Politics is everywhere
Reservation Road, Irish director Terry George's latest film, is less overtly political than some of his earlier work, such as In the Name of the Father and Hotel Rwanda. But George, attending a TIFF press conference yesterday, insisted that the film - the story of the aftermath of a hit-and-run accident that kills an 11-year-old boy - still carries a political subtext "about revenge and forgiveness and the attempt to demonize the enemy to the point of no rational thought."
Some of the film's stars, who include Mark Ruffalo, Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino, also saw a political dimension in Reservation Road, which is based on a 1998 novel by John Burnham Schwartz. Ruffalo and Phoenix came armed with bright orange plastic bracelets that Ruffalo said were symbolic to opposition of war in Iraq and urged everyone to visit "www.theworldcan'twaittodriveoutthebushregime.com"
"It's no coincidence," he added, that a number of festival films dealt with vengeance, vigilantism and the war in Iraq.
"It bubbles out. It explodes.... It's a moral voice and there needs to be a place to voice that [opinion.]"
There's a moment early in Sleuth, directed by Kenneth Branagh from a script by Harold Pinter, that always gets a laugh: Jude Law asks Michael Caine, "What's it all about?" and suddenly it's Alfie vs. Alfie. (Caine and Law played the title role in the 1966 and 2004 versions, respectively, of Alfie). "I swear to you, Harold Pinter wrote that line, and none of us thought anything about it until we were at Roy Thomson Hall Monday night," Branagh said yesterday. "When the film played in Venice, nobody picked up on it. It wasn't until I heard the audience laughing here that I thought, 'God, how stupid not to have noticed.'"
Caine, of course, played the younger cad (Law's part in this new version) in the original 1972 Sleuth, opposite Laurence Olivier. (It was directed by Joseph Mankiewicz.) Asked how his life has changed between iterations, Caine didn't miss a beat: "Journalists used to say to me, 'My daughter will be thrilled I met you,'" he said. "Now they say, 'My mother will be thrilled.'"
With three movies - and two starring roles - in this film festival, 20-year-old Ellen Page has got it going on.
She and fellow Canuck star Michael Cera (Superbad) are the oddball prom queen and king of this year's fete, with the breakout comedy Juno, directed by fellow Canadian Jason Reitman. As well, Page stars in Bruce McDonald's new film, The Tracey Fragments, adapted from Maureen Medved's novel about a 15-year-old girl on a bus in a shower curtain, looking for her little brother, and has a small role in The Stone Angel with multiple-Oscar nominee Ellen Burstyn. "When I look at my past five roles, I'm more grateful than I can express. I'm 20 years old, I'm making money at doing something I love. I'm obscenely lucky."
Page caught the eye of a lot of casting directors after her performance in Hard Candy, as an avenging teen dealing with a sexual predator. Since then, the Halifax native went on to play in X-Men 3, Alison Murray's indie film Mouth to Mouth and the grim true-crime drama An American Crime.
The Tracey Fragments, finished just before her 19th birthday last year, was a short shoot (2½ weeks) followed by a long editing period in the experimental multi-screen film. Bruce McDonald created the multiple images to represent what he calls "the doors into different parts of her mind."
She was more than ready for a part like that of Juno, an smart-talking pregnant teenager who gives her baby to a yuppie couple: "Sometimes it's actually harder to do the kind of roles where you're a relatively normal person." Coming next year is another comedy, Smart People, in which Page plays a young Republican.
"I don't really know how I do it," she says of her acting. "I respond from the heart to the character and then the body language and everything else follows. So it starts from the heart - even with a young Republican."
Rules meant to be broken
Rebel, rebel, Atom Egoyan. While every film at TIFF begins with a title card warning against taking a picture of the screen in any way, a short by Atom Egoyan flouts that rule big time. His film, part of Chacun son cinéma, a collection of shorts celebrating the Cannes Film Festival, shows people in different theatres text-messaging each other and sending pictures of what they are watching on the screen. Egoyan treats this poignantly, in a modern, mashup kind of way. But if you followed Egoyan's lead, the security guard who was scanning the audience with his night-vision specs while the short was playing would have kicked you out.