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TIFF12: A Royal Affair, The Hunt, NO, Inescapable, Barefoot, Zaytoun

Mads [pronounced MAS] Mikkelson [think Nicholson but 'sen' instead of 'son'] is not only a star, he's a wonderful actor whose range is evident in A ROYAL AFFAIR (Nikolaj Arcel) and THE HUNT (Thomas Vinterberg). We tend to think of present day Denmark as fairly liberal, but this wasn't the case in the eighteenth century. If you are a history buff who likes a bit of romance in your movie, then put this period piece on your list. With a star like Mads playing the role of a German physician who subversively tries to bring Enlightenment to the Danish court via his friendship with the mercurial, sometimes simple-minded King Christian VII you have a riveting drama that's more than bustiers, petticoats, and tumbling between the royal bed sheets of the forward thinking Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander). Want more Mads? Then go see the Love It or Hate It film of TIFF12, THE HUNT, in which Mads plays an affable Kindergarten teacher whose professional, personal, and community life quickly unravels after he is accused of abusing a child. I loved it, but will you? Only you can answer that and I hope you share your answer with me in a blog post.

Gael García Bernal is hot, but is that reason enough to go see this move by Pablo Larraín? NO! Whether or not you know anything about Chilean history, this film is interesting in the way advertising strategies are used by Bernal's character to "sell" the NO side of a 1988 referendum on General Augusto Pinochet remaining in office. Shot in the manner of a television documentary, this film will have you wondering exactly how spin tactics are used in politics today, how they have impacted your decisions, and how far you would go to exercise your democratic rights.

I've long been a fan of director Ruba Nadda (Sabah, Cairo Time), and my interest in her work as a writer/director continues after seeing her venture into the thriller genre. In INESCAPABLE, a father (Alexander Siddig) risks his life by returning to Damascus to find his daughter who, without telling him, took a side trip to Syria during her vacation and has gone missing. The mandatory chases, shouting and action sequences are present, but what fascinated me about this film is the theme of family secrets, and the issue of immigrant parents living in a new country, with a new "identity" that is not completely true or revealed. People can have fresh new starts in a country like Canada, where the term "disappeared" is not part of our lexicon. Children raised with these new family identities may sometimes wonder what their parents, even grandparents, may have gone through "back home", but many will never know and many may never guess what is in the past. Curious about knowing more about their families' past, and raised in a country with a human rights charter, some of these children will go exploring in danergous areas, revealingg secrets that are not their own. Inescapable is a thought-provoking dramatic thriller with an outstandingly credible performance by Siddig as a desperate father, and a surprisingly seamless performance by Marissa Tomei, as the woman left behind.

Danis Goulet's film BAREFOOT about Alyssa (Emily Roberts), a teenage girl trying to fit in with her peers, takes us to the Lac La Ronge reservation and the Cree community in northern Saskatchewan. Screening as part of Short Cuts Canada Programme #5, this film approaches the coming of age story with a quietness and underlying pathos that makes you want more than the 11-minute story line, thanks to Goulet's patient hand as writer/director, and the fine acting by Roberts. Danis's short film Wapawekka, which used dialogue primarily in Cree, screened at TIFF11. In Barefoot, Ida Tremblay (a non-actor and artist) who plays Alyssa's grandmother, speaks entirely in Cree while the others speak English. Trivia: Danis' father does the Cree to English translations for her films.

Director, Eran Riklis has managed to capture my heart again, the way he did with The Lemon Tree and The Human Resources Manager. I often talk about the precious balance between comedy and drama and Riklis has the secret recipe for this formula because he gets it right every time. He never sacrifices reality for humour, but he never leaves us so deflated by his dramatic depictions that we feel bruised and depleted. In ZAYTOUN an Israeli soldier named Yoni (Stephen Dorff) and Fahed (Abedallah El Akal) a Palestinian boy form an unusual alliance of sorts. Set in 1982, this piece of recent history revolves around theme of "home" amidst the displacement and chaos of Lebanon, Israel and Palestine. Stephen Dorff has long been overlooked as an actor of worth, and I am hoping now is his moment to be recognized for his formidable talents. I wish the same for young El Akal who is just dynamite in the role off a boy caught between childhood wishes and the danger of an emerging manhood that will only lead to a dangerous conclusion.

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