By Claire Miglionico
CALGARY — This season, the Calgary Cinematheque has made British actress Tilda Swinton their centre of interest for its Annual Focus Series.
Four films featuring Swinton were carefully selected: the British arthouse film The Last of England, directed by the late English director Derek Jarman; I Am Love, the Italian drama by director Luca Guadagnino; the thriller Young Adam by Scottish director David Mackenzie; and finally, 2008’s Julia, a French crime drama directed by Erick Zonca.
Most are likely to be familiar with Swinton’s current role as the “Ancient One” in Marvel’s Doctor Strange or perhaps her role in the mainstream series The Chronicles of Narnia as Jadis, the White Witch.
However, Swinton’s extensive portfolio of cinematic work extends beyond the mainstream, and into arthouse, world and British cinema – all with extremely powerful performances that make her one of the most versatile, idiosyncratic and influential actresses of our time.
Felicia Glatz, programming director at Cinematheque, says that the programming committee has been sitting on the idea of having a Tilda Swinton series for years. She also shares that this season seemed like the perfect opportunity to turn their usually director-driven spotlight onto the performer who sits on the other side of the camera.
“…[I]f I had to distill our reasoning down to a few characteristics [to why we chose Tilda Swinton as our focus for our spotlight series], it would have to be her dexterity as an actress and collaborator, and the humble studiousness that she maintains across all of her projects,” writes Glatz in an email.
Furthermore, Glatz says Swinton is immediately “recognizable” and is “indefinable”.
“Somehow, she never overshadows herself and embodies each character fluidly,” she adds.
Professor James Ellis, who currently teaches 16th and 17th-century poetry and prose at the University of Calgary, has taught British Cinema in the past. He says he first encountered Swinton while doing research for his book on film director Derek Jarman. It was then that Ellis was able to explore in-depth Swinton’s performances in Jarman’s late-70s to early-90s films.
Ellis says that Swinton has been famous for a long time within the alternative art film community and world cinema and is recognizable for her striking androgynous looks and her complete devotion to her art.
“I think part of it dates back to her association with Jarman who was [a] fiercely political, non-commercial artist who believed strongly in collaborative work and experimental art,” he says.
“And now, she’s in Doctor Strange. I think a ton of people are going to see her in that role and hopefully they’ll wonder, ‘who is this person,’ and actually come out and see these films,” he says of the Cinematheque’s Focus Series.
Arthouse film The Last of England (screening come and gone as of writing time) is the perfect example of Swinton’s close collaboration with Jarman.
“[It’s] a very personal and visceral retaliation to political sanctioned homophobia during the Thatcher era and endures as an essential component of New Queer Cinema,” writes Glatz.
In I Am Love, Swinton learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent, the perfect example of her collaborative spirit and fruitful dedication to her art and her strive for more “sensational cinema.”
In Young Adam, Swinton plays opposite Ewan McGregor. Set in 1950s Scotland, she plays a “hard and unforgiving” woman who negotiates a husband and a lover. The film was chosen for her severity in her role of Ella.
Finally, the French crime drama Julia was chosen for this series as it is a type of role rarely portrayed by Swinton, ultimately demonstrating her multifaceted performance capabilities.
“From full-blown calamity to a last hope, Swinton truly epitomizes a woman clawing her way toward some sort of atonement,” shares Glatz.
Calgary Cinematheque ultimately chose films of comparative texts, “in the hope of conveying our own admiration of her craft,” states Glatz, “but mostly to showcase her contribution to what we feel are some powerful and dense films.”
Showtimes (as of press time):
“I Am Love” (2009) – December 1, The Globe Cinema
“Young Adam” (2003) – December 8, The Plaza Theatre
“Julia” (2008) – December 15, The Globe Cinema
For more information, visit http://calgarycinema.org/.