Tuesday, July 26, 2011

TIFF'11 First programming announcements: highlights and lowlights

Coming online this morning to start preparing for TIFF's first programming press conference, I found two films already pre-announced by Cameron Bailey on Twitter: Luc Besson's The Lady, about Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi starring Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis, and another Michael Winterbottom Hardy adaptation, Trishna which sets the classic Tess of the D'Urbervilles in India and stars Freida Pinto. Besson's film was made largely in secret until recently when images from the film began to emerge. Yeoh seems a wise and interesting choice to play the extraordinary Burmese revolutionary.

It seems to be the year that biopics focus on relationships. Viggo Mortensen and Keira Knightley star in David Cronenberg's
A Dangerous Method which explores the relationship between Freud and Jung that gave birth to psychoanalysis. Madonna weighs in with W.E., her own version of the already much-explored marriage of Wallis Simpson and Edward VII, though this one offers a parallel modern story of a married woman and a Russian security officer. Roland Emmerich's Anonymous hits a raw nerve for me: the film puts forward the Earl of Oxford theory about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. My own father spent his whole life pursuing the dilemma of this authorship (since we all know that the vast opus could not have been penned by that illiterate actor from Stratford) and believed a different WS to be the true literary voice - another Earl, William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby. But I likely won't let that stand in the way of seeing Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave take on the Bard.

I want to be excited about Alexander Payne's The Descendents, but the trailer leaves me cold. I hate when I can hear a bad script already in just that two minute preview. Trailers can be disasters for films because they tend to pull out the emotional line of a movie without any of its surrounding nuance. When the high points hinge on dialogue like "Dad, you just don't get it. Mom was cheating on you," I want to run.

In this vein, there are films bound to be very worth seeing but which I won't likely go for because I'm just not drawn enough to the subject matter, like Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher)'s We Need to Talk About Kevin, starring Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly, about a woman whose son has an inclination toward evil. There is already considerable buzz around Coppola's Twixt, that bridges present and past Woody Allen-style (see Midnight in Paris) about a mystery writer who becomes involved with local ghosts. Almodovar's latest, The Skin I Live In about a plastic surgeon-inventor of skin tissue makes me nauseously cautious in advance, despite the genius of this filmmaker. However, on the guilty pleasures front, I probably will take in Jane Fonda as an aging hippie in Peace, Love and Misunderstanding, despite that awful title and my gut fear that the Bruce Beresford film may be a bit too treacly. Still trying to decide about seeing Lars von Trier's Melancholia. I have been so turned off by his recent work, though I hear this hearkens back to the brilliance of Breaking the Waves. We'll see. I am similarly uncertain about Fernando Meirelles' 360, a thriller starring Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Anthony Hopkins about "sexual relationships that transgress social boundaries", not an entirely new concept. Jonathan Levine's 50/50 is being billed as a 'cancer comedy' but I'm not sure I can have those two things go together at the moment. Jeff Who Lives at Home by newcomer brothers Jay and Mark Duplass could be a breakthrough hit with its average-day come-mystical experience storyline of a man who heads out on an errand for his mother and encounters life-changing events. Finally, I'm sure George Clooney's Ides of March will be another accomplished piece from that actor-director, but I'm so bored with US political election story movies that I will likely pass. I am quite willing to realize later that I was stupid about all of these pre-assumptions, but right now they're firmly in place. Many will be excited about Todd Solondz' latest Dark Horse, and I might get in this one - that will be a scheduling call.

The Real Front-runners.
So what am I excited about? Lots. A few years ago Pawil Pawlikoski released an edgey girl-romance called
My Summer of Love. It was an immediate hit among festival press and industry. This year he's back with The Woman in the Fifth
starring Kristin Scott Thomas about an American writer (Ethan Hawke), who moves to Paris to be closer to his daughter, and befriends Thomas while working as a security guard. (Another security guard - see Madonna's W.E. above.) Nadine Labaki (Caramel) seeks to explore the tensions of the middle east in unusual ways and returns this year with Where Do We Go Now? billed as a dramedy-musical about women in a small Lebanese village who are trying to bridge the gaps between Muslims and Christians. I'm sold on that production shot (above) alone. Tyrannosaur, Paddy Considine's film about a man whose down and out life is revitalized by a woman's Christian convictions features Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman, actors you can count on to draw convincing emotions from scripts. A film by Ann Hui is always worth cheering for, and so I am all up for A Simple Life, about the relationship between a young man and an (elderly) family servant said to be "handled with exquisite affection and grace". Equally worth following is the always enlivening Lasse Hallstrom, whose Salmon Fishing in the Yemen stars Ewen MacGregor as a scientist doing exactly that. I will see anything with Allison Janney in it, and therefore I have already selected Julian Farino's The Oranges which no one knows much about yet, though how can you go wrong with a cast that also includes Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt? I'm drawn to Wang Xiaoshuai's 11 Flowers about a young boy and an outlaw in the cultural revolution, based on Wang's own life. Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene about a woman reassimilating into life with her family after escaping a cult could be either histrionic or subtle and nuanced, but I'm pinning my hopes on the comparisons already made by some to the early Malick. (More on Malick in a coming post on the extraordinary Tree of Life.)

Three films beginning with the letter A all look promising: The Artist, Americano and Albert Nobbs. The Artist by Michel Hazanavicius is that strange rare thing: a silent film. Set in the pre-sound era, it tells the story of a an actor trying to move into 'talkies'. Chaplin's daughter Géraldine Chaplin co-stars with Selma Hayek and Chiara Mastroianni in Mathieu Demy's Americano about a frenchman dealing with his deceased mother's estate in California. Rodrigo Garcia directs Glenn Close as a woman passing as a male butler in 19th century Ireland in Albert Nobbs. I am already moved by the images of Close I've seen from the film.

A Juliette Binoche film always rockets to the top of my list - and so I will see Elles, by Malgoska Szumanowska, a Polish filmmaker looking at female students who turn to prostitution to finance their university studies. Equally high-rated will be Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis)'s new film Chicken With Plums about a man's attempt to replace his violin as the great love of his life. Terence Davies returns with (another) post-WWII drama, The Deep Blue Sea, featuring Rachel Weisz and I love this master's work too much to miss it. Ralph Fiennes is bringing Shakespeare's seldom-done
Coriolanus to film - and I will need to attend if only to hear this fine actor do the famous "Mother, Mother, what have you done!" speech. Cédric Kahn's A Better Life is about "Paris' cutthroat restaurant world", which is a tag-line too good to resist.

More to come!

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