By William Wolf

THE TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2009--SOME FURTHER THOUGHTS  Send This Review to a Friend

Compliments are due the organizers of the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival for taking an effective stand against attempts at censorship. There was an obnoxious effort to pressure the Festival into canceling the showing of films from Israel in its “City to City” program. The Festival was having none of that, despite the protests. If one cancelled films from various countries against which there were political charges made, a huge portion of programming would be shredded. Cultural events should remain free form political pressures, and the Festival acted honorably.

Among the best performances in films shown at the Festival was that of Robin Wright Penn in the title role of “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.” She does her best work as a woman who is reflecting on her life, its ups and downs, and the changes that come along amid her greater understanding of who she is, where she has come from and where she might be going. Her performance is award worthy. There are other strong performances as well in the film, written and directed by Rebecca Miller based on her novel. Blake Lively is extraordinary as the younger Pippa, and Alan Arkin gives a gem of a performance as Pippa’s aging husband Herb. There are also striking contributions by Maria Bello, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves and Shirley Knight, among others.

An addition to the films that deal with wartime underground activities was the presentation of “Max Manus,” a Norwegian film co-directed by Espen Sandberg and Joachim Roenning and starring Aksel Hennie as the legendary Manus, a daredevil in the battles against the Nazi occupation of Norway. The engrossing film is filled with action and exploits of those risking their lives. It is a familiar story of comradeship and loss, but the intensity gives the subject of resistance fresh life even though there have been numerous other such tales.

Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” which has such heavyweight stars as Christopher Plummer, the late Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp and Jude Law, is a thorough mess in the story department. But it is an absolutely gorgeous film in terms of production design and cinematography.

There was good news for admirers of Natalie Portman, who makes the most of a new mature role in Don Roos’s “Love and other Impossible Pursuits.” Portman plays Emilia Greenleaf, who in her new marriage finds herself having to cope with her husband’s vindictive ex-wife and a stepson and dealing with the stress all of the problems put on the relationship with her husband. It is a demanding role and Portman is up to the task.

Finally, a word about the frustrations of the Festival: There are so many films that a critic covering it is hard-pressed to make choices, as so many of the films one would like to see are scheduled opposite each other. But on the other hand, that is a good thing. There is no other Festival I know of that offers so many tantalizing opportunities. Further, the Festival is efficiently organized, with its expert staff and vast army of cheerful volunteers doing everything they can to help events run smoothly.

  

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