What's with all the nudity in Toronto this year?
"They should call this the full-frontal festival," observed one Toronto International Film Festivalgoer on Monday night before the gala North American premiere of Madonna's "W.E." – in which, true to form, Andrea Riseborough bares it all in one particularly brutal scene in which Wallis Simpson is savagely attacked in the bath by her first husband.
It has certainly been a fest marked by some unusually frank sexuality: my day on Monday, for instance, began with Steve McQueen's stark and unsettling sex-addiction drama "Shame," in which Michael Fassbender seems to spend the movie's first 20 minutes stark naked, and Carey Mulligan (as his sister, not his lover) joins him in her first scene.
Also read: 'Shame' Shocks with Pitiless, NC-17 Sex
Then came William Friedkin's brutal, twisted and intermittently hilarious rural noir "Killer Joe," in which Emile Hirsch's stepmother, played by Gina Gershon, opens the door to their trailer clad only in a short t-shirt.
Then "ALPS" (left), from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, who was responsible for the Oscar-nominated "Dogtooth," and whose new film is as weird and transgressive as that earlier film, and more sexually explicit to boot.
(A note of caution: I don't advise seeing "ALPS" from the second row of a theater on three hours sleep. It's weird and disorienting enough already.)
Lastly came the Madonna movie, which is far more concerned with black lingerie than with skin, but which nonetheless spends a good amount of time on matters of the libido.
That was four strange movies in 11 hours, all with varying degrees of sexuality but with little interest in cutting away from the nitty gritty.
Of course lots of less graphic films are playing at TIFF this year: Monday's debuts also included Ralph Fiennes' lean, bloody and visceral Shakespeare adaptation "Coriolanus," with Vanessa Redgrave in a fierce performance that ought to get her awards recognition; the Joseph-Gordon Levitt/Seth Rogen comedy "50/50," an unexpectedly satisfying and exemplary piece of mainstream filmmaking that manages to be both very funny and very touching in its true story of a friend of Rogen's who battled cancer; "Neil Young Journeys," Jonathan Demme's third concert film featuring the legendary Canadian musician; and Luc Besson's "The Lady," with Michelle Yeoh in a potentially awards-worthy performance as Burma's Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung Saan Su Kyi.
At a small post-screening dinner on the 54th floor of a downtown Toronto skyscraper, Neil Young said the last time he was at the TIFF was for the premiere of his own film "Greendale" in 2003. Born in Toronto, Young also said he'd gotten a kick out of the fact that Pearl Jam, with whom he recorded an album and has a long-running mentor-style relationship, was also in Toronto with a film at the festival.
"I saw them yesterday when they showed their movie," he said of the doc "Pearl Jam Twenty," and they saw my screening today and stayed as long as they could before they had to go to their show."
During Pearl Jam's Sunday night concert in Toronto, disclosed Demme at the dinner, one PJ guitarist jumped into the audience while the band was playing Young's "Rocking in the Free World," made his way down the aisle, and then handed his guitar to Young – who proceeded to walk to the stage, playing all the way, and join the band.
(Photo of young with Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder by Peter Bregg/Getty Images)
It's been a busy festival for Demme, who also premieres his post-Katrina doc "I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad and the Beautiful" on Tuesday, and who moderated a Q&A with Sony Pictures Classics co-chiefs Michael Barker and Tom Bernard on Sunday.
"It's three things that I love to do," said the director of his Neil Young/Carolyn Parker/SPC triple-feature.
Sony's Tom Bernard, meanwhile, attended the "Neil Young Journeys" dinner, but those associated with the film were coy when asked if that meant an SPC acquisition was in the works.
As usual, Monday evening was marked by incessant parties, with dinners for "Pariah" and "Coriolanus" and "W.E.," a shindig for "50/50" and a Weinstein Company party, among many others.
And even though TIFF is just shy of the halfway mark, festival fatigue was a common thread in many conversations: many of the industry types will be returning home over the next few days, all barely scratching the surface of the 250-plus films on display.