The second dispatch from Toronto is about talk and family and families talking.

The Silver Lining Playbook David O. Russell Jennifer Lawrence Brad Cooper

Silver Linings Playbook

The first unalloyed pleasure of my festival viewing—your mileage may have varied—has been Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell’s manic-romantic-comic adaptation of Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel. The homecoming story of fresh-from-hospital bipolar Pat Solitano (note-perfect Brad Cooper) begins by hurtling forth powered by Russell’s neo-screwball dialogue, character collisions, and agile point-of-view tag-alongs, with Robert De Niro unexpectedly effective as Pat’s anxious tree-not-far-from-the-apple Dad, and Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) resourceful in the Mom role of timely intervention. When the film modulates appealingly into romantic redemption with dark-soul hot-mess widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who pursues Pat (still carrying the torch for his estranged wife), it’s affecting without being corny, thanks to Russell’s talent for linking us into the emotional drives of all involved. (Also, the power of football.) There are movies “about mental illness” (or “about madness”); Silver Linings Playbook gets closer to experience by tapping into Pat’s unfiltered energies and (justifiably) outsized sense of personal stakes, in a similar manner to that employed in Russell’s best work.

The Stories We Tell Sarah Polley

Stories We Tell

To judge from Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley’s mother was a Russellian whirlwind of activity in her family, and an opposite attracted to her deliberate, wry playwright father. Polley’s documentary investigates this curious match and turns up questions about her own birth, cutting together interviews with her charismatic and handsome siblings with super-8 home movies—some of which attentive viewers will soon recognize to be simulations of such footage, employing actors and period costuming. That’s the formal analogue to Polley’s own (previously reported) discovery about dear old dad, which shifts her psychological and genealogical landscape even as it re-situates her in a comfortable place regarding her own identity, without making herself a front-and-center star on a journey. Since you’re probably tired of my talking around the film’s reveal, suffice to say that Polley’s real feat lies in creating a winning cinematic version of intra-family story-telling—the kind of tale where dinner guests will happily stay well past coffee.

Gebo and the Shadow Manoel de Oliveira

Gebo and the Shadow

Which is precisely where Manoel de Oliveira parks us for the bulk of Gebo and the Shadow, one of his exquisitely framed and paced marathons of civilized conversation in consideration of some epistemological, spiritual, or psychological conundrums. The stage in this adaptation of a 1923 play is largely a table, shot head-on, where sit variously an old accountant (Michael Lonsdale), his wife (Claudia Cardinale), his daughter-in-law Sofia (Leonor Silveira), lingering callers (hello, Jeanne Moreau), and eventually his wayward, thieving son João (Ricardo Trêpa). The weight of tradition and accumulated (and imagined) reputation are fully felt, partly through the family’s vividly imagined street-level home where we stay cooped up; the angst surrounding the rebellious João (whose existence is kept secret from his mother for some time) feeds into an articulate examination of how life is to be lived.

The third dispatch from Toronto can be found here.