Man and Nature Intertwined: Our Review of ‘Wilcox’ and ‘vulture’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - January 16, 2020
Man and Nature Intertwined: Our Review of ‘Wilcox’ and ‘vulture’

This month, MDFF Selects returns at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with a double feature of sorts: Wilcox by Denis Coté and vulture by Phil Hoffman. It’s a dialogue-less, distressed image, nature film double feature. If you have not already realized that this is what you need in your life, then I implore you to please come to this realization.

One of my least favourite films of all time is Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, a film about an irritating yuppie who feels compelled to leave his lifestyle to become an irritating hippie. It’s the kind of film that has always struck me as being upheld for faux-profundity, with the ineffectual fortune-cookie style message of “we need to get back to nature,” at the forefront of its inherently didactic nature. There’s an inherent idea of the natural equivocating to freedom persistent throughout these kinds of hermit films, but rarely do these films actually portray what that’s actually like. Outside Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, few ever dare to de-glamourize such a lifestyle.

Coté is another voice who seems to be attempting to de-glamourize such a lifestyle as well, but in the process of making Wilcox, he’s also de-glamourized narrative cinema as well. Wilcox is the relatively aimless and unexplained life of its titular character (Guillaume Trembly), who exists outside of society. He wanders the non-descript countryside in army fatigues.

Did I mention the film contains basically no dialogue whatsoever? Coté breaks down most of Wilcox’s actions into a sort of pure mundanity. We see him steal cabbages from a farm, and then make a slimy sandwich out of the leaves and a canned sardine. There is nothing glamourous about his life. He is free, but he must work to keep it that way; each day breaking down into simple components: eat, move, find shelter. Found razorblades are like gold.

The real-life inspiration for Into the Wild, one Chris McCandless, is afforded an intertitle in Wilcox, as are other similar cases. In this sense, it seems that Coté is determined to analyze the psychosis of someone’s choice to become a hermit. What gets us through is the wonderfully distressed image. Strange filters are frequently found throughout the film, and provide a dreamlike quality to the image. It’s a wonderfully experimental film, and maybe the best man and nature film I’ve seen in quite some time.

Distressed images are theme with this round of MDFF Selects, but it’s more apparent with the latest from Film Farm co-founder Phil Hoffman. Hoffman has been a proponent of a method known as process filmmaking, a form of sustainable celluloid processing where the film itself is hand-processed using organic materials. In processing the footage for vulture, Hoffman used many of the crops grown on the farm itself.

What results is one of the simultaneously most original and beautiful films I’ve ever seen. If you’re someone that loves cinematic grain, this is your movie. It’s as if Panos Cosmatos made an experimental film about the decaying art of celluloid run through the waning importance of agricultural practices as a metaphor.

Hoffman’s film has a particularly striking end, reminiscent of the works of Toronto-based experiemental filmmaker Isiah Medina (who coincidentally serves as an editor on the film). Like Wilcox, vulture is another difficult picture. But these are also films that you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else, or from anyone else for that matter. The mission of MDFF Selects is to bring you the world of cinema that you never knew existed. With Wilcox and vulture, they definitely succeed.

  • Release Date: 1/16/2020
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Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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