Jos asked for weird movies, so weird movies it is! I still haven’t done anything longer than a Twitter review for any of the Toronto International Film Fest screenings I saw, so there’s plenty for me to catch up on. To be honest, I saw far fewer films this year than I usually cram in. A typical TIFF, for me, involves anywhere from 35 to 50+ films over 10 days; this year was a paltry 24, if you count the short film screening as a single movie. I also saw more “mainstream” films this year, which translates to anything hitting theatres in the six months following the fest. I missed out on a bunch of films I really wanted to see – AIR DOLL and MALL GIRLS I’m particularly sorry to have not seen – but hopefully I’ll have a chance to track those down, either at indie cinema showings or DVD.
HIPSTERS (Stilyagi): To be honest, I almost skipped this film based on the translated name alone. So I owe a massive thanks to Matt for recommending I check it out, given that it turned out to be one of my favorite films of the entire fest.
The core premise is classic musical with a Russian twist: during the height of the Cold War, a member of the Communist Youth Party falls for a rebellious girl and dives head-first into a forbidden subculture of jazz, flashy clothes and swing dance to win her heart, discovering himself along the way. Sappy as all good musicals must be, but leavened by the constant background of the oppressive Soviet regime and a slightly odd pacing that keeps it from being too pat. The dance numbers are a blur of color and joy, the acting is solid, and it’s a fascinating peek into a little-known youth subculture. The Stilyagi were a cultural palimpsest, an attempt to recreate a forbidden style with little clear information and lots of misconceptions to go on. It reminds me of a bunch of the Japanese youth movements, especially the rockabillies, who are a darker take on the stilyagi style: James Dean versus Chuck Berry, as it were. I’m fascinated by the way cultures borrow and rewrite one another (on that take, I highly recommend SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO for a wild rethinking of the Samuri Cowboy aesthetic) and HIPSTERS has a great deal of fun exploring this area. The closing song sequence, in particular, is one of the most uplifting, glee-soaked bits of cinema I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, I can’t find any subtitled video clips online, but there’s a trailer here and one of my favorite numbers (when the main character gets kicked out of the Youth Group, a tribute to unity and conformity) online here to give you a flavor. Like the Stilyagi themselves, the film is a pastiche of musical and cinematic styles, blended together into an odd but satisfying whole.