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The 25th Toronto International Film Festival

     The 25th Toronto International Film Festival included, as it should, a celebratory showing of the movie that started it all, Jean-Charles Tachella's lovely French comedy, Cousin, Cousine: opening night, Fall 1976. Earlier this month, I attended there the retro screening, and was envigorated by the inventive lovemaking: an erotic body painting scene, and, something I've never seen elsewhere on screen, one naked lover showing her feelings for her equally unclothed partner by cutting his toenails.

     I'm surprised that the mildly raunchy Cousin Cousine played intact at Toronto in 1976, a short time after the Ontario Film Review Board - a notoriously puritanical, ill-humored, interfering government body - had ordered Deep Throat to be seized and impounded by the Toronto police. Even through much of the 1980s, the Festival, annoyed and frustrated, had to run its touchy-feely films by this activist Board, which specialized in censoring and scissoring, and keeping explicitness out of the province.

     Though the Board is still around, "(O)ur guidelines focus on issues of violence," chairman Bob Warren told the Toronto Star, meaning that Toronto 2000 was one free-zone, sexy place to see movies. To begin, the Cousin Cousine revival was complemented with a nostalgic large-screen exhibiting of old Deep Throat itself. It was introduced by Toronto director, Bruce (Highway 61, Twitch City) McDonald, who heralded the Linda Lovelace-starrer as "a groundbreaking film."

     Catherine Breillat, who conceived the hardcore 1999 feature, Romance, arrived from France to show her 1975 first film, A Really Young Lady, shelved by censors since she made it. A belated North American premiere. Unfortunately, this proved one dull, inept movie about a young girl (a comatose Charlotte Alexandra) coming to terms with her fantasy life, including riding a bicycle bare-ass under her skirt.

     "Stuck in the 70s," a twenty-something criticized it.

     Elsewhere at the Fest, the ever-randy Marquis (Daniel Auteuil) got into some flagellation and finger-fucking in Sade, Benoit Jacquot's mostly absorbing intellectual costumer. And for those who wondered what happened to Top Gun's Kelly McGillis: she surfaced as a femme fatale university professor in Australian Samantha Lang's The Monkey's Mask, in which, bare-chested, she partakes of a hot, hot sexual encounter with Susie Porter's Jodie Foster-like lesbian detective.
     Then there was the gorgeous Italian movie star, Asia Argento, with her autobiographical, self-starring, Scarlet Angel, in which she has wet-dream sex and runs around frontally nude while moaning about a lost rock-musician lover. Speaking at her screening, Argento promised, no joke,that her next work would be "a real porn film: a riot of fun, lots of pussies and cock, and no more crying."

     But Toronto's big sex movie by a mile was France's genuinely scandalous Baise-Moi, translated either as Rape Me or, more subdued, Fuck Me. This shot-on-DV tale of two chicks on the run having hard-core sex when not being serial killers occasioned a stepping in by the French government, which, horrified, hit the film with a box office-destroying "X" rating. A friend of mine called Baise-Moi "Thelma and Louise on crack," this porno bloodbath starring adult movie performers, and co-written and co-directed by two young women, Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, with their own tarnished pasts. The first was an occasional prostitute, the latter, a French porn star.

     I was told that Baise-Moi was seriously considered for the New York Film Festival, championed by three critics on the selection committee though rejected, rightly fearing audience protests, by those at the top. I would have voted for the film also, with its make-you-horny sex scenes and riveting Jeanne Moreau-like performance by porn actress, Rafaella Anderson. Baise-Moi provides a total anarchist assault against good taste and proper sexual politics. Luis Bunuel would have adored it.

     And what outside of the wonderful world of sex was essential at Toronto? Canadian Guy Maddin's The Heart of the World, a dazzling short film with Eisenstein constructivist montages and Lang silent-movie epic scenes, shot on a sound stage in Maddin's home town of Winnepeg. A masterpiece.

     Key Samuel Beckett dramas, Krapp's Last Tape and Happy Days, effectively, faithfully brought to the screen by, respectively, Atom Egoyan and Patricia Rozema.

     The very important first North American showing of Jafar Panahi's The Circle which, days earlier, won six major prizes at the Venice Film Festival. No movie has dared show the systematic oppression of Iranian women in the way of this brave feature from the filmmaker of The White Balloon. Panahi moves from woman to woman - political prisoners on the lam, prostitutes, those seeking abortion - and his harsh circle is completed with his female ensemble back behind bars.
"It took three difficult years to make this film," Panahi explained at Toronto. "I don't want to think of the hardships but to enjoy my newborn's birth. The film has been shown to some new members of parliament, but they didn't give permission to screen it. I hope it will be shown in Iran."

(September, 2000)


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