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TIFF 2012

TIFF '12: On Spectacle, Scenery And Swoonery

Keira Knightley is Anna Karenina, whose life as a respectable wife and mother is shattered when passion flares between her and the charismatic cavalry officer Count Vronsky. Laurie Sparham/Focus Features hide caption

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Laurie Sparham/Focus Features

Keira Knightley is Anna Karenina, whose life as a respectable wife and mother is shattered when passion flares between her and the charismatic cavalry officer Count Vronsky.

Laurie Sparham/Focus Features

With three TIFF screenings under my belt as of midmorning Friday, I've begun to realize that I've been picking my films based on a few highly personal likes: narrative intensity, rich visuals, inventive compositions and maybe a few other variables. Here's what I mean:

Looper, the time-travel thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, plays out in a lawless dystopian Midwest, where a 1990s Miata might share the streets with a hoverbike, and where the Big (or at least Medium) Bad, played by Jeff Daniels, might dress like a priest one day and a mandarin the next. A loft-style apartment's old-school steel door might have a state-of-the-art view screen on which to check out who's knocking. What Ed Verreaux's imaginative production design understands is that cities — even cities of the future — don't spring fully formed into clean, perfect being. They evolve upward, with new technologies overlaid upon old infrastructure. (Opens Sept. 28.)

Anna Karenina, as conceived by playwright-screenwriter Tom Stoppard and director Joe Wright (Atonement), deploys the techniques of the stage and the ballet to create a dreamlike, hyperdramatic intensity to its retelling of Leo Tolstoy's tragic saga. Events begin in a scruffy St. Petersburg theater, ascend to the fly-loft above the stage, open out to vast Russian landscapes, return to a rustic country lodge. The boundaries between performative public appearances and intimate personal exchanges blur. Colors pop. Gowns billow. Waltzes swoon. A scene set in the bureaucratic domain of Prince Stepan Oblonsky has a strict musical rhythm and an energetic physical flourish that makes an almost industrial dance of a decidedly pre-industrial bit of routine housekeeping. All this stylized business will alienate as many moviegoers as it will attract. Needless to say, I loved it. (Opens Nov. 16.)

— Midnight's Children, Deepa Mehta's loving adaptation of Salman Rushdie's novel, is probably the most straightforward of the three films, at least in terms of technique. It's deliberate, not tricky, a consciously realistic approach to a story that contains considerable magic. (A family saga spanning several generations, it centers on Saleem Sinai, born exactly at midnight on the day of India's independence from Great Britain; he, like every other Indian child born at that hour on that day, is endowed with supernatural gifts.) But if Mehta's style is comparatively restrained, Midnight's Children is still a profoundly spectacular film, easily as saturated with color and music and passion as any of Anna Karenina's fever dreams. (Opens Oct. 26.)