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cinemadaily | Toronto Critics Take on the Greats: The Coens, Ozon, Egoyan

cinemadaily | Toronto Critics Take on the Greats: The Coens, Ozon, Egoyan

Several huge names brought their films to the Toronto International Film Festival, which has been rolling along since last Thursday. Many of the biggest films, like “Up in the Air,” “Capitalism: A Love Story,” “A Single Man,” and “The Informant!” got their world premieres at Venice or Telluride. In this cinemadaily, we’ll take a look at three films by the most respected directors that got their world premieres at Toronto.

We’ll start with the Coen brothers. Joel and Ethan Coen, coming off their Academy Award-winning adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men” and lackluster “Burn After Reading,” have premiered their new film, “A Serious Man,” at Toronto to much acclaim. The film, set in 1967, follows Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor living in a Jewish neighborhood in a midwestern suburb, as he tries to come to term with his religion while his wife is set to leave him because his derelict brother won’t move out of the couple’s house. Eric Kohn, writing in indieWIRE, says, “as usual, there’s nothing familiar about the Coen brothers except their own quixotic ways. While their latest black comedy suggests a greater element of autobiography, it’s loaded with contorted stylistic flourishes and hilarious moments of baffling existential ruminations.” Monika Bartyzel‘s Cinematical review glows, “It grabs the magic of local flavor and charm we saw in Fargo with a cast widely filled with unknown names (that pack as much of a cinematic punch as any star-studded roster you can think of), to the rapidly escalating drama of Burn After Reading. A Serious Man is cohesive and slick from stem to stern. It’s serious about the craft of storytelling, both in form and function, with a dedication to characterization, pitch-perfect performances, and a cinematic backdrop that is both severely nostalgic and completely immersive.” In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman is more measured, “‘A Serious Man’ isn’t perfect — I’m still grappling with the powerfully offbeat ending — and with its celebrity-free ethnic cast I’m not sure if it’s in the position to do even a quarter of the Coens’ usual box office. But it’s an audaciously funny, original, and resonant movie in which the Coens spring the neat trick of finally showing you a bit of who they are, or at least where they came from.”

Kirk Honeycutt makes his market analysis of the film’s prospects in The Hollywood Reporter. He says, “‘Serious Man’ will do serious business among the Coens’ many admirers but is not likely to expand the membership rolls greatly. In commercial terms, it’s not as gripping as ‘No Country for Old Men,’ nor as knee-slapping hilarious as ‘Fargo’ but rather a quiet sort of movie that finds sly humor in the quotidian lives and mind-sets of a Midwestern Jewish community about 40 years ago. So the movie narrows its audience to adults who take comedy seriously.” In Variety‘s analysis by Todd McCarthy, there is a bit more understanding for the brothers’ art: “‘A Serious Man’ is the kind of picture you get to make after you’ve won an Oscar. A small film about being Jewish in a Midwestern suburb in 1967, this will be seen as a particularly personal project from Joel and Ethan Coen, and their talent for putting their characters through the wringer in peculiarly funny ways flourishes here on their home turf. With scarcely a familiar name in the entire cast, this Focus release will have to fly on the brothers’ names alone, which in this case will mean OK biz in limited playoff in urban areas.” To get yourself ready for the film’s US release, check out the brilliantly edited trailer:

French director François Ozon who has steadily been gaining cred with films like “Swimming Pool” and “Ricky” brought his new film “Le Refuge” to Toronto. Kirk Honeycutt, in a review that praises Ozon, describes the film as such, “Francois Ozon’s latest inquiry into the human predicament, ‘The Refuge,’ is a quiet, contemplative movie that delves into the strange journeys love can take. It’s virtually a two-hander as the only characters who matter are a pregnant recovering junkie and the brother of her late lover, who died in an overdose. Over a summer, in the woman’s refuge by the sea, the two grow to understand, appreciate and possibly even love one another although they are haunted by two others — the dead brother and his unborn child.” indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn is not gun ho about his appreciation of the picture, “It would miss the point to consider ‘Le Refuge’ an anti-climactic movie, but it does thrive on understatement. Ozon deals with weighty ideas about sexuality and isolation visible in his other movies — such as ‘Time Out’ and ‘Swimming Pool’ — but the sum total of the movie’s dramatic concerns amount to more of a meditation than a fully realized narrative. As a window into personal tumult, however, it emerges as a singularly engaging work of art.” Comparing “Le Refuge”‘s prospects to Ozon’s biggest films, “Swimming Pool” and “8 Women,” Screen‘s Mike Goodrich says, “Those films also brought in an older audience which won’t embrace the scenes of drug use and gay love in ‘The Refuge.’ The film had its world premiere in Toronto and next moves to San Sebastian on what will undoubtedly be a healthy festival run.”

In Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s new film, “Chloe,” a remake of a 2003 French film called “Nathalie,” which starred Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Arden, Julianne Moore stars as a gynecologist who suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of having an affair after he misses his own surprise birthday party. She hires an escort, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to do her spywork. In The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Rechtshaffen says of the film’s perfomers, “Moore and Neeson (who had been shooting the film at the time of the death of his wife, Natasha Richardson) beautifully underplay their roles, lending screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson’s (‘Secretary’) dialogue an unexpected, palpable poignancy. But it’s Seyfried — also represented at the festival in ‘Jennifer’s Body’ — who makes a major impression, adeptly navigating the twists and turns of her character’s not-so-apparent motivations.” Allan Hunter, in Screen, pities the film’s distributor in their quest to predict the film’s market. He says, “The combination of sex, lies and a linear narrative could potentially provide Atom Egoyan with his most commercially viable venture in some time. Unfortunately, however, the slow-burning Chloe is neither fish nor fowl.” Least enthusiastic is indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn, who says, “Part film noir, part unintentional B-movie parody, Atom Egoyan’s ‘Chloe’ is a weirdly compelling expansion of the themes permeating the director’s work. Marred by an uneven screenplay, numerous implausibility issues and oddly dry, moody performances, it nevertheless maintains a basic guilty pleasure charm. “

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