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Monday, September 15, 2008

Toronto International Film Festival: Day 3

Posted By on Mon, Sep 15, 2008 at 10:16 AM

Le Silence de Lorna

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Recap by Meredith Brody

I begin at 9:45 a.m. with Le Silence de Lorna, the new film by the Dardenne brothers, whose filmography is made up of serious and compelling movies about the lives of quiet desperation led by the underclass of Belgium – often immigrants. In this tradition, this is the story of an attractive Albanian woman who’s gotten Belgian citizenship by a fake marriage to a junkie (Jeremie Renier, agitated star of the Dardenne’s earlier masterpiece, L’enfant), who her gangster handlers intend to murder by an overdose rather than pay him for a divorce so Lorna can marry a Russian in a daisy-chain of acquiring Belgian citizenship. It’s an engaging, involving work, as expected, but not as astonishing as some of their earlier films – though this is a failing of film festival settings. The audience (that includes me) is always asking “Astonish me!”, and if a work just happens to be good, as expected, rather than ground-breaking, something they’ve never seen before, they’re disappointed.

Of Time and the City

A case in point is the beautiful personal essay, Of Time and the City, about his birthplace, Liverpool, by Terence Davies, poetic director of movies that frequently mine the same childhood he’s recalling here. It suits me right down to the ground – I love movies about cities, essay films, nostalgia for the past – but this is very well-trodden ground for Davies, who narrates the film in his plumy, upper-class-sounding, non-Liverpudlian voice. I find myself wishing somebody would give lots of money to Davies to make a bigger fiction film like his terrific The House of Mirth, which (unbelievably) was his most recent film, made in 2000. Way too much time has elapsed.

This is the first movie I’ve seen in yet another of Toronto’s massive shopping malls, located at the corner of Yonge and Dundas. I scale four flights of long escalators in the company of Susan Oxtoby, former Torontonian and current director of Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive, who has also never been here. I sit with her and another Toronto resident who works at the excellent local Cinematheque; I say, because I’ve seen a sign that says AMC 24, that I’m impressed by the number of screens. They scoff and say it only has 9. On exiting, of course, I find it’s called the AMC 24 because it has 24 screens. Oh ye of little faith.

American Swing

I stay in the same complex and watch what I assume will be a guilty pleasure, American Swing, a documentary about the New York sex club Plato’s Retreat. It turns out to be more guilty than pleasure: the cumulative effect of watching people joylessly pursuing sexual sensations, and the short, unhappy life of club owner Larry Levenson, is distinctly anerotic and depressing. All filmgoing is in some sense voyeuristic, but the flashes of humor both intentional (from sardonic observer Buck Henry, who comes off well) and un (from some aging ex-swingers) are too few for this voyeur to achieve satisfaction.

I trundle back up to the main venue for the Festival’s Press and Industry screenings, the Manulife Center at Bloor at Bay – on the Festival’s opening weekend, most public screenings, even of the most obscure, most specialized films, are full and many people wait in Rush lines outside, hoping to be let in at the last minute. I go see Firaaq, also screened at Telluride, the first film by prolific actress Nandita Das, who’s appeared in several films by Toronto director Deepa Mehta. The film, set over a 24-hour period in 2002 during an area of India torn by riots in which 3000 Muslims were killed, explicates the Hindu-Muslim conflict more clearly than any other I’ve seen before: it’s worthy but not as emotionally involving as I’d hoped. More memorable is the fact that I run into a Toronto-based actress and writer in line who I run into every year and she talks about herself for half-an-hour without drawing a breath or asking me anything about myself. It’s a theatrical performance equal to anything in the film.

L’empreinte de l’ange

Within minutes I’m ensconced in L’empreinte de l’ange, attracted by the presence of two gifted French actresses, Sandrine Bonnaire and Catherine Frot. It’s an anxiety-inducing Hitchockian thriller in which the two women do battle over the daughter of Bonnaire, who Frot thinks, after glimpsing her at a party, is the child she lost at infancy in a hospital fire. Your sympathies switch several times over the course of the narrative. The ending is made no more believable by the legend “inspired by a true story.”

Afterwards I induce my friend Anita to take a subway down to the immense Roy Thomson Hall, a theatrical venue where the Festival’s Gala films are screened, after the movie’s directors and stars parade down a red carpet, yielding the photos seen all over the world of a Festival very different from the one I attend. We’ve both enjoyed other movies by the director Anne Fontaine, but not so much this one -- La fille de Monaco, despite the presence of such interesting actors as Fabrice Lucchini, Roschdy Zem, Jeanne Balibar, and, most at sea, Stephane Audran, who appears to be sleepwalking, and not entirely as a character choice. Both Anita and I were charmed by the appearance onstage of the young girl who incarnates the title character – Louise Bourgoin – more so than in the film.

It’s after midnight. Tomorrow will be another day.

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Janine Kahn


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