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The Red Carpet arrivals at Toronto: its a wrap

As the Toronto International Film Festival enters its final weekend, it has saved some of its choicest Gala Films for last. The Red Carpet arrivals continue tonight and tomorrow evening, with such luminaries as Shirley MacLaine, Max Von Sydow, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Plummer, Brenda Fricker and Sir Richard Attenborough expected the walk the walk.

Set against wars both between nations and within hearts, CLOSING THE RING is an intimate epic, the latest work of Oscar-winning director Sir Richard Attenborough (GHANDI). Set in 1991, a small American town quietly mourns the loss of Chuck Harris: father, husband and honoured veteran of the Second World War. His wife, Ethel (Shirley MacLaine), refuses to mourn, drowning herself in alcohol and neglecting her hysterical daughter, Marie (Neve Campbell). But when Marie receives a curious phone call from a boy in Northern Ireland who claims to have discovered a ring belonging to Ethel, an incendiary chain of events is ignited. As its narrative travels backward into the wartime past, CLOSING THE RING collects the pieces of a truly profound puzzle one by one. The film also stars Brenda Fricker and Christopher Plummer. Oscar buzz is surrounding MacLaine's charismatic performance as a woman torn apart by the never-ending costs of war.

In CARAMEL, the love-affirming feature debut of Lebanese director Nadine Labaski, contemporary life in Beirut is anything but simple. The film, a sleeper hit of this year's Cannes Film Festival, is set in and around a Beirut beauty salon, where five women gossip, complain and illuminate their inner lives. Labaki herself plays Layale, leading an ensemble cast that generates enormous warmth and wit onscreen. As director, Labaki gives the film a rich visual field, shooting the salon with a touch of Wong Kar-wai in her layered, burnished compositions. The film, a Lebanese-French co-production, is one of the few feature films to have been produced in that scarred nation since the outbreak of bombing a year ago. It reveals a remarkably resilient population trying to hold onto normalcy in the midst of chaos, and longing for the same pleasures as women in any other society of the world.

The Festival closes tomorrow evening with EMOTIONAL ARITHMETIC, the world premiere of a Canadian film by Paolo Berzman, based on the acclaimed novel of Matt Cohen. Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon stars as a survivor of Drancy, a transit camp set up outside Paris during the Nazi occupation. Now comfortably middle-aged, she is married to David (Christopher Plummer) and dotes over her son and grandson. But her life is about to be turned upside down......she discovers that the Polish dissident who saved her life in the camp is still alive and arranges for his to visit her. He is played by the towering Max Von Sydow. When he arrives, old memories of longing, pain and survival resurface. EMOTIONAL ARITHMETIC is a film about personal transformation and salvation. It is a worthy addition to the canon of Holocaust films and features a tremendous cast of industry veterans at the peak of their powers.

Sandy Mandelberger, Toronto FF Dailies Editor

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