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Toronto Film Festival #2

With 328 films from over 57 countries screening over 10 days, and a record 178 world and North American premieres among them, the Toronto Film Festival is both the biggest yet also the most well-organised industry gathering I’ve ever witnessed. However, without the faculty of trilocation, it is impossible to see more than a tiny fraction of what is on offer, and even this modest aspiration requires juggling press and industry screenings with public ones in eight different (although mostly closely clustered) venues, while also keeping an eye on interviewees available and press conferences scheduled.




The Beckett Film Project continued this week with showings of Neil Jordan’s direction of ‘Not I’, with Julianne Moore as the disembodied mouth delivering its stop/start monologue, Patricia Rozema’s ‘Happy Days’ with Rosaleen Linehan as Winnie and Richard Johnson as Willie, and Toronto-based Atom Egoyan’s version of ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’, with John Hurt in the title role. What is perhaps most striking about these films is the high quality of the actors’ performances, aided no doubt by the fact that both Linehan and Hurt had already made the characters their own in theatrical productions.
Producer Michael Colgan said that the genesis of the project came from the theatre, since he was responsible for bringing all 19 of Beckett’s plays to Dublin’s Gate Theatre in 1991, and has subsequently toured many of them abroad. Committing them to film is a way of not having to keep doing them on stage. He is conscious of the responsibility involved, since the Beckett estate gave its permission on the understanding that this would be a one-off venture, so if it is messed up, there will be no chance to have another go later on. Also, these films may well be the only versions of some of the plays that a sizeable proportion of their audience ever sees. He is chary of the term ‘definitive’ however, since every time the plays are performed in a theatre they will be different, but he does accept that they are unique. Co-producer Alan Moloney is bowled over by the positive response so far, with two American distributors vying to pick the project up.
Fellow Canadians Rozema and Egoyan have in common the fact that they both directed their favourite plays from the Beckett canon. In pondering whether Beckett intended Winnie to be buried up to her chest, and later her neck, in a room or in a desolate desert expanse, Rozema chose the latter option, and ‘Happy Days’ was shot in Tenerife, 3000 feet above sea level, beside a volcano. Linehan, who never misses an opportunity to highlight the humour, while also capturing the underlying pathos, suffered altitude sickness and smarting eyes from blowing dust, but still turns in a highly nuanced performance. Egoyan fought hard for ‘Krapp’, since it was his father’s favourite play, and he remembers reading it as a 15-year-old boy in British Columbia. Now 39, Egoyan is the same age Krapp was when he made the tape he listens to in the play as a disillusioned 69-year-old, with contempt for the younger self he hears. Egoyan says that this play explains his own film work more than any other single influence, and readily acknowledges that his first short, ‘Howard in Particular’, made when he was 18, is an unabashed reworking of ‘Krapp’. Hurt employs his distinctive, often harrowing vocal range to its fullest, rendering Beckett’s words all the more potent and profound in what is the most autobiographical of the writer’s dramatic works.
In Belfast-born Dudi Appleton’s first full-length feature ‘The Most Fertile Man in Ireland’, Eamonn Manley (Kris Marshall) hasn’t much going for him. At 24, he is still a virgin, living with his overbearing mother and working in a local Dating Agency. At night he hides in his room, dreaming of romance with a girl he’s too scared to approach. After an encounter with local good time girl Mary Mallory (Tara Lynn O’Neill) Eamonn learns he has a unique gift: he has the highest sperm count in Ireland. With male fertility rates plummeting, he finds himself in great demand, and is persuaded by co-worker Millicent (Bronagh Gallagher) to start providing his services to the good ladies of Belfast, for a fee. With newfound confidence, he finally asks Rosie (Kathy Kiera Clarke) out. Entirely unaware of his new profession she finds herself drawn to the innocent, awkward Eamonn. Meanwhile, Eamonn has come to the attention of Mad Dog Billy Wilson (James Nesbitt), formerly ‘the most feared and ruthless’ paramilitary in Belfast, who now finds himself in a world that no longer endorses his services. Aware that the higher birth rate in the Catholic community means Protestants will no longer be in the majority, he is determined to recruit Eamonn to even the score.
A Hornbyesque look at the redundant male, with an added comic spin on Northern Irish sexual and social politics, Appleton says his film is ‘about the notion of being a man now’. Written by long-time collaborator Jim Keeble, it features brightly coloured production design, and is an irreverent and refreshing take on a place that has too often been depicted as grey and dour.
Irish audiences will get their first taste of the Becketts and ‘The Most Fertile Man’ at next week’s Belfast Film Festival.

First published in The Sunday Tribune













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