This year marks the second in a row in which the Greater Cincinnati region has been represented at the now-underway Toronto International Film Festival with multiple films shot here.
Just one year ago, I settled in for writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos’ dramatic and mysterious thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer, featuring heavyweight leads (Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell) and one of the most Cincinnati-centric settings in recent years. Also screening was Tali Shalom-Ezer’s My Days of Mercy, which tentatively probed a familiar setting or two (especially a lovely shot near the end in an alleyway in Clifton) like the teasing touch of new love.
This year brings three Cincinnati-filmed features: David Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun, with Robert Redford in what appears to be his last starring role; Emilio Estevez’s The Public; and Tim Sutton’s Donnybrook.
Those welcome visual reminders of home seen last year — and the resulting sense of pride inspired upon hearing snatches of festival conversations where others recognized the Queen City — further accentuated the growing buzz about the arrival of Cincinnati on the broader cultural stage. We are a sparkling jewel of a city under a growing spotlight. Once again at Toronto, we stand ready for an intense close-up.
The Old Man and the Gun, from Lowery (who made last year’s A Ghost Story), is in the midst of a warm festival tour and has been noted as much for being filmed in the Cincinnati region as for being the performative swan song for its lead Redford. He plays an aging bank robber named Forrest Tucker, capable of waltzing out of banks with bags of cash by utilizing little more than his roguish charm. The film capitalizes on the easy conviction of Redford, a known cinematic con artist of the highest order, but there’s a bit of a game in how Lowery disguises our fair city.
There’s a far more blatant and naked exposure of Cincinnati in the new Estevez release The Public, which also makes an appearance at Toronto. The topicality of homelessness and how a city like ours tackles the issue is on full display, offering us up as an imperfect model for the country. It’s another hot ticket and especially meaningful to a hometown critic because the Queen City, in a starring role, gets to play itself.
Speaking of stars, at my short time in Toronto this year I’ve already snagged a VIP spot for one of the most anticipated films — Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born with Lady Gaga as the young singer-songwriter whose chance encounter with an aging alcoholic musician (Cooper doing a masterful impression of Sam Elliott, who plays his much older brother) catapults her to levels of fame that can shift the focus away from her talent toward her interaction with other, more mercurial, aspects of show business. Cooper’s got his creative hands all over this project — co-writing, acting, directing, even singing — and there’s a strong likelihood that he’s going to earn lots of awards season love. But the real honors will settle on Lady Gaga.
This latest adaptation of the story seems tailor-made for her, capitalizing on marketing issues she faced earlier on. It would be far too simple to assume that she doesn’t even need to act when the story seems so pulled from her life, but that underestimates the effort she exerts to venture beyond the familiar beats.
As often as I seek out in Toronto either reminders of home or the big-ticket titles certain to dominate film discussions, I enjoy the pleasant surprises from other corners of the world. This year, thanks to writer-director Wanuri Kahiu, I got a delicious taste of Kenya in her sweet treat Rafiki (which means “friends”). It’s the story of Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), the daughters of political rivals who fall in love, despite the societal ban on same-sex relationships.
As Kahiu explained to an adoring post-screening crowd, the film is banned in Kenya not so much for its depictions of sexual intimacy as for its hopeful tone about the future of Kena, Ziki and same-sex relationships in that country.
Hope is alive at Toronto in 2018, and maybe I’ll be able to bring a bit more of it back to the Queen City.