The following assessments of major films at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival, rated on a system of 0 to 4 stars, are by Rick Groen (R.G.), Liam Lacey (L.L.), Ray Conlogue (R.C.), James Adams (J.A.) and Mark Peranson (M.P.)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey)
Not the prize winner, but probably the most interesting film from this year's Cannes Film Festival, a study in alienation both subtle and biting. The film, which has a leisurely pace and is often silent, is about a photographer, Mahmut, who lives in Istanbul. One day a man from Mahmut's rural village comes to visit him, hoping to stay long enough to get a job on the ships. While the days pass, the visitor, unable to get work, continues living in the house, as Mahmut sinks into a depression at the news that his ex-wife will soon be moving to Canada with her new husband. One warning: The movie may prove daunting to those who enjoy action: The major crisis of Distance is the point at which a mouse gets stuck to some glued paper especially for that purpose, and neither man knows quite how to kill it. L.L.
(Thurs., Sept. 4, 9 p.m. Varsity 8; Fri. Sept. 12, 3:15 p.m.
Dying at Grace
Allan King (Canada)
Harking back to Allan King's milestone sixties' documentaries, Warrendale and A Married Couple, Dying at Grace looks unblinkingly at the ultimate fact of life. Five people bravely agreed to let King film them die in a palliative care unit at a Toronto hospital. After a brief title sequence introducing the story, there is no voice-over, no text. The only indication of time passing is the nurse's nightly reports into a tape recorder and the film moves back and forth between the different patients' final weeks.. The experience of witnessing these men and women's last days is not easy but it is emotionally deepening, a clear-eyed reminder of the condition that connects us all. L.L.
(Mon. Sept 8, 8:30 p.m. Cumberland 3; Thurs. Sept. 11, 6 p.m. Varsity 7.)
My Life Without Me
Isabel Coixet (Spain/Canada)
Spanish director Isabel Coixet makes the Great Canadian Film. Here's the kind of story we have come to dread in its many hoser incarnations: 23-year-old Anne (Sarah Polley) lives in a trailer in Vancouver with two small daughters and a cute but aimless and underemployed husband. Her dad is in jail, she works as a janitor, her Mom hates life .....and she learns she's going to be dead from cancer in two months. How does Isabel Coixet turn this into a wonderful, surprising, beautifully written film? Go see it. R.C.
(Sat, Sept. 6, 6 p.m., Varsity 8; Tues., Sept. 9, 9:30 a.m., Uptown 3.)
The Saddest Music in the World
A masterpiece and a film only Guy Maddin could make, this is a wild mixture of antique flickering black and white and tinted film, a wry contemporary political fable, black comedy and exercise campy outrageousness. Based on an original screenplay from Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day), The Saddest Music in the World is set in Winnipeg during the depths of the Depression. Lady Port-Huntly (Isabella Rossellini) announces a worldwide contest to determine which country can produce "the saddest music in the world." And national musical teams from around the world come to Winnipeg voted three times the world capital of sorrow by the London Times to try to win the misery contest. This pits members of the Kent family against each other: Chester (The Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney) a sleazy pretend American producer, who quickly begins raiding the best of other countries music and adding some show-biz sizzle to the American act. His brother Roderick (Ross McMillan), decides to represent Serbia, while he mourns the loss of his wife Maria de Medeiros) and son. Their father Fyodor (David Fox) is a disgraced doctor, who is trying to build glass legs for Lady Post-Huntly, whose legs he inadvertently amputated during a drunken emergency surgery. L.L.
Sun. Sept. 7, 9:45 p.m., Elgin; Tues. Sept. 9, 11 a.m., Varsity 2.)
Joel Schumacher (U.S.)
An astonishing performance from Cate Blanchett. Veronica Guerin was an Irish journalist murdered in 1996 for exposing the country's drug lords. What raises this above the usual real-life hero shtick is Blanchett's gimlet-eyed, insanely sexy performance. It shows how one woman can be a gutsy idealist at the same time as she is addicted to danger and thinks her life is hers to throw away even though she has a small child. A flick that doesn't flinch from its thrilling and confounding heroine. R.C.
(Mon., Sept. 8, 9:30 p.m., Roy Thomson Hall; Tues., Sept. 9, 1 p.m., Uptown 1.)