Feb 22, 2019
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  •   Panorama
    Tales from Toronto

    By Saibal Chatterjee

    The doors of Bell Lightbox, TIFF’s spanking new, permanent year-round home, was formally thrown open to the public with an all-night street party featuring Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan.

    The cultural significance of the birth of this new film centre in Canada wasn’t lost on anybody. TIFF was “homeless” for decades. Now it has a truly marvellous hub that cinema can be proud of.

    Within hours of activities at Bell Lightbox being flagged off, 60-year-old musical legend Bruce Springsteen, the subject of a documentary, Thom Zimny’s The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, arrived in the newly-built structure and gave his fans much to cheer. It was just the sort of warm-up that the hot new edifice needed.

    Word quickly got around that The Boss, after taking the stage for a freewheeling conversation with actor and friend Ed Norton, would be hanging out at the Horseshow Tavern in downtown Toronto. Crowds began to form at the watering hole, chanting “Bruce, Bruce,” as if in a collective trance.

    One girl flew down all the way from Dublin to catch a glimpse of Springsteen. “I love him,” she told a TV channel.

    But the icon got away. Springsteen hopped on to his private jet and flew back to New Jersey.

    However, it seems British director Danny Boyle isn’t going anywhere. His love affair with Toronto, which began in 2008 with Slumdog Millionaire, went a step further this year.

    Boyle’s latest film, 127 Hours, is an excruciating reconstruction of the real-life story of Aron Ralston, an accomplished mountain climber who was trapped in a canyon with his right arm pinned under a huge boulder. The young man eventually broke free by sawing off his arm.

    The film left many breathless. One nauseous member of the audience had to be carried away from the premiere on a stretcher. A few others needed counselling.

    Ralston, played on the screen by James Franco, was at hand to soothe jangling nerves. “The experience in the canyon changed me completely,” he said matter-of-factly.

    For Boyle, 127 Hours is another triumph. It is a 90-minute film packed with humanity and honesty. “It is an action film about a man who cannot move,” the director told the media after the world premiere. What he left unsaid was that only he could have pulled off a film of this nature with as much flair and impact.

    The stars trooped in all through the festival: Colin Firth, Marion Cotillard, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Hillary Swank, Natalie Portman, Winona Ryder, Uma Thurman, Carey Mulligan, Aaron Eckhart, Freida Pinto and the vintage Catherine Deneuve, among many others.

    However, it was cinema that held centre stage. Among the films that made an impression at this year’s TIFF were a slew of elegant screen adaptations of acclaimed literary works, besides a sparkling bunch of new features helmed by actors.

    Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood’s exploration of human reactions to death in Hereafter struck a chord, while Robert Redford’s weaving of The Conspirator around the Abraham Lincoln assassination trial also earned the veteran actor-director much applause.

    Younger American actors, Ben Affleck and David Schwimmer, added to the mix with thrillers. Affleck’s crime drama, The Town, is set in Boston and is about a leader of a gang of bank robbers (the director himself) who falls for the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) after pulling off a heist. Schwimmer’s Trust deals with a couple (Clive Owen, Catherine Keener) coping with the emotional ramifications when their daughter falls prey to an online sexual predator.

    French actor-turned-director Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies, a drama about a group of friends who discover each other better during a vacation, helped him reinforce the fan following that he earned with the critically acclaimed Tell No One.

    Nicole Kidman was in Toronto in the dual role of producer and actor to promote John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole. The film, about a couple grappling with the loss of a son in a car crash, is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire.

    Some of the key players in modern world literature were the toast of town as directors from around the world unveiled screen interpretations of their work.

    The spread was varied. Norwegian Wood, adapted from Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s 1987 novel of the same name by French director of Vietnamese origin Tran Anh Hung, is a long, elegant and visually lush coming of age story.

    A more recent bestseller, Japanese-born British writer Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, receives an impeccably constructed and well-acted cinematic makeover in Mark Romanek’s film of the same name. This unusual drama about people who aren’t ordinary human beings but scientifically generated clones stars Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley.

    Among the more striking films in the Toronto line-up was Feng Xiaogang’s Aftershock, which is reported to be the biggest ever commercial success in the history of Chinese cinema.

    Inspired by a novel authored by Chinese-Canadian writer, the film portrays the tenacity of a family devastated by the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that claimed more than 24,000 lives. Two children are trapped under a concrete slab and the mother can save only one. Aftershock revolves around the choice that she makes in a moment of duress.

    But not all literary films floored Toronto audiences. Rowan Joffe’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic 1938 novel, Brighton Rock, did not quite measure up in a year that British cinema sprang major surprises.

    Which was the TIFF “film of the year”? Darren Aronofsky’s sweeping, twisted, uber-cool Black Swan, in which Natalie Portman plays a talented ballerina who is too full of self-doubt to grab her opportunities, comes pretty close. But the title must go to the gripping 127 Hours.

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