Cloud Atlas Divides Audiences At TIFF 2012

By Sean O'Connell 2012-09-09 09:11:07discussion comments
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Let the TIFF debates begin!

Toronto’s slate has reached the point where films are beginning to divide audience members. Many praised Derek Cianfrance’s sprawling crime drama The Place Beyond the Pines, starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper as intersecting fathers on a dangerous collision course. I, unfortunately, thought the film ditched its focus after the first hour, and struggled to make connections as the story plodded along.

Ben Affleck’s Argo opened to near-universal praise, though the discussion now seems to be whether we’ve it's in fact this year’s Best Picture frontrunner.

But the true lightning rod of discussion so far at TIFF has been Cloud Atlas (and not The Master, which many seem to admire but are hesitant to flat-out adore). The Princess of Wales Theatre filled to capacity Saturday night with audience members eager to show their support for co-directors Tom Tykwer, Andy and Lana Wachowski (especially the latter, who called the film a celebration of human courage). The entire cast took to the stage for a quick bow before the screening. Tom Hanks. Halle Berry. Hugh Grant. Hugo Weaving. Susan Sarandon. All of them. That was a sight.

The applause was three times as loud after the screening, with the full Wales crowd presenting the filmmakers and cast with a glorious standing ovation, recognizing the film’s technical achievements and (I thought) embracing its themes. More on that in a moment. The look on the faces of the filmmakers seemed to suggest they were happy Atlas had gone off with nary a hitch. The reactions in the crowd suggested that fans of David Mitchell’s novel were simply amazed to see the cherished text converted to the silver screen after years and years of delays.

Twitter, however, quickly became a battleground. Very few fell in the middle ground, though almost as many people loved it as hated it. Thirty minutes after the premiere, Atlas was either the greatest film of all time, or the biggest bomb in TIFF history.

I disagree with both, but lean toward the former. While I’m not whole-heartedly in love with Atlas (though the sentimental chords finally struck in the sprawling film’s closing minutes did touch me, deeply), I am in love with the creative effort and bravura filmmaking that infuses every single scene. It is an ambitious work of art, and one that should be appreciated outside of the festival circuit, when audiences have time to digest a meal such as this and not wash it down with a swig of water before dashing to the next screening.

But it’s clear that up to this point, TIFF has not produced a more divisive film than Cloud Atlas. As I said earlier, let the debates begin.
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