Toronto International Film Festival: Day 2

Categories: Film

Our blogger had some technical trouble at Toronto, but insists on keeping you in the loop though the festival's now long gone. Read Day 1 of Meredith Brody's Toronto International Film Fest dispatches here if you've yet to. And here's her Day 2 report. Day 3 will follow shortly.

18832606.jpgFaubourg 36

Friday, September 5, 2008
Recap by Meredith Brody

Even though I arrived in Toronto having already seen more than 20 of its movies, thanks to Telluride and other screenings, I already feel behind, which is endemic in this setting. Yesterday was a pretty crummy viewing day, all in all, more notable for re-connecting with old friends than the movies. But I dive in again, undaunted.

Today I start, self-indulgently, with a piece of pure kitsch, Faubourg 36, a French movie set in a Paris music hall during WWII by a director, Christophe Barratier, whose previous movie, Les Choristes, I skipped because it seemed like the kind of kitsch I don’t like. Faubourg 36 proves to be, indeed, the kind of kitsch I do like: sentimental, vivid, well-acted (if over the top), in beautiful sets – a fantasy Paris constructed, as it turns out, outside Prague. I enjoy the musical numbers, which are all originals designed to sound like period songs. It’s not a movie that anyone is going to be talking about during Toronto, but I’m happy while I’m watching it.

18791055_w434_h_q80.jpgUn Conte de Noel

The next movie I see is one that people will be talking about, the new drama from Arnaud Desplechin, one of France’s most important directors, Un Conte de Noel. It’s about an extremely dysfunctional family (yes, I know, is there any other kind), who squabble, couple, and uncouple over a fraught Christmas holiday, while contemplating mortality: mother Catherine Deneuve, suffering from cancer, needs a bone marrow transplant from either her errant son, Matthieu Almaric, or a much younger grandson.

I question whether Catherine Deneuve would have ever married the shabby, roly-poly, bug-eyed Jean-Pierre Roussillon, but a French friend reminds me that there’s no greater mystery than the human heart. Anyway, it’s interesting that Deneuve’s actual daughter, Chiara Mastrioanni, is cast as her daughter-in-law, but then she does favor her father Marcello. The dense and engaging Un Conte de Noel will be showing in San Francisco soon: it will open the San Francisco Film Society’s French Cinema Now series on October 8, with Desplechin in person. A couple of his earlier dense and engaging films (Life of the Dead, My Sex Life) will also be shown during the five-day festival.

Afterwards I find myself in Germany during the last days of World War II. A Woman in Berlin is based on the scandalous and best-selling memoirs of a anonymous journalist who survived the extremely trying times when a vanquished Berlin was occupied by the Russian army. There wasn’t much left to pillage, but raping was rampant. Fraternization, corruption, and what feels like true love ensues. I’m especially impressed by the performance of the lead actress, Nina Hoss.

The last film of the day is Hunger, which I missed in Telluride. It’s the first feature film by the British artist Steve McQueen, who won the prestigious Turner Prize in 1999 for his minimalist films and videos. Hunger, about the Irish political prisoner Bobby Sands, who died after a six-week hunger strike in 1981, is more conventional, yet interesting and idiosyncratic. My favorite scene is an extended conversation with a prison priest, which could be lifted out and performed as a one-act play.

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