Wednesday, Sept. 14 — "I've got insanity in my entrails," laments a deeply disturbed mother in director Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In," one of the many high-profile films being rolled out during this week's Toronto International Film Festival. For those attending the festival, the biggest worry is not so much insanity as it is pure exhaustion: There is always much more to see than you will ever have time (or energy) to get to. The festival began last Thursday and continues through Saturday, with more than 300 features from around the world being showcased at venues around the city.
Each year brings great surprises and discoveries — as well as surprising disappointments. Here's a quick rundown of some of the movies shown in the first half of TIFF.
"We Need To Talk About Kevin" (opening in late 2011): The fascinating Tilda Swinton digs into a marvelously complex role as a mother who slowly realizes that her teenage son is clever, charismatic and completely demented. Based on Lionel Shriver's acclaimed novel, the film has a tricky, disorienting structure that puts the viewer in the same place as its heroine, unsure of what's going on or what's about to happen next. When we finally do put the events together, the picture is terrifying.
"Coriolanus" (opening in late 2011): Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in a powerhouse adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy, presented in a contemporary setting. Fiennes is ferocious as the proud general who alienates his people, but the movie's trump card is Vanessa Redgrave as his mother; when the two have their final confrontation, you can't take your eyes off the screen. Jessica Chastain, Gerard Butler and Brian Cox lead a solid supporting cast.
"Into the Abyss" (opening in late 2011): World-class filmmaker Werner Herzog turns his camera on Death Row, following the case of two young men convicted of multiple murders a decade ago. But this documentary gets its true power from Herzog's decision to spend at least as much time talking to the relatives of the victims and the inmates, most of whom eloquently and sometimes shockingly share their thoughts and perceptions.
"Sons of Norway" (opening next year): What do you do when your mother dies unexpectedly, your father is a dyed-in-the-wool eccentric and you're a teenager living in late-1970s Norway? You join the punk movement, of course. This fresh, frisky comedy-drama celebrates the Sex Pistols' legacy (complete with a John Lydon cameo) and paints a poignant portrait of adolescent life in a crazy time in pop-culture history.
"Albert Nobbs" (opening in late 2011): Glenn Close's long-gestating pet project about an abused woman who masquerades as a man to survive in late-19th-century Ireland has finally made it to the screen, although festival audiences seemed divided over whether it was a noble effort or a nicely crafted misfire. It's definitely not a goofy "Tootsie"-style comedy, that's for certain: The movie is almost strenuously low-key and quiet, like its central figure.
"A Dangerous Method" (opening in late 2011): Director David Cronenberg looks back on the friction-filled friendship between psychological legends Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) in an absorbing, impressively acted drama revolving around the case of an emotionally traumatized Russian woman (Keira Knightley) who becomes Jung's patient and, later, his mistress.
"Martha Marcy May Marlene" (opening in late 2011): A nerve-jangling drama about a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen, in a stunning performance) who escapes the clutches of a cult, but finds it almost impossible to slip back into the rhythms of "normal" life. Extremely tense throughout, the movie is both mesmerizing and exhausting; it's leaves you with that "what a great film — I hope I never have to see it again" feeling.