Here’s a rundown of queer films, homo filmmakers and other sexational offerings at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). For a complete film list and screening schedule go to Tiff.net. Also check out Purple Pros: Homo programmers’ top film fest picks.
Broken Embraces by Pedro Almodóvar (Spain). Palimpsests over top of palimpsests. The latest feature from Almodóvar reunites the director with actress Penélope Cruz. A blind film director (Lluís Homar) changes his name and apparently dies. A young devoté arrives. Past films, loves and lives are knotted together and untied.
Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel by Brigitte Berman (Canada). Academy Award-winner Berman (Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got) had unprecedented access to the bunny mogul, focusing on Hefner’s civil rights causes like integration, abortion and freedom of expression to add sparkle to the famed hedonism.
J’ai Tué Ma Mère (I Killed My Mother) by Xavier Dolan (Canada). The feature debut of a former child star in Quebec, this comedy drama earned three prizes in the 2009 Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes: the Art Cinema Award, the Regards Jeunes and the SACD Prize. Writer/director Dolan stars as the film’s gay teen protagonist whose dinner-table histrionics drive his mother (Anne Dorval) to distraction.
Life During Wartime by Todd Solondz (USA). Forgiveness battles with forgetting in what’s being called a “part-sequel/part-variation on Happiness.” An all-star cast (Charlotte Rampling, Allison Janney, Ally Sheedy, Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reubens [!]) are locked in a convoluted daisy chain of sexual obsession (including the ghost of a former suitor).
A Single Man by Tom Ford (USA). In his directorial debut fashion icon Ford adapts the Christopher Isherwood novel about gay college professor George Falconer (Colin Firth), overwhelmed by grief for a lover killed in a car accident. Set in the ’60s and with numerous flashbacks, the film is noted for its meticulous eye for period detail.
The Vintner’s Luck by Niki Caro (New Zealand/France). An angel (hottie Gaspard Ulliel) in turn-of-the-18th century France inspires a peasant winemaker (Jérémie Renier) to submit to all the pleasures and sensuality life has to offer in this visually lush drama.
Whip It by Drew Barrymore (USA). Barrymore’s directorial debut stars Canadian Ellen Page (of Juno fame) as a Texan teen who lets her elbows fly at her mother’s debutante notions of femininity by secretly crashing the world of women’s roller derby.
Dorian Gray by Oliver Parker (UK). Parker turns his Oscar Wilde fixation on Wilde’s witty horror novel about youth, beauty and obsession, roping in Colin Firth to play Henry Wotton, the dashing lord who introduces sexy newcomer Dorian (Ben Barnes) to the demimonde of Victorian London, including artist Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin). Parker’s previous adaptations include An Ideal Husband (from 1999) and The Importance of Being Earnest (2002).
My Heart Goes Hadippa (Dil Bole Hadippa) by Anurag Singh (India). The gorgeous Rani Mukherjee plays a woman who disguises herself as a man to play cricket for the Indian team coached by stud-muffin Shahid Kapoor. All-singing, all-dancing, all-drag.
Le Refuge (The Refuge) by François Ozon (France). Just what is going on between Mousse (Isabelle Carré) and Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), brother to the dead father of Mousse’s unborn child? Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women) and Carré keep the audience guessing till the end.
Vision by Margethe von Trotta (Germany). A major figure in German New Cinema, von Trotta (The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, Rosenstrasse, I Am the Other Woman) offers a biopic of Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th-century Benedictine nun held up as a feminist, even queer, icon for her unique position as an early woman composer, scientist and theologian. Von Bingen is played by Barbara Sukowa, the fifth time she and von Trotta have worked together.
Face (Visage) by Tsai Ming-liang (France/Taiwan/Belgium/The Netherlands). Celebrity, cinema, Taipei and Paris collide in Tsai’s lush, surreal story about a filmmaker (Lee Kang-sheng) shooting the story of Salomé in the Louvre starring Laetitia Casta. With appearances by such French icons as Fanny Ardant, Jeanne Moreau and Mathieu Amalric capped by climactic dance sequence.
Karaoke by Chris Chong Chan Fui (Malaysia). A brooding, slow-paced look at a son’s return to his rural home among the oil palm plantations of Kota Kinabalu enlivened by moments of visual splendour and a subtle, insidious exploration of the distance between pop culture and reality. This is the feature debut by the former Torontonian (shorts include Pool, Block B) who recently returned to his home country.
To Die Like a Man (Morrer Como um Homem) by João Pedro Rodrigues (Portugal/France). Sounds demented: A tranny performer’s body is rejecting various surgical and hormonal alterations as she tries to cope with her deranged soldier son, a junkie boyfriend, the new drag star on the block and a forest commune of queens and magical creatures.
Adrift by Bui Thac Chuyan (Vietnam). Set in modern-day Hanoi this sensual drama looks at the sexual awakening of a twentysomething straight couple at the hands of a lesbian friend.
Eyes Wide Open by Haim Tabakman (Israel). A feature debut tackling illicit gay love between a devoutly Jewish family man (played by Zohar Strauss), a kosher butcher in one of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods and a father to four sons living, and a newcomer (Ran Danker).
High Life by Gary Yates (Canada). Winnipeg-based Yates (Seven Times Lucky, Niagara Motel) helms the black comedy about a heist gone wrong written by gay playwright Lee MacDougal (based on his hit play of the same name).
Trash Humpers by Harmony Korine (USA/UK). A cast of unsavoury characters in creepy masks fuck garbage cans and carry out other forms of senseless vandalism. But is there insight and poignancy among the trash? If there is Korine (Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy) is the one to find it.
REEL TO REEL
Google Baby by Zippi Brand Frank (Israel). How do gay men and others have white babies? By using their own sperm, US eggs and Indian surrogates. An eye-opening feature doc on 21st-century reproduction and ethics.
The Topp Twins by Leanne Pooley (New Zealand). They’re a hit in their native New Zealand and now Jools and Lynda Topp are taking on the world as the only yodelling, lesbian, country-and-western-singing twins. A feature doc by a Winnipegger who trained at Ryerson before emigrating to New Zealand in the mid-’80s. Also look for the Topp Twins performing live at Yonge-Dundas Square.
Bitch Slap by Rick Jacobson (USA). A tongue-in-cheek crime caper à la Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! reuniting director Jacobson and Eric Gruendemann of TV’s Xena: Warrior Princess. Three full-figured, ball-busting, gun-toting babes (played by Erin Cummings, Julia Voth and Ameríca Olivo) attempt to steal $200 million from an underworld kingpin. With Xena’s Lucy Lawless as Mother Superior!
Spring Fever by Lou Ye (Hong Kong/France). Defying an official ban of his work and including explicit gay sex scenes, Lou’s camera stalks a married man as he has a passionate affair with Jiang Cheng (Qin Hao).
A Letter to Uncle Boonmee by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand/UK). This short, a segment from the out iconoclast’s sprawling Primitive project (also presented as part of the Phantoms of Nabua; see Future Projections) is a poetic retelling of a violent farmer uprising in 1965 in northeastern Thailand.
Green Porno: Scandalous Sea by Isabella Rossellini. Rossellini’s collaboration with Guy Maddin stalwarts Jody Shapiro and Rick Gilbert and designer Andy Byers proves that real sex (whether among humans or, in this case, sea creatures) is more fantastical then any rightwing sexphobic wing nut could possibly imagine. Also look for Rossellini in an onstage discussion with marine biologist Claudio Campagna.
Phantoms of Nabua by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand/UK/Germany). Memory, totalitarianism, cinema and regeneration. An incendiary, imagistic exploration of a violent episode in Thai history from the gay director of celebrated films Tropical Malady and Blissfully Yours (see also Wavelengths).
This Transition Will Never End by Jeremy Shaw. A collage of surreal cinematic moments from the Berlin-based Canadian video artist (also known as part of the Vancouver-based musical group Circlesquare). Part of a trio of art shorts exploring and exploding cinematic conventions, with German Oliver Pietsch’s The Shape of Things and Italian Marco Brambilla’s Civilization.
SHORT CUTS CANADA
The Armoire by Jamie Travis. A sensitive young boy’s urges could be fatal in this wonderfully directed short by the Toronto-based director. The ’50s-esque bubblegum colours make the emerging drama all the more unsettling.
Covered by John Greyson. Toronto’s tireless activist/director uses the violence that greeted last year’s inaugural Queer Sarajevo Festival to craft a fascinating indictment of homophobia, Western pop culture and the Canadian government’s hypocrisy.
Five Dysfunctional People in a Car by Pat Mills. A family packs into a car to take granny to a home against her will in a return engagement for Mills who was at last year’s TIFF with Pat’s First Kiss and winning last year’s Pitch This competition.
The Island by Trevor Anderson. Already screened at Inside Out, this quirky short turns homophobia on its head, showcasing Alberta-based Anderson’s off-kiltre sense of humour and visual flare.
Madonna: Truth or Dare by Alek Keshishian and Mark Aldo Miceli (USA). Free outdoor screening of the 1991 Madge tell-all (noon on Sat, Sep 19).
Untouchable Girls. Free outdoor concert by The Topp Twins, New Zealand’s queer alt-country singers (9pm on Sun, Sep 13).
Gay Flambé. The Inside Out festival hosts the annual celebration of all things queer at TIFF. Performances, projections and DJ Deko-ze on the decks at the National Ballet School (400 Jarvis St) on Sun, Sep 13. Tix cost $12 at Insideout.ca or (416) 977-6847.