Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Join as a sustainer and help unlock $10K for NHPR!

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
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.

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.)

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Trey Graham edits and produces arts and entertainment content for NPR's Digital Media division, where among other things he's helped launch the Monkey See pop-culture blog and NPR's expanded Web-only movies coverage. He also helps manage the Web presence for Fresh Air from WHYY.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.