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Cronenberg, Girard and fellow Canadians populate TIFF

Sometimes there is very little surprise to what’s under the tree (think wrapped up tennis racquets and hockey sticks). When Canada’s premiere film event announces their Canadian film selections it may be somewhat anti-climatic but, like today’s picks, it’s a pleasurable announcement just the same. Another strong year for Canadian content – the likes of Arcand, Cronenberg, Maddin and Girard will be presenting their latest works unspooling in the showcase categories. Among the higher profile picks, there are two noteworthy selections (that will most likely showcase at Venice just prior). David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises and François Girard’s Silk are prime picks for IONCINEMA coverage. Here is a quick run-thru of the titles named today.  

Among the duo of films added to the Gala Presentations we have one French language and one English language. Sadly, if Denys Arcand hasn’t edited his Cannes presented The Days of Darkness (L'Âge des ténèbres), then audiences can expect an uneven finale to his trilogy (The Decline of the American Empire, Les Invasions Barbares). Formerly titled “Age of Ignorance”, in his dreams, Jean-Marc (played by Marc Labreche) is a knight in shining armor, a star of stage and screen and a successful author who has woman fallen at his feet and into his bed. In reality, Jean-Marc is a nobody – civil servant, insignificant husband, failed father, and closet smoker. Will Jean-Marc be able to resist the temptations of his dreamland or will he decide to carve out a life of his own?

 


Toronto will see the David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen combo once again. Eastern Promises will be released on September 14th by Focus Features and will benefit from a film fest profile nudge. Penned by Steve Knight, this follows the mysterious and ruthless Nikolai (Mortensen), who is tied to one of London's most notorious organized crime families. His carefully maintained existence is jarred when he crosses paths with Anna (Watts), an innocent midwife trying to right a wrong, who accidentally uncovers potential evidence against the family. Now Nikolai must put into motion a harrowing chain of murder, deceit, and retribution. 

In the Special Presentations section we have one of my top must sees of the year in Silk. After an almost decade long wait, François Girard (The Red Violin) adapts Alessandro Baricco's novel, this is the story of a married silkworm smuggler, Herve Joncour, in 19th Century France who travels to Japan to collect his clandestine cargo. While there he spots a beautiful European woman, the concubine of a local baron, with whom he becomes obsessed. Without speaking the same language, they communicate through letters until war intervenes. Their unrequited love persists however, and Herve's wife Helene begins to suspect. Picturehouse Films releases this righ after the fest as well on the 14th of Sept.  

A picture worth noting not because of its director (Roger Spottiswoode), but because of its subject matter and lead actor, Shake Hands with the Devil is the story of a Canadian soldier (played by Dupuis)torn between his duty and his conscience. In 1994, The UN dispatched Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire to Rwanda to enforce a difficult peace. The day he orders the UN flag raised, six little girls are massacred in what appears to be the work of the rebels. Chaos ensues. Lieutenant General Dallaire whips his small ill-provisioned force of peacekeepers into the best shape he can. Powerless to prevent the country descending into hell, he is ordered home. He disobeys. He insists on staying and saving as many people as possible. When the Belgian troops pull out, he can only watch as his best-equipped troops leave. Promising journalists a story every day if they stay, Lieutenant General Dallaire attempts to shame the international community into action. In the end, 800 000 were killed but he saves some 30 000 people. 

Guy Maddin (Canada’s David Lynch) will present MY WINNIPEG – a personal portrait of his hometown is a poetic meditation – a docu-fantasia – on Winnipeg's history as well as Maddin's own childhood. Starring his mother, and filmed partly in the house where he grew up, the film will be presented with live narration by Maddin himself. Surreal, hilarious and bizarrely touching, this may be Maddin's most unique piece to date. 

We also get a Clement Virgo (Lie with Me) film in Poor Boy's Game. After nine years in prison for having brutally beaten a young man, Donnie Rose (Rossif Sutherland) is released from jail a changed man, only to find the violent, racist place he came from is no different. At the other end of the city, the black community is bent on revenge. Ossie Paris (Flex Alexander) has been chosen to see that justice is done, challenging Donnie to a showdown in the boxing ring. Particularly bent on revenge, George Carvey (Danny Glover), the father of Donnie's victim, begins to reconsider when he realizes that he and Donnie both want to leave the past behind. 

And finally, there may be some rock star presence for HERE IS WHAT IS. Filmmaker Adam Vollick follows music industry icon Daniel Lanois around the recording studio, unveiling some of the mysteries of the studio as a creative space. From a session in Morocco with U2 and Brian Eno, to Garth Hudson at the piano in Toronto, HERE IS WHAT IS reveals the psychological process behind the making of records.

CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA

ALL HAT Leonard Farlinger
Fresh out of prison, ex-ballplayer Ray Dokes (Luke Kirby) returns home to outwit a corrupt and wealthy thoroughbred owner in his attempts to take over a slew of local farms and build a golf resort. Based on Brad Smith's country noir novel, Leonard Farlinger's second feature film boasts an all star cast, including Rachael Leigh Cook, David Alplay, Lisa Ray, Keith Carradine, Noam Jenkins and Gary Farmer. Featuring a musical score by legendary guitarist Bill Frisell.

AMERICAN VENUS Bruce Sweeney
His first film since 2001's LAST WEDDING, writer/director Bruce Sweeney returns with a film exploring the dynamics of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. Jenna (Jane McGregor) is trying to escape family pressure to become an Olympic athlete. Her mother, Celia (Rebecca De Mornay), is a deeply disturbed woman with addictions to bad relationships and handguns. As she attempts to manipulate Jenna and feed those addictions, Celia grows irrational and begins to spiral out of control.

BREAKFAST WITH SCOT Laurie Lynd
Exploring society's resistance to the acceptance of gay heroes, BREAKFAST WITH SCOT tells of a very straight gay couple – Sam, an ex-Toronto Maple Leaf, and Ed, the team's lawyer – whose lifestyle and relationship are shocked when they become the guardians of a flamboyant 11-year-old named Scot. Reluctant and conflicted about bringing up the boy, their feelings change as the pair are caught off guard by this unique young character who is joyously and unashamedly himself. Endorsed by the National Hockey League™, the film stars Tom Cavanaugh, Ben Shenkman and Noah Bernett.

CONTRE TOUTE ESPÉRANCE Bernard Émond
The second film in a trilogy about the three great virtues: faith, hope and charity, Bernard Émond (LA NEUVAINE) offers a powerful, emotionally devastating look at the disenfranchised. Réjeanne (Guylaine Tremblay), a switchboard operator, loses her job of twenty years. No longer able to afford their comfortable suburban home, Réjeanne and her ill husband Gilles (Guy Jodoin) move back to the city, where Gilles begins to retreat into himself, falling further and further into depression.

NORMAL Carl Bessai
The latest feature from acclaimed Canadian writer/director Carl Bessai (UNNATURAL AND ACCIDENTAL, SEVERED, LOLA) follows the lives of three unrelated characters as they search for closure following the tragic death of a young man. Catherine (Carrie-Anne Moss), the boy's mother, continues to grieve for her son to the detriment of her relationship with the rest of her family. Walt (Callum Keith Rennie) tries to find redemption by caring for his autistic brother, while Jordie (Kevin Zegers), a sensitive teenager who made the wrong choice on the wrong night, can't seem to stop his life from nose-diving out of control.

NOS VIES PRIVÉES Denis Côté
After a lengthy virtual relationship over the Internet, Milena, a Bulgarian immigrant now living in Montreal, and Philip, a flirtatious photographer from Sofia, take the plunge and agree to finally meet. Between periods of cultural clashes and fleshly pleasures in an isolated cottage in Quebec's countryside, the two assess each other and the possibilities for true love. But strange, uncanny events soon disrupt Milena and Philip's quiet intimacy as silence, secrecy and isolation slowly set in.

THE STONE ANGEL Kari Skogland
Based on the legendary novel by Margaret Laurence, THE STONE ANGEL sees heroine Hagar Shipley (Ellen Burstyn) come to terms with the decisions she has made over 90 years of an unconventional life. As she nears the end of her days, Hagar reflects on the life she has led, the men she has loved and lost, and the sons she has estranged. Both Burstyn and Christine Horne shine as Hagar in the film that also stars Dylan Baker, Cole Hauser, Ellen Page, Sheila McCarthy and Kevin Zegers.

WEIRDSVILLE Allan Moyle
The new film from veteran director Allan Moyle (NEW WATERFORD GIRL, EMPIRE RECORDS, PUMP UP THE VOLUME) follows Dexter (Scott Speedman) and Royce (Wes Bentley), two men who get in way over their heads after the overdose of a friend finds them at an abandoned drive-in to dispose of her body. But things get worse when they discover and disrupt a satanic cult performing a sacrificial ritual, run afoul of a psychotic drug dealer, and incur the wrath of an angry mall security guard.

REAL TO REEL

A PROMISE TO THE DEAD: THE EXILE JOURNEY OF ARIEL DORFMAN Peter Raymont
When President Salvador Allende's Chilean government fell, Ariel Dorfman was told that his life was spared because “someone had to live to tell the story.” Based, in part, on Ariel Dorfman's recent best-selling memoir, Heading South, Looking North, filmmaker Peter Raymont (SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL: THE JOURNEY OF ROMÉO DALLAIRE) offers an exploration of exile, memory, longing and democracy, as seen through Dorfman's experiences as cultural advisor to President Allende.

HEAVY METAL IN BAGDHAD Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti
In 2003, just after the U.S. toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, Vice magazine published an article on Acrassicauda, the only heavy metal band in Iraq. In 2006, with the insurgency reaching a fevered pitch, VICE Co-Founder Suroosh Alvi and VBS Producer Eddy Moretti took a trip to Iraq to find them. HEAVY METAL IN BAGDHAD chronicles Alvi and Moretti's search for Acrassicauda, documenting all of the tribulations and harsh revelations they face along the way.

THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION John Zaritsky
Stunningly shot, John Zaritsky's film looks in on a prison in the high desert foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, where hardcore criminals are given 90 days to tame wild mustang horses. Most of the inmates who volunteer for the program have never trained a horse before, or even ridden one. Can a wild creature be rehabilitated, and socialized for safe interaction with humans? Can two wild creatures – prisoner and mustang – help each other to a better life?

CANADA FIRST! TITLES

YOUNG PEOPLE F*CKING Martin Gero, ON
YOUNG PEOPLE F*CKING is a smart and fast-paced comedy which intertwines the stories of five twenty-something prototypical couples over the course of one evening. As the night proceeds, they discover that casual sex is far more complicated than they imagine. The film showcases some of Canada's brightest young talent and stars Diora Baird, Carly Pope, Callum Blue, Sonja Bennett, Kristin Booth, Josh Cooke, Josh Dean and Peter Oldring.

AMAL Richie Mehta, ON
A multi-layered portrait of contemporary India, AMAL, which won Telefilm Canada Pitch This! in 2005, tells the story of a humble auto-rickshaw driver in New Delhi. When he is presented with an unexpected twist of fate, his life turns upside down. Starring Rupinder Nagra, musician Dr. Shiva, Manjit Bumrah and Hans Sachdev. Director Richie Mehta was a Talent Lab participant in 2006. Both Telefilm Canada Pitch This! and Talent Lab are run by TIFFG's Industry Initatives.

LE CÈDRE PENCHÉ Rafaël Ouellet, QC
LE CÈDRE PENCHÉ follows the Provencher sisters after their mother dies. Brigitte (Marie-Neige Chatelain) revists her past while Candide (Viviane Audet) becomes reclusive and is unable to find inspiration for her songs. Though the sisters inhabit different worlds they struggle to communicate with one another and come to terms with their loss.

CONTINENTAL, UN FILM SANS FUSIL Stéphane Lafleur, QC
CONTINENTAL, UN FILM SANS FUSIL, Lafleur's stylish and witty debut, follows four people whose lives unexpectedly intersect due to one man's disappearance in the woods. The man's wife awaits his return; a hotel receptionist dreams of settling down; a compulsive gambler is confronted by the foibles of old age; and a young father goes through a difficult patch with his wife. Starring Gilbert Sicotte, Fanny Mallette, Réal Bossé, Marie Ginette Guay, Pauline Martin, Marie Brassard and Dominique Quesnel.

JUST BURIED Chaz Thorne, BC/NS
JUST BURIED is a dark comedy about greed, sex and death. Oliver (Jay Baruchel) inherits his estranged father's funeral parlour on the verge of bankruptcy. Soon, his uneventful life becomes increasingly complicated when he takes a drunken drive with mortician Roberta (Rose Byrne) and hits a hiker. Also starring Graham Greene and Colin Mochrie.

THEY WAIT Ernie Barbarash, BC
Inspired by true events, the skillful and stylish THEY WAIT tells the terrifying tale of one family's encounter with angry spirits during Ghost Month, a traditional Chinese festival. After living in Shanghai for three years, Sarah (Jamie King) returns to North America with her family for a funeral. Soon after they arrive, her son falls ill and she must save him from the grip of a tormented spirit. Also starring Cheng Pei Pei, Terry Chen, Henry O, Colin Foo, Regay Oey and Michael Biehn.

THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY Ed Gass-Donnelly, ON
THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY, adapted from the director's own play Descent, cataclysmically weaves through five lives that connect when a woman plummets from her balcony in Parkdale. Starring Kristin Booth, Caroline Cave, Noam Jenkins, Stuart Hughes and Aaron Poole. Director Ed Gass-Donnelly was a Talent Lab participant in 2005. Talent Lab is run by TIFFG's Industry Initatives.

WALK ALL OVER ME Robert Cuffley, AB/BC
Starring multiple Golden Globe™ nominee Leelee Sobieski, WALK ALL OVER ME is the story of Alberta (Sobieski), who runs into serious trouble when she takes on her friend's identity as a dominatrix (Tricia Helfer) in order to pay the bills. Alberta's soirée with her first customer is interrupted by a trio of criminals and she soon becomes targeted by one of them who believes that she has their money. Also starring Lothaire Bluteau and Jacob Tierney.

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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