The Curzon Report: TIFF 2018 #1

Our Man in Toronto, Damian Spandley, is back… in Toronto, sending word of the best films soon to play on Curzon screens. In his first correspondence from TIFF 2018, he travels to the moon with Damien Chazelle’s First Man.


Another edition of blog posts from me from the Toronto Film Festival, one of the biggest and best cinema showcases of the year and - along with Venice and Telluride - the starting pistol launch of the awards race that concludes next February. We usually promote these blogs as reports on the films and parties direct from the festival; although as I get older let's just say the reports tend to favour the films and early nights instead (not entirely true).

FIRST MAN

OK, so I have to admit that I was lucky enough to watch First Man in London before I set out to the land of maple syrup and mounties that always get their man: so I’m cheating a bit by including it here. But then cinema is basically cheating as an art form, so I feel it should be allowed.

As the coming together once again of La La Land’s director and star, First Man is probably the most eagerly awaited film of the year. I almost expected disappointment, akin to that which young people feel at New Year (before they get older, accept the anticlimax and stay in to watch Jools Holland instead). I was, however, impressed: First Man is a beautifully made and intimately considered piece of work.

The first major cinematic exploration of Neil Armstrong and the first moon landing takes itself very seriously, and the director’s attention to detail - both in the recreation of the flimsy technology that got them there and in the atmosphere and feel of the period - is a huge credit to the filmmaker, Damien Chazelle, who comes out of it all very much with his reputation intact.

  First Man  (2018)

First Man (2018)

The look of the film is just perfect: it’s beautifully shot in grainy cinemascope, in a mix of facial close-ups and handheld wide shots. The result is that the film looks gorgeous on screen, stylishly cinematic, while feeling 100% authentic of the time, sometimes as if you’re watching real footage. It’s as if a balaclavaed Chazelle climbed a wall and burgled undeveloped film stock from the grounds of the Kubrick estate.

  First Man  (2018)

First Man (2018)

Ryan Gosling plays the moonwalker as a stoic American (although patriotism is neatly avoided throughout), silently pressurized from the death of his daughter, who’s a contradictory mix of dogged determination and quiet, impending fear. It’s an intimate portrayal of a character who won’t let you in, which you feel was Chazelle’s major challenge in bravely taking on the subject and one that he hasn’t 100% overcome.

  First Man  (2018)

First Man (2018)

I read a review that belittled the development of characters around Armstrong; and while that’s true to an extent, the ensemble is excellent, with Claire Foy posting in a loaf and fishes performance that wrenches every last drop out of what little she was given. In parts and often just through expression and body language, she communicates just as much strength as Armstrong as the woman holding the family together under the overbearing pressure of her husband’s refusal to open up and the threat on his life.

  First Man  (2018)

First Man (2018)

With a 2 1/4-hour running time, that features impressively long sequences of space stuff, the holding of filmlovers’ full attentions will vary (although the final space sequence is virtuoso filmmaking, particularly in the sound edit); and when you consider the dizzying emotional heights of Whiplash and La La Land, by comparison this is a colder and more cerebral experience. There are however exceptions, like the brilliantly handled sequences of crisis or disaster with the equipment and a very poignant final moment. Overall and to his credit, Chazelle is pretty restrained, exercising careful control to avoid any residue of cliché and jingoism usually associated with the genre. I came away admiring his strength of will but also missing just a touch of the whoop and holler.

First Man plays on Curzon screens from Friday 12 October.


The Curzon Report

Catch up on past editions of The Curzon Report, covering the Toronto, Berlin and Cannes Film Festivals