By Sarah Sluis
Reporting from the Toronto International Film Fetival, Film Journal contributor Erica Abeel weighs in on two of the festival's most highly anticipated films.
To judge by notable films in the early days of this year's edition of the Toronto Film Festival, renegade auteurs such as David Cronenberg (A Dangerous Method) and Alexander Payne (The Descendants), have gone conspicuously more mainstream. Also striking in the 36th edition of the sprawling sprocket opera is the outsize talent displayed by male actors, among them George Clooney (The Descendants), Ryan Gosling (Ides of March), Ben Foster (360), and both Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender in A Dangerous Method.
Dangerous is a compelling, and for Cronenberg, oddly straightforward account of the turbulent triangle formed by fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung (Fassbender), his mentor Sigmund Freud (Mortensen), and the gifted but troubled patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) who came between them. The film succeeds best at capturing the excitement and daring of the two brilliant doctors as they pioneer the new field of psychoanalysis during a repressive era, and their respectful though competitive relationship. Sabina's affair with the married Jung illumines his allegiance to conventional family and Victorian values, even when it's clear that she's his true intellectual and romantic partner.
Dangerous hits the ground running as Sabina, shrieking like a banshee, is carted off to Jung's elegant Swiss clinic. In a fascinating series of sessions, Jung tries out his new "talking cure," dragging from his patient the revelation that she found childhood beatings by her father unbearably exciting. After Sabina seduces Jung, spankings figure heavily in their erotic repertoire, linking the film to Cronenberg's previous explorations of the marginal and perverse. In her early scenes Keira Knightley makes a convincing patient in the grips of psychosis, and becomes increasingly assured as a woman whose intellect and determination enabled her to escape the reigning patriarchy. In contrast--and perhaps Cronenberg intended an extreme contrast--Jung and Freud are steely, restrained, and impassive.
Fassbender is magnificent as the ambitious scientist torn by passion for his beautiful patient. And as the cigar-smoking Freud, Mortensen (sporting a nose prosthesis?) all but steals the picture with the wicked humor of his wry responses. Shot in locales around Switzerland and Vienna, the film is gorgeous, contrasting the light-filled lake country with Freud's faithfully reproduced Victorian study. Despite the film's talky approach, its intellectual sweep and kinky romance should cross over to general audiences. Cronenberg's mischief is slyly evidenced by his breezy assumption that spanking and other S/M games are an acceptable variation on adult human behavior.
Ides of March - which stars both George Clooney and Ryan Gosling and is directed by Clooney -- bowed for the press at the TIFF Bell Lighbtbox, Toronto's movie complex that anchors the annual fest.
Ironically, despite the state of the art venue, TIFF has become more, not less wearing on journos than past iterations, partly because we're forced to stand far too long in "holding areas" like cattle pens, with no perceptible circulating air.
And despite the overloaded title, Ides is entertaining political drama--two terms which don't usually inhabit the same sentence--with whip-smart dialog and a liberal (both senses) dollop of topicality and gravitas. Focusing on an idealistic young press secretary (Gosling), it follows the backroom machinations and shifts in allegiance during a political campaign to position a Democratic governor resembling Howard Dean (Clooney) as his party's nomination for president.
Essentially, Ides tackles that venerable theme of the corruption of an innocent, posing the question, is it possible to be a principled politician - at least one who gets elected? As a counterpoint to Gosling's idealist, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seyour Hoffman deliver wicked turns as more seasoned and cynical political operatives. In an effort to spice things up, the scripters have thrown in a melodramatic subplot involving a hot young intern (Evan Rachel Wood) who gets involved with the press secretary and whose past indiscretions throw the game. It's cheesy, yet makes for a twisty climax. Strangely, though Ides appears to embrace a liberal agenda, it trashes the Democrats, implying they play as dirty as Republicans. You have to wonder what Clooney, known for espousing progressive causes, hoped to achieve. But one thing is clear: Ides marks the emergence of charismatic Ryan Gosling as a certifiable star.