Film Scouts Diaries

1995 Toronto Film Festival Diaries
Henri Behar At The Toronto Film Festival: Day 6

by Henri Béhar

Tuesday, September 12

The less said of "Total Eclipse", the better.

Suffice it to say that it is based on Christopher ("Dangerous Liaisons") Hampton's early play about French poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud (but better know that before the film starts), that it was directed by Agniezska ("The Secret Garden") Holland, that it stars David ("Naked") Thewlis and Leonardo ("Basketball Diaries") DiCaprio-- and that they're all off. A case of bad pen-, camera-, and (lack of) hair day for all.

Thank God, today was also Woody Allen and "Cyclo" day. Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite" is a lively, funny, at times almost "shticky", delight. It is also much more (see Film Scout DaniËle Heymann's report from the Venice Festival, where the film was world-premiered.)

Directed by Vietnam-born Paris-based Tran Anh Hung, "Cyclo" fully deserves its Gold Lion award for Best film in competition in Venice. The roads of modern-day Ho chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) are filled with cyclos, bicycle rickshaws pedaling through the chaotic city to convey packages or passengers to their destinations. It's a hard and dangerous job, yet far less dangerous than the Cyclo life itself, as the 18-year-old played by Le Van Loc soon finds out. It's a life of misery, of dashed hopes, ultimately of crime as nothing will help you break the cycle of poverty. Losing his rented cyclo, probably to gang warfare, the young man, to pay back his boss-renter, is forced to commit various acts of sabotage; he becomes addited to easy money and the feeling of power he gains from breaking the law, falls in with the reluctant leader of one of Ho chi Minh City's gangs, the Poet, who also doubles as his own sister's pimp (Tony Leung Chiu-wai, "in a worderfully desperate performance", as programmer David Overbey writes). Brimming with corruption and lost innocence, mixing violence with tenderness, "Cyclo" confirms the incredible talent of the 33-year-old man who made his directorial debut with "The Scent of the Green Papaya".

French director Claude Sautet is nearly seventy, but his filmmaking is as pure, as simple, and yes, as youthful (though far more assured), as Tran Anh Hung's. If "Cyclo" is as noisy as the streets of Saigon, "Nelly et M. Arnaud" is a quiet masterpiece of psychological interaction. There are two central characters (a cantankerous retiree who wants to write his memoirs and the young woman who types and rewrites them) and three others, peripheral (the man's estranged wife, the young woman's boyfriend--who happens to be the old man's publisher-- and a strange visitor. That's it, and that's a lot. A whole, immense, lot. Claude Sautet is non-pareil in capturing silences that last a second too long, unfinished sentences and aborted gestures. It is less a psychological study than a bittersweet piece of chamber music, where every performer is a soloist: Emmanuelle BČart ("Manon of the Springs"), Michel Serrault, FranÁoise Brion (she who inspired more than a founder of the "Nouvelle Vague"), Jean-Hughes Anglade ("Killing Zoe", "Queen Margot") and Michael Lonsdale as the visitor are absolutely perfect.

Parties? Just one, way down by the Skydome. We lasted thirty seconds, and left when we were told it was a cash bar and realized all of us had left their wallets at home. Thank heaven, someone dug up a cab chit from his boot ("always keep one there, just in case"), and we all went back to our respective hotels for a (sorely needed) early night. Some dropped in at Bistro 990 (the waterhole --I mean, champagne hole-- that serves as unofficial Festival headquarters) for a nightcap with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mare Winningham. But after a trip from L.A. and the gala presentation of "Georgia", they were as exhausted as we all were.

Which was not the case for Diane Ladd, in town for "Mrs. Munck" in which she acts and directs ex-husband Bruce Dern and Shelley Winters. According to those who stayed, Ladd worked the room until there was no room left to work...

So we went to Sailor's for the Gay "FlambČe" which, for an unwelcome change of pace, was an almost sedate affair. Still, our "early night" ended about 4 A.M.

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