|Cate Blanchett in "Veronica Guerin."|
Toronto, Day 4
Substantial female roles for adult actresses are among the highlights at the Toronto Film Festival, including Cate Blanchett in "Veronica Guerin" and Anne Reid in "The Mother."
By ANDREA GRONVALL
Sunday, September 7
Although women in significant authentic roles might be missing on American
screens most of any given year, terrific actresses in attention-getting
parts were in no short supply at this year's Toronto International Film
Festival. Not only is the Festival the starting line for many Hollywood
leading ladies' march on Oscar; also on view are rareties where older women
are allowed to be sexual, and political dramas empowered by the feminine.
|TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL, DAY 4|
|Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto, Ontario, Sept. 4-13, 2003.|
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A documentary that uses the movies to trace the architectural history of Los Angeles is a highlight among the out-of-the-way offerings at the Toronto Film Festival.
"Veronica Guerin" (Touchstone Pictures) is based on the life of the
courageous Irish journalist who was slain because she wouldn't back off a
story. Cate Blanchett imbues the title character with such intelligence,
charm and tenacity, she makes readily understandable Guerin's ascent from
one-time publicist to front-page investigative reporter. Director Joel
Schumacher is adept at balancing the varied emotional tonalities of the
material, which in other hands could be sensationalized (and indeed was in
2000 Joan Allen starred as a character closely based on Guerin in "When the
Sky Falls," an Irish-U.S. co-production that suffered from split personality.
Was it bio-pic, or police procedural? Allen was fine in the role, but got
only half the screen time Blanchett has in "Veronica Guerin.").
By starting the film with Guerin's roadside assassination on June 26, 1996,
Schumacher and his screenwriters, Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue, show
us immediately just how high were the stakes in the journalist's war on the
drug lords of Dublin. Then the story flashes back two years earlier, with
Guerin's first exposure to the devastating impact drugs had made on the
ground zero of inner-city youth. Given that we now know, if we didn't
already going in, what Guerin's fate was to be, it is through seamless craft
that the film builds escalating suspense along with a clear-eyed yet
sympathetic portrait of a conscientious, thorough, but also proud, willful
and daring professional. Her career progresses in fits and starts; as she
becomes a household name through exposing the drug gangs' inner workings,
she gets hamstrung by Ireland's then highly restrictive libel laws. Quiet
spells of domesticity enjoyed with her family are disrupted by phone threats
and physical violence. Caution is thrown aside as her defiant personality
embraces a crusader's zeal. The real Veronica Guerin's death was horrific
and tragic; the movie is tragedy in the literary sense, as every step of the
way we are shown how valiant actions, small mistakes and base betrayals
determine a sorrowful end.
This is the part that has Oscar written all over it; Cate Blanchett has the
title role, is in almost every scene, and her portrayal is luminous and
heroic. And her beauty is dazzling. On the face of it, a sure thing.
|Anne Reid in "The Mother."|| |
At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, there's "The Mother" (Sony
Pictures Classics), a solid drama leavened with wit, compassion and rueful
humor. Anne Reid plays May, and her title character is anti-heroic,
tentative, and old which by many standards, especially Hollywood's, means
no longer beautiful. What's bold about the film, directed by Roger Michell
from a screenplay by Hanif Kureishi, is its refusal to fall back on the
cliches that beauty is only skin-deep, it's the inner beauty that matters.
The little there is within May that's lovely has been nearly extinguished by
years spent in a desiccated marriage and her failure as a parent. Her
surface might appear soft from the padding of age, but there's flint
May's name provides a clue as to what will happen following a disastrous
trip with her husband to London to visit the kids and grandchildren. When
Toots (Peter Vaughan) dies of a heart attack after too much exertion, May
experiences a late-life spring. Not being able to face an empty house alone
in the suburbs, she decides to move in with her son, the financially
overextended Bobby (Steven Mackintosh). There she becomes aware of the
contracter working on Bobby's home, Darren (Daniel Craig) who happens to be
involved in a rocky affair with May's neurotic daughter Paula (Cathryn
Bradshaw). With her children alienated and wary of the looming burden she
represents, May is increasingly drawn to the open, warm and unpretentious
Darren, some thirty years her junior.
Both director and screenwriter excel at delineating relationships.
Michell's previous box office hits, "Changing Lanes" and "Notting Hill,"
showed he could develop characters adroitly within the confines of genre.
Here, with art-house favorite Kureishi, whose early screenplays for "My
Beautiful Laundrette" and "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" helped establish
Stephen Frears' career, Michell reveals a more lyrical touch with
potentially somber material. His decision to have cinematographer Alwin
Kuchler shoot in available light pulls us closer to May's vacillating
emotions. As she unexpectedly rediscovers the liberating joys of sex, it's
not only the floodgates of passion that swing wide May explores her
abilities as a writer and artist, and faces the consequences as well. In
Kureishi's writing, drama arises from his characters leaving the beaten path
to follow their impulses. Crowned by Anne Reid's indelible performance,
"The Mother" shows it is most often fear, not age, that is the barrier to a
| ||Leonor Silveira in "A Talking Picture."|
Age is certainly no barrier to Portugal's most illustrious director,
94-year-old Manoel de Olivera, whose latest work, "A Talking Picture" ("Um
Filme Falado"), was on the must-see lists of many festival regulars. The
title aptly describes the movie's concept: a history professor (Leonor
Silveira) takes her daughter on an educational cruise around the
Mediterranean enroute to Mumbai, where the husband and father awaits. At
each port of call we get staggeringly beautiful views of one ancient seat of
civilization after another, accompanied by the running commentary of the
professor and the helpful guides they encounter.
At successive stops the
passengers are joined by three celebrated women, played by Catherine
Deneuve, Stefania Sandrelli and Irene Papas. The ship's captain (John
Malkovich) is much taken with the young mother, and invites her and her
child to share his table with the divas. It is at this juncture that the
film drifts a little, as the women embark in their native tongues on long
discourses about the decline of civilizations and languages (especially
Greek). We are told that the English language has now colonized the world,
but the captain the one native English speaker delivers a howler that
nearly upends everything. Try as he might, the highly gifted Malkovich
can't overcome being badly miscast. The ending, although
logical particularly if one interprets the three illustrious women
passengers as the Fates is abrupt. Nonetheless it stands in ironic
counterpoint to the breezy travelogue that preceded, as a stark reminder
that empires are forged in the blood of conquered and conqueror alike.
At the other end of the Mediterranean, Israel has produced the talented
filmmaker Amos Gitai, whose previous films "Kadosh" and "Kippur" have been
well received at Cannes and in this country. Taking a breather from his
earlier serious themes, with "Alila" the director attempts ensemble comedy
with an improvisational feel. The intersecting lives of ten main characters
in a working-class neighborhood unfold through long unbroken takes, creating
a kind of chain: players rotate in and out of scenes like a tag team.
My favorites were Hanna Laslo and Uri Klauzner as a divorced couple held
together by their shared concern for their army deserter son. Their acting
is very naturalistic, and their comic timing is spot on. But many of the
scenes are repetitive and go on longer than a comedy warrants. On the
whole, "Alila" can be best described as Robert Altman goes to Tel Aviv. As
I'm not one of Bob's biggest fans, that's not a compliment.
|Hanna Laslo and Yael Abecassis in "Alila."|| |
Next: Toronto, Days 5 and 6 serve up "The Singing Detective," "Young Adam"
and "Los Angeles Plays Itself."
|| Mayor of the Sunset Strip
Diminutive Rodney Bingenheimer hangs out with a lot of big-time musical icons in "Mayor of the Sunset Strip," a documentary that overrelies on his pixie-ish proximity to fame and his quizzical personality.
|| Memories of Murder
A constantly deceptive detective story in which bad cops who think they're doing good work look for a serial killer in all the wrong places.
|OCTOBER 16, 2003|
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