Anais Granofsky in Toronto International Film Festival film

INDEPTH: TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL
David Weaver’s family values, plus some odds and ends
CBC News Online | September 18, 2004

Probably the best movie I saw in the festival’s dying days is David Weaver’s black comedy Siblings. Siblings is sort of a like a darker version of a John Hughes teen flick. The main difference is that if John Hughes had made Siblings, the title characters two brothers and two sisters would have the house to themselves because their parents went away for the weekend (or some such other predictable plot device). In Weaver’s film, the kids get the house to themselves when they kill their parents.

The beauty of the Siblings is that it gives us permission to feel good about the deaths of Mom (Sonja Smits, who has never been bitchier) and Dad (Nicholas Campbell, who has come a long since starring in 1979’s The Shape of Things to Come). These are some of the silver screen’s most evil parents. We want their kids to be orphans.

Smits spits hate at her youngest child, Danielle (Samantha Weinstein), saying she deserves a fate similar to the family dog: “The girl’s a half-wit. Someone should have put her down years ago.” Campbell, on the other hand, feels a little too much affection if you know what I mean for Danielle’s older sister, Margaret (Sarah Gadon).

Danielle, who constantly has to remind people that she is not mentally challenged (“I’m not a retard, I just wear glasses”) muses openly about offing the folks. “We could always just kill them,” she says in the film’s opening minutes and then, perhaps inadvertently, older brother Joe (Alex Campbell, who looks a lot like Josh Hartnett) drains the brake fluid from the family car before the parental units take a drive on an icy road. Wish granted.

Siblings, which was produced in co-operation with the Canadian Film Centre, has its share of nice moments. But the truly funny aspects of this movie are the big jokes, the macro-comedy if you will.

For instance, it turns out that none of the kids are actually the product of the Smits-Campbell union. The children have become members of the same family unit only by virtue of a very complicated series of remarriages, so all the kids are half- or step-siblings. Surely this is a pointed commentary on North American society: blended families are the set-up and the motley crew in Siblings is the punchline.

I’m glad Siblings wasn’t made by someone like John Hughes. Hughes tends to bow down before the altar of family values, which is now the unofficial state religion south of the border. Here in Canada, however, we can acknowledge the open secret about families: that many of them do more damage to their members than good.

You might also want to catch Siblings because it features a supporting turn by Sarah Polley, who plays the girl next door and Joe’s love interest. Polley took the part, it seems, so she would have an opportunity to send up her own image as a leftie the first time we see her, she is reading Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. Later, she wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the name “Che.”

But how come I haven’t seen more of her in the last 10 days? A Toronto International Film Festival with only one Sarah Polley picture? What’s up with that?

One name from the festival that might sound familiar to you is Anais Granofsky. You may recall Granofsky from her Degrassi days, when she played Lucy Fernandez alongside Pat Mastroianni’s Joey Jeremiah and Nicole Stoffman’s Stephanie Kaye. Don’t be surprised if you hear even more of the young director’s name in the future: she is one to follow. We shall be watching young Granofsky’s career with great interest.

Granofsky was at this year’s festival with The Limb Salesman, a science-fiction flick set in a post-ice age Canada. Yes, Canada’s a snowy wasteland ? I guess that’s not really science fiction, is it? Anyhoo, Granofsky’s very mannered picture stars Peter Stebbings, who turns in an excellent performance as Gabriel Goode, a doctor who specializes in illegally regrowing limbs. Goode falls in love with one of his patients, Ingrid Veninger’s Clara.

There are distant echoes of Blade Runner in The Limb Salesman, in the sense that it’s a love story set in a future that looks like the past. What it really is, though, is this year’s thinking person’s sci-fi flick, a distinction that went last year to Vincenzo Natali’s Nothing. Canadian flicks of the future sure have come a long way since The Shape of Things to Come.

I saw the first third of Peter Lynch’s A Whale of a Tale, a documentary about the discovery of a chunk of whalebone in Toronto, miles from the nearest sea. I left just as it was get interesting (I had to attend another screening), so I can’t give you a full report. But I can say that it slowly weaves a powerful spell, despite director’s Lynch’s monotone narration.

And speaking of unfinished business, I finally saw the last half of Jerry Ciccoritti’s Blood. I am happy to report that I can now tell you the central characters, brother Chris (Jacob Tierney) and sister Noelle (Emily Hampshire) do not actually have sex, although they come mighty close a number of times. Instead of doing the nasty, they have a fight in which she uses a knife and he defends himself with a chair. That’s some sibling rivalry.

And one last thing: I took in the short film Trouser Accidents. Directed by Semi Chellas, it’s a very droll picture done in the style of a public-service announcement or a high-school filmstrip from the 1950s. It’s about ? well, accidents that can be caused by wearing trousers. Now if only I can keep my pants on until next year’s festival. See you then!

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