Toronto Festival Diary: Day 6

The first film of the day was Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. I attended a screening at the beautiful historic Elgin Theatre, which is the best theatre of the festival and especially fitting to see a film about the ballet. Natalie Portman plays Nina, an innocent young ballerina being thrust into the lead role of a new production of Swan Lake staged by a New York City ballet company. The demanding artistic director (Vincent Cassell) requires both sides of the Swan Queen to be demonstrated by Nina; the naïve White Swan and the seductive Black Swan.  With a very protective mother (Barbara Hershey), Nina leads a very sheltered life. When Lily (Mila Kunis) joins the company and displays all the passion that the Black Swan should have, Nina becomes threatened and obsessed with her and strange things start to happen. Nina seems to undergo a transformation. But what things are in her imagination and what things are actually happening? Aronofsky has created a mesmerizing tale of the artist’s quest for perfection which is dark and deeply disturbing. The visuals are stunning and the performances are all very good by the supporting players, especially Vincent Cassell and Mila Kunis. Natalie Portman is impressive. Aronofsky is back to form after a much more conventional effort last year with The Wrestler. It was nice to see Winona Ryder in the film. She plays an aging ballet star. The irony is perhaps in a previous decade perhaps Ryder as the ingénue would have played the Portman role. Enjoyable film.

Next film of the day was Mike Leigh’s Another Year.  The film stars Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as a happily married middle-aged couple Tom and Gerri. They provide the emotional centre of stability for family and friends. Their home provides an oasis for lonely and unhappy friends like Mary (Lesley Manville), a place where they can unload their problems.

The themes and characters are complex but very real and universal. Leigh has created a deeply engrossing film. The performances are all engaging. Lesley Manville gives an emotionally devastating performance.

Following the screening there was a Q & A with Mike Leigh along with the three stars of the film, Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville and Ruth Sheen.

Most of the questions dealt with Mike Leigh’s process of creating a film. “The characters come first and then the script comes second after intense improvisation,” said Leigh. Leslie Manville added, “We work, as you may or may not know, without a script. For us it’s all about creating the characters.”

Leigh continued, “We created the characters in a very thorough and 3 dimensional way then what they actually do in the improvised situations which then becomes the content of the film is reliable because we’ve made reliably solid carefully constructed characters.” Jim Broadbent added, “We don’t improvise in front of the camera at all. By the time we get to filming we have a very tight script. “

I capped off the day by attending a performance party for the film Janie Jones by David M. Rosenthal. The party was held at The Horseshoe Tavern, a well- known Toronto establishment. The party featured performances by Alessandro Nivolo and Abigail Breslin, who both star in the film and played to a packed house. They both performed some of the featured songs from the film and were very entertaining as was Patrick Watson who had a very energetic set. I am seeing this film later in the week and looking forward to it after this primer.

Tomorrow: The Debt

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