Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Literary Adaptations And Other Films from TIFF. . .

I'm still coming down from the adrenaline rush that was this year's Toronto International Film Festival. I saw a lot of terrific films. Two in particular were adaptations of bestselling books and hopefully they will both get North American distribution because they definitely are worth seeing.

Sarah's Key, based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, stars Kristin Scott Thomas as Julia, an American journalist who starts to investigate the Paris apartment her in-laws have owned ever since August, 1942, just weeks after the French rounded up thousands of Jews into the Vel’ d’Hiv, where they lived in horrific conditions before being sent to the death camps. When Julia finds out that Sarah, one of the children who lived in the apartment, might have survived the Holocaust, she sets out on a quest to find her, uncovering painful secrets and revelations about the past, that cause her to make some tough decisions about her own life. It's a harrowing story and film but extremely well done and the acting was wonderful, especially by Mélusine Mayance, who plays the ten year old Sarah. Being the cynical book rep that I am, whenever I see an adaptation, I immediately think - will this sell the book? This has already been a worldwide success, but yes, if the movie comes out in North America, it will sell a ton of books; while it's fiction, it is certainly based on real events, and the director, Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who came out for a Q & A after the film, said he tried to stay very close to the novel's multiple and complex plotlines.  It was a very powerful film, not a dry eye in the audience afterwards; I loved it.

I also saw the adaptation of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood and boy, were the Murakami fans out in full force for the screening.
One woman had come up by bus from Baltimore, specifically to see this film as the book was one of her favourites. I didn't get the chance to ask her if it lived up to her expectations as I had to dash to another film, but having finished the book just last week, I can say that it's a very faithful adaptation and worth seeing.  Where the film faltered a bit for me was in not showing as much of Midori's quirky sense of humour, so prevalent in the book, and reducing the complexities of Reiko's character by cutting out her backstory.  But what the film was able to do magnificently is highlight the pain and isolation of these characters who are emotionally devastated after the suicide of a close friend, through impressive and imposing landscape shots. The director, Tran Anh Hung, also uses wind, weather and these huge ocean waves to great effect.

The control box at the new TIFF Lightbox.

In addition to The King's Speech, which I already blogged about and was delighted to hear won the People's Choice Award,  here are a few more of my favourite films from this year's TIFF to keep an eye out for.

1. Little White Lies, directed by Guillaume Canet.  It's a French Big Chill, but though this story has been told  many times, this movie was fresh, so, so funny and the whole ensemble cast was terrific. My favourite film of the festival. I laughed so hard, it actually hurt.

2. The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom. Two British comics travel around Yorkshire making fun of pretentious cuisine and doing impersonations of Michael Caine, Woody Allen, Sean Connery and ABBA. Absolutely hilarious.

3. The Way, directed by Emilio EstevezMartin Sheen plays a man whose son dies in a freak accident while hiking the famous Camino de Santiago trail. He decides to finish the long walk in his son's memory and to scatter his ashes along the way. As in any pilgrimage, he meets a cast of odd characters who both help and hinder him.  I was very moved by this movie, being a walker myself and having experienced its spiritual and reflective benefits. Plus, I hope to complete this trail myself one day.

4. Chico and Rita, directed by Fernando Trueba.  A lovely animated story about a decades long affair between a jazz pianist and a singer, set in Havana, New York and Las Vegas. Full of wonderful Cuban jazz music - I'm definitely buying the soundtrack.

5. Beginners, directed by Mike Mills.  This film surprised me because it went in directions I wasn't expecting. It's the story of the relationship between a father played by Christopher Plummer, who at the age of 71 decides to come out of the closet, and his son, played by the always likeable Ewan McGregor. The screenplay is wonderful; witty, original and life-affirming.

6. Dhobi Ghat, directed by Kiran Rao. A beautiful film set in Mumbai involving an artist, a spoiled American photographer, and a laundry boy who also works at night as a rat catcher. But it's also very much an examination of class, aspirations, story-telling and art.

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