Eclectic group of dramas make their debut

peace love

To conclude this multi-part report from the Toronto International Film Festival, I'd like to discuss five disparate but memorable dramas that represent the rich choices available for viewers.

You may remember the creative animated film from Iran entitled Persepolis, by the new team of Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. It introduced audiences to an alternative view of Iranian history presented in a totally unique form of animation with stunning black and white images. Rather than capitalize on this award-winning process, Satrapi and Paronnaud chose to venture into fresh territory again. The result is a tragic love story about a violinist who loses his violin and thus loses music and love. Chicken with Plums continues the story of Iran, also based on an animated book by Satrapi, but this time it is mostly acted with an international cast that features, among others, Jamel Debbouze and Isabella Rossellini. It's a touching human story of lost love and the meaning and importance of artistic expression.

Another film about love provides a vehicle for Jane Fonda's return to the screen. In a part that could have been written for her, she plays a hippie grandmother who is now in her 70s with two impressionable teenage grandkids who become targets for her hippie wisdom. The naturally acted roles, warm cuddly dialog and respect for the type of life Fonda chose to live in real life, makes Peace, Love and Misunderstanding a standout at the festival.

From Argentina comes a compelling story, The Student, a college election film that breaks new ground in examining political strategy and campaign politics that are developed and nurtured in the early years of college life. The connection to state government and local politicians, the tactics of dealing with opposition groups and individuals, the frustration of winning and losing campaigns, shifting strategic alliances, while at the same time dealing with classes, tests, relationships and family affairs, makes this a fast moving and entertaining film about Latin American politics.

One of the greatest joys of attending this huge festival is the ability to learn about unknown events and see rare places in the world, and it's all experienced through the artistic and creative medium of cinema.  One of the freshest and bold statements to come from Chinese cinema is UFO in her Eyes, directed by the creative stylist Xiaolu Guo. The strange plot of her film allows for an examination of fast changing contemporary China during the onset of capitalism. After a young peasant woman has an affair in a field with her married teacher, she witnesses a vision in the sky. She takes her UFO sighting to the village's Central Committee, who chooses to capitalize on the unique event by developing tourism. The dangers of radical change and the aspirations of building relations with the US are all examined in this highly entertaining, thought-provoking and radically creative endeavor.

Any film associated with Peter Mullen is worth seeing. Kicking off his career in Ken Loach films, Riff Raff and My Name is Joe, he has gone on to star in several other notable films including Trainspotting and Children of Men. He also directed The Magnalene Sisters and last year's poignant schoolhouse tragedy Neds. But the fact that this powerhouse actor can grab an audience in his hands, whip 'em around for an emotional roller coaster ride and drop 'em off at the end of the ride spinning with disbelief at what they've just experienced, is a tremendous skill. He has taken the art of acting to the highest level. Mullen stars as a nasty, violent, down and out, unrepentant alcoholic in Tyrannosaur who amazingly finds someone who can see beauty in him. She's a timid shop clerk who at first plays the Good Samaritan role and feels sorry for Mullen, but is soon found out to be a victim of serious spousal abuse and they quickly bond in a potentially volatile relationship. These working-class stiffs have been chewed up, spit out and forgotten by the devouring destructive class system. But never in the entire movie do you ever lose the humanity of these tragic characters. First time director Paddy Considine deserves tremendous praise for this difficult but rewarding study of people on the verge.

Photo: Still from Peace, Love and Misunderstanding.

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