Lebanese film wins top Toronto Film Festival prize

By Helen Barlow

As the Toronto Film Festival came to a close many believed two festival favourites were jostling it out for the coveted audience award, which in the past has led to Oscar recognition.

Many believe George Clooney has produced his best work ever in The Descendants directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways), and Screen International's Mike Goodridge had his bet on the film.

Many American critics though favoured The Artist and Harvey Weinstein is pushing with all his considerable heft for a best film Oscar nomination.

Let's forget that the film's French as it's mostly silent after all. French box office champ Jean Dujardin won the best actor prize in Cannes and I personally found it scandalous that the black-and-white film didn't win the Palme d'Or when The Tree of Life did. But then, Cannes jury head Robert De Niro is one of those blinkered Terrence Malick fans.

The Artist, where Dujardin plays a kind of Gene Kelly movie star who taps his toes and winks his twinkling eyes with seductive, suave abandon, is now at the head of many US awards lists.

Toronto also hosted the first screening of my second- favourite film this year, Sundance winner Like Crazy.

The irresistible low-key drama tells of the heart-wrenching long distance romance between former university students, played by Anton Yelchin and England's fast rising star Felicity Jones. It's bound to become an instant classic like The Notebook.

Ultimately when the festival's People's Choice Award was announced on Sunday afternoon the winner took everyone by surprise. Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki's second feature Where Do We Go Now? had premiered in Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section and had won nothing there, yet is probably the kind of audience pleaser that Toronto loves. Her previous movie, Caramel, had been an international hit.

Where Do We Go Now?, co-written by Labaki, who also co-stars, tells the heart-warming tale of a group of Christian and Muslim women, who are determination to protect their isolated, mine-encircled community. It was recently announced as Lebanon's official entry for foreign-language Oscar consideration.

In a sense Toronto, like Venice and Cannes, handed out their award to a film that needed a kick. Cannes winner The Tree of Life certainly garnered greater audience attendance-even if many people walked out-and who knows if anyone will get to see Venice winner Aleksander Sokurov's Faust?.

Where Do We Go Now? however should prove an international hit for Labaki yet again.

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