2006 TIFF Update #1: "Seein' in the Rain"

Commentary by James Berardinelli
Thursday, September 7, 2006

Recent years have led visitors to Toronto during the first full week of September to expect two things: warm weather and sunny skies. Over the course of the last two festivals (2004, 2005), nary a drop of rain has fallen. Temperatures last year topped 90 degrees (Fahrenheit) on two occasions, and there wasn't day when the high was below 80. This year, film-goers won't be so lucky. Rain and cold weather will be the watchwords. One might think this wouldn't be a big deal, since all of the movies are held indoors, but most of the lines to get into the movies are under the open sky. If you're planning to come, here's the obvious advice: bring an umbrella.

An overview of the 2006 festival prompts one to consider that this year's line-up is stronger than last year's. Or maybe it's just that there are fewer conflicts on the press schedule. Whatever the case, my pre-planned schedule looks solid although, as always, titles are subject to last-minute juggling based on that nebulous thing called "festival buzz." Here, however, are some of the movies you're likely to be reading about over the course of the next ten days, assuming nothing untoward occurs to interrupt the festival. (I'm always a little nervous on 9/11, and it always happens during the festival.)

The three films I am most looking forward to this year are The Fountain, Time, and For Your Consideration. The fact that The Fountain received a rude reception in Venice is not a dissuading point. European festival audience reactions can often be perplexing, and The Fountain remains one of the most intruging titles on this year's roster. Time is from South Korean director Kim Ki-duk. I am a great admirer of his recent work (including Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring and 3-Iron), so I have high expectations for this one. For Your Consideration allows Christopher Guest to turn his mockumentary talents to the motion picture industry - one could hardly ask for a better premise.

A lot of the September/October/November big releases are showing in Toronto, as is often the case. Some are World Premieres, some are North American Premieres (having shown at Cannes, Venice, or both), and some are getting their second North American screening (having shown last weekend at Telluride). There's Almodovar's Volver, which is said to be a return to form for the Spanish director. Babel allows director Alejandro González Iñárritu to once again intertwine stories to a potent effect. Stranger then Fiction features the unlikely pairing of Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell in a comedy about a writer whose "fictional" character isn't quite so fictional. The Last Kiss is directed by Tony Goldwyn, written by Paul Haggis, and stars Zach Braff as a commitment-phobic man who comes face-to-face with fatherhood and the end of life as he knows it. A Good Year is Ridley Scott's latest, re-teaming him with Russell Crowe, although there's not a gladiator in sight. Little Children is Todd Field's follow-up to In the Bedroom, starring Jennifer Connelly and Kate Winslet. Infamous is the unintentional re-make of last year's Capote - time will tell whether this one is sufficiently different to make it worth the effort. All the King's Men is Steven Zaillian's remake of the Robert Penn Warren novel. Then there's Bobby, Emilio Estevez's mega-star-studded re-telling of what happened on June 4, 1968 to the man who might have followed his brother to the White House if he didn't meet the same fate.

Film festivals are places to catch movies that are no less intriguing than the high-profile titles, but a little more off the beaten path. When Shortbus reaches the United States, who knows how it will look? The unexpurgated version features helpings of hard-core sex that will force it to be released unrated, if at all. Pan's Labyrinth has some of the best word-of-mouth of anything showing in Toronto. Everyone who has seen it is impressed, and I mean everyone. A Few Days in September is a thriller set in the espionage world during the days leading up to 9/11/01. This treads into sensitive territory, so it will be interesting to see how it is explored. D.O.A.P (Death of a President) has generated controversy unseen because of its fictional depiction of George W. Bush's assassination. It is unlikely to receive a U.S. theatrical distribution, so this may be my only chance to see it.

There are other potentially interesting titles as well. Candy comes from Australia and features Heath Ledger (who has art house cred after Brokeback Mountain). Un Crime is a French film featuring the bizarre pairing of Emmanuelle Beart and Harvey Keitel. The Pleasure of Your Company is a twisted romantic comedy with Jason Biggs and Isla Fisher. Rescue Dawn is the latest from Werner Herzog, a Vietnam War story starring Christian Bale (sans Batman suit). Breaking and Entering is Anthony Minghella's most recent. 10 Items or Less follows Morgan Freeman (playing himself) as he tries to get home while being accompanied by Paz Vega. And Severance is a horror film about corporate downsizing.

Judging by past festivals, some of these films will be wonderful affirmations of the pleasures of spending so many hours in the dark, while others will be unspeakable abominations. Most will be somewhere in between. Now enjoy the daily blow-by-blow accounts of an extended week in darkened auditoriums with hundreds of other overcaffeinated patrons, many of whom will likely be soaked through if the weatherman turns out to be correct.

© 2006 James Berardinelli

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