TIFF 2007 Preview: Galas, Contemporary World Cinema
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TIFF 2007 Preview: Galas, Contemporary World Cinema

Our Toronto International Film Festival preview coverage is a little different this year. While last year, our reviews came from our film editor, this year we were lucky enough to have our reviews come from many of our Torontoist writers. Today we have our Gala Presentation and Contemporary World Cinema preview, with reviews of Emotional Arithmetic, Jane Austen Book Club, Sleuth, The Band’s Visit, Breakfast With Scot, The Counterfeiters and Jar City from Christopher Bird, Beth Bohnert, Jonathan Goldsbie, Kevin McBride, Marco Moldes and Johnnie Walker, with Christopher Bird awarding our first 5/5 mark of the festival to The Counterfeiters (pictured above).

Gala Presentations

Emotional Arithmetic
Emotional Arithmetic, TIFF’s closing night Gala, is a highly-polished drama that reveals that legendary Swedish actor Max von Sydow (also at TIFF to present a screening of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring) can plausibly play a Russian Jew. Based on the novel by the late Matt Cohen, the movie depicts the tensions inherent in Melanie’s (Susan Sarandon) preparation of a dinner party for fellow survivors of the Drancy transit camp (the Nazi kind, not the TTC-brainstorming kind) forty years after the War. The gorgeous location photography of Quebec’s Eastern Townships provides a startlingly idyllic setting for this reunion of self-described “second-rate survivors” (because they were never actually transferred to a death camp), but the movie—for all its good intentions—plays out exactly as one would expect and is only rarely revelatory in exploring details of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, if the hybrid classy-dinner-party/Holocaust-revisitation premise sounds appealing to you, you’ll probably love it; once it’s released, this movie will surely run for months at Bayview Village. 3/5
Jane Austen Book Club
2007_09_03_jane.jpgAn indie romantic “dramedy” (which might as well be code for, “hey, remember those hot actresses you liked ten years ago? They didn’t die, they’re just in their forties now!”) that’s mostly kind of predictable, and which pushes its parallels to the Austen novels the characters discuss to occasionally grating extremes. However, the acting is for the most part very good. Most entertaining is Hugh Dancy (whose character’s adoration of science-fiction gives a “guy window” into a movie that’s obviously targeting a female audience), who gets laughs with just about everything he says or does on screen. Elsewhere, Jimmy Smits again shows that he improves any movie in which he appears, Maggie Grace manages (against all expectations) to be a convincing lesbian character without being showy about it, and Emily Blunt’s twitchy, just-so Prudence is captivating. Occasionally the movie starts hammering you over the head with its metaphors, and at least one of the third-act conclusions is somewhat forced, but the performances will get you past that most of the time. An entertaining diversion. 3/5
Sleuth, based on a play previously adapted for the screen in 1972, is a quirky drama well worth seeing. With a screenplay written by Harold Pinter and the direction of Kenneth Branagh, there’s a great deal of talent involved in this film. Andrew Wyke (Michael Caine) is a cocky crime novelist living in a high-tech house in the English countryside. His wife is having an affair with actor Milo Tindle (Jude Law). The story revolves around Milo visiting Wyke to convince him to divorce, and the negotiations which follow. The house in which the film is set is a complex environment of lights, sculpture and sliding doors. Security camera and night vision imagery provide a new perspective to study the characters. At times the close-up camera work and the silent tension between the characters is unsettling. However, the discomfort is offset by witty, rapid-fire exchanges of innuendo and insults. It’s a pleasure to watch the seemingly off-hand interaction between Caine and Law. 4/5

Contemporary World Cinema

The Band’s Visit
At first glance, Helmer Eran Kolirin’s film The Band’s Visit is the story about a small Egyptian band that gets lost in Israel and ends up spending the night in an Israeli settlement. In reality, Kolirin’s film manages to be about so much more: sex, compassion, loneliness, and love. The best word to describe the mood of the film would be “awkward,” Kolirin uses the theme of awkwardness in various situations and conversations throughout the film to highlight and poke fun at the political tension between Israel and its Arab neighbours. This metaphoric use of feeling, which any viewer who has sat through a tense or uncomfortable evening at Sunday dinner with family can identify with, helps to paint a portrait of the complexities of the tense political situation between Egypt and Israel without taking an overtly political stance. The chemistry between leading actors Sasson Gabai and Ronit Elkabetz is amazing, only adding to the film’s understanding of awkwardness, ordinary life and a commentary of the everyday. 4/5
Breakfast with Scot
2007_09_03_breakfast.jpgMost of the press Breakfast With Scot has generated has been about the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs allowed their logo to be used in a movie about a gay couple, one a former hockey player, who wind up adopting a young boy. And while it’s great that our local sports team defied the homophobic conventions of the world of professional sports, the real story here is that the movie, by Canadian director Laurie Lynd, is really good. At its heart, the film, which tells the story of a conservative, semi-closeted professional gay couple having to cope with raising a boy who likes makeup, jewellery and musicals, is a family movie that’s genuinely funny and endearing; it comes across like a slightly less cloying version of About a Boy. Watch for standout performances from Tom Cavanaugh (TV’s Ed) as the macho former Leaf and Noah Bernett, an amazing find as the titular, “Beyond Nelly” Scot. 4/5
The Counterfeiters
Someone once said, “if you want a good action movie, you get an American to make it. If you want a good comedy, you get an Englishman to make it. And if you want a good war movie, you get a German.” The Counterfeiters (Die Falscher) is proof positive of the latter. Documenting the experiences of the Jewish artisans forced to counterfeit Allied currencies for the Germans during World War II (in what would become the largest counterfeiting operation of all time), it by turns incorporates anger, desperation, and black humour into a story that’s involving right from the very beginning. As Sorowitsch, the “king of counterfeiters,” Karl Markovics utterly dominates the screen in a completely absorbing performance—and if Markovics hadn’t been cast, August Diehl’s rebellious printer and Devid Streisow’s weaselly, self-interested SS colonel would steal every scene in which they appeared. It’s a completely gripping movie that never flinches, never compromises and doesn’t bother to lionize the ostensible protagonists of a “true story” plot. Don’t miss this one. 5/5
Jar City
“A typical Icelandic murder: messy and pointless,” comments one officer investigating the apparently senseless murder of a lonely old pensioner. However, grizzled detective Erlendur Sveinsson soon uncovers the man’s sordid past, threading it together with the deaths of two young girls born a generation apart—and linked by a mysterious genetic disease. Based on a popular Icelandic novel series, Jar City‘s gritty, drama follows a trail of lost daughters, mourning fathers, and distant mothers to a tragic, if poetic, end. While the film’s characterization is rather ham-fisted (we know the murder victim is bad because of his kiddie-porn screen-saver and his copy of Lolita), its flaws are offset by the breathtaking cinematography of Iceland’s sublimely fearful landscape. Most fascinating is the film’s presentation of Iceland’s people; the plot turns on the population’s genetic purity, which can be traced back to the time of the Vikings. Jar City portrays Icelanders as an insular people who embrace beauty and filth, closeness and isolation, with equal enthusiasm. 3/5