2001 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
September 12


The mood has inevitably changed at this year's fest. Screenings go on, and the ever-extraordinary volunteers are doing an amazing job of trying to help hapless filmgoers by providing info regarding reschedulings, cancellations, etc.

Not only do a large number of visitors and industry professionals come from New York, but a great deal of the prints do as well. With plane service still down today, a few prints that were to arrive are simply not here.

Many journalists and industry people from New York that I spoke to are looking to take a train from Toronto - it's a shlep, some 12 to 14 hours, but I think it would provide a certain peace of mind after this week.

Screenings have gone on, with some strange events occurring. I went to go to a Yugoslavian film that looked a little bit dark and depressing, and when the lights dimmed, a French relationship movie began. Luckily, it was a good French relationship movie, so all was well.

News trickled in during the day, as yesterday's events were certainly the talk of the town. Some were questioning whether or not the festival should have been cancelled yesterday, others were suggesting that it was vulgar to continue at all. The organizers no doubt have escalated security, but it was pretty invisible and didn't prevent people from getting into screenings.

Small changes, too, in the external elements of the fest - there have been a number of pro-Palestinian/Intifadah protesters handing out leaflets on Bloor Street during the week. They are not there now.

The films go on, most parties are cancelled (the closing gala might even be off), and the sense of celebration of cinema has been dulled. Still, the art is exhibited, and the reviews continue.





Hotel
Directed by: Mike Figgis


Since his success with Leaving Las Vegas, Mike Figgis has been actively trying to expand the borders of cinematic expression.

Pretentious? Sure. But his experiments are certainly interesting to watch.

Shot on DV, Hotel uses multiple "windows" within the frame to tell its story. Dutch angles and night vision shots mix with improv scenes and playful digs at Dogme-style.

Set in a Venice hotel and the piazzas and canals of the city, the story is a tad confused. We are introduced early on to a cult of flesh-eaters, toasting a cameoed John Malkovitch over servings of human. The main storyline involves a group of actors improving a Dogme-like version of The Duchess of Malfi. The off beat characters, crazy brit director, and sycophantic yet conniving producer add up to a colourful mix of personalities.

A highlight of the film's split-screen technique is a flamenco performance - here the device is used to stunning effect. One panel focuses on the dancers feet, another on a wide shot, a third on her gyrating hands, and the forth on her face, her lips, her hips. Combined it makes for a seductive, intimate examination of the dancer's movement, as your eyes shifts between the different angles, all taken in together at once. It is a magical moment in the film.

Sadly, the film does not contain as many of these moments of magic as it should. Its convoluted, highly allegorical story line will put off many. However, it is certainly a fresh and original take on digital cinema, and, for no other reason, it may be appreciated as a film stretching the very form of filmmaking.

Grade: B+



Kissing Jessica Stein
Directed by: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld

The public screening at the Uptown started with an announcement of condolence for the victims of New York and the Pentagon. Not necessarily a nice way to start a sweet, romantic comedy about a flustered New York women as she looks for love in New York.

This film is the flipside of Sex in the City - gone is the sense of sardonic self-loathing and sluttiness, and instead a sweet and loveable film plays out. It's the best kind of chick-flick, fun and intelligent without being pandering.

The hook is that Jessica's a nice Jewish girl who thinks she may be in love with another women. The family interplay is wonderful, with a tight script and warm performances. Everyone is simply fun to watch, and the comedy is played with a sense of sweetness that's never saccharine. This is like a good brit flick (Four Weddings) or perhaps a John Cusack-style indie film. Very fun to watch.

The downer, of course, is that every five minutes ago there would be an establishing shot of the lower Manhattan locale. The audience would "slump" together, losing the sense of fun the film was trying to present. These are shots of New York that act as filler, that establish millieu and are always taken for granted. After yesterday, these shots, and many other things, may never be taken for granted again.

Grade: A



Ma femme et une actrice
Directed by: Yvan Attal

I went to see a bitter Yugoslavian film, but when the credits rolled, I was in the screening of a different movie. The events of yesterday prevented the screening copy arriving, so I got to see a film that I had originally missed the screening of. I was thankful, as the film turned out to be quite fun.

Quirky French films like this can either work really well or be absolutely intolerable. Thankfully, this proves to be a very enjoyable comedy about jealousy. Having lived a year in France, I can attest to the fact that there is a symptom of incredibly beautiful women going out with average looking men. This must cause some sort of collective tension explored by this film - the lead's wife is a famous actress, he's a sports journalist. He must deal with the fact that she makes love on screen for all to see, a like that he's simply not connected with.

The film moves from Paris to London, and the inclusion of Terence Stamp was a wonderful surprise. He is as always fun to watch, and his lecherous advances are downright serpentine.

A good, clever relationship comedy that really works. Glad I saw it.

Grade: A-/B+



Hell House
Directed by: George Ratliff

Often the best films I see at Toronto are the documentaries. From American Movie to IMr. Death, the docs that screen here are almost uniformly excellent. Hell House is no exception.

A fundamentalist church in Texas creates a haunted house each Hallowe'en in order to "scare people toward Christ." The film tracks the audition process, as the neighbouring high-school has its students giddily auditioning for "Abortion girl" or "AIDS patient." The sense of anticipation is palpable, as they wait anxiously for their part to play.

What's remarkable about the film is that it is presented without comment or criticism - the perspective of these people is simply presented. Subtle elements provide appropriate black-comedic fun - when they are asked to draw a satanic pentagram, the organizers instead paint a hexagramatic "star of david."

The tour of the house itself is a surreal mix of cheap gore and religious zeal. It's a penetrating look into life in rural Texas, and a thoroughly enjoyable, disturbing, and darkly-funny film to watch.

Grade: A-



American Astronaut, The
Directed by: Cory McAbee

Wow. A black-and-white, cardboard set, 1930's Buck Rogers-style musical romp. God bless Midnight Madness.

There's not much plot, but the songs are catchy and the acting silly. The scene in the bathroom stall is especially memorable. A ridiculous, very fun film.

Grade: A-