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The Toronto International Film Festival, to be held September 6 to 16, 2012 in Canada's most vibrant and exciting metropolis, has become one of the most important film events on the festival calendar. Showcasing more than 250 films and hosting industryites from around the world, Toronto can "make or break" films looking for international distribution and a chance at Oscar gold. From glitzy red carpet premieres to challenging art films to cutting edge new media, the Festival offers something for every taste.
Parting Glances From TIFF
HEARTBEATS (Xavier Dolan, Canada)
The hard truth is that even if one devotes oneself to seeing as many as 3 or 4 films per day (my usual average), that one is still only seeing less than 10% of the titles on offer at the Toronto International Film Festival, which concluded this past Sunday. Inevitably, there are those gems that one could not get to and the buzzed titles that conflicted with that Icelandic or Slovakian film that you convinced yourself that you cannot live without. Luckily, for those of us who travel the film festival circuit with the devotion of a wandering Gypsy, one can always catch up on films. In this week alone, press screenings begin at the New York Film Festival and American indie sleepers are on display at the IFP Independent Film Week.
But some of the films caught in my last 48 hours in Toronto continue to haunt....and inspire me to share them with you. With an irony that seemed perfectly appropriate, the last film I saw in Toronto harkened to the sister city of Montreal, where I began my two-week film odyssey on September 1. HEARTBEATS is the second film from Quebec enfant terrible Xavier Dolan, whose autobiographical I KILLED MY MOTHER was a film festival hit and the debut of a singular visual stylist.
In this contempo update of the films fancied by another great stylist, French director Eric Rohmer who died this year, Dolan offers us observational cinema at its most intimate, in a story of a romantic triangle between two male and one female friends. The cool quotient in this of-the-moment romantic drama is that one of the males is the object of desire of both his male and female "copain". The fact that Dolan, who contributes the witty and observant script, also plays one of the characters (the lovesick gay boy who is obsessed with the angelic Niels Schneider) gives the film the added frisson of exquisite torture and personal longing. The film, which won the Youth Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, is a poetic and passionate film about romantic obsession and the projections we make on those we are attracted to, HEARTBEATS (which in French is titled LES AMOURS IMAGINAIRES, or "imaginary loves") offers a telling and observant perspective on modern sexuality that deserves a wide audience (look to IFC Films to handle that later this year).
While all filmmakers are the inheritors of the film masters who came before them, it is important that their films register as original artworks too. In WHITE IRISH DRINKERS, veteran television director John Gray wades into "Scorsese/Saturday Night Fever" territory in a story based in the solidly Irish working class enclaves of Brooklyn of the 1970s. The story centers on two brothers, one a petty thief and the other a budding painter, who must rely on one another in the midst of a household dominated by their violent father and their sympathetic but powerless mother. Of course, we've seen this dynamic before, but Gray, who also produced and wrote the passionate script, goes beyond the cliches of the sub-genre to find a strong truth about family bonds and the need to transcend one's origins.
"I had this script in my head for over 10 years", Gray shared with me at an interview in Toronto. "I have been very busy doing features for television but this story continued to haunt me." Drawing on his personal roots in Brooklyn, he has crafted an accurate portrait of working class life and the boundaries to be crossed as Brooklyn undergoes its own transformation from a city of immigrants to someplace approximating its chic image of today. "What I tried to bring to the film are lots of small, intimate moments that inform the characters and give the actors emotionally resonant set piees that reveal this particular time and place", Gray continued. "We also got very lucky in getting a great cast of recognizable names and some impressive debuts that give the film its authenticity and truthfulness."
Gray found choice parts for the likes of Stephen Lang, who finds great depth in the role of the abusive father; Karen Allen, who has some beautiful moments as the mother who holds the family together; and Peter Riegert as a hapless businessman whose craftiness is not revealed until the final reel. The film provides a major showcase for the attractive newcomer Nick Thurston, who provides a very winning and introspective approach to his role as the fledgling artist who needs to find a way out in order to most fully express his inner truth. Also strong is newcomer Geoff Wigdor, who connects with the violent outbursts and deep hurt in his character as the older brother (who must die a martyr's death in the film). The film handles all the melodrama with a sensibility that never capsizes its emotional truth. One only hopes that a distributor of taste will champion this tender and expressive film (film website: www.whiteirishdrinkersthemovie.com)
The script, which has an authentic ear for its milieu, was the attraction for the veteran actors who were attracted by the juicy roles in the film. "No question it was the sharp and inventive script that got me interested in playing this part", actress Karen Allen shared in a candid moment with me in Toronto. "This was a drab character who, let's face it, was not very attractive but who had an inner fire that was expressed in silent moments, and that is always a challenge for an actor", Allen added. A veteran of both big budget Hollywood films and more intimate indies, Allen had been dividing her time between film and live theater projects, including a play she is looking to direct later this year. "When a challenging and non-glamorous part comes along like this, I really made an effort to get it", Allen shared. "You have to keep challenging yourself as an actor otherwise you get pigeonholed so quickly in this business.....this was a beautiful, if difficult, project for me and i am really proud of the film."
WHITE IRISH DRINKERS was just one of a slew of American indies presented at the Festival....many of which were critical misfires. However, the tender mercies of such films as BLUE VALENTINE, TRUST, EASY A, IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, MEEK'S CUTOFF, RABBIT HOLE, GIRLFRIEND and PEEP WORLD keep the indie flame alive and will hopefully make the film festival tour to your city and, hope against hope, find screen time at your local multiplex. To read about these films, visit: www.tiff.net
Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Dailies Editor
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