Toronto Diary: Keira, Viggo and Newcomer Dee Rees

Attending a film festival is not ALL about sleep deprivation, caffeine, standing on endless lines in germ-y spaces, and brainstorming to avoid cliches in reviews. There's also a raft of parties clamoring for my presence.
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Check out this contrast in star behavior. Before hitting Toronto, Madonna was at the Venice Film Fest promoting W.E., her sophomore directorial effort about Wallis Simpson and King Edward III. Handed a hydrangea blossom by a fan, she reportedly placed it on the ground, saying "I absolutely loathe hydrangeas. He obviously doesn't know that." (P.S. W.E. has been widely panned.)

Compare the style of Keira Knightley. I buttonholed her at the Sony Pictures Classics dinner at Crème Brasserie in Toronto, a classy event in keeping with SPC's terrific lineup of films. Asked how she'd prepared for her role as Sabina Spielrein in A Dangerous Method, evolving from psycho to psychiatric student, Knightley said she sent director David Cronenberg some mad scenes on Skype for his comments. Whereupon she deftly switched the conversation around to this web site, a recent discovery and of which she's a huge fan.

As you might have guessed, attending a film festival is not ALL about sleep deprivation, caffeine, standing on endless lines in germ-y spaces, and brainstorming to avoid cliches in reviews. There's also a raft of parties clamoring for my presence. At the Sony shindig, Keira Knightley wore a dress that appeared to be missing its back. She was surrounded by smiling muscle men you wouldn't want to alarm. Biting into a large langoustine, she cracked "this should lay to rest any rumors I'm anorexic." She admitted to balking initially at playing the spanky panky scenes in Dangerous, but decided they were "incredibly important to the story." She's been quoted as saying, "Part of the reason that I love [Cronenberg's] work is its explicit, shocking nature. As an actor you have to be very clear with yourself. You either do it or you don't." As the party geared up, she was was joined by Dangerous co-star Viggo Mortensen and director Cronenberg, and the trio posed and horsed around for photogs, passing around a wacko-looking Russian hat.

Next I chatted with Dangerous screenwriter Christopher Hampton a master of scripts based on complex literary works (Liaisons Dangereuses, Atonement). He said he was awed by the enormous amount of preparation undertaken by Viggo to play Sigmund Freud. Mortensen went so far as to hunt down and read the exact same books Freud kept in his library. The prep apparently paid off, as he's one of the film's principal delights. Next up for Cronenberg is an adaptation of Don DeLillo's novel Cosmopolis. So much wine kept flowing, every time I looked, my glass had been magically filled. As we all wove into dinner -- where I was to join Joseph Cedar, director of Footnotes (appearing at the New York Film Festival) -- I bumped into Michael Shannon. He was taller than I'd imagined, and even scarier in person than on screen.

Next evening brought a cool dinner at funky-posh Soho House for Your Sister's Sister directed by indie provocateur Lynn Shelton. Its stars Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor (in jeans rolled at the cuff), held court at one table, while at another sat Hugh Dancy, featured in the buzzy and very creepy Martha, Marcy, May Marlene about a cult in upstate New York. The journos hung by the bar doing what they do best at such events: eat.

Focus Features hosted an intimate pre-screening dinner for Pariah, a debut drama from writer/director Dee Rees about a young African-American woman who is quietly but firmly embracing her identity as a lesbian. Here's a story that has not been told. I sat next to producer Nekisa Cooper, a stunning young woman out of B-School, who's braved the switch from the corporate to the cinematic world. Does Pariah encapsulate the personal story of Dee Rees, who claims Alice Walker as an influence? "It's semi-autobiographical," Rees says. "As I was coming into my sexuality, I started to become comfortable with who I was ... But I'm totally not a club person -- it seemed like you had to check a box, butch or femme. And I'm neither one of those things."

At the post-dinner screening, the film was introduced by Fest chief Cameron Bailey. Focus has got a winner with this one. Pariah is assured, deftly scripted, searing yet comic, and breaks new ground. At the screening, as it happened, I sat next to a jovial guy named Col Needham who turned out to be the founder of IMDb.

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