Tuesday, July 27, 2010

TIFF programming: early favourites

TIFF has finally (!) made its first spate of programming announcements, releasing the Galas line-up and a substantial part of Special Presentations and Masters. Here are my early favorites!

Top seed from this batch:
Susanne Bier's new film, In a Better World (pictured). Although very reminiscent in description of After the Wedding, that actually speaks for it! I'm always drawn to films by this fantastically thoughtful filmmaker.
"The story traces elements from a refugee camp in Africa to the grey humdrum of everyday life in a Danish provincial town. The lives of two Danish families cross each other, and an extraordinary but risky friendship comes into bud. But loneliness, frailty and sorrow lie in wait. Soon, friendship transforms into a dangerous alliance and a breathtaking pursuit in which life is at stake."

One of the most poetic filmmakers to emerge in recent times gives us a poetic spin on an impossible reality. Very excited about Julian Schnabel's Miral:
"From the director of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Before Night Falls and Basquiat, comes Miral, the visceral, first-person diary of a young girl growing up in East Jerusalem as she confronts the effects of occupation and war in every corner of her life. Schnabel pieces together momentary fragments of Miral’s world – how she was formed, who influenced her, all that she experiences in her tumultuous early years – to create a raw, moving, poetic portrait of a woman whose small, personal story is inextricably woven into the bigger history unfolding all around her."

Close followers:
Anything by Alejandra Gonzalez Inarittu will have my attention. I loved Babel and most of what this director has done. Biutiful looks very promsing.
"This is a story of a man in free fall. On the road to redemption, darkness lights his way. Connected with the afterlife, Uxbal is a tragic hero and father of two who's sensing the danger of death. He struggles with a tainted reality and a fate that works against him in order to forgive, for love, and forever. The film stars Javier Bardem."

I remember so well seeing Tran Ahn Hung's gorgeous Scent of the Green Papaya at the festival many years ago - and have been faithful to this filmmaker since. His latest, Norwegian Wood, sounds gorgeous.
"Adapted from Haruki Murakami's bestselling novel. Watanabe, a quiet and serious college student, becomes deeply devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman with whom he shares the tragedy of their best friend’s death. When Naoko suddenly disappears, Midori, an outgoing, vivacious and supremely self-confident girl marches into Watanabe's life. The film stars Kenichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi and Kiko Mizuhara."

Good to see Michael Winterbottom taking on something light for a change, instead of the heady, intense fare he's had of late. Returning to native soil, The Trip promises to be a fun piece and - hey, a character study! What a novelty!
"Follow two good friends in this hilarious road movie as they embark on a tour of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales of Northern England, eating, chatting and driving each other crazy. The film stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon."

The description of Darren Aronofsky's latest, Black Swan, made me laugh out loud: it's hard to imagine Natalie Portman as a psychotic ballet dancer but I won't miss it. Reminiscent of that three-hanky classic from the 80s with Anne Bancroft and Shirley Maclaine, The Turning Point.
"A psychological thriller set in the world of New York City ballet, Black Swan stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a featured dancer who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival at the company. Black Swan takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the duplicitous swan queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect. Black Swan also stars Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder."

Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine has been much bally-hooed already and had my interest a while back:
"Blue Valentine is the story of love found and love lost, told in past and present moments in time. Flooded with romantic memories of their courtship, Dean and Cindy use one night to try and save their failing marriage. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star in this honest portrait of a relationship on the rocks."

Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist may offer another glimpse of the more reflective and mystical style emerging in French cinema.
"From the director of The Triplets Of Belleville comes a film of grace and unique beauty. Working from a never-produced script written by Jacques Tati for his daughter, Chomet tells the story of a magician who was pushed aside by rock and roll, yet finds one young girl who appreciates his magic. The film stars Jean-Claude Donda and Eilidh Rankin."

Although this looks a little frighteningly like a French film version of Damages, I will follow Kristin Scott Thomas into any world any time - and here's hoping that Love Crime will be a more interesting ride than that other awful series.
"Dangerous Liaisons meets Working Girl in this deliciously caustic tale of office politics. Starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier as mentor and ingénue, Love Crime is a remorseless clash of two competing egos."

General Interest (so may drop off the list as the month unfolds):

A new woman Indian filmmaker always catches my interest - as I remember that Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay was one of the very first directors I saw at the film festival in 1988. Anurag Kashyap's The Girl in Yellow Boots, also attempts to capture the complexities of survival in contemporary Mumbai.
"Ruth is searching for her father – a man she hardly knew but cannot forget. Desperation drives her to work without a permit, at a massage parlour, where she gives ‘happy endings’ to unfulfilled men. Torn between several schisms, Mumbai becomes the backdrop for Ruth's quest as she struggles to find her independence and space even as she is sucked deeper into the labyrinthine politics of the city's underbelly."

I don't know Kiran Rao, but this description of Dhobi Ghat caught my attention instinctively. And my instinct has paid off over the years!
"In the teeming metropolis of Mumbai, four people separated by class and language are drawn together in compelling relationships. Shai, an affluent investment banker on a sabbatical, strikes up an unusual friendship with Munna, a young and beautiful laundry boy with ambitions of being a Bollywood actor, and has a brief dalliance with Arun, a gifted painter. As they slip away from familiar moorings and drift closer together, the city finds its way into the crevices of their inner worlds."

Steven Silver's The Bang Bang Club takes a look at an important moment in South African history...
"The Bang Bang Club was the name given to four young photographers, Greg Marinovich, Kevin Carter, Ken Oosterbroek and Joao Silva, whose photographs captured the final bloody days of white rule in South Africa and the final demise of apartheid. The film tells the remarkable and sometimes harrowing story of these young men – and the extraordinary extremes they went to in order to capture their pictures. The film stars Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman, Taylor Kitsch, Neels Van Jaarsveld and Frank Rautenbach."

Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go features two British actresses in much demand but with very different styles and screen presences. I'm curious enough to see how it works:
"Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) spent their childhood at a seemingly idyllic boarding school. When they leave the shelter of the school, the terrible truth of their fate is revealed and they must confront the deep feelings of love, jealousy and betrayal that threaten to pull them apart."

I will likely try to see Casino Jack just because I so enjoy watching Kevin Spacey get in the headspace of a complex villain.
"Based on a true story, Kevin Spacey stars as Jack Abramoff, the former high-powered lobbyist whose bribery schemes and fraudulent dealings with Indian casinos ultimately landed him in prison, and stunned the world. It remains the biggest scandal to hit Washington, D.C. since Watergate. The film also stars Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Rachelle Lefevre and Jon Lovitz."

Emilio Estevez' The Way makes me a little nervous - I'm wondering how he will handle the religious aspect of this - but Martin Sheen's deep faith may assist in a story that otherwise sounds intriguing.
"Martin Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to collect the remains of his adult son, killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking The Camino de Santiago. Driven by his profound sadness and desire to understand his son better, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage. Along the way he learns what it means to be a citizen of the world again and discovers the difference between “The life we live and the life we choose.”

Stephen Frears is such an intelligent filmmaker, if an uneven one. Tamara Drewe sounds like a lot of fun.
"Based on Posy Simmonds’ beloved graphic novel. When Tamara Drewe returns to the village of her youth, life for the locals is thrown upside down. Tamara – once an ugly duckling – has been transformed and is now a minor celebrity. As infatuations, jealousies, love affairs and career ambitions collide among the inhabitants of the neighbouring farmsteads, Tamara sets a contemporary comedy of manners into play."

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