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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

September 12, 2011 at 3:11 PM

At TIFF: ‘The Deep Blue Sea,’ ‘Hysteria,’ star-spotting

TORONTO — This morning, at the ungodly hour of 8:45 a.m., I watched Rachel Weisz give an exquisite performance in Terence Davies’ “The Deep Blue Sea.” Then, just a couple of hours later, I was strolling the halls of the Inter-Continental Hotel on my way to an interview, and heard a familiar voice. It was, sure enough, Rachel Weisz, still exquisite, and strolling the hall on her way to her own interview. TIFF is kind of that way. I keep thinking that I see Philip Seymour Hoffman dining al fresco, all over town, and maybe I’m really seeing him and he just gets around a lot (he was here earlier in the fest, at least), or there are a lot of guys here who look like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Probably the latter. As I left the hotel, Geoffrey Rush was signing autographs for the diehards behind the velvet rope. You won’t see a lot of celebrities wandering around during TIFF (they have their ways of getting about discreetly), but you’ll certainly see a lot of sidewalk celebrity watchers, all of whom are presumably wearing more comfortable shoes than Rachel was. (I coveted her shoes, btw. But I suspect I can’t afford them.)
This edition of TIFF seems to have quite a few directors popping up with their first feature in many years: Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” coming seven years after “Sideways”; Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress,” 13 years after “The Last Days of Disco” (I wasn’t able to see “Damsels,” but the Globe & Mail gave it a middling review); and now Davies, whose last feature was the soulful period drama “The House of Mirth” in 2000. Based on a classic play by Terence Rattigan, it’s a wrenching drama about a woman in post-World War II London who has left her wealthy husband only to be abandoned by her lover. Filmed in soft light and gentle focus, like fragments found from long ago, “Deep Blue Sea” is a rich tale of things broken: a heart ravaged by mistaken love; a city battered yet slowly piecing itself together again. The cinematography, by Florian Hoffmeister, is a treat (note two gorgeous, similar tracking shots that bookend the movie); as is the Samuel Barber orchestral music in the score. This film doesn’t have distribution, as far as I know, but I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t find its way to Seattle for an arthouse release.
I seem to be seeing a lot of elegant period films at TIFF this year — “The Artist” (still my favorite of the fest), “Albert Nobbs,” “A Dangerous Method,” “Wuthering Heights” — and that’s a treat; they go in and out of fashion in this post-Merchant Ivory age, but I find it a pleasure to see a well-made film that depicts a bygone era, when life was a little slower. And they don’t have to be predictable; the TIFF crowd is still debating Andrea Arnold’s gritty “Wuthering Heights” (though I’m hearing mostly positive comments), and today I saw Tanya Wexler’s “Hysteria,” just your basic little Victorian-era tale of a couple of guys who invented the vibrator. One of the guys is played by Rupert Everett, that man for whom presumably the word “languid” was invented, and it’s a disappointment that he’s barely in the film; just showing up every now and then to purr out a few lines. But it’s a pleasantly cheery little film, with Maggie Gyllenhaal trotting out a nice British accent. I suspect I will have entirely forgotten “Hysteria” in a couple of days — it’s not very substantial — but it’s fun while it lasts.
In trying to give an overview of the whole picture of TIFF — the experience of it all, not just the movies — I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the oil of the machinery: the 2,000 volunteers who make things run. I’ve been watching this crew (you can’t miss them in their orange T-shirts) as I wait for screenings; fascinated by how many of them it takes to to make things go smoothly. Yesterday at “Headhunters” I noted that it took six of them to load up the theater: two to scan press/industry passes with a handheld scanner, one to count the attendees as they went in, one to hand out the slips (you need one if you head out to go to the bathroom; they’ve got mysterious codes on them and woe betide you if you lose it), one to hold a clipboard (I don’t know why, but all endeavors like this require someone with a clipboard, don’t they?) and one for, I don’t know, moral support.
The worst volunteer job at the festival seems to belong to the unfortunate yet smiling fellow I saw today whose duty was to constantly repeat the words “Complementary shuttle to all TIFF venues!” on the sidewalk to passers-by — directly in the midst of all the press/industry types taking a smoke break. And I was charmed to see this spectacle at last night’s “Your Sister’s Sister” screening: at the back exit, where the cast was leaving, volunteers joined hands to form an orange-human barrier, keeping the crowds at bay. Once you get past the expectation that any group of adults holding hands just might start singing “Kumbaya,” it seemed much nicer than velvet ropes. Anyway, every volunteer that I’ve encountered has been kind and cheerful and helpful, even when I ask something idiotic (I don’t do it on purpose; this festival’s confusing at times), and I hope they’re all getting a pile of free tickets and, in their off-hours, seeing some wonderful movies. Like I am.

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