TORONTO 2002: Midway at Toronto 2002; Haynes Scores A Hit With "Heaven"
by Stephen Garrett
(indieWIRE/ 09.11.02) -- The din of ticket-ripping and crowd-bustling is still heavy in the air at the halfway mark of the Toronto International Film Festival, and many movies have yet to unspool. But one film so far is the breakout hit: Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven," fresh from the loving arms of the Venice Film Festival. At Sunday's premiere, Julianne Moore was still shaking off jet lag from Italy when word came from the Lido that the film had won two awards, including Best Actress for Moore's riveting performance as a housewife trapped in a loveless marriage.
Toronto's gala screening of Haynes' homage to Douglas Sirk was packed to the nines with well-wishers and giddy moviegoers, while the after-party at Zoom -- which didn't even start until 11 p.m. -- raged happily into the night. And Saturday's press screening of the melodrama launched an overwhelmingly positive industry buzz that hasn't waned yet, despite new films from Curtis Hanson, Lucas Moodysson, Philip Noyce, and Julie Taymor all vying for attention.
The festival's first industry pickup, Miramax's seven-figure acquisition of Daniele Thompson's "Jet Lag," was met with an indifferent shrug by those who attended the overbooked press screening, suggesting that the airport romance with Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno is bland at best. But many acquisition executives showed a rueful respect for IDP's early purchase of rights to Carlos Carrera's "The Crime of Father Amaro," the controversial Mexican religious drama that is minting money at the domestic box office and should receive strong critical support in the States. And "City of God," Fernando Meirelles' exhilarating Brazilian coming-of-age gangster drama due for U.S. release in early 2003, is still generating the kind of excitement that Miramax garnered when it premiered the film back in Cannes.
More mainstream Hollywood offerings have been modestly successful, with a fairly solid response from audiences over Curtis Hanson's Eminem vehicle "8 Mile" and a strong word-of-mouth for Hayao Miyazaki's latest Japanimation hit (and Disney release) "Spirited Away." Noyce's stylish political drama "The Quiet American," with Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser as expatriates in 1950s Vietnam, has also gotten somewhat positive rumblings from the masses. But one truly steamy pile of celluloid from the studios threatens to stain any Hollywood goodwill. Easily the most lurid exercise in cheap trigger-happy suspense is Joel Schumacher's disgraceful "Phone Booth," in which sweaty weasel Colin Farrell squirms through 80 minutes of AT&T hell while being kept frozen at a public phone booth by psychotic sniper Kiefer Sutherland.
Some of the more anticipated dramas have been somewhat disappointing. Julie Taymor's Frida Kahlo biopic "Frida" was a flat, episodic chronicle of the Mexican painter's tortured life despite game performances from Salma Hayek (in the title role) and Alfred Molina (as husband Diego Rivera). Another biopic, "Max," explores the early years of Adolph Hitler (Noah Taylor), when as a struggling former soldier and aspiring artist he won the interest and encouragement of art dealer Max Rothman (John Cusack). A premise like this one in lesser hands could have come off as darkly laughable at best and downright offense at worst. But the film does avoid obvious narrative pitfalls to create a sometimes stilted but still engaging story of a madman torn between art and politics. Much less successful is Moodysson's latest exploration of teen angst, "Lilya 4-Ever," an unexpectedly and almost pointlessly bleak story of a 16-year-old Russian girl abandoned by her parents and forced unwittingly into a life of prostitution.
Of the documentaries screened so far, the most talked-about is "Stevie," Steve James' warts-and-all-investigation of his re-acquaintance with Stevie Fielding, the broken-home kid who the director formerly mentored. James now finds Stevie awaiting trail for child molestation. During the course of its 140 minutes, the filmmaker takes a searing look at Stevie and at himself, questioning his own guilt-provoked motives for getting back in touch with his subject while probing Stevie's world of dysfunctional friends and family.
Just as eye-opening is the 90-minute aviary spectacle "Winged Migration." Jacques Perrin's follow-up to "Microcosmos" is a majestic bird's-eye view of how the world's feathered friends make their semiannual trips across thousands of miles of land and sea. A bit of discreet trimming could make this truly groundbreaking film really take flight.
And as a prelude (and antidote) to the planned day of September 11-oriented films, the festival held a September 9 premiere of Nancy Savoca's "Reno: Rebel without a Pause" the filmed version of the one-woman show in which feminist lesbian comic Reno tackles terrorism and more. "Rebel without a Pause" captures the raw, honest reactions of one of Tribeca's most articulate spokesmen and activists in a way that never panders to the milquetoast, knee-jerk patriotism that has so far encapsulated the vast majority of tributes to the devastation of that day. At just over an hour, "Rebel without a Pause" needs to be longer -- but its brief running time is still enough to remind viewers that balancing keen perceptions with unbridled passion is what really makes cinema come to life.