The following short reviews of films opening on Monday, Sept. 13 at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival are by James Adams, James Bradshaw, Guy Dixon, Rick Groen, Liam Lacey, Gayle MacDonald, Dave McGinn, J. Kelly Nestruck, Johanna Schneller and Brad Wheeler. The star ratings are out of four.
Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux) Xavier Beauvois (France)
This moving, elegantly made spiritual docudrama, which won the runner-up Grand Prize at Cannes, follows the last weeks in the lives of a handful of Trappist monks living in a remote Algerian mountain community in 1996. Facing increasing threats from armed Islamic militants, the monks defy orders to return home, as they maintain their daily routine: eating, singing, praying and providing medical aid and educational help to the local Muslim villagers. The source of their spiritual strength and eventual demise is the belief of abbot Christian de Chergé ( The Matrix's Lambert Wilson). Though dismissed by some critics as hagiography, this timely film does not settle for easy answers about the limits of empathy and the clash of faiths. L.L.
Sept. 13, 9:30 p.m., Bell Lightbox 3; Sept. 17, 3 p.m., Scotiabank 11
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer Alex Gibney (USA)
TIFF's official introduction to Alex Gibney's documentary by programmer Thom Powers pays it a major compliment: "After this unforgiving cinematic account of [Spitzer's]rise and fall, his chances of future ascendance seem questionable." That the documentary might have so profound an effect on someone already so publicly humiliated is perhaps stretching things, but this is a smart, well-built documentary that does greatly deepen the account of Spitzer's fall from grace, as advertised. The narration is understated and Spitzer, who gave Gibney some fairly revelatory interviews, is captured largely in a very tight close up so that, as the film progresses, his facial reactions become so familiar that one wonders if he'll ever win a poker game in his life. But ultimately, by advancing a theory that Spitzer may have fallen victim to powerful enemies, Gibney may help Spitzer's public rehabilitation more than he hinders it. J.B.
Sept. 13, 12:30 p.m., Winter Garden Theatre; Sept.19, 9:15 a.m., Scotiabank Theatre 4
Our Day Will Come Romain Gavras (France)
Romain Gavras, the French director who helmed M.I.A.'s controversial music video Born Free, makes his feature film debut with a story about two damaged redheads on a quest to find freedom in Ireland, where they believe they will finally find acceptance. Remy, an awkward teenager who is picked on by his soccer teammates and mother and sister, meets Patrick, a bitter guidance counsellor played by Vincent Cassel, who tries to help the young man gain the strength to overcome his "submissiveness syndrome." But as the two realize there is no place for them in France, they careen from one tragic encounter to another in a slow descent in to madness. Cassel, who also produced the movie with Eric Neve, offers a wonderful performance, moving from sympathy for the young man to utter disdain in a single moment. The desperate sadness and frustration of Remy and Patrick offers a harrowing portrait of European alienation. D.M.
Sept. 13, 3:30 p.m., Varsity 8; Sept. 19, 3:30 p.m., Scotiabank 2
Black Swan Darren Aronofsky (USA)
Audaciously whacked-out and never less than entertaining, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan mixes a backstage dance drama with a Freudian psychological thriller that's indebted to Roman Polanski's studies of shattered feminine psyches and David Cronenberg's movies about repressed bodies in rebellion. The story follows a New York ballerina (Natalie Portman) who is striving to win the lead in a new version of Swan Lake while suffering from hallucinations, an infantilizing mom (Barbara Hershey), an over-bearing director (Vincent Cassel) and a sexy rival (Mila Kunis). Shot with a mixture of documentary-style handheld and traditional set-ups, Aronofsky's film has a lush surface and strong momentum, but he undermines the story's seriousness with horror shock effects and the absurdly over-ripe dialogue. Black Swan amounts to less than what meets the eye, but often what meets the eye - especially in Portman's entrance as the title character - is gorgeous. L.L.
Sept. 13, 9:30 p.m., Roy Thomson Hall; Sept. 14, 11 a.m., Visa Screening Room (Elgin); Sept. 18, 9 p.m., Ryerson.
Incendies Denis Villeneuve (Canada/France)
In Genie-winning director Denis Villeneuve's follow-up to Polytechnique, twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) receive two letters after the death of their mother Nawad (Lubna Azabal) - one to deliver to the father they thought was dead, the other to deliver to a brother they never knew existed. With the help of a friendly notary played by Rémy Girard, the two journey to their mother's Middle Eastern country to discover the shocking truth about their war-torn origins. Villeneuve's well-acted adaptation of the acclaimed play Incendies (known as Scorched in English) almost entirely drops playwright Wajdi Mouawad's intense, poetic language, exchanging them for intense, poetic visuals of empty swimming pools and burning orphanages stunningly shot by cinematographer André Turpin. A sensible switch from stage to screen, but lovers of the original may be disappointed: The story seems smaller, almost schematic, having been brought down to earth by Villeneuve's screenplay. The film is not as tightly structured either, so we keep learning surprises just a few steps ahead of the characters, diminishing the emotional impact of what could be a modern Greek tragedy. J.K.N.
Sept. 13, 6 p.m. Bell Lightbox 1; Sept. 14, 2 p.m. AMC 3
Another Year Mike Leigh (U.K.)
As the seasons spin through another British year, a married couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) are an island of mature wisdom in a sea of emotional shipwrecks. Around them, as friends and relatives plunge ever more deeply into the slough of despond, they do what good people can and wise people must - that is, help as much as possible without dragging themselves down into the same mire. From a superb cast, there's much talk here but, typically of a Mike Leigh film, the wordiness always feels cinematic. Better still, as in Happy-Go-Lucky, Leigh achieves something remarkable: Without once stooping to sentimentality, he manages to make goodness both ethically convincing and dramatically compelling. Even Milton couldn't pull that off. R.G.
Sept. 13, 6 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 14, 2:30 p.m., AMC 4
Oliver Sherman Ryan Redford (Canada)
Naming a film after one of the characters puts an intense spotlight on that fictional persona. One of the stumbling blocks for Oliver Sherman is that while it is unmistakably "about" the tribulations of its namesake, an edgy and lonely veteran searching for purpose after suffering a head wound in combat, his psyche remains such a riddle that his last act feels as mysterious as his first. As Sherman, Garret Dillahunt gives the strongest performance of a cast (including Molly Parker and Donal Logue) that generally acquits itself well. Indeed, much of the film's tension comes from imagining what Sherman might be capable of. But the storyline through which the film explores the familiar trope of soldiers struggling to adjust to civilian life feels thin, and too often the actors seem to be trying to extract more from the script than it is inclined to yield. J.B.
Sept. 13, 10 p.m., AMC 3; Sept. 17, 3 p.m., AMC 4