Friday morning starts with a ride from University of Toronto area, where the hotel is, to the towering and totally unappealing Scotiabank multiplex – a loud, chaotic, ugly pile of a complex with its own food court and video arcade. The theaters (14, including an Imax screen) are fine, but try to find a corner that’s quiet. Oh well… The ride over, however, is typically pleasurable Toronto: cyclists waiting for traffic lights in a single queue on the streets’ network of bike lanes…. People pedaling unhurriedly to work, to the film festival, to the market, polite and civilized!
Polite and civilized are two words you won’t be seeing in any description of Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant, over-the-top psychodrama about a New York ballet dancer (Natalie Portman) and the pain (physical, psychic) she endures as she prepares for her star role in a production of Swan Lake. Intense stuff, and harder to watch than Aronofsky’s last one (also at Toronto), The Wrestler. Portman has an Oscar nomination in store.
Then: It’s Kind of a Funny Story, with Keir Gilchrist as a suicidal Brooklyn teen who checks himself into a mental ward full of colorful characters. It’s kind of funny, and kind of sweet, and definitely a departure for filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar). Talking to in-patient Zach Galifiniakis on Sunday.
Then: Buitiful, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s haunting, harrowing trip through the black market/illegal immigrant underworld of Barcelona, where Javier Bardem plays a street hustler with a conscience, with kids, and with cancer that’s killing him. Talk to Inarritu on Saturday, and he says Toronto audiences respond to movies in the same way that folks get buzzed about rock concerts – the screening becomes an event. Biutiful is an event, certainly – deep stuff about life, death, love, greed, compassion – and Bardem, who won the best actor prize at Cannes, should be in line for an Oscar nod, too. Interviewed him on Saturday in the Neil Young Room (!) of the Hazelton restaurant, One. The place’s slick, pricy vibe is in total contrast to the squalor and poverty exhibited in Biutiful, and Bardem talks about the sense of guilt he experienced as he walked through the barrios of Barcelona, a rich, famous movie star "pretending" to be one of the huddled masses. Guilt, maybe, but also incredible empathy -- his performance is for real.
Apart from the interviews with Inarritu and Bardem, Saturday is kind of a letdown. Guillaume Canet’s followup to his taut French thriller Tell No One starts with a jolt, but from there Little White Lies becomes a somewhat comic examination of friendship and marriage among a group of old friends who share a beach house together every summer. Marion Cotillard is one of 'em, and Tell No One’s Francois Cluzet is another (he plays an uptight hotel manager). It’s compelling, but rambling, and the use of vintage American rock on the soundtrack starts to wear. Then there’s a festival snafu, and the press & industry screening for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours – with James Franco as a mountain climber stuck on a rockface -- gets delayed, and delayed, and delayed for what feels like 127 hours. Will have to go to another screening on Monday. And then Passion Play, Mitch Glazer’s (ahem) fable about a jazz trumpeter (Mickey Rourke) and the “bird girl” (she has wings) he meets at a carnival in the desert. Megan Fox wears the wings, and the audience thinned out and thinned out until it was as emaciated as a Fashion Week runway model as the jazzy, stylized how-did-this-get-made movie meandered towards its corny coda.
Marriied couples and longtime relationships are at the heart of not only Little White Lies, but Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Mike Leigh’s Another Year, too. But the strangest thematic thread to emerge in the films seen so far: the ejection of contents of the stomach through the mouth. I’ve seen four movies in a row now where one of the characters upchucks on camera! These movies are visceral!