By William Wolf

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2006 (V)  Send This Review to a Friend

Whenever I visited the Intercontinental Hotel, the Four Seasons and the Sutton Place Hotel during the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, crowds could be found outside yearning to get a glimpse of celebrities who tended to stay in those venues. The same was true at the red carpet entrance to the galas. The city goes celebrity mad during the festival, and in turn, the celebrities oblige by showing up in droves at what has become one of the most popular festivals in the world. What with the huge number of films offered and the desire to promote these works, stars, directors, writers and producers congregate in Toronto and thereby add to the annual event’s cachet.

As for critics and journalists, we encounter the celebrities primarily in round table or one-on-one interviews, and at the various press conferences, some of which tend to be routine, but others of which are highly entertaining and at the least interestingly informative.

The conference I enjoyed the most featured Will Farrell, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Ridley Scott, and director Marc Forster in connection with their showcased feature “Stranger than Fiction.” Ferrell plays a character in a novel not yet completed, which means the character doesn’t know whether he’ll live or die. Farrell can be very funny in person, and he and Hoffman took pleasure in mocking the sort of questions that crop up in press conferences.

When someone asked how well they got along on the set, Farrell responded quickly, “I slept with Dustin right away.” When the moderator suggested that there might be a bit of “Peter Pan” implied in the film, Dustin drew a big laugh with, “We’re in trouble if that’s the marketing technique.”

Behind the humorous façade, Farrell was obviously pleased with getting the challenge of doing the demanding role in a Ridley Scott film that had a literary premise. But even then, he didn’t resist the urge to be funny. “It was great to be working with two legends,” he said, citing lesser lights and ignoring Hoffman and Scott. It was fun to see them lightening up in contrast to frequent press conference pretentiousness.

Another high profile event was the appearance of Penélope Cruz and writer-director Pedro Almadóvar in connection with the touted—and rightly so—‘Volver.” Much of the discussion involved what was done to give Cruz the earth mother look that Almadóvar was seeking. He alluded to the sort of roles Sophia Loren played—“strong women.”

There was confirmation that the actress was costumed to make her breasts seem larger, and the same thing was done with her derriere. The extra backside padding, the director explained, was to make her look more grounded, enhancing the earthy look he was seeking for her in the role of a mother. The actress listened and confirmed all of this with good humor.

The mere appearance of Cruz was a press draw, given her celebrity and the craving of photographers to get pictures of her. She was indeed attractive on the platform and she cooperated pleasantly when the photographers pleaded with her to look this way and that.

Russell Crowe was another major draw with his appearance for “A Good Year,” based on Peter Mayle’s book set in Provence. Although Crowe has a reputation of being volatile, he was extremely pleasant and gentlemanly and had good things to say about the experience of making the film. In fact, he said: “Tell your friends to see the movie so we can do “Another Good Year.”

Not that a sequel is being planned. Scott expressed his interests in doing different types of projects. But he noted, “I have no plan. I like to do projects unlike what I’ve done before.” That is why a romantic comedy appealed to him. “Comedy is very difficult,” he stressed.

One person I wanted to see was Julie Christie, whose work from the so-called “swinging sixties” had endured solidly, such as the film “Darling.” She looks great in her more mature years, as evidenced by her actual appearance in contrast with the older image she assumes in “Away from Her” as a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. But Christie doesn’t work that often and doesn’t seem to be one who seeks celebrity.

Why doesn’t she work more? “There are so many beautiful things to do in life,” she replied. Why did she take her current role? “It was partly Sarah [director Sarah Polley]. We’re friends and I didn’t want to miss out on this experience in Sarah’s life.” Of course, it was also the character she was asked to play. As Christie expressed it:

“What if someone decided to recognize one’s fate and deal with it? She decides to do something that almost nobody does.” What Christie was referring to was the decision of her character to check into a residence away from her loving husband so that she can deteriorate without his having the burden of caring for her and watching her suffer through her inevitable decline.

In the Cinema and Literature course I teach for the French Department at New York University, I show François Truffaut’s 1966 “Fahrenheit 451,” in which Christie plays two roles. When I mentioned to her as she was leaving the press conference that new groups of students get to see the film each semester, she seemed very pleased and made the point that the film dealing with the banning of books was “still very relevant.”

It was refreshing to watch a conference with the Dixie Chicks in action, talking about their film, “Shut Up & Sing,” co-directed by Barbara Kopple and Cecelia Peck. The three singers making up the group, Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, are lots of fun and delightfully spirited. Of course, they had to discuss the storm precipitated when Maines told a London audience, “We’re embarrassed that the president [George W. Bush] is from Texas.”

Despite the refusal of radio stations that specialize in country music to play their records, the group didn’t backtrack, and Maines stressed that her colleagues “never asked me to apologize.”


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