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TIFF 13- Dispatch 1: Mid-Life Women in Crisis

by Melissa Silverstein
September 9, 2013 12:00 PM
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Fanny Ardant's new film, "Bright Days Ahead," not only screened at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, but its premise -- an older woman who enters into a passionate affair with a younger man, all the while still in love with her husband -- can be seen as a poignant narrative and visual motif for the state of cinema in the present.
Fanny Ardant's new film, "Bright Days Ahead," not only screened at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, but its premise -- an older woman who enters into a passionate affair with a younger man, all the while still in love with her husband -- can be seen as a poignant narrative and visual motif for the state of cinema in the present.

Ed. Note: There are spoilers for some of the films reviewed.

This is my third Toronto Film Festival and I am starting to understand how to manage it.  It is an endurance test.  You need to go whole hog one day and then back off a little the next in order to make it a whole week.  Also it takes a while to put into words what you are seeing.

I make it my business to see film that are by and about women that I might not get to see in NY.  I also have to focus my film going based on the interviews I have secured, and I am also researching films to screen at the Athena Film Festival.

Four out of the first five films I saw were about women from 40-60 (or approx in that age bracket) who were at a moment of crisis in their lives.  We spend so much time watching men go through their mid-life crisis that it was quite refreshing to see women considering life at a moment of crisis.  All the films were directed by women and are about women.  (The fifth film I saw in this time period was Caroline Link's Exit Marrakech- which was beautiful - but was a coming of age story of a young man.)

I started off with Catherine Breillat's Abuse of Weakness.  Breillat is always a challenge.  Isabelle Huppert stars as Maud, a film director who one morning wakes up and cannot feel one side of her body.  She has had a stroke.  While recovering, she falls under the spell of a awful con artist who she wants to star in her next film. She gets taken to the cleaners by him.   The film was a bit frustrating because here was a woman who seemed totally lucid and was able to work with conviction, yet she continued to give him money.  The film does redeem itself with a magnificent last scene where Maud talks about how she was there making these decisions and giving him the money, yet she was really not there at the same time.  The film -- though fictionalized -- is highly autobiographical and is based on Breillat's own stroke and recovery.  Huppert, even while totally contorted and shaky due to the effect of the stroke, is still one of the most gorgeous women to look at onscreen.

I then headed into a movie I was so excited about, Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a revelatory role.  She plays Eva, a masseuse, whose only child is about to head off to college.  She's a mess and has many boundary issues.  She starts dating James Gandolfini and doesn't tell him that has also started massaging his ex-wife.  Suffice it to say things become messy in your typical Holofcener way.  I am always a fan of Holofcener and she does not disappoint.  She is precise in the women she portrays onscreen.  She knows what she knows, and she knows what she wants to say.  I very much respect that.  She really speaks to me.  This has potential to be her most commercial film.

Fanny Ardant is a 60-year-old newly retired dentist who has no clue what to do with her now free days in Marion Vernoux's Bright Days Ahead.  Her daughters' give her a trial pass to a senior center and instead of throwing pottery, she starts an affair with the computer teacher -- a man over 20 years younger than she is.  Ardant is gorgeous so you can imagine anyone sleeping with her.  The film flips the usual man sleeps with younger woman to feel young cliche.  I never felt that Ardant wanted to feel younger.  She wanted to figure out who she was in a world that has now said she is unimportant.  

Lastly, but not least, was Toni Collette playing a rock critic stuck in a decade long rut in Megan Griffiths Lucky Them.   Her musician boyfriend left her and supposedly killed himself a decade ago, and as of that moment she just seemed to lose her way.  She's been in a series of dead end relationships and she has lost her focus and her job at a rock magazine (one that still printed magazines) was in jeopardy.  Her boss played by Oliver Platt assigns her to do an anniversary story on her lost boyfriend and she winds up searching for the truth behind his disappearance when he is supposedly spotted doing  a gig in a small club.  The big reveal -- which was jarring -- is that she does find him which is incredibly moving. That scene where Collette sees him after 10 years of not knowing what happened is one of those moments that reminds us why we all love Toni Collette.

The beauty of a festival that is as big as this, is that you can find stories about women and women directed films.  It's a place where a film not in English sits so easily next to the English language ones. It's where you can see the universal experiences of women transcend place and language. It's where you don't have to be 20 to be sexy.  It's where you can be still struggling to find yourself at 40. 

These are the types of films that remind me why I love movies so damn much.

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  • commenter | September 13, 2013 11:37 AMReply

    That's a definite no-no, to include a huge spoiler like that, especially when everyone's been speculating all year long what role JD could possibly have played when he was up there in WA earlier this year, involved in the filming. And the writer needs some basic English courses too, since the sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation are poor, to say the least. Ever heard of commas?

  • firewriternow | September 12, 2013 6:12 PMReply

    It's worse than the other commenters think: Almost every legitimate reviewer has left out the name of the actor in the surprise cameo. Seriously, a little "spoiler" tag in tiny print at the top is not enough. That paragraph should be removed.

  • Maggy Cutler | September 10, 2013 10:03 AMReply

    WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?! You just ruined "Lucky Them" for me and anyone else who was curious about the film, but didn't want to know the big surprise! Thanks so much! In your egotistically crafted report of what you've learned in Toronto, film fans like me, have just had the movie's big surprise SPOILED! Shame on you! You need to include the word "spoilers" at the beginning, so that we could have decided on our own if we wanted to read this now or book mark it for late. FYI, this is the last time I read any of your work, I can't trust you.

  • thatsunprofessional | September 9, 2013 6:29 PMReply

    Why in the world would you spoil so much of "Lucky Them"? A movie review (especially for a film that hasn't been released) should never include "The big reveal is..."
    At least put a bolded spoiler tag before the paragraph.

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