Toronto Festival Adds Some Big Titles to Line-Up
by Paul Fischer
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Just when you thought the Toronto Film Festival couldn’t get any bigger, if the latest additions are any indication, this year’s TIFF will be bigger than ever. The Festival today announced its latest additions under Gala Presentations, Special Presentations, Masters and World Cinema. If you’re thinking of attending, the following films may well entice you.
Firstly there’s the world premiere of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Secret Life of Bees.
Based on the bestselling novel The Secret Life of Bees and set in South Carolina in 1964, the film is the moving tale of Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), a 14-year-old girl who is haunted by the memory of her late mother (Hilarie Burton). To escape her lonely life and troubled relationship with her father (Paul Bettany), Lily flees with Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), her caregiver and only friend, to a South Carolina town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by the intelligent and independent Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys), Lily finds solace in their mesmerizing world of beekeeping, honey and the Black Madonna. The Secret Life of Bees will be released by Fox Searchlight later this year.
The Duchess, from director Saul Dibb, will receive its International Premiere.
Long before the concept existed, the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightley), was the original “It Girl”—ravishing, glamorous and adored by an entire country. Determined to be a player in the wider affairs of the world, she helped usher in sweeping changes to England as a leader of the forward-thinking Whig Party. But even as her power and popularity grew, she was haunted by the fact that the only man in England she seemingly could not seduce was her very own husband, the Duke (Ralph Fiennes). Directed by Saul Dibb (Bullet Boy, The Line of Beauty), The Duchess is the story of an extraordinary woman who rose to fame by staying true to her passions in a world of protocol, gossip and social rules—and paid the price. Academy Award nominees Knightley and Fiennes head an international cast that also includes Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell and Charlotte Rampling. Based on the award-winning biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman, the film will be released through Paramount Vantage.
Every Little Step, directed by James Stern and Adam Del Deo.
Every Little Step is a theatrical documentary on the making of Broadway’s greatest hit and current revival of A Chorus Line. The film culls behind-the-scenes footage of the auditions, rehearsals and performances of the 1975 original and the 2006 Broadway revival—revealing how life imitates art, as performers from both productions undergo intense experiences similar to the roles in the show itself. Every Little Step, directed by James Stern and Adam Del Deo, spotlights the similarities and the differences between the two shows separated by a generation, the enduring popularity of A Chorus Line and the creative minds behind one of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history.
Ghost Town, directed by noted screenwriter David Koepp.
Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) is a man whose people skills leave much to be desired. When Pincus dies unexpectedly but is miraculously revived after seven minutes, he wakes up to discover that he now has the annoying ability to see ghosts. Even worse, they all want something from him—particularly Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), who pesters him into breaking up the impending marriage of his widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni). Also starring Billy Campbell, Kristen Wiig and Dana Ivey, with Paramount/DreamWorks releasing in North America post-Toronto.
Religulous, directed by Larry Charles.
This most eagerly awaited documentary follows political humorist and author Bill Maher (Real Time with Bill Maher, Politically Incorrect) as he travels around the globe, interviewing people about God and religion. Known for his astute analytical skills, irreverent wit and commitment to never pulling a punch, Maher brings his characteristic honesty to an unusual spiritual journey. Directed by Larry Charles, Religulous will mark Charles’s first feature project since the critically acclaimed, wildly successful Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Teaser clips of Religulous were presented as a special Mavericks presentation at TIFF 2007, with Maher and Charles in attendance.
Ashes of Time Redux, from Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai.
Wong Kar-wai works his magic in this long-planned “reworking” of his legendary, romantic martial arts film, previously unreleased in North America. Set in ancient China, Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung) is a fallen swordsman who is afraid of love after having his heart broken. But the bounty hunters working for him, like “Blind Swordsman” (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Hung Chi (Jacky Cheung), discover the intangible secret of true love while Ouyang retains his attitude towards his fighters and the precious lessons that they have taught.
Happy-Go-Lucky, directed by the great Mike Leigh.
Leigh’s latest “improvised” work revolves around Poppy (Sally Hawkins), an irrepressibly free-spirited school teacher who brings an infectious laugh and an unsinkable sense of optimism to every situation she encounters as a single woman in London. When Poppy’s commuter bike is stolen, she enthusiastically signs up for driving lessons with Scott (Eddie Marsan), who turns out to be her polar opposite—a fuming, uptight cynic. As the tension of their weekly lessons builds, Poppy’s story takes alternately hilarious and serious turns, becoming a touching, truthful and deeply life-affirming exploration of one of the most mysterious of all human qualities: happiness.
RocknRolla, directed by Guy Ritchie.
RocknRolla from Guy Ritchie, which is being previewed at Comic-Con, tells of aRussian mobster who orchestrates a crooked land deal, in which millions of dollars are up for grabs, and all of London’s criminal underworld wants in on the action. Everyone from a dangerous crime lord to a sexy accountant, a corrupt politician and down-on-their-luck petty thieves conspire, collude and collide with one another in an effort to get rich quick. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie, RocknRolla stars Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Chris Bridges, Jeremy Piven and Idris Elba.
Waltz with Bashir, an Israeli film from director Ari Folman.
One night in a bar, an old friend tells director Ari Folman about a recurring nightmare. The two men conclude that there is a connection to their Israeli Army mission in the Lebanon War in the early 1980s. The film is described as an astonishing and powerful animated feature that journeys into the director’s memory in search of some missing pieces.
Everlasting Moments, from Swedish director Jan Troell.
From Academy Award-nominated Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell (The Emigrants; As White as in Snow) comes a true story from early 20th-century Sweden. In a time of social change and poverty, the young, working-class woman, Maria, wins a camera in a lottery. The camera enables Maria to see the world through new eyes, but it also becomes a threat to her somewhat alcoholic, womanizing husband, as it brings the charming photographer Pedersen into her life.
Tokyo Sonata, from Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
Un Certain Regard Jury Prize winner at Cannes 2008, Tokyo Sonata from filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a portrait of a struggling Japanese family: a father who abruptly loses his job and conceals it from his family; the eldest son, who hardly ever returns home from college; the youngest son, who furtively takes piano lessons without telling his parents; and the mother, who knows, deep down, that her role is to keep the family together but cannot find the will to do so. Somehow, a single, unforeseeable rift has developed within the family, spreading quickly and quietly, and threatening to break them apart.
Contemporary World Cinema
Fear Me Not (d. Kristian Levring, Denmark)
Desperate to change his life, 42-year-old Michael signs up to take part in clinical trials for a new antidepressant. But when the tests are abandoned due to the discovery of serious side effects, Michael decides to continue the experiment on his own. Intoxicated by a new sense of self control, Michael feels an urge to take control of other people’s lives, as well. Slowly, his minor psychological games grow more drastic and frequent, until Michael makes a discovery that forces him to view his actions in a terrifying new light.
El Greco (d. Iannis Smaragdis, Greece/Spain/Hungary)
From acclaimed Greek director Iannis Smaragdis comes the epic tale of an uncompromising artist and fighter for freedom, known to the world as El Greco. In the 16th century, El Greco’s search for liberty and love takes him across Europe. Never backing down from the establishments of his day, he is led on a quest to confront his greatest adversary: the Holy Inquisition. El Greco’s story is one of unusual heroism, betrayal, love and the power of one man to battle barbarity and ignorance.
The Narrows (d. François A. Velle, USA)
Brooklyn-born Mike (Kevin Zegers) lives with his dad, Vinny (Vincent D’Onofrio), a sanitation worker with low-level ties to local mob boss Tony (Titus Welliver). A talented photographer, Mike secretly applies to college, taking a job from Tony in order to pay his tuition. Torn between two worlds that threaten to collide, Mike learns the far-reaching consequences of his personal choices.
Pandora’s Box (d. Yesim Ustaoglu, Turkey/France/Belgium/Germany)
When three fortysomething siblings in Istanbul receive a call that their aging mother has disappeared from her home along the Eastern Black Sea Coast of Turkey, they put aside their problems and set out to find her. As the siblings come together, the tension between them quickly become apparent, and they are forced to reflect upon their own shortcomings and ignorance of each other’s lives.
My Mother, My Bride and I (d. Hans Steinbichler, Germany)
Of course it’s crazy: going to Bucharest to meet prospective wives chosen from a catalogue. But it’s alright with Erwin, who knows little of life and even less of women. Up to now, the only woman in his life has been his mother. Erwin is a mama’s boy, and mama isn’t into sharing. This becomes distressingly clear to Irina, the shy young woman Erwin brings back from the city. While Mother sharpens her claws and Irina transforms from meek to manic, Erwin must decide—in just three weeks—if this truly is his idea of “happily ever after.”
White Night Wedding (d. Baltasar Kormakur, Iceland)
Jon, a middle-aged professor, is about to embark on marriage number two. His bride-to-be? A former student half his age. Not everyone thinks that this “blessed union” is a good idea, among them the parents of his future wife. As the guests flock to the island where the marriage is to be held, the groom begins to get cold feet.
33 Scenes from Life (d. Malgosia Szumowska, Germany/Poland)
Julia is a beloved daughter and wife, and a successful photographer. But the pieces of her happy life begin to fall apart all around her, beginning with the death of the family dog. When Julia’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, her husband, a famous composer, is of no help, spending most of his time abroad, while her father seems to need help even more than she does. Sickness and death from a close perspective are much more absurd, nonsensical and ridiculous than Julia expected.
The Country Teacher (d. Bohdan Sláma, Czech Republic/Germany/France)
When a gifted young teacher takes a job at a grammar school in the country, he quickly forms a strong bond with Marie, a local farm owner. But their friendship is challenged by the arrival of the teacher’s jealous ex-lover from the city, who, upon discovering that the teacher is harboring a secret affection for Marie’s 17-year-old son, plots to expose him.
Delta (d. Kornél Mundruczó, Hungary/Germany)
Having been away since childhood, a young man returns to the wild, isolated landscape of the Danube Delta. Introduced to the sister he never knew he had, he and his newfound sibling build a house on stilts in the middle of the river, far away from everyone else. But when they invite the villagers over to share a meal together, it becomes apparent that the coarse locals do not accept their “unnatural” relationship.
Knitting (d. Yin Lichuan, China)
Daping hates Haili, who strode out of nowhere into her apartment, her life, and her blossoming relationship with Chen Jin. Though Daping tries to be a kind and honest person, Haili bullies her mercilessly. Then Chen Jin disappears, leaving Daping pregnant and alone. Having experienced many hardships in her life, Haili might be just the person to help Daping during these troubled times.
Teza (d. Haile Gerima, Germany/Ethiopia/France)
Upon graduating from a university in Germany, Anberber returns to his native Ethiopia during the war of the 1990s. Hoping to put his newly acquired knowledge to good use and eager to strengthen and rebuild his homeland, which has become impoverished under the military junta, Anberber both inspires hope and faces disillusionment, feeling estranged from his own people.
More exciting news out of Toronto as major announcements were made by TIFF.
Rachel Getting Married (d. Jonathan Demme)
When Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns to the Buchman family home for thewedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), she brings a long history of personal crisis and family conflict along with her. The wedding party’s abundant cast of friends and relations has gathered for an idyllic weekend of feasting, music and love, but Kym—with her black-comic one-liners and knack for bombshell drama—is a catalyst for long-simmering tensions in the family dynamic. Filled with the rich and eclectic characters that have always been a hallmark of Jonathan Demme’s films, Rachel Getting Married paints a strikingly perceptive and sometimes hilarious family portrait. Director Demme, first-time writer Jenny Lumet and the stellar acting ensemble leaven the drama of these difficult but compelling people with wry affection and generosity of spirit. Rachel Getting Married is a Sony Pictures Classics presentation.
The Other Man (d. Richard Eyre)
World Premiere. From the director of Notes on a Scandal comes this adaptation of a short story by Bernhard Schlink. The Other Mantells the story of Peter (Liam Neeson), who discovers that his wife, Lisa (Laura Linney), has been receiving emails and mobile messages from Ralph (Antonio Banderas), a man he never knew existed. His obsession with this unknown rival escalates and, against the advice of his estranged daughter, Abigail (Romola Garai), a hurt and vengeful Peter flies to Milan to seek out the mysterious Ralph, and the truth about his relationship with Lisa.
Appaloosa (d. Ed Harris)
Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger and Jeremy Irons star in the Western Appaloosa, adapted from the Robert B. Parker novel. Set in the Old West territory of New Mexico, Appaloosa revolves around a pair of hired guns (Harris and Mortensen) who come to clean up a dangerous town run by a ruthless, powerful rancher (Irons) and his band of outlaws. While boldly bringing new order to the town, the two fearless lawmen meet a provocative outsider (Zellweger) whose unconventional ways threaten to destroy their decade-old bond. Appaloosa is co-written and directed by Ed Harris.
La Fille de Monaco (d. Anne Fontaine, France)
French director Anne Fontaine’s La Fille de Monaco tells of a brilliant and neurotic attorney (Fabrice Luchini) who goes to Monaco to defend a famous criminal. But instead of focusing on the case, he falls for a beautiful she-devil (Louise Bourgoin), who turns him into a complete wreck. Hopefully, his zealous bodyguard (Roschdy Zem) will step in and put everything back in order… or will he?
I’ve Loved You So Long [Il y a longtemps que je t’aime] (d. Philippe Claudel, France)
Coming off a hugely successful run in France, I’ve Loved You So Long is written and directed by acclaimed novelist/filmmaker Philippe Claudel. I’ve Loved You So Long is a film about the strength of women, and their capacity to shine forth, reconstruct themselves and be reborn. It is also a story about secrets, about confinement, and about the isolation we all share. For 15 years, Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) has had no ties with her family who had rejected her. Although life once violently separated them, her younger sister, Léa (Elsa Zylberstein), takes Juliette into her home, which she shares with her husband, Luc, her father-in-law, and their two daughters. Stay tuned for more announcements.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now, he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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