Fling Time in a Quiet Town

'8 Mile' Lines and On-the-Job Bondage in Toronto

Other stuff to look forward to: Heaven, directed by Tom Tykwer from a script by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski and his collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz, is a surprisingly successful blend—hardly the lumpy melding of Spielberg and Kubrick in A.I. Heaven's complex exercise in morality and fate (with Cate Blanchett delivering a haunting performance as a freelance avenging angel) plays and sounds like Kieslowski, but its classical compositions and unhurried deliberation have an Olympian detachment. The melancholy is deepened by the sense of what's been missing from Euro film culture since Kieslowski's death.

Another unexpectedly fruitful collaboration, Joel Schumacher's Phone Booth is based on a script by Larry Cohen that, for bold mishegoss, nearly rivals the B-movie meister's God Told Me To. Only 85 minutes, Phone Booth is like a cross between Sweet Smell of Success and Gladiator—as seen through the wrong end of a telescope. Cohen originally hoped to direct, with Jim Carrey as the fast-talking PR sleazebag trapped in the last operational phone booth on West 53rd Street and compelled to flack for his life before a live TV audience; the Schumacher version, which stars Colin Farrell, is not as humorous as Cohen's would have been, but his glitzy vision gives the mad chamber drama a zetzof low-rent grandeur.

Rivaling Phone Booth as dark comedy is Carlos Carrera's Sin of Father Amaro. An ambitious young priest arrives in a corrupt rural parish and goes native—participating in bureaucratic cover-ups and romancing the loveliest virgin in town, under the pretext he's training her to be a nun. Adapted from a 19th-century Portuguese novel, this anti-clerical extravaganza is the most successful Mexican movie in the nation's history. Carrera's gothic exposé is not exactly Luis Buñuel—although it's filled with vivid characters, mordant wit, and Buñuelian touches, most obviously when a blue satin cloak intended for the Blessed Virgin winds up in Amaro's personal pleasure chest.

Sex, files, and dict-a-phone tape: Spader and Gyllenhaal in Secretary
photo: Bruce Birmelin © 2002 Lions Gate Films
Sex, files, and dict-a-phone tape: Spader and Gyllenhaal in Secretary


The two best movies I saw in Toronto—Springtime in a Small Town and Far From Heaven—arrived straight from their Venice premieres. Among other things, each uses a classic melodrama as the basis for a confident reinterpretation that effectively revisits the period of the original. Springtime, the first film by Tian Zhuangzhuang in the decade since The Blue Kite, remakes a 1948 Chinese feature to wonderful effect—skewing the Chekhovian triangle that develops between a sickly young landowner, his demurely provocative wife, and the incongruously cheerful doctor who, having fought successfully with the Communists, lands in the couple's doleful midst.

Springtime in a Quiet Town will be screened in the NYFF (as Springtime in a Small Town); Far From Heavenwas apparently never submitted for consideration. From opening crane shot to bittersweet train-station closer, this is Todd Haynes's biggest gamble and his most fully realized movie since his underground Karen Carpenter Bunraku Superstar. (Here, the living doll is Julianne Moore.) The filmmaker's passionate acumen is everywhere apparent—like Springtime, it's sensuously cerebral. As bold in its mise-en-scène as Springtime is delicate, Far From Heaven reworks Douglas Sirk's 1955 Rock Hudson-Jane Wyman weepie, All That Heaven Allows,into something rich, strange, and provocative.

The press and industry screening for this near-universal favorite was so mobbed that a number of critics, including some of the festival's biggest boosters, were turned away—with an acrimony that was reported in the local press as well as Variety. When journalists need to queue for an hour to secure a seat, Toronto seems not only a victim of its own success but its desire to remain everything to everyone.


More Voice Coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival:

Memory and Desire
Toronto a Year Later
by Dennis Lim

Body Blows
Looking for Trouble
by Jessica Winter

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