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Masterclass with David Francey

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A report from the Toronto International Film Festival

by Derek Martin

The CounterfeitersThis year there were 349 films at that great movie buffet, The Toronto International Film Festival. I got my guide, about the size of the PEI phone book, a couple of days before leaving, and drew up a want-to-see list of about 60. I managed 31, less than ten percent of the menu, but still a tasty sampling. Here are some notes on the most interesting titles.

Empties, from the Czech father-son team behind Kolya, is a winning feature about a retired school teacher who finds a second career at a supermarket’s bottle return window, where he plays matchmaker while nursing his own frustrations. Funny and touching, but definitely not sticky-sweet, it has a lot to say about love, lust, marriage, and trying to grow old with some dignity in a rapidly changing world. Growing old also figures in The Savages, from the point of view of a brother and sister who must oversee their estranged father’s entry into a nursing home. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are a treat to watch in this painfully plausible, often funny, and ultimately touching story.

The Counterfeiters is the true story of the WWII concentration camp inmates who were forced to use their skills to counterfeit first British, then American money. Briskly paced, suspenseful and moving, it shows the moral quandary of men desperate to survive but loath to help the Nazis. Another foreign-language title, The Pope’s Toilet is what might have happened had Ken Loach and Roddy Doyle decided to make a movie in Uruguay. Based on true events, it looks a community hoping to get rich when the pope visits. Plans are laid to sell sausages, cakes, and souvenirs, and for Beto, an outdoor toilet the pilgrims can pay to use. It’s an insightful and bittersweet slice of life from a country I knew little about.

From the unpredictable Rolf de Heer, whose Ten Canoes played at the cinema recently, comes Dr. Plonk, a slapstick silent black and white feature. An entertaining, physically rambunctious time travel adventure showcasing some very gifted performers, it’s about a scientist in 1907 who invents a time machine to gather proof of the impending end of the world. Another unexpected delight was Dai-Nipponjin, an hysterically funny, deadpan, documentary-style look at a fifth generation monster-fighter who can‚t live up to the family name. Daisato is a middle-aged loser who swells up to building size to fight ‘baddies,’ but can’t get any respect—or TV ratings.

The comedies Lars and the Real Girl and Juno were two favourites, both with pitch-perfect scripts and performances. Juno is faster-paced and hipper, a Knocked Up for the My Space crowd, while Lars is gentler and twisted in a sweet, small-town way. Another, darker, comedy was Just Buried, from Nova Scotia. It takes a while to find its tone, but has some great moments and fun performances, including PEI’s Martha Irving as a grieving German widow with a yodelling son.

Special mention to La Citadelle assiégée, a documentary about a column of driver ants invading a termite nest. It has all the wonder of a great nature film, and the suspense and action of a war movie.

Finally, I predict a Best Picture nomination for the Coen brothers‚ No Country For Old Men, a faithful adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel that nonetheless echoes much of the Coen’s previous work. Funnier than most of their comedies (when it’s funny), it’s the bloody and brilliant story of the aftermath of a desert drug deal gone wrong. More please.

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