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Toronto 2010: Quite an afternoon for 'Little White Lies'

September 12, 2010 | 11:43 am


"It's a film about friendship, and I would like you to be my friends." So said French writer-director Guillaume Canet at the beginning of what turned into an unusual and eventful world premiere of his film "Little White Lies."

The premiere was scheduled for 1:30 Saturday afternoon at Roy Thompson Hall, where the Toronto International Film Festival programs its most glittering galas (the new films from Robert Redford and Ben Affleck were pulling through later in the day), but the audience was not even  allowed into the auditorium until almost 2:15.

Following a very brief introduction by festival co-director Cameron Bailey, Canet, with one arm in a sling following a recent surgery and joined onstage by his producer Alain Attal and stars Francois Cluzet and Marion Cotillard, explained that there was a problem with projecting the film's subtitles in the hall. As a solution, the film would be shown there in French without subtitles and with subtitles at a nearby festival venue, the Scotiabank Theatre.

Hundreds of non-French speakers made the short walk over to the other venue, but once they arrived at  Scotiabank, there was another logistical issue. While the "Little White Lies" crowd waited downstairs, festival organizers upstairs had to figure out what to do with the 500-odd people already lined up for the 2:45 p.m. press and industry screening of Danny Boyle's hotly anticipated "127 Hours."

Once it was all sorted out -- "127 Hours" would screen in two other theaters in the venue to accommodate everyone in line -- the audience for "Little White Lies" was quickly settled into the theater. Bailey took to the stage to a smattering of applause -- "There's no need for that," he said dryly -- and again introduced Canet and Co.

Throwing kisses to the crowd, Canet said, "I'm really amazed to see how many friends I have."

"We were so scared you wouldn't come," said Marion Cotillard to the audience, regarding the move to another venue. 

Finally, just after 3:30 p.m., "Little White Lies" began. The film has a running time of 154 minutes, so any feelings from the pre-show kerfuffle were given plenty of time to melt away, and the audience seemed to engage quickly with the movie. That it opened with a rather spectacular motor-scooter crash didn't hurt either.

The film follows a group of middle-aged friends who travel from Paris to the luscious seaside peninsula Cap Ferrat for a long-planned vacation even as their friend lies in the hospital. There is a conscious replication of "The Big Chill," right down to the Motown songs that pepper the soundtrack. (Although the use of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" -- a song that railed against those born to privilege -- underneath a sequence of an afternoon of bourgeois boating made one wonder whether Canet really understood the lyrics. Or perhaps he has a more biting take on his characters than the film lets on.)

Canet's previous film as director, "Tell No One," was something of a surprise foreign-language hit at the U.S. box office. Whereas that film was a tight little thriller, "Little White Lies" is a sprawling and expansive film, cramming in multiple story strands as each character gets his or her own minor intrigues and revelations. And although the film does end on a freeze frame of a group hug, somehow Canet pulls it all together. 

Cotillard, playing a bisexual documentarian, gives a performance of acute emotional agility. For audiences who only have seen her in her Oscar-winning role as Edith Piaf in "Le Vie en Rose" or in her rather subdued performances in "Public Enemies" and "Inception," here she is something else. There is a mischievous playfulness to her performance here, with a deep undercurrent of sadness, that makes for a most remarkable turn. It's tough not to wonder: If the performance were in English, would it immediately seem awards-ready? (She cries, she yells, she's sexy, she's funny; she ticks off all the boxes.) It should be noted that her Piaf role was in French as well.

Asked after the screening about being directed by Canet -- reported to be her real-life boyfriend (a matter that went unremarked in this appearance) -- Cotillard said: "Guillaume is an actor too, so he really knows how it works from the inside. He created a space for the actors where they could be totally confident and at ease to be more than just playing."

Canet wrote the movie partly while shooting his role in the recent film "Farewell," and he also appeared in Toronto's closing-night film, "Last Night," with Keira Knightley.

"Actually, I have to say," Cotillard continued, "I've experienced very emotional scenes, but on this movie it was so easy, so easy because of the way he talks to you just before a take, the way he really takes you into the emotion. It's kind of hard to explain, but he just takes your hand and gives you the right word, the right pressure on your arm. And it works."

"I would be so depressed if you hadn't seen the film, and now I'm so happy," Canet said at the end of a long afternoon. From the positive response in the room, it certainly seemed the event's complications hadn't damped the experience. Noting that the film was still looking to secure U.S. distribution, he added, "If you like the film, please talk about it. If you don't, say nothing." 

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: Marion Cotillard in "Little White Lies." Credit: Toronto International Film Festival

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Don't believe the hype. The walk was more than a few blocks - anyone in LA would have driven it. Note that the original showtime was 1:30 and the movie didn't start showing until after 3:30. I was there. It was a huge fiasco. Who doesn't figure out the day beforehand if they have the right equipment? Instead, we were forced to wait outside the Roy Thomson Theatre for about a half hour past showtime. After we went in and sat down, the organizers left it to the director of the movie to explain to the crowd what had happened. We were assured that we would be able to see it a short distance away. Of course, once we got there, we spent more than an hour in line, with no updates. Eventually, my husband and I had to go home to relieve the babysitter, but we did check into getting a refund - nope, sorry about that. Great job with crisis management Tiff!


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