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Canada Semi-dry

At the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival, Asia Argento, daughter of Italian director Dario, arrived at the premiere of her presumably autobiographical directing debut, Scarlet Diva, in a sweeping green-velvet gown that looked like an exact copy of the one Scarlett O’Hara sews from the ancestral drapes in Gone With the Wind. It was the best entrance at the 25th installment of the festival, an otherwise benign, if useful, annual event. Among the modest surprises this year were a full six features reprised from the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival (including The Truth About Tully, Bunny, George Washington, Two-Family House), two of which (Fighter and Keep the River on Your Right) were also programmed in the Independent Film Channel‘s all-digital Next Wave series. Of the six, the most fun to see getting its due is George Washington, a Flannery O’Connor--like look at a 13-year-old Southern eccentric of color -- from 25-year-old first-timer David Gordon Green -- that flies in the face of cinematic trend and was the surprise hit of the Berlin Film Festival.

Based on the number of locally based indies in this year‘s festival, Toronto may be forced to establish a new ”Planet Los Angeles“ sidebar (along the lines of its annual ”Planet Africa“ series). Bernard Rose’s ivansxtc (alternatively titled To Live and Die in Hollywood) re-stages Tolstoy‘s The Death of Ivan Ilyich at CAA, but asks too much in demanding sympathy for an agent; Russell DeGrazier’s intriguing Attraction, a four-handed stalker drama, divides all actresses into manipulators (Gretchen Moll) or dishrags (Samantha Mathis, who is forced to deliver a ludicrous monologue topless); and veteran script supervisor Catherine Jelski‘s feature debut, The Young Unknowns, is the movie Hurlyburly wanted to be: an indictment of Hollywood inheritors who, with their gangster chic, casual misogyny, drug-stoked cruelty and arrogant entitlement, draw no sympathy. Only Ken Loach’s Bread and Roses, set against an L.A. janitors‘ strike, accords Hollywood its due -- by almost avoiding it altogether.

Tom Tykwer followed Run Lola Run -- imitated at this year’s festival by Ventura Pons‘ Spanish To Die (or Not) and Robert Lepage’s Possible Worlds -- with The Princess and the Warrior, a modern-day fairy tale, again starring the magnetic Franka Potente, that is better than its initial buzz. Tykwer doles out all his tricks from Lola (joystick pacing, god‘s-eye view, sinuous plot threads that result in miraculous convergences), but proceeds with greater control, filling in the spaces between truck wrecks, makeshift tracheotomies, bungled bank heists and leaps from an asylum rooftop with a delicate filigree of romantic detail. Sony Classics will release the film in mid-2001.

Also present with a looser, less predetermined style was Toronto regular Clara Law (Temptation of a Monk), whose new film, The Goddess of 1967, reflects her relocation from her native Hong Kong to Melbourne. The goddess of the title is a 1967 Citroen DS, a car collector’s wet dream that features in an Outback road tale told with a humor and character nuance reminiscent of early Jane Campion. Among the best-received films were highlights of the fall season: Ang Lee‘s Cannes favorite, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, based on Hubert Selby Jr.‘s novel; and E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire, a horror hoot set against the making of F.W. Murnau‘s Nosferatu. Other standouts include director John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps, a Canadian teen horror film that finds fun in lycanthropy and menstruation; Sexy Beast, a less-amped heist entree in the Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels vein from director Jonathan Glazer; and, against all odds, Dancing at the Blue Iguana, an improvised strip-club ensemble piece from Michael Radford (Il Postino) with a dramatic apex framed by the director‘s own poetry.


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