TORONTO—Soaked through with every variety of bodily fluid, Ken Park revels in adolescent bumping and bloodletting, the sticky standbys of any teenage riot instigated by Kids perpetrators Larry Clark and Harmony Korine. But the film’s real shock value rests not in its hardcore flourishes—including a dispassionately observed rub-n-tug pricelessly scored to the grunts and squeals of a women’s pro tennis match—but in its wholly unexpected tenderness, and one suspects much of the credit goes to co-director Ed Lachman, the veteran cinematographer recently laureled in Venice for lensing Todd Haynes’s Far From Heaven.
“These were difficult scenes with first-time actors, so Larry and I allotted 40 days, which is unheard of for the low budget we had,” says Lachman, whose credits as cinematographer range from Werner Herzog’s Stroszek to Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey. “But it allowed us to work through each scene slowly, so the intimacy could gestate. The camera too is a participant, another actor in the scene. Sometimes when a character is talking, the camera will move off to capture a detail or a gesture, and that adds intimacy too, to convey the gentleness and respect between the performers.”
This kindly dynamic culminates in a leisurely, positively utopian three-way. “If people only see sexuality, they’re missing the point. These adolescents are using theirs in a very nurturing, healthy way.” Lachman is, of course, well prepared for any stateside outrage over Ken Park‘s explicit lyricism. “I’m still wondering if people have sex in America. I guess it’s always behind closed doors with the lights out and the clothes on, and it’s always a mistake.”
Repression and regret are key melancholy strains of Far From Heaven, Haynes’s meticulously marvelous riff on Douglas Sirk’s ’50s melodramas. “Sirk followed a specific grammar, so I had to immerse myself in that language,” explains Lachman (now finishing the script for “a film about the Beat movement from a female perspective”). “I didn’t feel limited by it, because what I love about my job is getting to move between different worlds. The challenge is not to have a signature camerawork or lighting, but to be more of a chameleon.”
Another Venice prizewinner with a controversy-courting drama featuring an impressive ensemble of novice actors, Peter Mullan found himself the whipping boy of Vatican newspapers after his scathing second feature, The Magdalene Sisters, won the Golden Lion. The film is an enraged indictment of the Irish Catholic Church for their Magdalene asylums, where “wayward girls” were consigned to slave labor as laundresses, often locked away for decades of physical and psychological torment.
Predictably, church officials would beg to differ with Mullan’s purposefully grueling account (which has been acquired by Miramax). “Oh, Jesus, they went bananas,” said the Scottish actor-writer-director following the film’s North American premiere in Toronto. “They’ve been taking out full-page adverts. One of them read ‘Liar Liar Liar = Mullan.’ I thought one of their PR guys would go, Look, in the world of cinema, it’s a grain of sand—dismiss it, and it will go away. And they blew it up into this cause célèbre, and obviously, from my point of view: Yabba-dabba-fuckin’-do! If they were clever, they would have condoned it—they would have killed it dead. If the Vatican endorsed a movie, you’d avoid that one like the plague.”
First drawn to the subject by the Channel 4 doc Sex in a Cold Climate, Mullan intends The Magdalene Sisters foremost as a work of activism. “One of the main motivations behind it was wanting to make a universal film about oppression of young women, but it would be lovely if it had an active political impact,” he says. “If it had any influence, however small, on the recognition of what these women suffered, and getting compensation for what they suffered, then I would die a happy man.”
More Voice Coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival:
‘8 Mile’ Lines and On-the-Job Bondage in Toronto
by J. Hoberman
Toronto a Year Later
by Dennis Lim