protagonist takes in the film. What was your motivation to tell his story?

Philippe is a good man without malice, even a little naive, like the character of Charlie Chaplin. He fled his country because he did not want to go to war. He finds himself in a territory that can be called America, the cradle of wild capitalism.

The primary motivation to make this film was to build a metaphor of the world in which we live, a grotesque and violent metaphor of the society in which we must constantly commit acts of violence or destruction in order to survive.

Could you describe the formal approach you chose to express his journey?

This is the first time that the visual approach of one of my films is so important. I wanted to create a world and a time that does not exist. I wanted to show plots of America today where there were once very rich cities — thanks to gold, oil, or other minerals — but have since been deserted. They are products of the system that takes and destroys everything, then moves elsewhere to get even more rich. Everything you see in this movie really exists. Nothing was built, nothing was changed. Also, we made the choice to tell the story with beautiful and vibrant colour to play the game of a capitalist system that is based on desire.

What are the larger themes and context explored in the protagonist’s journey?

The film shows that even a good man, who does not want to participate in this system, will have to subscribe in order to survive. This is the theme of the film. You are a slave to this whether you like it or not. Of course, we’ve all known it for a long time. But is it not surprising and absurd that we are unable to get rid of it? Is it not surrealistic for us to witness its destruction without being able to do anything about it? This vision may seem pessimistic for some. For my part, I would say rather realistic. Chaplin, in his 1940 movie The Great Dictator, made a speech about the madness of the modern world and tolerance. Almost 80 years later, we are still at the same point.

What journey do you hope the viewer will go on?

Like our world, this film is hard, violent, absurd, and grotesque. And I do not want the viewer to come out unscathed. I do not want him to have a good time. None of this should be nice. I want him to be baffled, destabilized, a little lost in this world that looks, ironically, like the one he lives in.

PARADE (AGLUMI) (Georgia, Russia)
dir. Nino Zhvania
Next screenings: September 12 and 14

Tell us about the journey your protagonists take in the film. What was your motivation to tell their story?

The journey of the protagonists of this film is about the journey of three childhood friends who accidentally meet each other after a long time and escape from the city (which is preparing for a parade), going nowhere to have a celebration on their own and remember the days of their youth.

The three middle-aged men rush like little boys. Their childhood memories are accompanied by laughter and happiness.

Could you describe the formal approach you chose to express their journey?

The shoot took place in late autumn — a transition between a warm and cold spectrum, corresponding to the state of the main characters. Autumn enabled me to express a sad and yet warm environment. Despite the rich palette of the film, I tried to avoid primary colours like red and green. I preferred semi-tones with soft contrast: grey, gold, ochre, and a bit of light blue.

What are the larger themes and context explored in the protagonists’ journey?

This is a story of people born in the Soviet era, a story about the generation of my father and his friends, the people with whom my childhood was strongly connected. I thought they were adults, but, as I sometimes secretly observed their meetings, they behaved and laughed like teenagers. This was both enjoyable and surprising.

What journey do you hope the viewer will go on?

I hope the viewer fully feels the film, enjoys watching it, and maybe shares the protagonists’ journey.

The Load (Teret) (Serbia, France, Croatia, Iran, Qatar)
dir. Ognjen Glavonić
Next screenings: September 11, 13, and 14

Tell us about the journey your protagonist takes in the film. What was your motivation to tell her story?

The Load follows Vlada on his new job, driving a truck through Serbia during the NATO bombing in 1999. We track Vlada's metaphysical inner journey as he discovers the truth about his job, his country, and about himself.

The script is based on a real crime, as well as on my experiences of growing up during that bombing. When I was a kid, my father was drafted and went to war in Croatia, leaving behind my mother with two young children. Even though later we talked about it, there remained an ever-present question: What was so important in this war for him that it became more important than his family?

Could you describe the formal approach you chose to express his journey?

It is a road movie in which tension and suspense are created through the lack of information. I was, however, more interested in betraying this tension, not wanting to use the film as a platform for historical or moral lessons.

This is also a film that takes place during a war, but, rather than showing it, I wanted to focus on occupation and isolation, the states that define our main character during this film. The war is always in the background; that's why the camera is always inside the truck, with the main character.

On his trip, Vlada passes numerous characters with whom the film digresses. I was especially interested in the kids. Almost every story digression is towards the younger generation, and almost always without some clear resolution. Maybe it's because I was a kid at that time, who felt that there was no way out of the situation I was in.

What are the larger themes and context explored in the protagonist’s journey?

I think the most important theme is heritage, what was left to my generation by our parents: the ruins of a bigger country, the values that were destroyed by war, and, most importantly, the stories our parents did not want to speak about or did not know how to.

I am also interested in what the generation of our parents inherited — what kind of country, what kind of values they grew up with, and what they did with that.

What journey do you hope the viewer will go on?

I am always more interested and invested in the images, stories, feelings that viewers create themselves while watching my films, than in the images, scenes, stories I create. The film is merely a sparkle, a seed, because the kind of images someone creates always resonate stronger, and last longer, than anything I could create. So, wherever the film takes them, whatever they take out of it, or think and feel about it, is really correct.

Winter Flies (Všechno bude) (Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, Slovakia)
dir. Olmo Omerzu
Next screenings: September 12, 14, and 16

Tell us about the journey your protagonists take in the film. What was your motivation to tell their story?

The story begins at a police station with an interrogation of Mára, a 14-year-old boy who’d been caught driving a car registered on the other side of the country. Nobody believes that he drove all the way on his own. The story continues by showing what happened during the road trip, narrated by Mára, who often fabricates the truth. It was important for me to focus on what’s behind Mára’s lies. The film provides a lot of hints for us to build a realistic picture of Mára’s story — why he’s running away and what kind of background he comes from.

I wanted to capture the specific coming-of-age period when you still view the world with few biases or barriers. Adults tend to label and judge everything. Mára and his nerdy friend Heduš are still capable of being more open, even though it’s clear they’ll eventually lose this kind of openness.

Could you describe the formal approach you chose to express their journey?

It was very important for me that that film was set in winter. There’s also something very disturbing in seeing the two boys on the run when the environment seems so hostile. In winter, the car’s the only refuge to keep warm, working as a substitute for a home or a family.

We worked a lot with the motif of imitation, the film’s key element and its driving force. From the perspective of a child protagonist, imitation of the competitive adult world seems much more brutal than it really is. At the level of language, imitation is manifested in the use of crude expressions, macho comments, and phrases which the boys don’t really understand.

What are the larger themes and context explored in the protagonists’ journey?

Winter Flies explores the transition between childhood and adulthood and offers an unexpected resolution. Usually, in films of this kind, the protagonist goes through an initiation into the world of adults, yet our story takes a somewhat opposite approach. At the beginning, Mára and Heduš represent various masks of the adult world (sexism, machismo, etc.) that are gradually shed over the course of the film as we reveal the true reason for Mára’s trip, which is connected to some of his best childhood memories.

What journey do you hope the viewer will go on?

Winter Flies is a film for all types of viewers. A younger audience can follow the story of their peers while others can follow the story of young people they once used to be, or wanted to be but never mustered enough courage.


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