Toronto Film

This Week in Film: Bully, Fightville, The Vanishing Spring Light, The Pettifogger, and what's new on DVD & BluRay

This Week in Film rounds up noteworthy new releases in theatres, as well as key DVD / Blu-Ray releases, festivals, and other cinema-related events happening in Toronto.


Bully (Varsity)

A little controversy never hurt anyone; as a matter of fact, the MPAA's reprehensible decision of rating Bully their dreaded 'R' - thereby limiting its exposure to the very teens who need to see it - solely because of its language, is the best thing that ever happened to it. The topic of bullying is certainly grave, not to mention, well, topical, so the doc was always guaranteed a healthy mass appeal, but the conventional results will now get more exposure than it could have ever hoped for, as the film addresses the issue with merely adequate depth and incite. There's also the common documentary detraction that finds the film's footage of actual bullying untrustworthy in light of there being a camera, therefore an authority figure, present during the acts (except for the occasional hidden cam). However, the overall message is as moralistic and 'Do Something' as it probably should be; it's even likely that the film will go some way toward decreasing this schoolyard plague, so kudos are absolutely warranted despite the artistic hold-ups.

Fightville (Bloor Hot Docs Cinema)

Along with Bully, this is another big hit from last year's Hot Docs festival, and, fittingly, Fightville also addresses humans beating up on one another, albeit here the fighting takes place under the morally justified regulations of UFC competition. Or it is moral? Filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker don't concern themselves too much with such questions - e.g. the 'dilemma' that someone who makes a living smashing other guys into a bloody pulp could result in him becoming a role model. Rather, the film is content with being a rather compelling rags-to-riches tale of two guys trying to rescue themselves from near-poverty and societal uselessness. It's heartwarming for sure, and often tense, but one does long for a distanced inquiry, which could have created more dynamic post-screening discourse.

The Vanishing Spring Light (Bloor Hot Docs Cinema)

Capping off a doc-heavy week, it looks like those of us who missed the Doc Soup screening of The Vanishing Spring Light last March will (surprisingly) have another chance to take a look at this moving Chinese film when it opens at the Bloor for a week-long run. From the Hot Docs blurb: "Grandma Jiang and her family attempt to live according to Chinese tradition while facing the constant threat of relocation. [Xun Yu's sophomore film] tells the story of a family's love and loss, obligation and attachment, guilt, transformation, and destiny."

Also in theatres this week:


For recommendations on what to catch at Toronto's rep cinema's this week, check out This Week in Rep Cinema.


The Pettifogger (Wednesday, April 11 at 7PM; TIFF Bell Lightibox)

While it isn't a new release, by far the most essential single film playing in Toronto this week (month?) is this co-presentation between TIFF's monthly The Free Screen series and the upcoming Images Festival (take a look at our preview here). The Pettifogger is avant-garde master Lewis Klahr's first feature-length work after a career of 10 to 20-minute glimpses of paper and cartoon dreamscapes. The extended duration - this one coming in at just over an hour - actually comes as somewhat of a revelation, adding something quite vital to the experience of his universe. Essentially a stop-motion film using Lichtenstein-ian paper cut-outs and other flat-ish material and ephemera, Klahr utilizes slumberous soundscapes and hints of narrative to breach our subconscious in startling ways.

So what exactly is a 'pettifogger'? Your standard dictionary will describe the archaic term as "a petty, quibbling, unscrupulous lawyer; a con man." This won't get you too much closer to grasping what Klahr's up to, though. Less a straight-and-narrow avant-garde film and more a very elliptical animated film, the extent to which the narrative builds, unfolds, and disappears is both indecipherable, and basically superfluous. What we really have here is a nightmare vision of pulpy comic characters wandering the detritus of a world destroyed by greed. As the screen morphs from representational forms and spaces into abstract geometric patterns and blackness, we realize that we're only fully awake when the recognizable world drifts away. This is a free event, and Klahr will be present for a post-screening Q&A. Also, be sure to take a look at the video above for additional insight into his practice.


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