Joao Pedro Rodrigues Fims

TIFF Bell Lightbox welcomes Joao Pedro Rodrigues

Toronto's Bell Lightbox will shine a spotlight on a supremely exciting Portuguese filmmaker this weekend with The New Auteurs: João Pedro Rodrigues' Outlaws of Desire. Having already called well-deserved attention to young masters Kelly Reichardt and Quebec's Denis Côté, 'The New Auteurs' programmers looked outside North America for this third edition, featuring a bit more of an unknown - though no less awesome and subversive - voice. Beginning June 23, Rodrigues, as well as his longtime collaborator João Rui Guerra da Mata, will be in town for the first three days of screenings, offering a rare chance to dive into the world of one of contemporary cinema's most (unjustifiably) hidden gems.

As the title of the programme hints, Rodrigues shapes his films around different genre tropes and adds his own blend of sexual politics. From drag queens to leather-bound fetishists to posthumous births, these surreal and beautiful fantasies push boundaries without forgetting that the humanity of the characters should remain front and center. Here's a run-down of his three films, as well as a look at a delirious Tod Browning silent, which Rodrigues will be screening himself Saturday night for the programme's signature carte blanche evening.

To Die Like a Man (June 24 , 27, 28; 8:45pm each day)

Rodrigues' most recent film is also his most accomplished and succulently aestheticized. Framed in a square-ish 4:3 ratio to lend this gender-bender a charming air of classicism, To Die Like a Man could be the most tragic anti-musical that you've never seen. Juxtaposing a vibrant technicolored palette with a hushed and graceful tranquility, this tale of a man -- I'll go with the sex dictated in the title -- torn in his decision on which gender he should settle down and 'be' is impossibly blissful. That it happens to contain one of the coolest musical interludes ever is icing on the cake.

O Fantasma [Phantom] (June 23, 6:30pm)

The line between animal and man is abrasively scratched into the ground and then bluntly side-stepped in Rodrigues unclassifiable debut. Donning a latex get-up that riffs on Louis Feuillade's notorious Les Vampires outfit (it should be said, much more stirringly than Catwoman ever did), Sergio is a lost soul parading the spatially-indeterminate Lisbon night scene during his shifts as a garbage collector, searching for a mate, or partner, or prey of some kind. Complete with unsimulated sex and borderline animism, Phantom is just about the most distinct 'thing' to sizzle on Toronto screens all summer.

This screening will be preceded by Parabens! [Happy Birthday!] (1997, João Pedro Rodrigues, 14 min.)

Two Drifters (June 25, 5pm)

This sophomore effort casts one of the more patently absurd - yet absurdly spiritual - love triangles in recent cinema. Odete (whose name is also the official, non-North American title for this film) gets involved with a gay man whose lover dies in a horrendous car accident. To makes matters worse (or much better), she begins to tell people that she is carrying the dead man's child. It's a premise so brilliant, I can't believe it didn't happen on House first. Thank God it didn't, though, because then we wouldn't have this beautiful creature to behold.

This screening will be preceded by China, China (2007, João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata, 19 min.)

The Unholy Three [Tom Browning, 1925] (June 25, 8pm)

The above clip is not the trailer for Tod Browning's nocturnal masterpiece The Unholy Three, nor is it the world's first anti-smoking TV spot. It's merely a short scene from the film that captures the hypnotic strangeness laced throughout the entire picture, which would be so impossible to sell to the masses now the way this one was back in the good ol' days. These carte blanche screenings are my favorite part of these 'New Auteurs' programs; they offer a concise sense of the filmmaker's influences, and at the same time allow for the showing of rarely resurrected classics. I can't wait to hear Rodrigues connect the dots with this film and his own oeuvre.

All of these screenings will take place at the TIFF Bell Lightbox from June 23-28. Tickets are available online, by phone: 416-599-TIFF, or in person at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square, 350 King Street West.

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