Attending the screening of Patricia Rozema’s latest film Into the Forest as part of Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival was truly a privilege. The theatre in Toronto was packed and judging by the live stream, Vancouver and Montreal had solid turnouts as well. It was exciting to see almost 500 people lined up and eagerly anticipating not just a Canadian film but also a film by a women featuring women. Rozema herself was on-hand to introduce the film and answer questions afterwards. She also took the opportunity to promote another excellent Canadian film featuring women, Room, instead of introducing her own film. Rozema is the kind of filmmaker who is able to turn even the most useless comment-questions into something interesting and never misses a chance to highlight imbalances in the industry.
This tendency carries over into her films, and Into the Forest is no different. It is a sight to behold. Films like this are so incredibly rare and as a result, so incredibly important. Into the Forest is a film that uses women to tell a story of the universal. All you need to know going in is that it’s about two sisters, Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) and Nell (Ellen Page) tring to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Any more information would ruin the joy of discovering the film as it unfolds. Eva and Nell are stand-ins for all of humanity as the world appears to be coming to an end. Apart from minor details, this is a film that could easily have been about two brothers and it’s sad to say but part of what makes Into the Forest so progressive is that it’s not. Fortunately, the progressive representation of women is far from the only thing that makes Into the Forest a phenomenal film–that’s just a bonus.
The opening sequence of the film sets the stage. The score from Max Richter seeps into your bones as images of Eva dancing are intercut with shots of the lush, green BC wilderness. The dance itself is raw and mechanical, animalistic with the precision of a laser, damaged, but still strong. This is everything that Into the Forest is about in a moment. As the world as we know it comes to a grinding halt, as Rozema put it in the Q&A: “Through damage we can grow stronger and create something beautiful.”
This is a deeply intellectual but also emotional film that seeps under the skin and becomes an integral piece of your being for its runtime. It’s incredibly visceral, but not in the way that we usually think of it in film. There is no gore or cheap thrills. Rozema instead has tapped into the rhythm of the human body so that you feel every beat of the film. The bodies of the two leads take on all the burdens of survival. They are strong and capable, but not indestructible. They are beaten and bruised, but never broken. Their bodies, particularly Wood’s in her role as a dancer, also give us the beauty, lyricism and raw power of the human body. Together, these two women embody all the physical strength of humanity.
Into the Forest is a very weighty film in the best possible way. Rozema has done an excellent job of balancing the giant world altering circumstances that are the basis of the film with the small moments of comfort and joy that get the sisters though the crisis. It is a story of survival, but it is also a story about the bond between sisters. Nell and Eva’s relationship is at the centre to the film and their devotion to each other is what drives the film forward.
We need more films like this. Films that explore female relationships that are not antagonistic, but rather based on a deep, unromantic love. We also need more films that explore the emotional and bodily impact of the moving image. Into the Forest manages to fill both these objectives, making it one of the best films of the year.
Into the Forest screens as a part of TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival which runs January 8-17.