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Rob Edelman: Toronto Overview

The Toronto International Film Festival, which I attend every year, usually serves as a mirror of the current international film scene. This year was no different. On one level, quite a few 2017 Academy Award hopefuls were trotted out, which usually is the case in Toronto as well as the Venice and Telluride festivals. Usually, they are big-name titles made by big-name directors and featuring big-name stars.

Such a list only begins with Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER!, whose high-octane cast includes Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer...; BATTLE OF THE SEXES, starring Emma Stone, the reigning Best Actress Oscar winner, and Steve Carell; VICTORIA & ABDUL, directed by Stephen Frears and featuring Judi Dench and a great British cast; and MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE, with Liam Neeson and Diane Lane. These are films that are scheduled for U.S. theatrical release in September. There are plenty more to come-- and two of the most-anticipated titles set for their theatrical bows at the tail-end of the year are Alexander Payne’s DOWNSIZING, featuring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, and Kristin Wiig; and Michael Haneke’s HAPPY END, with Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

Also, this year, as is the case every year, there are tons of biopics. Screening in Toronto were MARY SHELLEY, starring Elle Fanning as the Frankenstein author; Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in CHAPPAQUIDDICK; Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in DARKEST HOUR; Javier Bardem as drug lord Pablo Escobar in LOVING PABLO; and Louis Garrel as Jean-Luc Godard in REDOUBTABLE. And lest we forget Liam Neeson as Mark Felt, of Watergate/Deep Throat fame, in MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE; and Judi Dench as Queen Victoria in VICTORIA & ABDUL. This year, a number of biopics are linked to sports. Margot Robbie plays Tonya Harding in I, TONYA. Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf are Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in BORG/MCENROE and, of course, Stone and Carell are Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in BATTLE OF THE SEXES.

How many of these films will earn rave reviews, big box office bucks, and Oscar nominations? How many will quietly disappear into oblivion before their inevitable DVD and Blue-ray releases?   

It would be impossible to see and ponder every top-of-the-list title. However, one film that I did see and relish is Michael Haneke’s HAPPY END, which focuses on an upper-class French family contrasted to the present-day European refugee crisis. With much insight, HAPPY END deals with a host of issues. They only begin with the senselessness of nonstop iPhone interaction about nothing in particular contrasted to the lack of genuine face-to-face contact between individuals. Sometimes, the most memorable and meaningful human connection is between the very old-- here, it is an 85-year-old man-- and the very young: a 12-going-on-13-year-old girl. HAPPY END also examines the manner in which aristocratic Caucasians patronize those whom they perceive as their inferiors. At one point, a Moroccan cook is casually referred to as a “slave.”

HAPPY END is pointed filmmaking, and it is superb filmmaking. Michael Haneke, who is now in his mid-seventies and who began making television movies in Germany in the 1970’s before graduating to feature filmmaking, is one artist whose output has not diminished in quality.     

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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