Posts Tagged ‘A Night for Dying Tigers’

TIFF 2010: It’s a Wrap

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Another year of TIFF has officially wrapped, the awards have been announced, and everyone’s gone home. It was a really great fest this year with a solid slate, although I can’t say I disagree with those who feel the fest would benefit from cutting their slate a bit to be a little more discriminating. I saw some films that surprised me (The Illusionist, A Night for Dying Tigers), some that were disappointing (Hereafter, Miral) and some that took my breath away with their vision and execution (Black Swan, I Saw the Devil).

TIFF Review: A Night for Dying Tigers

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Tolstoy would have loved the Yates family in Terry MilesA Night for Dying Tigers. Every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but the Yates, more-or-less normal though they may seem on the surface, are just about as messed up a family as you can hope to find in an indie film.

There’s certainly a prevalence of dysfunctional family setups in independent films, for better for for worse, but, this film leans more towards a stylilzed arthouse feel than your than typical low-budget indie family drama, and thankfully, no holidays, roasted turkeys or road trips are involved.

The storyline, about the messed-up relationships, long-standing competition and feuding among four siblings, and the various not-so-secret secrets revealed at a family gathering the night before the eldest Yates brother reports for a five-year prison sentence, somewhat evokes Festen, that marvelous Danish masterpiece of familial angst that was the first of the Dogme films.

Where Festen started out as an innocuous birthday gathering, then relied upon building tension leading up to a shocking reveal at the end, though, Miles instead reveals that his characters have some serious issues as soon as we meet them. “Aha,” we think, knowing this family is clearly deliciously dysfunctional — not quite in the seriously depraved Dogtooth sense of dysfunction, but still, obviously there’s a lot going on here. We don’t know quite how it will all fall together, but Miles uses a taut, controlled approach of smaller reveals that, a drop at a time, erode the family gathering as we wait with bated breath to see how it will all play out.

Here’s what we have here by the way of the set up: three brothers, all genius prodigies and the product of equally brilliant parents, and one adopted younger sister, fragile, cracked, and never shining as brightly as her brothers. A mother’s experiment, as one of the brothers says, in “nature versus nurture.”

Russell (John Pyper-Ferguson) is a Booker Prize-winning novelist, Patrick (Tygh Runyan) a successful director of horror films who’s just been greenlit for a more serious literary adaptation, and Jack (Gil Bellows), the stalwart oldest brother around whom the family is gathering at the family homestead, is about to go off to prison for five years. Fragile sister Karen (Lauren Lee Smith) has been charged with organizing the festivities.

The family home, which is the heartbeat of what’s left of the Yates family, was designed and built by their famous architect father for their art historian mother, a physical symbol of the very greatness to which the Yates siblings were always expected to aspire.

The relationships among the four siblings are revealed, more or less, through the women woven peripherally into their tale: dinner guest Laney (Jessica Heafey), a friend and past lover of all three brothers; Amanda (Sarah Lind) Karen’s friend who is onhand catering the affair, who seems to know all the family skeletons; Melanie (Jennifer Beals) Jack’s long-suffering wife; Jules (Kathleen Robertson), Jack’s longtime lover and the inadvertent cause of his prison sentence; and fresh-faced Carly (Leah Gibson), Russell’s much younger grad student girlfriend, the one outside observer of all that unfolds.

Old feuds, resentments and secrets simmer and boil, simmer and boil, in a deliberately unsettling rhythm as the wine flows and the party progresses. Miles carefully guides his players through a series of emotional hills and valleys around all the family history while Carly, who just thought she was meeting her boyfriend’s family, and had no idea of what she was getting into here, plays witness as the chaotic underpinnings of complicated sibling and marital relationships begin to unravel any pretense of social politeness.

The film feels, structurally, very much like a stage play, and Miles tends to keep his camera close to the action, creating a sense of intimacy between audience and story that very much draws the viewer into the psychological drama of the characters as it all plays out. This is a study in character and relationships, mostly; there’s very little in the way of narrative arc, character arcs, or inappropriately melodramatic moments, even when the film hits its most emotional peak.

Miles seems not to be passing judgment on his characters, so much as he simply allows us a glimpse into the lives of this very interestingly unhappy family at this pivotal point in their family history; he leaves it to us to judge for ourselves whether the uniqueness of their upbringing by parents determined to raise child prodigies excuses their questionable moral behavior as adults.

In a way, this film did remind me a bit of Dogtooth, one of my favorite films at last year’s TIFF. While A Night for Dying Tigers lacks Dogtooth‘s raw, edgy, weirdness, they have similar themes of children whose uniquely odd upbringing has very much shaped them into the flawed, imperfect, interestingly unhappy people we see during our time with them.

Of all the films I saw at Toronto, I’d have to say this film surprised me the most; I went into it with very little in the way of expectations, and came out of it quite impressed by the direction and performances. Beal and Smith are particularly noteworthy, but all the cast is solid.

I give Miles credit as a writer, as well, for not leaning on those dual crutches of the family melodrama, voice-over and exposition, to convey to us what we need to know about the Yates siblings and what made them the way they are. We learn enough about them peripherally to draw us into their story, and from there Miles pretty much just gets out of the way and lets his actors bring it on home.

Overall, I thought A Night for Dying Tigers was rather brilliant, and I hope it gets picked up for distribution. Well done.

TIFF 2010 Preview, Part One

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

The Toronto International Film Festival is looming ever closer, and as always, one of the greatest challenges faced by film journalists attending the fest is determining which films on the fest’s packed slate they’ll see. With roughly a week to cover the fest and only so many hours in the day to see (and write about!) films — not to mention those late-night parties and more basic needs like food, a few hours sleep, and the ever-present caffeine fix, there’s just no way to see everything you’d like to see.