Following the 18th annual Kamloops Film Festival, my immune system crashed like they thought the internet would following Y2K. Sick over Spring Break. That’s like getting a giant school project assigned at the last minute when your plan was to sleep in, watch day-time television, ride bicycles, and lounge lazily in the sun. This is like the time I pinched a nerve in my neck when I was eight, and had to spend an entire weekend looking over my shoulder to stare out the window.
I knew this sickness was coming, I could feel it’s shadow creeping over my sinuses. I was working hard to prevent it’s viral blossoming–wheatgrass, acidophilus, as much rest as possible, but with the festival came late night after late night. I’m no spring chicken, you know. I need my eight hours. I was dodging this plague like a fugitive from the law. By closing night, fueled by gin and tonics (with plenty of lemon and lime, just for that hit of Vitamin C), I took that dance-floor like a death row inmate takes his final meal.
As a rule, I don’t generally take dance-floors by storm anymore. But back in the mid 2000′s…well let me tell you, I could bust a move to Destiny’s Child with the best of them, party until four am, and be at work the next morning like it was no big deal. We celebrated opening night by following Oil Sand Karaoke–a fascinating mash-up about a Karaoke contest and the Albertan oil sands…with a Karaoke party of our own. Ignited by the spirited renditions of Meatloaf, Bonnie Tyler, Stevie Nicks, Tom Jones and Reba McIntyre…the sound-technician says right before midnight: “We’ve got two more minutes…do we have time for some Journey?” Be still my heart. There’s always time for Don’t Stop Believing. It was the perfect way to end that portion of the night. Afterwards, a select few hit the town and continued with the cocktails. I’m like Romy and Michelle on the dance-floor filled with festival guests and curling enthusiasts from Kamloops’ simultaneous event, The Brier Cup. My friend Mallory and I were in the somewhere in between denial and acceptance of looming early work days as the clock ticked well into the morning. When the company, the music, and the vibe is this good, you’ve just got to cut loose like nothing will ever be that good again.
Heading home at a late night hour, listening to the cab driver talk about the Film Festival and the Briar Cup, and all the folks he’s had in his backseat that night. He drops a term that I need him to back track on. According to Urban Dictionary, “White Girl Wasted” is more a cocaine related verb as in: “With this pile of cocaine, I’m going to get ‘White Girl Wasted’”. The cab driver was meaning it more like teenage girl on prom night. Healthy portions of giddy and sloppy, with just a dash of hysteria. Not me, of course, I am the Audrey Hepburn of intoxication.
Oddly enough he was referring to himself, and how he likes to party. Apparently ‘white girl wasted’ is where it is at, it’s the crown jewel of good times, the Paris Hilton of partying. The imitation that came from the non-white, non-intoxicated (I hope), non-woman was giggle inducing. “Haha, WGW”, I chortle, attempting to make some kind of catch phrase and hip gang sign, but most likely looking like I had cerebral palsy. “Er, what does that stand for?”, the cabbie asks. “Uh…White Girl Wasted?” I respond. Holy shit…did I just hallucinate that entire conversation? What was in those G&T’s? “Oh, heh, heh, yeah, right…WGW”, he chuckles, pulling into the driveway. The trouble with me is that I’m too sophisticated, fabulous and complex that even the most perceptive cab drivers don’t understand me.
If I’ve learned anything from Journey, it’s that for a smile you can share the night, that some will win, some will lose, that some were born, simply to sing the blue. Still, no matter what happens, don’t stop believing and hold on to that feeling. It’s a nice, uptempo reminder that better days are right round the corner. When the long days of winter grind you down, the lack of light calcifies over the bright light inside of you, it’s nice to be reminded that you can actually be a whole whack of fun. Sassy, wisecracking, fearless, flirtatious, adventurous are just some of the personality traits I can offer. I am trying to clutch on to these feelings as this sickness colonizes my body. Alas, never one to be totally bored during an illness, I make a point to surround myself with warm blankets, hot cups of honey laden tea, expensive orange juice, boxes of tissue, a stylish pashmina draped round my throat and of course, “cinema comfort food “. Well worn personal film favorites, that sometimes just play in the background as you snooze, doze, or just pant feverishly like a dog after running on a hot day.
My go-to cold and flu list is as follows:
- Annie Hall
- Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
- Before Sunrise/Before Sunset
- Julie and Julia
- Out of Africa
- A Star is Born (1976)
Give me cheese, give me music, give me a happy ending, give me a sad ending, but no guns or car chases please. This time, having just come off of the film festival track, (seven films in ten days) I opted to curl up with CBC 2 and a good book. When the illness refused to budge, I went to the place that I dread most. The walk-in clinic. A most vile place. A line up begins more than an hour before the clinic opens, and once inside, it is a cluster of coughing, sneezing, wheezing, hacking patients, noisy children squawking over 100 Huntley Street on the TV in the counter. Horoscope disclaimer on the other telly: “not meant to replace intelligent decision making”. The receptionists are unhurried, sipping Diet Coke at 9:15am, eating cookies and wiping their hands on their zip up hoodies. This place is enough to make you sick. When I return for my appointment later in the afternoon, I come prepared for a wait. Wearing sunglasses and a large coral scarf, I brought an enormous juice, cough lozenges, tissues and a well-loved copy of “Eat, Pray, Love”.
I hate to admit how much that story has influenced my life. A copy of the book was given to me before Oprah got her hands on it, right when my fiance and I were dismantling our relationship and upcoming wedding. That book tapped into a very primal urge. I too have a wandering soul, and hunger for self reflection; this need to move forward, this desire to look back. In devouring of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, and through writing of my own, I made the decision to travel. During that time overseas, I read and reread the book, underlining passages, and drawing conclusions about my own life through her experience. Having read Eat, Pray, Love a number of times at different advents of my life, I saw it from a number of perspectives. This past week has been the perfect time to re-re-re-read the primary source. Now much closer to the age that Gilbert was when the book started, I see new similarities in our personalities, namely the deathly fear of motherhood equaling the death of adventure. But the true lesson of EPL is that despite the travel theme, that the answers have been inside of you all along, it’s all very Wizard of Oz. If only at the end of a personal disaster you gain a greater sense of self…well, that’s better than nothing I guess. A book deal to pay for the trip would also be an acceptable consolation prize.
Like Gilbert, I met my husband on my journey of self-discovery and followed it with a years-long struggle with immigration. She wrote a sequel called Committed, about how immigration issues forced their hands in marriage. I read the book before we arrived in Canada and it was scarier than a Stephen King novel. The longer the waiting process, the more limitations placed on you, all that effing paperwork….unraveling patience of a wandering soul. What a way to take the edge of a happy ending Liz Gilbert. They traveled extensively while awaiting word from Immigration, we waited in Canada, unable to leave the country until the verdict was given. And then when we were given the green light, the finances simply weren’t there to get back out on the road. What I would give for the time and resources to travel the world and report back in colorful prose to the masses. I could eat all the pasta in Rome, detox in India and peruse Balinese marketplaces with Javier Bardem, and live to tell about it. I would accept a pay cheque for that.
For all intents and purposes, the film festival was like a little holiday: a whirlwind of parties, engrossing films, interesting guests, endless conversations about how we each relate to the stories of others. One of those nights I heard someone ask aloud “How many times do we live?’–perhaps on the last night, when hipsters in nerdy sweaters were rolling on what looked like some rather exceptional Ecstacy. One girl rubbed her lips on my cheek, knocking out my vintage earring breathing “Life. Is. Endless” all over my skin. “Mmmm”, fastening the earring clasp I respond like I’ve a bad taste in my mouth but don’t want to offend the hopeful chef wearing an apron and a heart on their sleeve. This is not the time to talk about the end of things. Of course there’s only one physical life of indeterminate years, but to the film lover, you can have a thousand lives. You can also get glimpses into the future, into the past, over the fence, into other eras, relationships and continents. If a story is told convincingly, you can escape your body completely and experience this whole other life, gain a whole new perspective on our very existence.
Following Oil Sands Karaoke film was Sex After Kids, with special guest Paul Amos. The movie got huge laughs, and was a festival favorite. In the Q&A that followed, Amos talked about the grassroots project–the film was financed by donations, scenes were filmed in everyone’s homes, actors used their own children, and shared their own experiences of life after baby. As a childless woman in her early to mid 30′s this movie was more slightly horrifying than humorous. Faithful readers know that pregnancy and motherhood is a sticky, oft-discussed subject within the walls of this blog. To me Sex After Kids did for parenthood, what Before Midnight did for marriage; it’s well written reflection of this particular chapter in the human experience. A transformation that one can not anticipated until this little bundle of joy lands in your lap.
As I was heading to the lobby I saw a heavily-pregnant woman, rubbing her belly and frowning in thought. I fought the urge to approach her and ask “Are you like totally freaking out right now? I’m freaking out and I don’t have a seven pound fetus pushing on my bladder right now.” They should show that movie to teenagers in sex education. Not so funny now is it? I’ve traveled with my husband and his sister as ‘Team Childless’, and we’d laugh merrily at all the things we would never do as parents. If this movie taught me anything, it is that children bend your tree branches until they snap like twigs.
The closing night film That Burning Feeling had a similar thread of a fresh, modern, urban–a very funny, heartfelt comedy about promiscuity, sexually transmitted infections and the deliberate humanizing of our night stands. Director Jason James was a delight as our final guest of the season.
Le Weekend was a British comedy about a marriage in it’s thirtieth year; a weekend in Paris, where they honeymooned three decades prior. The husband is struggling with forced retirement, a restless wife and is confronted by the wild successes of a former schoolmate–the deliciously smug Jeff Goldblum. The Past (another film set in my beloved Paris) was infidelity, divorce, secrets, lies, a suicide attempt and a coma…which culminated in a rather unsatisfying ending. What does it even mean? Did she squeeze his hand, what does it mean that he stayed in the hospital room? Is he choosing his new life? I’m not sure I get it…I’m not sure I care. Finding Vivien Maier was so interesting it needs a blog all it’s own. Gloria was an excellent film, and we followed the viewing with a coffee shop discussion, which was jammed packed with guests. Gloria was…a rather erotic film. Surprisingly so. Like…full frontal. Audible passionate kissing noise, which had the same allure of an obnoxious date masticating with his mouth open. Lengthy scenes of intimacy which is a kin to walking in on your grandparents making love. Talk about fifty shades of grey. Still, you had to love this smartly dressed “woman of a certain age” (mid-fifties divorcee), singing along to the radio, who gets her hands on some marijuana and a much older lover. Her heart gets broken, and she takes that pain to the dance floor–girlfriend doesn’t even need a plane ticket.
The Broken Circle Breakdown came early in the film line up, but I felt it necessary to mention it last as this piece will overshadows the rest of the list. This film was magnificent. There was not a dry eye in the house at film’s end.
The story seamlessly shifts back and forth between a new love, marriage, parenthood, illness, loss, despair and the deterioration of a once great love…all amid a gorgeous musical collaboration.
As the social media maven of the film festival, I had come to know all the movies well, occasionally stumbling upon some major spoilers. Spoilers don’t bother me too much, I like to be prepared. I often check in with IMDb for content details, especially in regards to potentially violent films. This was born after I was Rob Roy’d, thinking this was a Robin Hood-eque Liam Neeson vehicle, and suddenly Jessica Lange is getting raped on the kitchen table by Tim Roth and is then sobbing and bathing herself in the river in the aftermath. I’ve also been Sean Penned, and it’s not something I recommend. It’s not like me to like surprises. I’m what you call “cinema sensitive”, I absorb the suffering like a sponge.
I stumbled upon the mother-load of spoilers for The Broken Circle Breakdown, and went to the cinema armed with knowledge, and a shitload of tissues. Actually it was a wad of toilet paper that I wrapped like a thick bandage around my hand before stuffing the whole lot in my purse. I did leave a no-spoilers warning on the Facebook page, gently suggesting that you bring something other than your sleeve for this event. No matter. By the end of this heart-wrenching feature about the deterioration of a once happy life, complimented by goose-bump inducting blue grass performances. There’s something about crying in public that makes me feel terribly vulnerable…as it’s never as simple and elegant as a single glistening tear rolling down your cheek.
…this was more like…funeral crying. Snotty sobs, gasping for air, lips sputtering. It’s something I prefer not to do publicly, which is quite difficult as I cry about as often as a new-born baby. It’s not an attractive look in the slightest. The toilet paper reserves were dwindling as the movie was jam-packed with emotional land-mines. I had get creative by folding the sopping wad like origami, as if to make it like new. Eventually I just sobbed into my scarf. It reminded me of this time the airport–on my way to New York, a trip once slated celebrate my upcoming wedding with my maid of honor. Standing outside of the departure gate, in what turned out to be one of the last times I spoke to my fiance: “I just keep thinking that you’ll change your mind”…I whispered, eyes cast on the ground, a volcano threatening to burst. He smoothed the hair off of my face, smiled tenderly and said “…I won’t”. I made it to the plane in the same way you drive all the way home, and realize you don’t actually remember driving. Once in my seat, I was more unglued than Blanche Dubois in “Streetcar Named Desire”.
Sunglasses firmly in place. Airport napkins balled in a tight fist. Planes are not a recommended place for a potential nervous breakdown. There is little to do, and nowhere to go. Sitting frozen. Staring out the windowThere’s something about sobbing in a airplane washroom that just takes depression to another level. There’s also your neighbour to consider: the poor woman next to me, was settled into a good book and blissfully unaware. This a perfect metaphor for that inescapable sensation of grief–the crushing weight–the Alice in Wonderland outgrowing the Rabbit house. Nowhere to hide from the hurt. From this moment forward nothing will ever be the same. This new reality is so much bigger than your earthly body that it threatens to burst right through your skin; an explosion of teeth, bones and tears and all that pain you felt would fill the room like a noxious gas. Instead you calmly make paper cranes out of cocktail napkins as your broken heart seeps out of your eyes and nose.
Viewing The Broken Circle Breakdown in the cinema was a transformative experience, one I would be reluctant to repeat. Still, it was my favorite movie in the festival. It did an agonizingly convincing job detailing how the clashing of ideals and the testing of faith can turn the tide. How marriage vows– promises you made when life was good and love was easy can be irreparably broken by exterior forces. That sickness ruins, that love is not a cure. When the film ended, the credits were rolling and I was still sobbing as others were reaching for their coats. The storyline jumped to the beginning, middle and end so fluidly, tattooed songbird Elise unravels, as pragmatic Didier tries and fails to save his wife and child. It’s nearly too much to bear. Though I knew the twist in the ending, I was properly devastated nonetheless. Everyone mingled in lobby afterwards, puffy eyed and sniffling. Catharsis at it’s finest. It certainly garnered a very large glass of wine in a dark bar afterwards, where stories were shared, and new levels of understanding occurred. This is the power of cinema, the shared experience of a story; how it reminds us of our own battles, fears, desires, and memories that shape us as unique individuals. All is not lost, as the light dims on another day… the band plays on regardless, even if the song no longer means the same thing.
All Images Courtesy of Google