Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Toronto Film Festival Diaries
Day 5

by Henri Béhar

Toronto, Sept. 8, 1997

The pick of the day is ´ Heaven's Burning ', Russell Crowe's second feature in the Festival and Australian director Craig Lahiff's fifth. It's a wickedly funny, deeply sardonic, touchingly romantic road movie. Youki Kudoh (she of Jim Jarmusch's ´ Memphis Train ' fame) is a young Japanese who fakes her own kidnapping to escape her new marriage. Russell Crowe is a laconic blue-collar Aussie who is the getway driver in a bank heist gone bloodily wrong. Unbeknownst to each other, they are both pursued by the humiliated husband (her) and his former partners-in-crime. It's violent, of course, but the violence borders on the cartoonish.

Arriving at his ´ 4 Little Girls ' press conference, Spike Lee surveys the row of photographers snapping away at him and, referring to the controversy around Princess Diana's fatal accident, says with a smirk, ´ Weren't you guys in Paris? ' Moans and groans among the shutterbugs - not all of them paparazzi - but they keep snapping as he laughs.

It may have to do with fatherhood, or just simple maturity, but Spike Lee has mellowed over the years. He is now sitting next to Chris McNair, the only father of the four children still living, and a pivotal figure in the film. He was first approached by Lee in 1983 to make the documentary, McNair says, but he felt the director was ´ too junior ' and decided against it. The man has incredible dignity and when Lee looks at him, there's something in his gaze akin to genuine respect.

On the party/open-bar/bash/pours list for the day: a breakfast speech by Mike Medavoy, chairman and co-founder of Phoenix Pictures; a Polygram party at the Rosewater Supper Club, Martini time; a champagne-and-chit-chat at 5 at Bistro 990 *and* scotch-and-billiard in the evening at Vinnie's, both for Rogers Communications. Quick cup of coffee with ´ Chinese Box ' director Wayne Wang, then off to the press screening of David Mamet's ´ The Spanish Prisoner '.

It doesn't take place in a prison nor, for that matter, in Spain. To understand the connection, you'll have to see the film - and it's a must. Before you do, take a good rest. Otherwise, you'll hate yourself for not engaging fully in the ride. Starring Rebecca Pidgeon, Campbell Scott and a regal Steve Martin, it's fast-paced, witty, dizzying, an exhilarating elaborate edifice of con game upon life-and-death con game. It's dry-baroque at its best, it's an Alfred-Hitchcock-meets-Fritz-Lang-for-a-night-of-fun-and-play film-noir type of work. Don't you dare miss it when it comes out.

Jeremy Irons is quietly fearless. After dinner at the Four Seasons with a close friend, moments after he's landed from England, as he is about to go up to his suite, he hears hubbub and music coming from one of the rooms the four-star palace reserves for private functions. Ignoring his friend's ´ Jeremeeee! ' wails, Irons heads for the venue, opens the door and peeks in - only to discover he's just stumbled into a wedding party. As she happened to look at the door at the same moment, the bride's jaw drops, Irons flashes a dazzling smile and off he goes. Moments later, the friend returns to the ballroom and finds the bride surrounded by her incredulous maids of honor, protesting, swearing that, honest to God, she *did* see Jeremy Irons. At *her* wedding!

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