You just can't make too many generalizations about the 29th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). With over 300 features, shorts and documentaries, there was no shortage of very good, very bad and everything in between on the screens, in media briefings, in the hotel lobbies and at the parties.
MODIGLIANI A beautifully wrought film by Mick Davis in which the passion and self-destructive tendencies of the Italian Jewish artist, Amedeo Modigliani, are presented within the life-affirming gaiety of Paris in 1919. Produced by Philippe Martinez of BauerMartinez Studios, the film focuses on the rivalry between Picasso and Modigliani. Davis adroitly weaves the other stresses and torments of the Modigliani's life, a star-crossed love affair with Jeanne Hebuterne, anti-Semitism, alcoholism, drug addiction and financial insecurity, into a compelling portrait of the artist and his times. Despite the darkest aspects of the artist's life, Davis succeeds in portraying the artistic and creative energy of Paris in the second decade of the last century and his protagonist's ability to channel his conflicts and addictions into some of the most beautiful art from the cubist/post-impressionist period. Andy Garcia as Amedeo Modigliani and Elsa Zylberstein as Jeanne Hebuterne are brilliantly cast. Their valiant efforts to save their child, preserve the artist's legacy and sustain the love they had for one another despite the formidable misfortune and cruelty which conspired to separate them, makes the film an emotionally charged experience from start to finish.
DER NEUNTE TAG (The Ninth Day) Directed by Volker Schloendorff ('The Tin Drum,', 'Palmetto'), the film is based on the true story of a priest from Luxembourg who is released from Dachau concentration camp by the Nazis who hope he can be used as a pawn to convince the Catholic Church to cooperate with Hitler's occupation forces. Superb portrayal of Abbe Henri Kremer by Ulrich Matthes.
KINSEY Bill Condon's feature stars Liam Neeson as the visionary sex researcher Alfred Kinsey who overcame Protestant repression and the myopic morality of his era to earn the sobriquet "most dangerous man in America." Casting is top rate as is the pacing and balance of a bio pic that presents a comprehensive look at the courageous achievements of a remarkable pioneer in the field of human sexual behavior.
THE SEAS INSIDE Alejandro Amenabar's emotionally wrenching, true story about Spanish quadriplegic, Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem). The film is surely one of cinema's most human and humane treatments of the subject of euthanasia. In addition to Ramon's nearly 30-year battle against the authorities who try to prevent him from ending his life, the story focuses on his relationships with a female lawyer who advocates for his right to choose death over life, and a local woman with her own financial and child-rearing problems who tries to convince him that his physically vegetative life is worth living. All this against the backdrop of a family that is strained to the limits as they attempt to provide compassion and round-the-clock care for Ramon. As much as 'The Sea Inside' makes the tenuous nature of physical health painfully evident, it also makes it very clear what the tenacious nature of the human heart and spirit can overcome.
WHISKY ROMEO ZULU Enrique Pineyro is both director and main character (pilot of a shoddily run Argentinean airline) in what is a gripping, inside look at another based-on-reality feature that is bound to have most viewers reconsidering the joys of train travel. Back-story of the romance between Pineyro and a childhood sweetheart disrupts continuity, but other than that, 'Whisky Romeo Zulu' is a fast-paced thriller with convincing performances.
Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION is a magnificent documentary, by Xan Cassavetes (John's daughter), about the founding of the seminal HBO-like 'movies in your living room' channel. 'Star studded' doc featuring almost everyone who either worked for or was familiar with Jerry Harvey, the force behind Z whose paroxysms of ambition and mood swings catapulted the movie channel to success but also led to the murder of his wife and his own suicide in 1988. Before the tragic end of the story, the film documents how Harvey was a champion of lesser-known screen gems by Sam Peckinpah, Henry Jaglom, Michael Cimino, Robert Altman, and Paul Verhoeven, to name just a few. Jaglom aptly said that Z Channel was "like a film festival in your house every night."
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