Friday, August 12, 2011

The Future is Now!: So think positive!

Who is the Man of Today? Someone “pessemistic and practical,” says he. A “libertarian,” says another. Someone who just needs a few days wholly devoted to rediscovering the sense of wonder that stubbornly continues to exist in our troubled world, says the Woman of Tomorrow, who then promptly sets about fascilatating that rediscovery, through poetry readings, drinks with anarchists and helicopter tours of the Chrystler Building and the Great Wall of China, followed by meetings with several renowned optimists in North America and Europe. Man of Today met Woman of Tomorrow while the latter was doing a video street survey, asking strangers what their biggest fears are. (My favourite answer was “mystery moisture,” that phenomenon that occurs when you’re just walking along and you get hit by a drop of liquid of no apparent origin.) Woman is impressed by Man’s resolute I-do-no-harm, nor-do-I-give-a-shit-about-others attitutde. Man is impressed by Woman’s perky attractiveness. The adventure begins.

Alain de Botton

This fateful encounter between Woman and Man forms the foudnation of Gary Burns and Jim Brown’s The Future is Now!, a sort of fantasy date-a-thon that takes its cues from Nicole Védrès 1949 film La vie commence demain, in which two people with similarly conflicting sensibilities meet and swap ideas with French intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Daniel Agache, Jean Rostand, Le Corbusier, Pablo Picasso and André Gide. Burns and Brown’s cast of big-brained conversationalists are a little less famous but also a little more diverse in background, they include Toronto poet Christian Bök, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, artist Marlene Dumas, philosopher Alain de Botton and novelist Rivka Galchen (whose Atmospheric Distrubances was one of the best debuts of the last decade). Oh, and the ghost of Jean-Paul Sartre. The tone and format feels somewhat akin to Richard Linklater’s talkier films (Waking Life espeically) and, to a lesser extent, Mindwalk, that slightly goofy movie where Liv Ullman, John Heard and Sam Waterston just walk around and talk about ultruism.

Burns and Brown previousy collaborated on the terrific Radiant City, which took a similarly irreverent approach to the documentary format in its exploraiton of Calgary’s apocalytic urban sprawl. The Future is Now! is also somehow a very Calgarian movie, in that it feels like the work of artists who are enormously frustrated with their hometown’s rabid conservatism yet come to terms with it not through attacking it but rather through giving certain dominant conservative attitudes a plausible, intelligent voice. Man of Today isn’t one to easily buy into liberal idealism, and thus makes a nice foil to Woman of Tomorrow’s incessant cheerfulness (she’s played by Liane Balaban). Man is played by bald-headed Quebecois Paul Ahmarani, who is nothing if not persistent. The film is full of reaction shots that find him doing this “I’m dubious” face, which made me laugh out loud nearly every time. I found myself occasionally wishing Burns and Brown had allowed their Man character to have a little more, well, character, but the truth is that both Man and Woman’s cipher-like personas fit neatly into the film’s conciet, which essentially takes the premise for a children’s movie and grafts it onto a film for grown-ups. I think it’s a lot of fun. But maybe I’m a natural optimist.

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