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Friday, September 17, 2021

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Arts + CultureMore Ficks' Picks from the Toronto International Film Festival

More Ficks’ Picks from the Toronto International Film Festival

Tamil rebels, explicit ‘Love,’ 3D horrors from the past, a Moroccan masterpiece, and gobbledygook skin flicks in part 2 of our coverage. Read part one here.

48 Hills: TIFF 40 Dheepan
Jacques Audiard’s ‘Dheepan’ won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and was rapturously received in Toronto.

By Jesse Hawthorne Ficks

SCREEN GRABS Perhaps the most exciting screening at this year’s festival was the 2K digital restoration of the first Canadian 3D Horror film, Julian Roffman’s The Mask aka Eyes of Hell (1961). Made just after William Castle’s LSD allegory The Tingler (1959), shot in gimmicky “Percepto” which gave audience members minor shock therapy from hidden wires on their arm rests, The Mask used the already obsolete Anaglyph 3D (red and blue glasses) to enhance (montage-master) Slavko Vorkapich’s tripped-out sequences.

48 Hills: TiFF 40
‘The Mask’ aka ‘The Eyes of Hell’ comes back to haunt theaters — and this time the 3D works.

Fast forward 50 years and with the help of digital restorationists Robert Furmanek and Greg Kintz, not only does the 3D work, so does Roffman’s addiction parable. There is absolutely nothing silly about this tale of a doctor who battles losing himself and all of his surrounding loved ones whenever he puts on an ancient tribal mask. My mouth fell open, especially during the hallucinatory, batshit crazy 3D sequences. The film is being released on 3D Bluray by Kino/Lorber later this year, so go out of your way to either see this projected in a 3D theatre or in your home entertainment cave. Much like the recent, also jaw-dropping restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder (1954), it’s an unforgettable experience.

From Gaspar Noe's 'Love'
From Gaspar Noe’s ‘Love’

One of the most talked about films at the festival was another kind of 3D flick: Gaspar Noe’s Love, a surprisingly sentimental, very explicit 135-minute exploration of modern relationships. Newcomer Karl Glusman is an (actual) fucking revelation as an American in Paris, studying to be filmmaker. Shot in polarized 3D, this excruciatingly honest portrayal of the prevalent pitfalls between misguided young lovers should strike a chord in many folks that use sex as a way to find soulmates. Graphic yes, exploitative, for once… Noe. The badboy of cinema (I Stand Alone, Irreversible, Enter the Void) has delivered an extremely personal, touching and downright romantic masterpiece.


Terence Davies’ epic adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 Scottish novel Sunset Song glistens and glows with the kind of familial melancholic nostalgia that both John Ford achieved in How Green Was My Valley (1941) and Jane Campion presented in An Angel at My Table (1990). Following the hardships of Chris Guthrie, a young woman growing up in an abusive farming household, newcomer Agyness Deyn carries some powerful weight while Peter Mullan delivers yet another haunting performance as her damaged (and damaging) father.

Cinematographer Michael McDonough (who shot Debra Granik’s darkly similar 2010 coming-of-age tale Winter’s Bone) should most definitely be rewarded, come the end of the year. As usual, director Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea, Distant Voices, Still Lives) is focused on the landscapes and their direct relation to the character’s emotional struggles. Emphasizing a structuralist approach towards life-as-a-child vs. life-as-an-adult, the results are anything but simplistic. In fact, it’s one of the year’s best films.

48 Hills: TIFF 40
From Peter Tscherkassky’s short film ‘Exquisite Corpus’

I anxiously await new short films by Austria’s Peter Tscherkassky as much as any movie from the greatest feature filmmakers. Manipulating found footage is more than a gimmick or quaint Internet remix for Tscherkassky (pronounced “T-share-kassky”). His extensive, optically printed reworking, redefining, and ultimately reinventing of older films puts most experimental filmmakers to absolute shame. My life was changed at Sundance in 1999 when I saw the 10-minute masterpiece Outer Space (1999), which reimagines scenes from Sidney J. Furie’s remarkably mean-spirited The Entity (1982), a film that already showcases one of the great, unsung Barbara Hershey performances.

It was Tscherkassky ‘s physical altering of the elements of film that helped me understand what experimental cinema can be. Then came Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005), which inverts a black and white Western into a 19-minute white and black collage of soundscape schizophrenia. This in fact is a perfect jumping point into his psycho-sexual bath The Exquisite Corpus, one of the only films to be screened in Toronto in 35mm. This 19-minute montage of scenes from European skin flicks of the 1970s and ’80s, swirls its participants into a sensuous cycle of moaning, groaning, and throbbing gobbledygook that built to such a provocative conclusion, my heart skipped and eyes literally spilled backwards into my skull. There surely can be no better short film of 2015, though Daïchi Saïto’s 19-minute psychedelic, mind-melter Engram of Returning runs a close second. Also projected in 35mm this cinemascope amalgamation of other-worldly fluctuating flashes were combined with a memorable score by Montreal-based musician Jason Sharp, do whatever it takes to see these exercises beyond the narrative on a big, loud screen.


Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, should resonate worldwide with its honest depiction of the devastating struggles for modern Sri Lankan refugees. It also should finally put Tamil cinema on the map. Lead actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan, a former child soldier with the Sri Lankan militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil used many of his own experiences to express the pains and struggles for his title character’s performance. But following the screening (and a full minute standing ovation) Jesuthasan explained that everything achieved in the film was because of the endless hard work by his director Jacques Audiard (Un Prophet, 2009). Being familiar with a handful of recent Tamil-made action films from India, Audiard surprisingly honored many of the expected tropes while raising the bar on the grim paradoxes for its country’s inhabitants.

Ben Rivers’ follow up to his wonderful meditational feature A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (co-directed with Ben Russell in 2013) has created yet another meta-masterpiece that mixes documentary and narrative, deep within Morocco. Based on a 1947 short story by Paul Bowles entitled A Distant Episode and filmed in 16mm cinemascope, The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Brothers has a gripping train-of-thought approach that heightens, rather than diminishes the viewer’s attention. Complex questions of xenophobia, colonialism, and the ethics of filming in foreign countries will undoubtedly occur. While my post-screening thoughts turned to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1979) and Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982), you too may want to watch the film immediately, all over again.

Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.
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  1. As one who has been active in the Canadian Film community for nearly 50 years I have found the biggest hurdle is getting people past what they think they know. The next biggest hurdle is dealing with the people who, when they are told they are wrong in the gentlest possible terms, respond by dismissing the person who has corrected them. I saw THE MASK in 1961 in a theater in New Brunswick. The 3D worked. The audience loved it. I screened the film as part of my programs when it became available in 16mm as THE EYES OF HELL. Again (and again and again) the 3D worked and audiences loved it. As of this moment my Cineforum in Toronto has the most encompassing 3D system in the world (I can handle any format). The biggest problem with 3D is light. I use a projector for 3D that gives twice the light of a regular projector. Add to that a sound system that really gives life to all the bells and whistles on the soundtrack, and the largest archive of 3D films (going back to their inception) plus every available (and a few non-available) books on the subject, I know my subject and those who frequent my programs can learn everything there is to know. The work Bob Furmanek is doing both in restoring classic 3D motion pictures and correcting the general mis-information the public has about them is without peer. I eagerly await the day he finally gets to present BWANA DEVIL in Blu-ray 3D. This is the film that started the 3D boom of the 1950s. It is an important landmark film and, despite those who say it is not very good, is a film that delivers what it promises which is why the public embraced it. One (not to be named) company has the rights and treated Bob so shamefully they ought to have their butts kicked. Treating people viewed as lessors shamefully seems to be a long standing trait of many, but, thankfully not all, people in the motion picture industry. I look forward to the Blu-ray of THE MASK (which is going to include as a bonus Brian May’s ONE NIGHT IN HELL).

  2. That makes so much sense Bob! It reminds me of the problems that Silent cinema had when transferred at the incorrect frame rate for during the early days of TV.

  3. Thank you for the kind words about our restoration of THE MASK.

    I have to take exception with your comment about 3-D not working well in the 1950’s. The original polarized 3-D – as seen theatrically from 1952-1955 – was exceptionally high quality, in many ways surpassing what is seen today.

    If you’ve only seen some of the red/green anaglyphic conversions made for re-issue and TV broadcast in the 1970’s and 1980’s, then you haven’t seen these films in their original quality.

    What you are seeing on 3-D Blu-ray today with titles like KISS ME KATE, HOUSE OF WAX and INFERNO is comparable to what was seen in theaters 62 years ago.

    Bob Furmanek
    3-D Film Archive

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