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TIFF Diary: Beginners is Charming Trifle, Attenberg, Incendies, The Trip, Sayles' Amigo

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 14, 2010 at 10:53AM

Meredith Brody can't see every movie at TIFF. But damn it, she's going to try.
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Thompson on Hollywood

Meredith Brody can't see every movie at TIFF. But damn it, she's going to try.

Another rookie film festival mistake, which took me all day to figure out why I did it: I arrived at the subway station at 8:20 a.m., intending to go see The Big Picture, aka L’homme qui voulait vivre sa vie, starring Romain Duris and directed b Eric Lartigau, at 9 a.m., downtown. It took five trains passing me by without stopping and the kindly information of a fellow passenger for me to learn that the Toronto subway starts at 9 a.m. on Sundays.

As you know, I’m not totally averse to entering a movie late or leaving early during a festival (I do both later today, as it happens), but I don’t want to start the day out that way. Plus I have four more chances to see The Big Picture -- one press screening and three public, it seems.

So I slip into the film that seems to have been chosen for me by both the subway gods and the movie gods: Beginners, a well-acted, mildly sweet romantic comedy starring Ewan McGregor as a graphic artist with some fear of commitment, Christopher Plummer as his father who comes out as gay at the age of 75 after the death of his wife, Goran Visnijc as Plummer’s new younger lover, and Mélanie Laurent as the young actress who changes McGregor’s life. And Cosmo as Plummer’s Jack Russell terrier, who gets subtitled thoughts of his own. There are other graphic illustrations inserted from time to time that happily come off as clever rather than cutesy. A charming trifle.

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Thompson on Hollywood

Afterwards I saw half of Attenberg, a Greek film that honestly was not on my radar (or any of my multiple lists) until it took the female acting prize for Ariane Labed at Venice. Not much happened in the 45 minutes I saw, and Labed’s presence was naturalistic but a trifle opaque – whatever won her the prize wasn’t immediately apparent. (I did love several scenes of her doing repetitive little dance steps with her best friend as they walked up and down a little stretch of rather cheerless pavement, the closest thing to a musical comedy dance number I’ve seen in Toronto so far. How I yearn for a real movie musical.) I could almost hear Natalie Black Swan Portman hissing “I spent a year getting up on pointe for what, exactly?”

I left Attenberg halfway through, even though it’s the kind of movie in which nothing much happens that I like a lot (if the rhythms are right, and in Attenberg they are) in order to see all of Incendies, which was one of the big hits at Telluride. A political film about the Lebanese 1970s civil war and its atrocities that’s also a satisfying, rather old-fashioned mystery, in which the mother of twins leaves a will requiring the young woman and man to locate their father, who they thought was dead, and a brother they never knew existed. Horrendous secrets of murder, rape, and torture are revealed, as well as the banality of evil: monsters move on to become ordinary people.

I segued from Incendies to its tonal opposite: The Trip, from the prolific Michael Winterbottom, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as, well, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, two English comic actors undertaking a road trip through the Lake District, visiting Wordsworth and Coleridge haunts and, not at all incidentally from my madly lustful, food-crazed state (I’ve eaten incredibly badly in Toronto so far), dining in extraordinary restaurants. They keep up an unending stream of repetitive banter, falling back on competitive impressions of Sean Connery as James Bond, Michael Caine, Hugh Grant, and Woody Allen – even Michael Sheen.

I entered The Trip twenty minutes on, but didn’t feel like I missed a thing. Especially when I ran into Jonathan Marlow after the screening and he told me it was a cut-down version of a six-part TV series that’s currently airing on the BBC. So maybe there’s more pleasure and pain to be had eventually, watching cockles and winkles floating in their mingled juices, pork belly with a fat shrimp alongside, duckfat lollipops (really!), veal with foie gras, and cod with spicy cauliflower and truffle ravioli (even a lovely English fried breakfast, complete with black pudding) being served up to two amusing Brits.

The reason I went to the 7 p.m. screening of John Sayles’ Amigo was that it was there. And the only option available in that complex at that time, unless you felt like buying a ticket for Resident Evil: Afterlife (which I think might be #4 in the series. And it took the top spot on the weekend’s box-office, tra la! “The only movie to show any real signs of life,” says EW. I think I will continue to look forward to the four-and-a-half-hour Raul Ruiz movie).

“I don’t even really like John Sayles’ movies any more,” I said to the friends I ran into in line. But the flesh is weak. I liked seeing Garret Dillahunt and DJ Qualls, and, briefly Chris Cooper, but the body rebelled. I fell asleep twenty minutes in and woke up an hour later, when my friend Lucy said she was leaving. I accompanied her down the long escalator, as she told me, indignantly, all the mistakes the screenplay had made, in religious observances, historically, and in nomenclature – I had just thought it was boring. We stopped in at the large chain bookstore next door, Chapters, which was a big mistake because, tucked in among the chocolates and tschotchkes bookstores have to sell today to make ends meet, there were all too many actual books that I wanted – luckily the higher price charged in Canada prevented me from going crazy. I could wait a week and buy them back in the States. And who has time to read, anyway?

Except when I returned home I found the Sunday New York Times, with its enticing guide to the new fall season, and fell to reading. The full-page ad for the New York Film Festival led to another game of compare-and-contrast with Toronto’s schedule. Too many movies. Too little time.



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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.