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117 Features & docus from EFP to Screen at Toronto

117 Features and Documentaries from 24 of European Film Promotion’s 28 Member Countries to Screen at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival®

European Film Promotion (EFP) with support from the European Union's MEDIA Programme, will attend the Toronto International Film Festival® (September 6-15) for the eleventh consecutive year. Joining the 17 EFP member countries who comprise a de facto European delegation with display booths in the Festival’s Sales & Industry Office, are two EFP members new to Toronto – Czech Film Center and Polish Film Institute – whose attendance at the festival is occasioned by a small but strong selection of films from both countries. More than 100 European professionals will travel to Toronto to present their films to the press and the public.

Six European films will be screened in the prestigious Gala section of the festival, first and foremost Elizabeth: the Golden Age, a UK production that will receive its World Premiere amid the glare and glamour of Opening Night. Director Shekhar Kapur’s thrilling sequel to his more cerebral Elizabeth again stars Cate Blanchett as a now fiery monarch preparing for a brutal war against Spain while surrounded by palace intrigue. In a lighter vein is Caramel (France/Lebanon), a film set in the workplace, an assured first feature by actress/director Nadine Labaki about five women who meet in a Beirut beauty salon and exchange confidences.

A Toronto Gala is not the obvious place to seek out genre films but this year the Galas include the World Premiere of three thrillers from Europe: set in London, Woody Allen’s Cassandra's Dream (UK) is an urbane tale of twisted desire and drawing room skullduggery; David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises (UK/Canada) in which a chance encounter between a Russian gangster and a London nurse spirals into revenge and violence; and most intriguingly, Second Wind (France), Alain Corneau’s adaptation of a classic French policier originally filmed in 1952 by Jean-Pierre Melville and starring Lino Ventura. A skilled if infrequent practitioner of the genre (Serie Noir), Corneau’s highly anticipated re-make stars Daniel Auteuil as a steely ex-con who is double-crossed after his final heist.
The French selection in Toronto is again vibrant and diverse, but it is a rare coup at a North American festival to host the premiere of new films by three of France’s most revered auteurs. Claude Chabrol’s brilliantly-titled A Girl Cut in Two (France/Germany), is an ironic study of jealousy and revenge in the context of a May-December romance. Jacques Rivette brings his love of theatre and history to this tale of a courtesan who humiliates a general in 1820s Paris in his audaciously titled Don't Touch the Axe (France/Italy). And last but not least is Romance of Astrea and Celadon (France/Italy/Spain) Eric Rohmer’s exquisite and aesthetic fantasy about the pure love of a shepherd for a shepardess when Druids walked the earth.

Surveying the fifty-plus films and co-productions bearing the French insignia, film buffs will certainly circle new titles by two French filmmakers who can be counted on to push the envelope: François Ozon’s Angel (UK/France/Belgium), a Sirkian melodrama set in gas lit Edwardian London that has acquired fierce supporters and detractors since its premiere in Berlin; and Catherine Breillat’s The Old Mistress (France), a penetrating depiction of the emotional cruelties committed by the ornately costumed aristocracy of nineteenth century France, is a stylistic departure for a director usually associated with explicit sex and violence.

With 15 European films selected for screening as Special Presentations, 11 films included in the Masters section, and upwards of 90 films divided among Contemporary World Cinema, Visions, and the Discovery and Real to Reel sections, it is necessary to point out some of the most anticipated films and emerging trends. Perhaps the most obvious trend is the explosive growth in co-productions. Viewed with suspicion by members of the industry who feared an artistic watering down of European identity, co-productions over the past few years have proved to be artistically and financially viable.

“I am astonished by the originality of these films,” commented EFP President Claudia Landsberger as she studied the Toronto selection. “Especially this year. There are so many fascinating stories, the writing gets better and better, the actors are more and more unique, they have a new kind of presence on screen. There are films in Toronto today directed with style and conviction by young men and women who were SHOOTING STARS some years ago. When actors become writers and writers become directors and producers start bringing together international talent in order to deepen the work… For me, those are signs of an industry beginning to mature. I think audiences who attend a dozen or more of the films from Europe aim Toronto this year will be blown away by the imagination and energy. Look at what’s coming out of Romania. Amazing!”

Not to mention Germany and Austria! For some years now, German-language films have been high on critics lists’ at many festivals and Stefan Ruzowitzky’s The Counterfeiters (Germany/Austria), a fact-based story about a brilliant concentration camp inmate who assists the Nazi generals in their plot to destroy the world economy by flooding it with counterfeit banknotes, may be this year’s white-knuckle thriller with a moral. Screening in Toronto and still buzzing from Cannes are Ulrich Seidl’s Import/Export (Austria) and Fatih Akin’s Edge of Heaven (Germany/Turkey) each of which is a powerful depiction of rootless individuals on the fringe of modern society and their futile battles against racism and prejudice.

Traumatized fifteen years ago by the demise of Communism with its economic and social fallout, closely followed by the implosion of Yugoslavia and the terrors of ethnic cleansing, filmmakers from Central European and the Baltic are once again stirring: in several high profile selections, their trademark black humor and slapstick violence is back on the screen in Toronto in films like Empties (Czech Republic/UK), by Jan Sverák; Beneath the Rooftops of Paris (France) by Kurdish filmmaker Hiner Saleem (Vodka Lemon) who turns a sardonic eye on the failings of France’s ‘just society’; and Cannes Golden Palm winner, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Romania), Cristian Mungiu’s spare but imaginative re-creation of the grey prison that was daily life in Communist Romania.

One trend that goes in and out of favour on the Festival circuit is admiration for the “mood film”, an awkward term used to identify those films that achieve their effects largely through beautifully crafted images, contemplative pacing, intense close-ups, and plots that veer toward the allegorical. If Toronto is any example, there are a number of strong films screening in which the core drama is unimaginable without the aesthetic wrapping, among them The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the true story of Elle magazine’s senior editor of whose paralysis trapped a brilliant mind in a body reduced to communication by the twitch of one eyelid, won the Best Director award for Julian Schnabel, the acclaimed New York painter who has found unexpected success as a filmmaker. Another visual artist making a bold debut as a filmmaker is the Dutch rock band photographer Anton Corbijn whose bio pic Control about the suicidal Joy Division singer Ian Curtis is shot in a stark monotone that enhances the film’s realistic balance between farce and tragedy.

Three new films by women directors explore the hidden landscape of the mind while keeping the outside world visible and expressive: in The Mourning Forest, Naomi Kawase, the author of two autobiographical novels in her native Japan, explores the nature of death, grief and healing when an old man and his young nurse are stranded in a lush forest after their car breaks down; the Polish director Dorota Kedzierzawska will be on hand to present Time To Die, her latest film to penetrate the life and mind of another human being – in this case the 93 year old former actress Danuta Szaflarska, who agreed to be filmed while awaiting death; and in a surprising aesthetic leap, Nanouk Leopold’s sophomore feature Wolfsbergen makes brilliant use of widescreen images and sparse dialogue both of which are carefully designed to reveal and conceal the tangled relationships in an extended Dutch family.

Trends aside, the sale of European films outside their domestic territories is central to the continued health of the industry and EFP’s Film Sales Support (FSS) has become an important partner in funding promotional campaigns of European films in Toronto. Among the 40 or more films represented by international sales agents and production companies that are seeking EFP support are The Substitute (Ole Bornedal), Just Like Home (Lone Scherfig), Ulzhan (Volker Schlöndorff), Gone With The Woman (Peter Næss), It’s A Free World… (Ken Loach) and Chaotic Ana (Julio Medem). The attendance of directors such as Victor Maldonado & Adrià Garcia (The Same), Jirí Vejdelek (Roming), Manoel de Oliveira (Christopher Columbus – The Enigma), Julio Medem (Chaotic Ana), Lone Scherfig (Just Like Home) and Jacob Thuesen (Erik Nietzsche – The Early Years) are also part of the various promotional campaigns that EFP will support in Toronto this year.

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