Film Scouts Diaries

1995 Toronto Film Festival Diaries
Henri Behar At The Toronto Film Festival: Day 5

by Henri Béhar

Monday, September 11

I know, it's been a while. I must have got stuck in the elevator. Already legendarily slow, the lifts at the Sutton Place Hotel have recently surpassed themselves. Whoever programs these things must be enjoying him/her/itself in his/her/its penthouse in the sky. One will never know why these Things--all four of them-- get stuck on the 33d floor AT THE SAME TIME! With Miramax taking almost one floor, the Festival another and Canadian distributor giant Alliance a third, it's become so surrealistic that whenever an elevator stops on your floor, you jump in it, whether it's going up or down. Once you're in, hope for the best, but rest assured you'll miss your next appointment.

Which is why the wisest among us allow for half-an-hour to go from one floor to the other. Which is why so many--the lucky ones who'd got there fast-- paced the hallway outside Sean Penn's "interview" suite (as opposed to his suite-suite, a few floors below). Penn was in town to promote his second directorial effort, "The Crossing Guard", and promote he did. He did a press conference, gracefully posed for photographers, and shared his sushi with the various interviewers. He proved courteous, funny, alert, remarkably articulate. People were discussing the movie, not his private life, he said, and whether they liked it or not, their questions were intelligent and to the point.

The day after "The Crossing Guard" was screened, he even waited in the hotel lobby for his children to arrive from Paris and, believe it or not, all the "paparazzi" respected his privacy; none, even the fiercest, clicked their Instamatic to "get him with his kids". This, Virginia, must be the Toronto Miracle. Later that evening, he bumped into Brian De Palma, who directed him in "Casualties of War" and "Carlito's Way", and into Uma Thurman, in town for the world premiere of John Irvin's "A Month By The Lake", in which she co-stars with Vanessa Redgrave and Edward Fox. Uma Thurman's companion was trying to, ahem, hide behind huge dark glasses, but everyone had recognized Timothy Hutton. Which, of course, triggered a "Falcon and the Snowman" reunion between Penn and Hutton (come to think of it, prior to that, they had also been paired in Harold Becker's "Taps", where Penn played the nice guy to Tom Cruise's fascist gone mad--how things change!)

Rumor has it that way into the night, a priest stood on a restaurant table and performed a striptease for Thurman, Penn, Hutton and De Palma. Hard as we all tried, no journalist was able to find an genuine, first-hand (so to speak) eye-witness.

"The Crossing Guard" was far better received here than in Europe. But combining his experiences at the Venice, Deauville and Toronto film festivals, Penn, a wise man, has decided to trim the movie a bit before its American release--which is when we'll review it.

Sting came, with wife Trudie, and a movie called "Grotesque". Alan Bates plays an decadent aristocrat (is there any other kind?) in a 500-year old mansion, who spends so much time dabbling in paleontology that he neglects his wife (Theresa Russell). Meanwhile his daughter (Lena Headey) is set to marry a young (and fey) poet named Sidney. Into this household comes a new butler Fledge (Sting) with his drunkard of a wife (Trudie Styler). Sneering, malevolent, and totally seductive, Fledge hungers to take control of the manor, and wastes no time doing it: Much like Terence Stamp in Pasolini's "Theorema", he humps everything that moves, and yes, that includes Sidney, although, as usual, Theresa Russell is the first to succumb to the butler's lustful, acrobatic attacks. Sting can play the diabolically humpy universal donor before, and he could do it in his sleep (which he does). "Part satire, part gothic horror, part mystery--and all black comedy", per the Festival catalogue, "The Grotesque" would have worked had there been a director strong enough to wake Sting up and contain Alan Bates' all-over-the-place performance. At the press conference, Trudie Styler, who also co-produced the film, stood up to show her five-month pregnancy. "We may call it Fledge", quipped the rock star-cum-thespian.

The screening of Claude Chabrol's "The Ceremony" started, if not with a bang, at least with a vigorous exchange of knuckle sandwiches as, after waiting for almost an hour, four hundred angry filmgoers forced the gates of the already packed theatre where the Venice Best Actress winning flick was shown, and refused to budge until the manager of the theatre and a Festival official, remaining ever so calm under the duress, assured them--nay, swore--another screening was being arranged as they spoke. A smart, fashionable, well-heeled French family living in a gorgeous country house are looking for a new housekeeper. The lady of the house, (wonderfully) played by Jacqueline Bisset, hires an enigmatic, quiet, but apparently highly efficient young woman, Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire). Everyone is happy with her: she cleans, she cooks, she doesn't type but that's another, but relevant, matter). Wandering into the village, Bonnaire meets the outspoken, fiesty village postmistress, energetically played by Isabelle Huppert. They become bosom buddies and will soon run the show. At gun point.

The film is a gem. Superbly acted by Huppert and Bonnaire (you understand why the Venice jury deemed their performances "inseparable"), but also by Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Virginie Ledoyen and Valentin Merlet, it is deceptively simple, but in fact as diabolically twisted, psychologically, as actionner "The Usual Suspects". Set to Mozart's "Don Giovanni", the transformation of Huppert and Bonnaire into Bonnie and Bonnie is both horrifying and hilarious. You don't know whether you want to laugh or choke, but you sure know you want to applaud. Don't miss it when it comes out.

Previous Installment | Next Installment

Back to Toronto Film Festival Diaries

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.