TIFF Screenings September 12

TIFF Today: Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Story of Film, The Loneliest Planet, Carre Blanc, Miss Bala

Despite a decidedly mixed reception to its Venice debut, the gala premiere of Madonna's W.E. will undoubtedly attract much attention on day five of TIFF 2011. Other high-profile premieres include Joseph Gordon Levitt and Seth Rogen's daring cancer dramedy 50/50, and Ralph Fiennes' contemporary adaptation of the epic but rarely-staged Shakespeare tragedy, Coriolanus. For those in search of alternative suggestions, today's schedule features some truly outstanding films.

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (10:15PM, Scotiabank 3)
A beautiful, skillfully structured, pitch-perfect psychological thriller, Martha Marcy May Marlene is easily among the best films I've screened at this year's festival. It's an achievement that any director ought to be proud of, and the fact that it's Sean Durkin's debut feature is frankly staggering. Also surprising is the performance of Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister to Mary-Kate and Ashley, who, on this evidence, could yet become the family's biggest star. It's already played Sundance and Cannes to rave reviews, and, in that sense, is scarcely an "alternative" selection, but it's simply too good not recommend, and worth even a lengthy rush line wait.

Mark Cousins' The Story of Film is a comprehensive, 15-hour documentary, chronicling the history of the medium from the silent era to the digital age. Obviously, even the most ardent film lovers would struggle to endure all 900 minutes in a single sitting, so TIFF's organisers have wisely split the film into five 3-hour segments, the first of which will screen this morning. Very generously, they're also offering these screenings entirely free of charge.

A young couple's relationship hits a rocky patch both literally and figuratively in Julia Loktev's The Loneliest Planet. TIFF favourite Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg are the initially happy couple, who embark on a prenuptial hiking trip through Georgia's breathtaking Caucasus Mountains. Loktev captures their interactions with sensitivity and subtlety, a demonstrates a similar finesse in her framing of their majestic surroundings.

Jean-Baptiste Léonetti's Carré Blanc certainly won't appeal to everyone, but is highly recommend to those with a taste for the avant-garde. The French first time director evokes a bleak, authoritarian dystopia that registers as a Stanley Milram experiment writ large, wherein, despite the pro-childrearing admonishments of a ubiquitous PA system, the human population is in steady decline. It's part Soylent Green, part Children of Men, part provocative think piece.

Another of my faves of the fest so far, Miss Bala is a marvelously effective, understated crime thriller from Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo. It's the story of a would-be beauty queen swept up in the country's bloody drug battles, and features a truly remarkable performance from relative unknown Stephanie Sigman. As Sigman's character is buffeted from one tense, superbly-conceived set piece to another, Naranjo dials up the moral ambiguity, and delivers a devastating finale.

A big thanks to Warrior, an Alliance film in theatres as of September 9th, for sponsoring our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

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