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September 4, 2009

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2009 Preview


The week before the opening of the Toronto International Film Festival is one of the longest of the year for the North American cinephile. Imagine getting an e-mail nine days before Christmas with a list of all the gifts you got--but not being able to open any of them yet. Add to the mix a trickle of early reviews for many of these films now playing at festivals in Venice and Telluride--The Road appears to be getting hammered, Life During Wartime is getting a lot of advance praise--and you can turn normally taciturn, middle-aged adults into giddy school boys marking days off their calendars.

Beginning this Thursday, I will be posting dispatches from North America's largest and most prestigious film festival. A strong festival showing can make or break an independent film--Bella rode the coattails of the People's Choice Award to a wider distribution than it might otherwise have received--or position a studio film as an Oscar favorite. (Last year's People's Choice Award winner was a little film called Slumdog Millionaire).

Here are the three films I'm most looking forward to seeing at this year's festival:

Vision--Margarethe von Trotta
I am apparently not the only one anticipating von Trotta's biography of Hildegard von Bingen. The first screening--at the large Scotiabank theater--sold out quickly in the advance order lottery. Fortunately I cleared my schedule in front of it in case I had to "rush" the film. (The "rush line" is the line for last minute tickets that are sold if there are any no shows; it's sort of like being on call for an airplane flight that is full.) Can't wait for it to come to your local theater? Check out Criterion's DVD of von Trotta's The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum or her 2003 film, Rosenstrasse. Both are available from Netflix.

Air Doll--Hirokazu Kore-eda
The description makes this sound like a Japanese remake of Lars and the Real Girl, and the subject matter may well put off more conservative viewers. Kore-eda has earned the benefit of the doubt from me, however. His Still Walking was one of the gems of last year's festival, and Maborosi is an an emotionally rich story of grief and loss. Not familiar with Kore-eda's work? Try Nobody Knows. This 2005 gem is about four children left to fend for themselves in a Tokyo apartment. It is one of the most accessible of Kore-eda's films.

Bright Star--Jane Campion
Has it really been sixteen years since Campion's The Piano scored Academy Awards for both its actresses (Holly Hunter, Anna Paquin) and its screenplay? Campion has been relatively quiet since In The Cut was panned in 2003. My favorite Campion film is still The Portrait of a Lady, so I'm interested in what she will do with another literary inspiration: a love story between Romantic poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne.

Of course, the joy of a festival this size is that there is almost always a surprise--the film you weren't planning on seeing but caught at the last moment based on buzz you heard in a line or at a restaurant. Last year, for me, that film was Martin Provost's art biopic Seraphine. The year before, strong word of mouth from a first day screening convinced me to do a ticket exchange to see Vincent Paronnaud's animated rendition of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, and it is now one of my favorite films. The year before that, Amir Bar-Lev's incredible documentary My Kid Could Paint That seemed to come out of nowhere to captivate me.

What will this year's joyous discovery be? Check back here beginning September 10th for daily reports. You'll know as soon as I do.

Guest blogger Kenneth R. Morefield, an English prof at Campbell University, is writing about the Toronto International Film Festival for CT Movies.

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Indeed, it is like Christmas. This year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is going to be one of the most prestigious international film festivals in the world. This morning, martiniboys.com released the best premieres. Some good, some, lame. Best TIFF choices are here: http://www.martiniboys.com/Toronto/articles/Top-TIFF-Picks-Volume-1-13231.html

I guess I am going to be the first one here to wonder this...for I am quite curious as to how Mr. Morefield will respond to Lars von Trier's Anti-Christ. Of course if he is not going to watch it, I can totally understand considering we all say "Amen!" to "Jesus first, movies second".

I am interested in your review of Lu Chuan's "City of Life and Death" and particularly the scene where Gao Yuanyuan redeems civilian men from their captors. Thanks!

No particular plans to see Antichrist, which got some very mixed reviews coming out of Cannes. (For a good cross section of the film's detractors and admirers, check out David Hudson's summary of criticism here: http://www.ifc.com/blogs/thedaily/2009/05/cannes-antichrist.php.)

Some people I know and respect admire von Trier's work, but I've seen enough of it (Medea, Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, and Dogville) to know I'm not likely to get much out of or have much interesting to say about Antichrist. I think that's probably more a matter of personal taste on my part than any conscience moral stand, though.