Men with fuchsia hair in sequin heels pushing their way in to see Eddie Redmayne in a red dress in The Danish Girl. Thousands of fans hovering under umbrellas to get a glimpse of Johnny Depp. Lines of eager patrons clutching wet tickets, ready to sit through anything and willing to stay in their seats until the last projector stops running. Exhausted, bleary-eyed critics watching movies from 8 a.m to midnight with no time to eat or sleep, existing on muffins and pizza and exorbitantly overpriced Häagen-Dazs bars. You know you’re gobsmacked sideways to be here, but you wouldn’t miss it for the world. So if it’s September in the rain and you’re running out of eye drops, it must be a dream, or Toronto, or both.
The Toronto International Film Festival (a.k.a. TIFF) is celebrating its 40th year with an over-stuffed program of 399 films, including 298 features and 132 world premieres from 71 countries. Matt Damon is here, George Clooney is all over the place, not as an actor but as a producer. So are Susan Sarandon, Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren and Sandra Bullock. Robert Redford is a no-show, but yesterday on my way to the pharmacy half a block from my hotel to buy NoDoz reinforcements to get me through five movies a day, I was almost trampled by a screaming mob begging for selfies with Jake Gyllenhaal.
For 11 days, the planet stops spinning, every actor is Brando, every fledgling director is the next Spielberg, and front-page headlines about Hillary’s emails and Canadian cabinet ministers under house arrest are replaced by rumors of celebrity spottings, while obscene amounts of space are devoted to photo-ops of clickbait like Elle Fanning posing in the middle of the street in a wet dress without a bra. In this glam parade of silicone breasts, Botoxed lips and liposuctioned midriffs, Yo-Yo Ma is saluting TIFF in person with a cello concert. The streets are blocked off into pedestrian malls dominated by rock and roll bands, creating massive human gridlock. Museums, libraries and shop windows are devoted to movie themes. Lives are risked trying to get into a special screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, introduced by Kim Novak and featuring a live performance of Bernard Herrmann’s famous score by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The place is a zoo, dominated by total chaos, with 75 red carpets at 28 theaters throughout the city showing 30,943 feet of film.
What a change from 1976, when TIFF was started by three film buffs who borrowed $125,000 on their American Express cards and greased some palms at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes to get the best table on the terrace. From there, they launched what they originally called the Festival of Festivals. The first year they showed 80 movies, with no help from the Hollywood studios, and the only celebrity who came was Jeanne Moreau. The second year, they lured the Fonz, Henry Winkler. Forty years later, it’s morphed into the biggest film festival in the world and every filmmaker from Sri Lanka to Sunset Boulevard fights to get in. I remember my first year, when everyone stayed in the same hotel and Clint Eastwood came alone and held court in the bar until the sun came up. Everything was smaller, it was easier to meet people, programmers and critics rubbed elbows with stars and directors and it was like a cult. Now the stars arrive with entourages, encircled by security guards, press agents and people with headsets who look like the KGB.
One thing has not changed: it’s still a festival that prides itself on presenting something for every taste. You still get cartoons and popcorn movies like The Martian. But TIFF is also a gauge that measures what the next year will bring. Expect an overdose of hot-button topics like sex reassignment surgery, terrorism, bullying, the horrors of home invasions, incest, the plight of immigrants, pregnant teenagers, people falling in love during the financial crisis in Greece and soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Gay themes are so yesterday now that coming out is no longer taboo.
“EVERYBODY’S GAY!” shouts a Toronto newspaper headline. But like it or not, two popular subjects you can expect in the days ahead are same-sex marriages and gender fluidity. One audience favorite is Freeheld, adapted by Ron Nyswaner, the openly gay Oscar winner who wrote Philadelphia, from the true story of closeted lesbian New Jersey cop Laurel Hester (another brave, poignant performance by Julianne Moore) and her butch partner, sexy mechanic Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). Laurel’s new lifestyle alienates her fellow cops and leaves her boyfriend (Michael Shannon) feeling betrayed, but as time passes and old wounds heal, Laurel is diagnosed with cancer and the women are forced to face the reality of both death and what comes after. The movie follows Laurel’s desperate efforts to transfer her policemen’s union pension benefits to Stacie with the aid of a compassionate gay rights activist (a surprising turn by Steve Carell) who helps them challenge the prejudice of homophobic elected county officials determined to uphold “community standards.” Ellen Page, who has come a long way since Juno, says reading about this news story is what inspired her to come out of the closet herself and become a vociferous fighter for equal rights.
The most controversial unveiling at TIFF is the gorgeous, heartbreaking British film The Danish Girl, starring the spectacular Eddie Redmayne as 1920s transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who was a talented landscape artist named Einar Wegener in Copenhagen, happily married to a loyal and devoted but less talented portrait painter named Gerda (Alicia Vikander). Slowly, when Einar first begins to realize his female side after trying on Gerda’s negligees, he takes the form of a shy lady cousin named Lili, polishing female postures, makeup and fashions, and perfecting the gestures and feelings of a woman while posing for exotic nudes that make his wife a celebrity in her own right. When Einar bites the bullet and makes the life-changing decision to undergo the experimental surgeries in Dresden that were unheard of at the time, Gerda stays by his side until his untimely death. Meticulously directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), this amazing film, based on Lili’s personal diaries published in 1933, is a medical-research thriller and unconventional heterosexual love story compromised by God and nature that will unquestionably register strongly at the American box office when it opens in November and rise to the top of the predictions in the forthcoming awards season.
Click here to continue reading.
SOURCE: Observer – Ed Stetzer