Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Promises’

Many of us grew up watching films like The Godfather and Goodfellas, or hearing tales of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, but what of contemporary mobsters? Thieves By Law shares the story of three “retired” Russian mafiosi.

With unprecedented access and archival footage, the film follows three former kingpins of the Russian mafia. It reveals the underworld’s formation in Stalin’s Gulag in the 1930s, establishing its codes of honour and hierarchical tattoos, continuing through the Soviet collapse to its coldly calculated ascension to legitimate control of Russian society in the 1990s and eventual global expansion. The ‘retired’ leading men are Leonid “Mackintosh” Bilunov from Ukraine, a strategist, businessman, and master of hand-to-hand combat; Alimzhan “Taivanchik” Tokhtahltounov, an Uzbekistani playboy famously accused of bribing a figure skating judge at the 2002 Olympics; and Vitaly “Bondar” Dyemochka, a cold-blooded thief now turned filmmaker.

The men in this film are so candid about their lifestyle and “deeds.” They of course avoid divulging any specific information, but even the generalities are captivating/disturbing. The men discuss how they became criminals, the means by which they’ve made their fortunes (extorting businessmen mostly) and the gang wars that bloodied Russian streets through the ’90s.

Of the three men, Bondar is very open about the violence he’s commited throughout his life for honour, status or business. He even has a casual conversation with an associate about breaking people’s faces with brass knuckles or knee caps with baseball bats. However, all the men view their actions as a necessity to their survival or success – it’s simply the way things work in Russia.

On a side note, the stories these men tell corroborate the accuracy of David Cronenberg’s film Eastern Promises as they describe the meanings of their tattoos and loyalties.


WINNERS CIRCLE: Genie Award winners Gordon Pinsent and Sarah Polley from the film Away From Her (Photo: Nicole Robicheau for Popjournalism)Canada’s darling, Sarah Polley, proves she’s come a long way since her days on Road to Avonlea, earning top honours at last night’s Genie Awards.

The 29-year-old’s feature directorial debut, Away From Her, took home golden statues for six of its seven nominations, sweeping most of the major categories: Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Julie Christie), Best Actor (Gordon Pinsent), Best Supporting Actress (Kristen Thomson), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Polley based the film on a short story by Alice Munroe).

The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television also honoured the Alzheimer-effected love story with the Claude Jutra Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement by a first-time feature film director.

Oscar-nominated actress Julie Christie was not at the event but sent her thanks via a satellite feed, thanking Polley for her determination. “I would like to give an award to Canada for producing Sarah Polley,” the actress said. “Not only is she a wonderful actor, a wonderful director, and a wonderful screenplay writer, she is also the most persistent person I have ever met. And I am so grateful to her. That she persisted in persuading me to make Away From Her one of the happiest, if not happiest, film experiences of my life.”

Upon accepting his award, the amiable Gordon Pinsent said “It would take me another lifetime to thank Sarah, and to just tell her how I feel about this entire thing.” He then quipped, “Julie also left me with a gift of some sort. We had this way too short canoodling love story, and before leaving the bed, she’d tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Well done, Gordon.’ Well, that’s on the resume.”

In her own speech, Polley thanked her mentor, director Atom Egoyan for his support and inspiration. She added that Away From Her “would never have been made without public support through organizations like Telefilm Canada and the Ontario Media Development Corp.”

But with censorship threatening to change the face of Canadian cinema, the night was also a platform for artists to voice their concerns and opinions.

Polley went on to say, “I feel extremely lucky to have had the rare experience, as a first-time filmmaker, of being able to find my own voice without constant pandering to a profit motive or to committees. I think that is what is special about making a film with public money. And I’m very grateful for it. We can never, ever stop fighting for it.”

Genie host, star of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Ontario-native Sandra Oh took her jab at the proposed amendment to the Income Tax Act early on: “I feel I can’t go on without bringing up Bill C-10. [If passed], a very small group of government bureaucrats [will have the] power to censor Canadian film and television artists by threatening to take away vital government funding. So in other words, censorship has had a little work done, and is trying to make a comeback. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound Canadian to me.”

Eastern Promises executive producer Robert Lantos accepted the Genie for Best Original Screenplay and took the opportunity to provide his criticism, saying “this screenplay is chock full of powerful, frank, honest, original scenes. Just the kind that, if some barbarians have their way, are no longer going to be permissible in Canadian cinema.”

Heading into the ceremony, David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises and Roger Spottiswoode’s Shake Hands with the Devil had 12 nominations each.

While Eastern Promises took home a noteworthy seven Genies for Best Original Screenplay, Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Armin Mueller-Stahl), Original Score (Howard Shore), Editing (Ronald Sanders) and Cinematography (Peter Suschitzky), Shake Hands with the Devil was awarded a disappointing one for Best Original Song.

The winners circle was rounded out by Fido for Art Direction, Radiant City for Documentary, Silk for Costume Design, Apres Tout for Live-action Short Drama, and the Oscar-nominated Madame Tutli-Putli claimed the Genie for Best Animated Short.

Bruce McDonald’s The Tracey Fragments, an experimental story about a troubled teen starring Ellen Page, was disappointingly shut out of the prize category.


For ten days in September, filmgoers are treated to some of the best in national and international cinema, as well as the opportunity to see some of their favourite stars in-person. The 32nd year of the Toronto International Film Festival will prove no different. Festivalgoers can have their heartstrings pulled, insides tickled or hair raised, depending on their preference.
In a news conference Tuesday at Toronto’s Fairmount Royal York Hotel, the festival’s Canadian selections were announced. With the largest event turnout to date, the crowd not only included press and industry members but also acclaimed Canadian feature-film director David Cronenberg, actor Viggo Mortensen and writer/director Martin Gero.

Two more titles join Jeremy Podesawa’s opening night film Fugitive Pieces (the story of a man haunted by his childhood experiences during the Second World War) as Canadian Gala presentations. Academy Award-winning director Denys Arcand returns to the festival with his latest feature and Cannes closer, L’Âge des Ténèbres (Days of Darkness), in which a man becomes stuck between his dreamland and reality while struggling to find a place to belong. Cronenberg reunites with his History of Violence leading man, Mortensen, in his new thriller, Eastern Promises. Also starring Naomi Watts, the film follows a mysterious and ruthless Russian gangster in London, whose life is complicated by an innocent midwife who accidentally uncovers evidence against the family.

Thrilled to be a part of this year’s festival, Cronenberg told the hushed crowd he doesn’t feel his film is complete, “until it’s been shown at the Toronto Film Festival.”

The Special Presentations of big films and big stars includes Shake Hands with the Devil . Based on Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire’s award-winning book of the same name, the film stars Roy Dupuis as the Canadian commander torn between conscience and duty during the Rwandan genocide. With his first film since 1998’s The Red Violin, Francois Girard brings Silk, the tale of a 19th century French silkworm merchant (Michael Pitt) and his forbidden love for a Japanese nobleman’s concubine. Also screening are Clement Virgo’s racy drama Poor Boy’s Game and Guy Maddin’s personal portrait of his hometown, My Winnipeg .

Eight Canadian titles will be presented in the Contemporary World Cinema program, including the long-anticipated return of Bruce Sweeney and his American Venus (an exploration of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship). Carl Bessai brings his latest feature, Normal, starring Carrie-Anne Moss and Callum Keith Rennie as unrelated characters seeking closure after a tragic death and veteran director Allan Moyle’s Weirdsville follows two men in over their heads when one of their friends overdoses and they try to hide the body.

Gero joins the program for Canadian newcomers, Canada First!, with Young People Fucking (twenty-something couples discover casual sex is complicated). He delighted in the opportunity to drop the f-bomb repeatedly in front of such a large and captive audience but announced he had yet gained the courage to reveal the title to his grandmother, who would be doubly disappointed because the film was not a musical.

The other seven films screening in the newcomers category includes a portrait of contemporary India (Amal, Richie Mehta); disconnected French sisters (Le Cèdre Penché, Rafaël Ouellet); a dark comedy about greed, sex and death (Just Buried, Chaz Thorne); the unexpected intersection of four people when a fifth disappears (Continental, Un Films Sans Fusil , Stéphane Lafleur); a ghost story based on true events (They Wait, Ernie Barbarash); the connection of five residents by a woman’s balcony fall (The Beautiful City, Ed Gass-Donnelly); and, starring multiple Golden Globe nominee Leelee Sobieski, a masquerading dominatrix becomes the target of betrayed criminals (Walk All Over Me, Robert Cuffley).

Reel to Reel will feature three powerful Canadian documentaries: Peter Raymont’s A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman (an exploration of exile, memory, longing and democracy, as seen through Dorfman’s experiences as cultural advisor to Chilean President Salvador Allende); John Zaritsky’s The Wild Horse Redemption (hardcore criminals are given 90 days in the foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains to tame a mustang); and Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti’s Heavy Metal in Baghdad (the search for Iraq’s only heavy metal band, Acrassicauda).

In addition, 43 titles will screen in the Short Cuts Canada program. Embracing a variety of genres, the program focuses local and international attention on some of Canada’s most innovative filmmakers. All participants are also eligible to win the Short Cuts Canada award, which carries a $10,000 cash prize (enough to make a modest feature-length film).

Finally, the festival organizers announced this year’s Canadian Retrospective will pay tribute to one of Canada’s most influential directors and cinematographers, Michel Brault. Brault has revolutionized the way the world perceives contemporary Quebecois cinema and identity with such films as 1974’s Les Ordres (docudrama about the October Crisis) and 1958’s Les Raquetteurs, which profoundly influenced the emergence of direct cinema.

For a taste of events to come, Brault’s work will be showcased at The Gladstone Hotel August 23. The event will celebrate the release of Cinema as History: Michel Brault and Modern Quebec, published by the Toronto International Film Festival Group.

As the countdown to September 6 grows shorter, more films will be revealed as well as the names of the many faces that will grace the red carpets and adorn the downtown bars and restaurants.

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