Our man in Tronno

Hello there! We’re starting the autumn season in international stylee with dispatches from the film festival frontline. Our mate Martin Carter is at the Toronto International Film Festival, seeing a plethora of juicy new titles out of the sheer goodness of his heart.  No, we’re not envious, not one little bit.

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Here’s his report from the first few days:

Day One So much to see, so little time! I have booked a bunch of tickets for the coming week and hope I have the stamina to get through all eighteen – don’t worry I won’t be reviewing all of them, just making a few reflections on films and events taking place during the festival!

Friday night saw the North American premiere of Elle, Paul Verhoeven’s surprising (but as usual controversial) rape revenge film starring the immaculate Isabelle Huppert. Surprising is how I would term the tone of the film; instead of being a bourgeois Parisian version of I Spit On Your Grave, Verhoeven’s delivers an elegantly cold interrogation of the victim Michelle (Huppert) and how she deals with the assault along with a host of other pressing matters such as her affair with her best friend’s husband, her mother’s impending marriage to a gormless toy boy, deciding on if she should visit her aged mass-murdering father in prison and the prospect of becoming a grandmother; all done with much wit and humour. I know, it sounds as if rape is being trivialised for the purpose of entertainment but it is not – the after effects of Michelle’s rape erupt in shocking moments throughout the film, just as we have been lulled by an amusing scene centring on her domestic travails.

Verhoeven’s lightness of touch in his direction heavens back to his earlier work made in the Netherlands before he was lured to Hollywood. In the interview following the screening he bemoaned how nobody in Hollywood would touch the project both to finance it and appear in it. That has been hollywood’s loss because not only is this an intelligent and extremely provocative piece of cinema but it also provides an opportunity for Huppert to show that she is the best actor currently working in cinema. Here is someone who cannot be pigeonholed into playing a narrow range of roles and who, time and again, plays complex and nuanced characters who are not defined by their age or gender.

Elle is not an easy film and it will split audiences and provoke much heated debate; but isn’t that exactly what art should do?

Day Two Sunday was horror day for me at TIFF. Two films that approached the genre in completely ways; firstly Juan Carlos Medinsa’s The Limehouse Golem is an adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s novel, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem starring Bill Nighy (toning down his recent dottiness ) as a police inspector investigating a series of grisly killings in Victorian London. The film wittily involves not only Dan LenoI its plot but also George Gissing and Karl Marx along with plenty of blood and gore. The production is plush and colourful but lacks the industrial Hades look that David Lynch created for his vision of 1880s London in The Elephant Man; instead Limehouse is stereotypically shown as a collection of mean alleyways and streets with, as  usual,  fog shrouded docks and garish musichalls aplenty. I was counting off the minutes before an opium den might appear…and on cue, so one duly appeared out of the fog.!

On a more cerebral note, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s first film made outside his native Japan, Daguerreotype, is another calm, cold exercise in unease. Shot in France, the film has a Victorian element to it with a photographer (Oliver Gourmet) obsessed with using 19th century photographic techniques of exposing light sensitive plates for up to an hour to create eerie portraits of his daughter in order to recreate images of his dead wife. As with all Kurosawa’s films, the narrative is elusive, and bafflingly so. The line between reality and fantasy is never clear and when this is done in such everyday situations as modern day Parisian suburbia it leaves a constant sense of dread. There is one jump-out-of-your- seat shock moment  and a number of times where the sight of a person just standing in the corner of a room can freeze your blood.

More to come…stay tuned, film clubbers, and thanks, Martin.

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