New Views at the Toronto International Film Festival

By Resch, Aurelie | Queen's Quarterly, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

New Views at the Toronto International Film Festival


Resch, Aurelie, Queen's Quarterly


The celebrities and cinema lovers crowding the streets of Toronto confirm that the city's stifling season in the shadow of SARS is finally over. And taking in so many new cinematic works over the course of the Toronto International Film Festival can be at once exhilarating and overwhelming. There are offerings in this year's Toronto festival to seduce and astonish cinema lovers, but a few particular gems really showcase the actors" art and the directors' original creativity.

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OF the very best productions, Denys Arcand's Les Invasions Barbaras heads the list. Seventeen years after Le Declin de l'Empire Americain, the director has reunited his cast for a profound and poetic film about tenderness and friendship, the flavours of life and the fear of death. A man is dying of cancer. His son, who never got along with his father, is convinced by his mother to bring together all the ingredients needed to brighten the father's final days. Around this seemingly simple subject, Arcand has woven a graceful tour de force. The sober setting, stripped of music and unnecessary technical flourishes, allows Arcand to focus on the characters, on their interactions and states of mind. It's a gripping portrait of human pathos.

Remy (Remy Girard), lying ill, takes stock of his life in the face of the news that he will soon die. His son Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau) returns from London to see him and attempts a reconciliation with the father from whom he has long felt alienated. In the attempt, he gathers his father's mistresses and best friends, and shares his father's dying days with them. In the process, he discovers a whole new man in his parent--sensitive, militant and fragile, for whom he comes to feel a deep tenderness. As the disease progresses through Remy's pain-racked body, a new awareness of the beauty and absurdity of life makes its mark on the little group. This is a time for recollection, but also a time to air unspoken questions and suppressed frustrations. For Remy, who has loved life so much, there is still so much left to see and do. Video footage of his daughter, who is in the middle of a round-the-world sailing trip, is transmitted to him via satellite onto his son's mobile, and it allows him to savour his greatest achievement: to have passed his courage and passion on to his children. Though their personal and professional interests are vastly different from his own, they display the same lust for life.

It would have been easy for Arcand and his cast to spill over into facile complacency, but nothing of the kind rears its head to spoil this lovely film. Ever restrained, the story and emotions hover between prudishness and bluster as the characters, all passionate people, are confronted with an inescapable reality. Each of the actors plays his or her part with touching finesse and spontaneity, as though they were playing themselves. The camera's presence is dissolved, and the images radiate a human sincerity rarely found in contemporary cinema. With its complex and endearing characters and biting irony in every scene, the film manages to capture the audience and play with the viewers' emotions all through the film, ultimately offering them a slice of life on which to reflect.

IT IS A MATTER of public record that Lars von Trier never tires of exploring different cinematic opportunities for storytelling, which makes him a brilliant and unique craftsman. Some notable illustrations are the tableaux in Breaking the Waves and the musical drama Dancer in the Dark. Once again, von Trier's genius grips and surprises. On an extremely pared down set--drawn in chalk on a theatre stage--the director presents a tiny town on the verge of experiencing an incredible adventure as a hunted and vulnerable female stranger seeks refuge among Dogville's peaceful citizens. The tone is set from the start: conventions of acting, of space and of time are all borrowed from the theatre. The tale is told in nine scenes and never releases any of the characters present on the stage, since there is nowhere for them to hide. …

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