During summer movie season, critics complain about the loud, obnoxious studio blockbusters that come at us one after another. But awards season has its own hype and noise, bringing forth movies that (at their worst) sometimes feel like they've been designed solely to get Oscar attention. So when you're at a festival like Toronto, it can be a good idea to take a break now and again to try some tiny, obscure foreign film that no one's talking about. It doesn't want to win any awards. It just wants you to enter its world for a little while.
That's why Thursday night I found myself at "This Side of Resurrection" from Portuguese filmmaker Joaquim Sapinho. I knew barely anything about him, his cast or his film, but I had an available screening slot, and the movie's story about distant siblings trying to reconnect after the sister discovers that the brother has become a monk seemed, well, intriguing. You couldn't say "This Side" had a killer hook, but that can be the advantage of smaller, artier offerings: Their still, introspective tone can feel like taking a long deep breath after rushing from one major awards contender to the next.
Clearly I wasn't the only person catching the movie on a lark. The 80-seat theater was completely filled, but within 30 minutes 10-20 people had already walked out, frustrated by Sapinho's languid pace. Indeed, not much happens in "This Side," which splits its time showing how Ines (Joana Barata) and Rafael (Pedro Sousa) separately slowly try to reconnect after Rafael's supposed return from Australia. (It's complicated: He never was in Australia but was instead living in a Portuguese monastery to complete a religious conversion.) It's a movie of small moments, and Sapinho seems as interested in the characters' surroundings -- particularly the gorgeous beaches where Rafael surfs -- as he is in what happens in his little family melodrama.
The excitement of going to an under-the-radar film at a festival is the possibility that you'll discover a gem. But that doesn't always happen: Sometimes you'll just see a well-intentioned dud. Sadly, that was the case with "This Side of Resurrection." (But at least I stayed with it. The majority of the crowd had bailed long before the film's 110-minute running time had elapsed. The woman seated to my right was one of the few who stuck it out, but she was sleeping through most of the second half.)
That's the risk you take going off the grid and trying a movie sight unseen. But I'm not too sad. Even if it doesn't work, a modest foreign film often has its own unusual rhythm, the product of a filmmaker who doesn't have to worry about the conventions that are prevalent in even commercial art-house pictures. For better or worse, Sapinho is telling his story the way he wants, and damn the consequences. Even an artistic misfire like "This Side of Resurrection" has its place, if for no other reason than to remind the rest of us that there really are no rules for what a movie should be. Sometimes that's just as valuable as a good movie.