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My TIFF 2008: Brothers, Sisters, Criminals

My TIFF 2008: Brothers, Sisters, Criminals

I’m looking back at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which wrapped this weekend in the Great White North. My first major festival in this new job, it was easily the most exhausting and rewarding festival experience I’ve ever had. Cinetic Media came to the festival with films to represent (Me and Orson Welles, Is There Anybody There?, Gigantic, The Dungeon Masters, Uncertainty, A Film With Me In It, and Goobye Solo), panels to sit on, meetings to take, screenings to attend, and clients to take care of. The weather was crazy: one day it was raining, the next it was beautifully sunny, and it would transition between hot and cold in a moment’s notice. Which is not a big deal, except when you’re running around and trying to be your best (one Hollywood agent remarked the other night, “Seemed like every time I wore a suit, it would start to rain”).

I didn’t take any photos during this festival, only because I could sense a very tangible new perspective when it comes to events like these. It’s all business, most of the time. No real moments to snap pics, especially when I wouldn’t have free time to update this blog. I did steal a few hours during the last week to catch some movies that Cinetic wasn’t representing. Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom was the first big one, and it was a mixed bag. Starring Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo as con artist siblings, the film is an epic and absurd comedy. It’s also a little bit of a misfire.

There are some funny and brisk moments, but the film works better as a caper homage than as a caper classic. It’s enjoyable enough, and will appeal to Wes Anderson fans who felt burned by his last two movies, but it doesn’t get beneath its own surface. If I was a 19-year-old film student again, I’d probably worship this movie. Right now, I find it to be slight yet pleasant. Summit Entertainment will release the film December 19.

Of the very few films I saw during Toronto, the best was Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married. A return to narrative form for the Oscar-winning director, Rachel is a tour de force of emotion and depth. Anne Hathaway plays the troubled sister of the titular character, a recovering addict forced to adapt to a weekend of family events and activities. The film is Cassavetes and a little Altman, looser and freer than Demme’s other fiction filmmaking. It captures a delicate sincerity about the way family members relate to one another, and it shows not tells, some hard truths. Hathaway is terrific, as are her onscreen parents, played by Bill Irwin and Debra Winger. Plus, like many Demme films, music is a major character in this film. The score is predominantly recorded from an array of eclectic on-set performances, and the cast is filled out by real-life music personalities, either Demme veterans (Robyn Hitchcock, Fab 5 Freddy) or Demme newbies (TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe as the groom). Sony Pictures Classics will release the film on October 3.

Speaking of dysfunctional families, another strong title that I saw in Toronto was Jan Troell’s Everlasting Moments. Troell’s latest is the tender and skillfully told story of Maria Larsson (his grandmother-in-law), a woman seeking her own voice while raising a turbulent family at the beginning of the 20th century. She eventually finds solace with a new camera, which allows her to discover inner peace. This Swedish/Danish co-production is an old-fashioned arthouse period drama, and the latest great film by Troell. IFC Films announced its acquisition during TIFF, with a release date TBD. On the more disappointing end of the European arthouse spectrum at TIFF, you’ll find Antti-Jussi Annila’s Sauna. This 16th century ghost story, set on the Finnish/Russian battlefields, is a pale imitation of Solaris and Devil’s Backbone. It takes a promising premise and ends up becoming rather dull.

Far from dull, however, was Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah. An award-winner at Cannes this year, the film had its North American premiere during TIFF. Near the end of the festival, I was able to catch this gritty crime film, and it’s still haunting me. It’s a dark and textured look at Italy’s Neapolitan Camorra, a massive Mafia organization, told through a series of different stories and characters. The chaotic and messy lives of the film’s characters is illustrated by Garrone’s guerilla-style filmmaking. This is not The Godfather or Goodfellas. As one colleague of mine pointed out, this is City of God, Italian style. Thankfully, you will have a chance to see this epic film yourself, as IFC Films has also acquired this one.

Less effective for me, was Kari Skogland’s Fifty Dead Men Walking, which is also based on a true crime book. In this case, it’s the story of a young Irishman (an impressive Jim Sturgess) who is recruited by a British officer (Ben Kingsley) to become a spy within the IRA during the 1980s. It’s a fantastic true story, but Skogland fails to capture enough real-life drama to make it stick. The film never grabs your eye the way it should, and thus, feels like a failed attempt to mirror past IRA dramas like In the Name of the Father or The Crying Game.

However, in a year when the Toronto International Film Festival was as strong as this one, it’s hard for a selection like this to measure up. It’s just further proof that TIFF was full of (too many) great options, and will likely plant some great memories. Even the films that weren’t “excellent,” were still worth our time.

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