Out of the countless industries to take a TKO hit this year, one particularly close to my heart is the film industry. Chris Nolan might have deluded himself into believing his new film Tenet will reopen the theatre industry this summer (and that, if it does, people will actually show up) but I’m less optimistic. As someone who normally loves the theatre experience—the big screen, the excitement, the popcorn—the last thing I want to do in the midst of a pandemic is sit in an enclosed room full of strangers for two hours. Even if theatres employ social distancing measures and only partially fill the rooms, the best result is still drastically reduced ticket sales. I’m no business major, but for Tenet to make back its $200 million budget in 2020…it’s just not realistic. Even with the push toward drive-in showings this summer, there are only so many drive-in options and not everybody has a car.
But if even a guaranteed blockbuster from the creator of Inception and The Dark Knight struggles to make bank, what does that mean for smaller releases? The Canadian film industry is precarious on a good day; historically dominated by the US, Canadian filmmakers have always struggled to carve out a space for themselves in their own backyard. And when I say always, I mean always: back in 1930, at the beginning of what we understand Hollywood to be, Maclean’s called the American film industry “a movie Mussolini” (a fantastically extra description) in an article on “the ‘screen war’ which has resulted in virtual domination of the Canadian motion picture field by a gigantic United States corporation.” The culture was already set: audiences were drawn to the higher-budget, flashier productions from south of the border.
Cut to today, and this same mindset exists. It’s funny, because plenty of films and TV shows are filmed in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver—our little Hollywood Norths. Toronto is well known as a hotbed of filming, always dressed up as Chicago or Baltimore or some equivalent American city. Vancouver is Netflix and CW heaven: Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The 100, Charmed, The Flash, and Supernatural are all filmed there (and that’s only a sample). But, being American productions, none of these shows or movies take place in Canada. Even our brilliant hometown success story, Schitt’s Creek, is careful not to mention its Ontario locale, despite very obviously being set here (the motel is in Orangeville), lest it scare off American viewers.
Ah infidelity, that age-old device.
So of course it’s no surprise in Intermezzo (1936), when the older famous violinist, Holger – happily married with children he adores, something that is established in the first few minutes of the film or so it felt – falls in love with Anita, his daughter’s youthful piano teacher. It’s the “second spring” trajectory that has been rehashed again and again before and since this film, and yet!
I found that the portrayal of both parties was rather sensitive and well done: although it does adhere to the good ol’ “Older Man Falls For Young Woman & Rediscovers His Love of Life/Living, Leaving His Wife & Children For His Second Spring” trajectory (… spoiler alert?), if there’s one word I can use to describe the way the affair and the characters are portrayed in this film, it’s that it’s incredibly generous. Holger, a famous violinist and quite absent father (due to his tours) returns home and promptly falls in love with his daughter’s piano teacher (while she’s playing the piano, of course). It’s not particularly inventive, but Gustaf Molander did a pretty fine job with character development as the relationship progressed in the film, especially with Anita’s character (Ingrid Bergman). Gösta Ekman (Holger) is spectacularly expressive, cementing straightaway that Holger loves his family, adoring especially his daughter, and I enjoyed this expressiveness quite a bit throughout the film. I’ve read a couple reviews saying it was a bit on the slow side overall, but I never felt it was a drag to watch.
OK, actual spoiler alert coming up ahead, so if you have yet to watch the film (it’s from 1936, so there’s been plenty of chance to watch it since its release) and would like to watch it without knowing what happens (even if it’s painfully obvious with multiple foreshadowing elements spoken by the characters – mostly by Margit, actually), skip the following paragraph below the cut.
Greta Gerwig, ©Merie Wallace and A24
Some people might question the value of putting female directors in a spotlight, and to them I say: the fact that it’s a question at all is reason enough. Just look at the general reaction from the public whenever someone singles out female achievement. The knee-jerk response tends to be “who cares?” and “doesn’t equality mean treating everybody equally?” Well, yes and no. In a perfect world, yes. In our systemically biased world, no. Let’s break it down into numbers. 2019 has seen a record high of female directors in high-profile films, and do you know what that record high is? 12 (potentially 14!) of the 100 top-grossing films. That’s 12%. TWELVE. The fact that this number is being celebrated is both exciting and deeply, deeply sad. So while I would love to take women’s achievements in directing for granted, we’re still in a place where a woman succeeding behind the camera is a minor novelty. So yes, let’s continue to spotlight them, until it’s no longer interesting to do so!
But why should we care about women behind the camera? Well, for the same reason that it’s important for anyone to be behind the camera: to exert some level of control over representation, to give audiences as organic experience as possible. This is true of POC directors, LGBTQ+ directors, even white male directors. We all want our stories told, and we all want our stories to be appreciated. True representation brings us closer to something resembling understanding. Allowing people to tell their own stories opens up new worlds to audiences, which they may never have been able to experience otherwise. To quote Pocahontas (a problematic movie, I know—indulge me), “you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.” We all have our own unique experiences and perspectives, which allow us to interpret the world differently and in turn provide insight for others that may not come naturally to them. None of us are born omniscient; we learn through exposure. Film is a helpful, no-brainer medium for that.