Thursday, September 15, 2011

TIFF '11: The sound of silence

Islands, Stefano Chiantini’s third feature, stars Asia Argento as Martina, a woman living on a small, ruggedly beautiful Italian island, a woman so traumatized by loss that she’s resolved to stop speaking and devote herself to caring for bees and an old priest who’s suffered a stroke. Martina is most often clad in baggy pants and boots, a shapeless old ski jacket, and a plaid shirt. Quite a different ensemble than the foxy little dress and six-inch black heels Argento wore to the premiere screening of Islands at the Toronto International Film Festival last night. Islands tracks the convergence of Martina, the priest, and an undocumented foreign labourer who winds up getting stranded on the island and helping take care of the old man, as well as fend off the old man’s sister, who seems fiercely protective of his welfare mainly so she and her husband can get in on the inheritance. Anyway, the three central characters form an archipelago of sorts, and of course Martina and the foreigner, each damaged in their way, gradually move toward romance while facing nominal resistance. Islands has some captivating images of stark landscape and stark interiors, but the illegal immigrant angle is basically incidental and the love story exceedingly familiar. In all seriousness, you almost have to admire how utterly lacking in subtext this film is (especially considering the central character is mute): the sister’s husband actually comes out and states their ulterior motive; Martina fondles photos of some child clearly absent and achingly missed; Martina pulls her nightshirt tight to her breasts before bed, the foreigner having re-awakened her sexual longings; the foreigner sucks honey from Martina’s fingers; and, big-big-big foreshadowing with this one, the foreigner echoes that bit in L’atalante about dunking your head in water to see the ones you love (might Martina have lost someone to the sea?). Yes, Islands is a triumph of exacting story editing. Anyway, it was a perfectly tasteful way to pass a couple of hours on a Wednesday night at TIFF, the point by which everyone is totally fucking exhausted. During the Q&A after the screening someone asked Argento about playing a mute (“It was a relief. Most of the time you have to learn all that dreadful dialogue. It’s so long.”) and about why Martina doesn’t speak. “I tend to remember the great silences in my life,” she replied. “I find that silence is very sexy.” As people shuffled out of the theatre I tried going up to Argento and not saying a single word. Didn’t seem to work.

No comments: