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Festival News
Sex, drugs and women in prison
Expect a walk on the dark side in many festival films, LIAM LACEY writes

By LIAM LACEY, The Globe and Mail
September 10, 2002

There's something about the word "festival" that doesn't quite capture the spirit of the nose-in-the-dirt quality of many of the films offered at the annual Toronto film infestation. The emphasis on stars and parties may conjure up the image of a Roman orgy designed by John Galliano. The actual films typically take us to much more sombre worlds.

Women behind bars
There's Michelle Pfeiffer, as the pretty murderess doing time in White Oleander; Marie-Josée Croze imprisoned for defacing art in Atom Egoyan's Ararat,the mother in Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen taking the rap for her drug-dealing boyfriend, and Cate Blanchett jailed in Heaven, about a school teacher in Italy who decides to bomb the local drug dealer. In Women's Prison, from Iran, first-time director Manijeh Hekmat sets a drama in an Iranian jail, in a story that takes place over 17 years and follows the relationship between a woman charged with murder and her jailer. For a small variation, there's The Magdalene Sisters, about a group of young women forced to live in an Irish convent in 1964, all for various real and perceived sins.

Max stars Noah Taylor as a young Hitler, with John Cusack as his Jewish art teacher. In the documentary, Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, the woman who took dictation from the Fuhrer describes the last days in the bunker. Director Rod Lurie's short drama The Nazi involves the meeting between a Jewish woman and a Nazi war criminal in an Israeli jail. Fuehrer Ex is a dramatization of the story of former East German neo-Nazi Ingo Hasselbach.

Nettie Wild's Fix: The Story of An Addicted City chronicles a fight to stop the death toll and manage Vancouver's heroin-addiction problems, through the eyes of one couple, an activist and her addict boyfriend. Molly Parker stars as a young mother with a heroin addiction in Scottish director Gillies MacKinnon's Pure. American director Paul Quinn's Never Get Outta the Boat follows the misadventures of three recovering addicts in a halfway house. In Fernando Meirelles's City of God, stretched out over 30 years, gangs of children murder each other to take over the drug trade in Brazil.

Movies within movies
Ararat is a movie about making a movie about the Armenian genocide. Sex Is Comedy is French director Catherine Breillat's film about the making of her previous film, Fat Girl,as well as a response to the "making of" documentaries.

Lost in La Mancha is a movie about director Terry Gilliam's unsuccessful attempts to make a movie about Don Quixote. Even The Wild Thornberrys Movie is about the family in the animated series making a documentary in Africa. Just notice how often those little digital video cameras pop up in movies, including Auto Focus, Paul Schrader's movie about Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane and his sexual video obsessions.

Keeping sex shocking
Pushing the barriers of what can be shown is a film-festival tradition, though filmmakers may have run out of variations. This year, there's France's Gaspar Noé with Irréversible, with its infamous nine-minute rape and beating scene. French director Breillat goes into graphic detail about the troubles of shooting a sex scene in Sex Is Comedy. Bad-boy U.S. director Larry Clark (Kids) has explicit sex among teenagers in Ken Park. Just for contrast, a middle-aged suicidal artist tries to have sex with a very old woman in the Mexican film, Japon.

The new evil empire: America
Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine excoriates America's culture of paranoia and violence. Horns and Halos documents the sad, hounded life of the controversial biographer of George Bush Jr. In Reno: Rebel Without a Pause, a lesbian comic mocks the post-Sept. 11 official pieties. The documentary The Trials of Henry Kissinger makes the case that the former Nobel Peace Prize-winner is a war criminal.

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