A guy lost in space, a U.S. political consultant in Bolivia and an iconic country singer may have been the biggest premieres on the second day of the Toronto International Film Festival, but TIFF left lots of room for unlikely lovers, unlikelier pals and drug-popping music execs, too.
Those last three categories came courtesy of the films "Un Plus Une," "A Patch of Fog" and "Kill Your Friends," three smaller movies that screened at the fest on Friday.
"Un Plus Une" was the standout among them, and one of the most indelible and touching TIFF films I've seen so far.
Tone can be the toughest thing to pull off in a romantic comedy that also tries to be emotionally affecting, but veteran French director Claude Lelouch has a sure hand and an unerring touch. His lyrical film about longing, desire and forbidden love features deft performances from "The Artist" star Jean Dujardin and French actress Elsa Zylberstein.
It's funny, light on its feet and never maudlin, but it also packs a powerful emotional punch as the two lead characters -- a successful film composer with a steady girlfriend and the wife of a French diplomat -- try to flirt their way around an obvious attraction as they travel together to a spiritual healer of sorts in India.
Lelouch is best known in the U.S. for his 1966 film "A Man and a Woman," an arthouse hit that also won the Oscar for foreign-language film. Now 77, he remains active -- and from the evidence provided by "Un Plus Une," he still has an enormous amount to offer to the cinema.
Dujardin's rakish charm is perfect, while the lesser-known Zylberstein is his equal in every regard, a smart woman who knows she should avoid this guy but isn't interested in denying the attraction between them. "Un Plus Une" might be a small movie, but it is an exquisite one, a gem that deserves a full life beyond the festival circuit.
A very different and far more destructive relationship is at the heart of "A Patch of Fog," Michael Lennox's dark psychological thriller about a celebrated author whose penchant for shoplifting gets him involved with a shady security guard who has trouble making friends.
The guard offers not to call the police in exchange for nothing more than a drink and a chat after he gets off - but, of course, the demands escalate until the guard has wormed his way into every aspect of the writer's life.
Lennox whips up a portrait of neediness (the guard's) and ego (the author's), with plenty of buried secrets, the expected mounting sense of dread and enough black comedy to keep "A Patch of Fog" entertaining.
Anybody who's seen films from "Fatal Attraction" to "Single White Female" to "The King of Comedy" knows the beats a movie like this is going to hit, though most of the other films include a sexual side that's absent here. But Stephen Graham and Conleth Hill are effective as a mismatched couple who pretty much deserve what they get.
If the hero of "Kill Your Friends," on the other hand, deserved what he got, we'd have a much shorter film. Nicholas Hoult plays an A&R man in the British pop music scene of the late 1990s, and a man of unchecked and altogether nasty ambition who seems to subsist on a diet of nothing but drugs and alcohol.
A mixtape that mashes up "The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle" with a touch of Robert Altman's Hollywood satire "The Player" and then turns it up to 11, "Kill Your Friends" is messy and excessive, which is pretty much the whole point.