TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2009 - WRAP
Toronto’s large Australian showcase brings rewards after an Aussie-free
Venice, reports Helen Barlow, with Mao’s Last Dancer runner up in the Audience
Awards, on the eve of its Australian release (October 1, 2009), and two
Australian films – The Loved Ones & Daybreakers - get top votes in Midnight
The Toronto Festival is a huge event. With more films than you could ever hope
to see and too many stars to ever interview, the festival this year was made
even bigger, swollen by the number of films desperately seeking US and
An incredible 17 of the festival titles came from Australia, while the far
smaller Venice program had included no Australian films at all. The Venice
program had however managed to include 16 French films in a year when French
cinema is known to be in the doldrums and Australian movies are thriving.
"became totally engrossing"
Hence it seemed just that when the Toronto People Choice awards were
announced on Saturday, Australian films should figure strongly. While the winner
was the US movie, Precious, based on the novel, Push by Sapphire, directed by
Lee Daniels, Bruce Beresford’s Mao’s Last Dancer was the runner-up jointly with
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs. I had attended the first screening of Mao’s Last
Dancer, when the projector had broken down — and potential buyers had been given
the chance to leave. Up till that point the film had somewhat laboriously
explained the Chinese background of ballet dancer Li Cunxin, who would end up
living in Australia, though once it resumed the story of Li’s ascent to stardom
in the US became totally engrossing.
The Toronto audiences awarded their prizes in the Midnight Madness section to
two Melbourne-shot films: Sean Byrnes’ Australian horror flick, The Loved Ones,
was voted best film, while the runner-up was Daybreakers, an Australia-US
vampire flick by writer/directors Michael and Peter Spierig (The Undead), which
stars Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe. In the documentary section Leanne Pooley’s
The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls was voted best film, while Michael Moore’s
Capitalism: A Love Story, which had locals queuing around the block, was the
Incredibly no Australian film was awarded the platform of having a press
conference. However one was held by the New Zealand-French film, Niki Caro’s The
Vintner’s Luck, which had long been rumoured to be a misfire (when it didn’t
make it to Cannes), as was born out when it screened in Toronto. It did however
have a stellar young cast : French actors Jeremie Renier and Gaspard Ulliel, New
Zealand’s Keisha Castle-Hughes . . . and Vera Farmiga, the American
actress-of-the-moment who stunningly manages to hold her own alongside George
Clooney in Up The Air.
"reunites the real life couple"
Like The Vintner’s Luck, the festival opener, Creation, had been pre-sold to
Icon in Australia. It examines Charles Darwin's rationale behind The Origin of
Species, and was directed by Jon Amiel, a better talker than he is a director.
The film’s major selling point is that it reunites the real life couple of Paul
Bettany and Jennifer Connelly for the first time since they met on A Beautiful
Mind. Yet it was so poorly received in Toronto that an industry insider
speculated that it could go straight to DVD here.
(One surprising piece of news that came from Village Roadshow during my Festival
rounds was that they would send The Hurt Locker to the DVD bins. Thankfully
Kathryn Bigelow’s thrilling film, about bomb disposal experts working under
extreme pressure in Iraq, will now receive a release around awards time as it is
bound to figure strongly.)
As usual Hollywood movies dominated the opening days of this year’s Toronto
event, with girlpower making a strong stand. Drew Barrymore proved she can get
behind a camera with her impressive directing debut, Whip It, where Juno star
Ellen Page plays a teenager who joins a female roller-derby behind her parents’
back. Karyn Kusama’s horror thriller, Jennifer’s Body, written by Diablo Cody
was also well received; Jane Campion’s Bright Star wowed the American and
Canadian critics, while the consensus is that Atom Egoyan, who in the past has
made strong, edgy films with female protagonists (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica)
has lost the plot in recent years, and ultimately fails with Chloe, a remake of
Anne Fontaine’s 2003 film, Nathalie. Chloe stars Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore
as a couple whose marriage is in jeopardy when Moore’s character hires an escort
(Amanda Seyfried from Mamma Mia!) to seduce her hubbie. Chloe was the film
Neeson was making in Toronto at the time of the sudden death of his wife,
Ricky Gervais also had Toronto locals lining up in droves to see The Invention
of Lying, his first feature as director where he gives Jennifer Garner the
chance to be kooky and Rob Lowe a pair of very strange glasses. The comedy
depicting a world where no-one can lie except for Gervais, starts out well
though outstays its welcome once he becomes successful by telling some very big
Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, starring George Clooney as a man who loves his
job of traveling around America firing people, tapped into the zeitgeist of our
financially-strapped times, and was probably the best and most popular film in
Toronto. It should do well here when it releases on January 7. Reitman, the son
of the broadly comedic Ivan, who produced the film, reasserts his talent as a
wry social observer and given the success of his previous efforts, Juno and
Thank You for Smoking, he doesn’t seem to be able to put a foot wrong.
"a pure cinematic treat"
Meeting two of the most imaginative of directors, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and
Terry Gilliam, one after the other, was a pure cinematic treat last Wednesday.
The pair share a certain cinematic sensibility, and it’s because they both came
to film from animation, says Jeunet. The Frenchman described his new film,
Micmacs, as a cross between his previous hits, Amelie and Delicatessen. Indeed
he has Dany Boon from Welcome to the Sticks being distorted by his fish-eyed
lenses in the same manner as Audrey Tautou in Amelie. A talented comedic actor,
Boon hardly says a word for the first twenty minutes of the film and Jeunet
likens him to Charlie Chaplin.
Gilliam said that The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus came together far better than
he expected, when Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law replaced Heath Ledger,
a feat that was made possible by the presence of a magic mirror. He allowed the
actors, all friends of Ledger, to come up with their own characters, and he
notes Farrell had the toughest job as he had to be mean.
Farrell in fact appears in three festival films: Neil Jordan’s Ondine, a kind of
fairy tale, which Jordan likens to The Little Mermaid; but the Irish actor had
his toughest role ever in Danis Tanovic’s Triage, where his war gung-ho
photographer placed himself in one too many compromised situations, and wound up
injured both physically and mentally. Farrell delivers his most mature
performance to date in the latter.
"the lead role she deserves"
Also quietly appealing is Cairo Time, where Patricia Clarkson finally gets
the lead role she deserves after years of being a strong supporting player. The
actress, who has a small role in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and who stars
as Evan Rachel Wood’s mother in Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, admits she has
reached a career height and certainly is at the height of her powers. Cairo
Time, directed by Ruba Nadda and voted best Canadian feature at the Festival,
has been picked up by Transmission for an Australia release.
Partir (To Leave) has been picked up by Rialto for A & NZ. Directed by Catherine
Corsini, the film again attests to the force of Kristin Scott Thomas when acting
in French. In our interview the Paris-based British actress admitted she likes
to work in France where “there is a greater appreciation for actresses, in fact
for women of a certain age”. Her character in the film may be happier than the
woman she played in her recent hit, I’ve Loved You So Long, though she is also
being tortured by her physician husband (Yvan Attal) who blackmails her into
coming back to him after she flees with the man (Sergi Lopez) she loves.
Published September 24, 2009
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Mao's Last Dancer
The Loved Ones
Up in the Air