By Shannon Gee
In September 2004, writer and producer Shannon Gee sent three dispatches from the Toronto International Film Festival to GreenCine Daily.
Hockey's World Cup aside (the final game between Finland and temporary home team Canada happens Tuesday), it's steady as she goes at this altogether pleasant and enjoyable festival. Many would say that this year?s opening film, Being Julia, starring Annette Bening as a beloved stage actress who copes with aging and her unchallenging stage roles by having an affair with a much younger man, is just that; pleasant and enjoyable, but no matter - opening night films are for all and Annette and Warren looked their Hollywood royalty best walking down the red carpet at the kick off gala screening.
There are plenty of big Hollywood-type releases here, but as anyone who has gone to this festival knows, that's just the tip of the iceberg. The hot tickets for press so far are as varied as one could imagine. Right off the bat, the first screening of Paul Cox's Human Touch filled up quickly, prompting the first of the add-on screenings. There was a "mob scene" to get into Lukas Moodysson's (Show Me Love, Lilya 4-ever) latest, A Hole in My Heart... and then a "mob scene" to get out. Seems that not everyone could stomach this tough take on how far a group of holed up amoral amateur pornographers will go. That didn't keep others from wanting to see it, and another screening was added.
Two theaters were jammed packed Friday night for the highly anticipated hit out of Cannes, House of Flying Daggers. Indeed, the soap opera/martial arts genre never looked or sounded better between Zhang Yimou's picture composition and saturated color palettes, actors Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi and Takeshi Kaneshiro's bone structures, and the Dolby Digital sounds of drums, bamboo spikes, and flying daggers (call Zhang's screen direction of extras and weapons "arsenal orchestrations") thumping and thwacking about. And yes, they had to add another screening of this one too.
Added screenings aren't the only measure of hot films. The applause that may or may not happen at the end of a press and industry screening is also a meter on how buzz-worthy a film is coming out of this fest. Canadian favorite Don McKellar's Childstar, David O. Russell's I ? Huckabees, and the aforementioned Being Julia all got a smattering of applause as the credits rolled, but sometimes silence can also be a good indicator of a hit or miss.
On the hit side, Kore-eda Hirokazu's Nobody Knows, the story of four young brothers and sisters who are abandoned in a Tokyo apartment by their flighty mother, left the crowd stunned and devastated with its heartbreaking story, measured pace and pitch perfect performances by the four child actors.
It wasn't all silence at the end of Mark Wexler's biographical/autobiographical documentary Tell Them Who You Are, his film about his father, cinematographer Haskell Wexler and their complicated relationship. Instead, by the end of the last reel, all that could be heard was the semi-stifled sound of sniffling. Not only is it a compelling portrait of one of the great cinematographers of our time, but it is also a terrific look at how children struggle to live in the shadows of their famous fathers.
You see enough movies at a massive film festival like Toronto, certain patterns or themes begin to emerge. One colleague is beginning to see a vomiting motif, while I declare my theme to be "Children in Peril."
It begins with David Gordon Green's Southern noir Undertow. Something of a departure from his usual narratives but certainly no different in its cinematography (he partners up again with Tim Orr), Undertow is the story of two boys on the run from their psychotic uncle (Josh Lucas, channeling Matthew McConaughey and Robert Mitchum at once) through the backwoods of the Carolinas.
Next up is Clean, the latest from Oliver Assayas. The part of Emily Wong, the drug-addicted former rock and roller protagonist/anti-hero was written especially for ex-wife and occasional muse Maggie Cheung. Emily finds herself suddenly widowed when her musician husband OD's after they quarrel. Nick Nolte plays the husband's father, who has been raising Emily's son for nearly all of his young life. After spending six months in jail, Emily decides to go "clean," to restart her life and to get her son back - but she may go to any length to do so. Assayas is in full Late August, Early September mode here, presenting internal heartfelt drama and one of the most fully realized woman characters at the fest. And you can be sure that, since this is Assayas, there is at least one scene on a scooter.
I've already mentioned the Kore-eda Hirokazu film Nobody Knows, in which four children are abandoned by their mother in a Tokyo apartment, and Childstar, Don McKellar's satire about bratty, spoiled child actors and runaway production. Ousmane Sembene's Moolaadé heads off in the opposite direction. Here, Senegalese villagers parent too much (rather than none at all) and too archaically by upholding the tradition of female circumcision. One woman in this small African village grants a moolaadé (protection) to four girls who escape the ceremony. She herself refused to let her now-teenaged daughter be mutilated and the tension begins to mount within her household and the village. Hardly graphic but entirely affecting and inspirational, Moolaadé is well worth seeking out, and has one of the best endings of any film I've seen all year.
Bookmark/Search this post with: