TIFF Day 5 - Chatting with Patty

Day Five of Tiff featured a rather varied selections of films to view, from an Australian musical to a high camp satire on the Manson trials. Squeeze a quiet romance set in Cairo in there and you've got a pretty interesting day. The day was notable as well because I got to have a quick but memorable chat with Patricia Clarkson, who was gracious and lovely, and told me the way to get her attention is to have a dog with you. We also got to attend the LESLIE, MY NAME IS EVIL party, hosted by director Reg Harkema (MONKEY WARFARE) where we got to catch up yet again with Don and Tracy. In addition to Scot and myself, Bruce, Scott, Mary James, Traci and Chansi joined us. We received a copy of the Leslie, My Name is Evil soundtrack on vinyl, and much to Scot's delight, got to meet Lisa Lambert, lyricist for The Drowsy Chaperon.

director: Rachael Perkins
cast: Geoffrey Rush; Rocky McKenzie; Ernie Dingo; Deborah Mailman; Tom Budge; Missy Higgins; Magda Szubanski

Without a doubt, BRAN NUE DAE, Rachel Perkins’ adaptation of a hugely successful Australian stage musical, is the most fun I’ve had in a theatre this year at TIFF! Willie is doing his mother’s bidding and studying to be a priest under the severe educational care of Father Benedictus. The problem is he’s not sure he wants to become a priest, and may, in fact, rather be spending his time in the gorgeous coastal city of Broome with his beautiful crush, Rosie. While Willie is away at school in the big city, Lester, lead singing cowboy of the local bar band, is wooing Rosie with the promise of a singing gig with his band. When Willie lets Father Benedictus down and is castigated as a sinning aboriginal who will be punished, he runs, vowing to make his way back to Broome on his own. Willie finds help in the form of Uncle Tadpole, a homeless man who has strange connections with Broome, and with Father Benedictus hot on their heels, the pais head off, encountering a series of wacky characters who both help and hinder the travels.

Of course, this is a musical, so you just know that everything is going to turn out fine, but what was unexpected was the amount of big, uproarious laughs we would enjoy along the way. Geoffrey Rush is hilarious as the misguided Father Benedictus and Ernie Dingo shines as the good-for-nothing drunk whose timeworn façade hides a multi-layered, key component to the story. The songs are surprisingly straight-forward and bawdy, especially the first full-on number espousing the necessity for safe sex. BRAN NUE DAE is an uproarious side-splitter that will hopefully find an audience in the States. 4 ½ cats

Cairo Time
director: Ruba Nedda
cast: Patricia Clarkson; Alexander Siddig

Superficially an adult romance between a married career woman visiting Cairo and a man who helps her navigate the city, CAIRO TIME also brushes such topics as culture differences, gender roles and politics. In many ways director Ruba Nedda has written a love letter to Cairo and an urban life seldom seen in western films. Patricia Clarkson plays Juliette, the wife of an American diplomat who is coming to Cairo to visit her husband. When she lands she is informed by Tareq, a former employee and dear friend of her husband’s, that he has been delayed and will call her at the hotel. Clarkson masterfully slides from thee excitement of arriving in a strange land to spend time with her husband to the disoriented wariness of a woman on her own in a Middle Eastern city. She is comforted by Tareq’s presence, but uncertain of their relationship as well. Her first attempts at exploring the city alone throw her into further dismay as the young men openly admire her and follow her wherever she goes.

It is with great relief that she meets Tareq again, and he graciously takes her on tours of the city and surrounding countryside… all except the pyramids, which she has vowed to save for her husband. In her discussions with Tareq, she begin to understand the differences in their cultures, just as she slowly begins to become entranced by the exotic beauty of the locale. Clarkson is magnificent in a quiet, understated role that upon further examination might even be a woman used to her husband making decisions for her. While it is true that she has a career as a journalist for a women’s magazine, share makes it sound more like an issues journal than the lifestyle mag that it truly is. Clarkson responds slowly to Tareq’s gentle yet so-very male demeanor, but it is clear that she feels comforted by his presence, yet able to challenge and verbally spar with him as well.

What Nedda does that is so remarkable is to allow long silences to permeate the film. There are long moments of Juliette and Tareq enjoying each other’s company with out speaking. Emotions is conveyed beautifully without words. It is a testament Nedda’s skillful direction that she so eloquently captures the ebb and flow of life in Cairo, showing us its everyday existence as it wraps a cocoon of longing around two solitary people. 4 ½ cats

Leslie, My Name Is Evil
director: Reg Harkema
cast: Kristen Hager; Gregory Smith; Ryan Robbins; Don McKellar; Tracy Wright; Kristin Adams; Tiio Horn

Using a moment in American history that almost seemed like a perfect storm of events: the Manson trial, the Viet Nam War and the hippie movement; Reg Harkema’s LESLIE, MY NAME IS EVIL blends biting satire and high camp to create a surprisingly successful follow-up film to his counter-culture MONKEY WARFARE. While LESLIE, MY NAME IS EVIL lacks the maturity and ambiguity of his earlier film, it satirizes the cultural wars between left and right beautifully. Harkema uses as his representatives Leslie, a young woman seduced away from her broken family by the charismatic Manson and the need to find meaning in her life; and Perry, a young Christian Republican, engaged to be married and happy that his job allows him to avoid the draft, who finds himself chosen to serve on the jury for the Manson Murders. Despite his rigid background, conservative fiancée and overbearing father, or perhaps because of them, he finds himself drawn to Leslie, to the point of lustful dreams that involve virgin sacrifices. Will God set him on the right path so that he can do the right thing?

LESLIE, MY NAME IS EVIL is deft at skewering hypocrisy and rife with symbolism. In MOKNEY WARFARE Harkema dabbled with inserting archival footage into the storyline, and with this film, he takes it even further to good effect. The youthful cast is a mixture of adept and awkward, with one of Manson’s ‘girls’ played by Kaniehtiio Horn outshining the others. Kristin Adams (WHERE THE TRUTH LIES) is also terrific as the virginal and pious Dorothy. Don McKellar has a small part as the prosecuting attorney, who goes after Leslie and Manson’s harem with gusto, then slyly revels in his triumphs. Tracy Wright has an even smaller role as Leslie’s mother, but it’s a pivotal one. When testifying on her daughter’s behalf, she wonders how this could have happened, citing her divorce, or the fact that she made her daughter abort her child as possible reasons. It’s a surprisingly poignant moment amidst the high camp, and it’s essential in order for it all to work. That scene provides the only moment of true emotion in the film thereby grounding it in reality and making the satire all the more effective. How appropriate that the scene belongs to Ms. Wright, so underused and underappreciated in the world of film. 4 cats.

She was a doll. I hope we are able to honor her next March at our Chlotrudis Awards Ceremony. My friend Chansi got some terrific pictures of the two of us chatting, which I will post somewhere.

I am so jealous you got to meet Patricia Clarkson. She is a favorite of mine and I'm glad to hear she was nice.