by Loren King
TORONTO — I knew I could only be at the Toronto International Film Festival when one minute I was sitting next to Matthew McConaughey as he talked about losing weight to play a man with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club and the next I was talking with Boston filmmaker Mark Phinney about his low-budget indie film Fat.
The mix of red carpet glitz and unknown names, of high profile films and obscure indies, is what makes the TIFF, which runs to September 15, such a heady event for filmmakers and viewers alike. Often it’s the little film that dazzles — yes, it was cool to be at a press conference just two feet away from Jake Gyllenhaal or to spot Juliette Lewis in a hotel lobby. But for cinephiles the real kick is the under the radar film that turns out to be a real gem.
Boston writer/director Mark Phinney and the cast and crew of Fat (which includes lots of Boston talent) made the trip to Toronto by van and were clearly basking in the glow of a break-out films that’s garnering lots of buzz. Shot entirely in Boston, Fat is a funny and poignant film about a man’s battle with food addiction and the toll it takes on his emotional and physical health. It won’t be in theaters until 2014 but keep your eyes open for a local screening before that.
This year’s TIFF boasted several buzz-worthy international films with LGBT subject matter. One of the hottest tickets was for Blue is the Warmest Color, the three hour French film about an intense romance between two young women (played by Léa Seydoux and Adčle Exarchopoulos). It’s based on the graphic novel by lesbian author and illustrator Julie Maroh and the movie arrived at TIFF already surrounded by controversy. Maroh had criticized the film’s explicit and very long sex scene — which earned the film an NC-17 rating — as bordering on porn. Others hailed director Abdellatif Kechiche’s film as an erotic masterpiece for it’s no holds barred portrait of sexual passion and emotional intensity.
Also full of long takes and frank sex, Eastern Boys from director Robin Campillo is about a middle-aged Frenchman who who picks up a handsome teen boy in a Paris train station and soon finds himself entangled with a gang of young, undocumented Eastern European hustlers. But more than the candid sex scenes, what’s affecting about the film is the genuine relationship that develops between the two and the powerful depiction of a unique immigrant story.
Violette, a biopic of bisexual French novelist Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devos) is also filled with eroticism, period style. That’s a necessity for a film about the author of one of the lesbian classics of all time Therese and Isabelle. Director Martin Provost explores Leduc’s intense relationship with her mentor and friend Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kimberlain) who encouraged Leduc to write honestly about her sexuality but who didn’t reciprocate Leduc’s declarations of desire for her. The film is gorgeously shot, beautifully acted, and offers a compelling portrait of two important artists and the era in which they lived.
An American film that’s generating well-deserved Oscar buzz is Dallas Buyers Club. Matthew McConaughey continues his string of terrific performances as real-life Ron Woodroof, a Dallas heterosexual redneck who is diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, a time when ignorance about the disease was in high gear. Jared Leto might as well start practicing his supporting actor acceptance speech now for his funny, poignant turn as transgender Rayon, who becomes Ron’s business partner as they team up to sell non-FDA approved drugs to desperate AIDS patients. With echoes of Midnight Cowboy, Dallas Buyers Club is the story of an unlikely friendship in an era when pharmaceutical companies touted AZT as a wonder drug and only through the courageous and tireless efforts of AIDS activists did FDA policy and public attitudes begin to change.
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