At TIFF, I saw the wonderful French actress Fanny Ardant in the new movie Bright Days Ahead (2013) directed by Marion Vernoux. Ardant plays a dentist who reacts to the death of her best friend with a precipitous decision to retire. As the movie begins, she is faced with the fallout of her abrupt decision. She is given a trial membership in a local seniors center and, skeptical and bored, she decides to try it out. The movie focuses on her response to the activities and people at that Centre, and how she finds her own way into retirement. Suffice it to say, her adaptation is typically French, sensuous, wonderfully satisfying, and the movie a heart-warming experience which I highly recommend.
This movie is another in the rising tide of movies depicting adaptations to aging, obviously aimed at the burgeoning boomer generation. Within this genre, French movies have been some of the best I have seen. Amour (2012) directed by Michael Haneke and staring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, won the Academy Award for best foreign language film and was nominated in four additional categories. It depicts an elderly couple struggling with the effects of a stroke. It is not easy to watch but totally unforgettable. Another is All Together (or And If We All Lived Together) (20ll), directed by Stephanie Robelin and starring among others Jane Fonda, Guy Bedos, Daniel Bruhl and Geraldine Chaplin. Like Ardant’s retired dentist, Jane Fonda’s character finds her own response to aging as one of five old friends who decide to live together in their retirement.
As an aside, unrelated people coming together to live in retirement is the theme of the 2012 smash hit, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel directed by John Madden and starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson. I saw this movie in the theatre and have watched it numerous times since, whenever it shows up on an airplane trip.
What is particularly heartening about these movies are the performances of the actors who are themselves role models for successful aging. Emmanuelle Riva was nominated for an Academy for Best Actress in a Leading Role at 85 years of age. When they made the movies I am describing, Jean-Louis Trintignant was 82, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith 78, and Jane Fonda 74. Fanny Ardant and Bill Nighy were born in l949, as was Meryl Streep whom I also saw at TIFF in the searing August Osage County. These actors appear in roles which deal with the issue of retirement and aging, while they themselves continue working in their chosen profession. They have not retired. But then, they have control over what they choose to do in their work. They can take on as much, or as little, as they choose. And maybe that is key.
The Toronto International Film Festival swept Toronto last month. Despite some unusual screening glitches, It seemed bigger, better, more energetic and more open to the general public than ever before. Perhaps this was due to the free public screenings, or maybe to the concentration of activities on King Street where the buzz in TIFF headquarters at the Bell Lightbox spilled onto the street.
When there are 455 odd movies on offer, choosing what to see is a big issue. Do I “waste” my TIFF tickets on movies that obviously will go mainstream? Do I treat TIFF as a cheap holiday abroad and see as many foreign films as possible? Do I seek out the “little gems” that will never make general distribution? Or do I just take my chances? The multiplicity of choices means that every one has a different experience, depending on what they see, which celebrities may be present, and who one meets in the lines.
I met a woman who told me she will have seen 81 movies during the ten days at TIFF. She is a member of the Patrons Circle and can access films without waiting in lines. That facilitates seeing up to six films a day. Most of us, however, are less frenetic, have less money, less energy, or are working. Unless, of course, you are like one of my colleagues who used to take her holidays during TIFF and see as many films as she could.
One of my retirement objectives was to re-engage with TIFF in a big way. I was also curious to see if I still had the stamina to see the movies, do the lines, and maintain the hours. Now that TIFF is over, I look back on it as a superb experience. I saw at least four movies that will likely be mainstream hits, eight foreign language films, six documentaries, three art films that will become classics, a musical from Scotland, and a South African rendition of Benjamin Britten’s classic opera Noye’s Flood. Of those, nine were world premiere screenings that featured question and answer sessions with the directors, producers and stars of the particular movie. These Q and A sessions with the professionals is one of the highlights of the festival, an opportunity to learn the scoop about production issues.
Many people avoid TIFF because of the lines. The lines are notorious. The Toronto Star did a story on the self-preservation skills needed by people who wait in rush lines for potential tickets for up to seven hours. Even ticket holders who are assured entry persist in lining up to get the seating they prefer with their buddies. I don’t mind the TIFF lines. They are one of the few occasions when normally taciturn Torontonians actually speak to strangers. What films have you seen? What did you like? Easy openers that generally lead to exchanging good information. And you never know whom you might meet. This year, among others, I met a television producer from Puerto Rico, an ex-lawyer who has successfully given up law to write cookbooks, and who knows about the many others.
For a full listing of all films shown at TIFF 2013, with a description of each one, check out the website Tiff.net/the festival/filmprogramming and access the catalogue. This can be your guide to all these movies through the year. I will review some of the films I saw in future blogs.