The two festivals worked well together this year, says Fionnuala Halligan.


Critically-speaking, Marco Mueller’s Venice roared back up from last year’s coffin, providing critics with little to carp about and much to embrace. With a consistently steady flow of arthouse darlings from Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime, Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes, Tilda Swinton in I Am Love, Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon and Tom Ford’s splashy debut A Single Man, crowds on the Lido were sated and buyers began to peck even before the festival ended.

In contrast, this year’s Toronto took a little longer to get going: at its wrap, there was no clear consensus on a Slumdog-style crowd- and critic-pleaser (Venice title A Single Man, from Tom Ford, was the big sale of the festival), and the jury is still out on which titles are going to fill all those 10 empty Oscar best picture slots.

Toronto and Venice have different strengths, and 2009 showed them working well together. We look to Canada for more commercial titles and to Venice for the arthouse end of the spectrum. Although Toronto showed many international world premieres, it was generally acknowledged after some disappointments (Hiroshima; Rabia; Carmel; I, Don Giovanni; The FrontLine), that Venice had the pick of the bunch – although Catherine Corsini’s Partir, with Kristen Scott Thomas, was well-LeRefuge received as a more commercial title, and Francois Ozon’s saw the French auteur back on form.

Toronto started well on its larger titles (after Megan Fox hijacked the paparazzi for Jennifer’s Body) with Jason Reitman’s comedic Up In The Air, which should see both multiplex and awards play (for George Clooney), and The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, a low-wattage personal project (growing up in the Jewish Midwest in the 1960s), but as sardonically successful as the brothers have ever been.

The UK was completely shut out of Venice this year, and unleashed its autumn crop onto Toronto: the best-received were undoubtedly Jordan Scott’s (Ridley Scott’s daughter) Cracks, with Eva Green, and The Disappearance Of Alice Creed, a directorial debut from J Blakeson and a cultish item along the lines of Shallow Grave. Creation opened the festival and was respectfully reviewed; Dorian Gray dramatically less-so. Two Colin Farrell films, Ondine – by Neil Jordan – and Triage, by Danis Tanovic – were less rapturously welcomed, and another Irish-set crime black comedy Perrier’s Bounty, with Jim Broadbent, fared no better.

Glorious 39, by Stephen Poliakoff, failed to galvanise the critics, while Harry Brown drew strong notices for Michael Caine’s brave performance as a senior-citizen vigilante (a more violent UK take on Clint Eastwood’s turn in Gran Torino), but there were reservations. Samantha Morton’s The Unloved, which has already screened in the UK on Channel 4, was very warmly-received, however, even if it screened late in the festival, and may become this year’s Boy A.

One country which blitzed Toronto – 2009’s comeback kid – was Australia, there with 11 features, some of which had previously screened at local festivals (Blessed, Balibo, Beautiful Kate). World premieres, wonders from down under, included The Waiting City, about a couple in India on the last stages of the adoption process; Mao’s Last Dancer, from Bruce Beresford; and in particular Scott Hicks (Shine) with The Boys Are Back, the enthusiastically-received story of a newly-single father (Clive Owen) and his two sons.

On the more commercial end of the spectrum, Atom Egoyan’s highly-anticipated Chloe was immediately dubbed a Showgirls for 2009, but that doesn’t exactly render the title unsaleable. Tim Blake Nelson’s Leaves Of Grass with Ed Norton playing twins; Mother And Child, a typical Rodridgo Garcia venture with Annette Bening and Naomi Watts; were warmly if not ecstatically received; and the last big-ticket film to have its world premiere, Micmacs, from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was immediately adored as a return to Amelie and  Delicatessen form.

The jury is still out, however. Close on 200 major titles had their world premieres at Venice and Toronto, and word has still to emerge on some of the smaller, more delicate items.