TIFF 2012: ‘Tower’ keeps its subject close

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Directed by Kazik Radwanski
Canada, 2012

Most of us have vivid memories of getting our wisdom teeth extracted. Chances are, you’ve had a spring break or part of summer vacation ruined by the procedure—or enhanced, depending on your prescription. However, when Derek (Derek Bogart, The Blue Seal) discusses, in his oddly inflected voice, the possible removal of his wisdom teeth with a dentist, he isn’t high school- or college-aged. He’s thirty-four. He also doesn’t commit to the operation.

First and foremost, Tower is a character study. Primacy of plot might work well for Aristotle, but he’s not the only game in town. Besides, plot must take a backseat in Tower because it’s taken a backseat in Derek’s life as well. Prematurely bald and resembling Chester Brown, Derek lives in his parent’s basement, works part-time at his uncle’s construction company, and spends his free time either developing his skills as a graphic animator or cruising Toronto’s nightlife. He isn’t much of a stereotype, though—after all, this is a character study. The film’s intense focus on Derek draws out the character’s complexities and contradictions. He’s baffled by the minutiae of life, but frequently obsesses over it. He’ll come across as shamelessly self-conscious one minute, but ignore social cues the next.

The script’s single-minded devotion to Derek is complemented by the camera’s tight lock on him. Director Kazik Radwanski eschews comfortable distance between the lens and his subject. For the most part, the picture stays concentrated on Derek from the chest up, though not always from the front. Often when Derek’s lukewarm love interest or well-meaning family members are speaking to him, we don’t see their faces. The effect is both intimate and claustrophobic; we’re as close to Derek’s head without getting inside of it.

A cynic, especially a post-graduate cynic struggling non-to-hard to figure out the future, might think of Tower chilling portent of things to come if all else fails. However, this isn’t a film for cynics; festival films rarely are. Sparse in story telling and minute in execution, Tower is an accomplished feature debut for one of Toronto’s next directing talents.

Dave Robson

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6th to the 16th. Visit the festival’s official website here.

Tower plays on the 11th and the 12th. Visit the film’s TIFF page here.

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