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The Best And Worst So Far From The Not-Very-Festive Toronto International Film Fest

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Close to 200 films in 10 days - we're talking about the Toronto International Film Festival. This festival is often a springboard for Oscar contenders and breathless awards season buzz. This year, some of the most buzzed about films include an adaptation of the bestselling sci-fi novel of all time. That's "Dune."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUNE")

TIMOTHEE CHALAMET: (As Paul Atreides) My father rules an entire planet.

CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: (As Gaius Helen Mohiam) He's losing it.

CHALAMET: (As Paul Atreides) He's getting a richer one.

RAMPLING: (As Gaius Helen Mohiam) He'll lose that one, too.

KELLY: Also, Jessica Chastain starring in a story of televangelism, "The Eyes Of Tammy Faye."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Tammy Faye. What'd you do?

JESSICA CHASTAIN: (As Tammy Faye Bakker) Hello, mother. This is Jim Bakker, my husband.

KELLY: And a musical about a high school misunderstanding spun out of control, "Dear Evan Hansen."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEAR EVAN HANSEN")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) Even when the dark comes crashing through...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Connor's mother and stepfather are here to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) ...When you need a friend to carry you...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Connor wanted you to have this.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) ...When you're broken on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Dear Evan Hansen - he wrote it to you.

BEN PLATT: (As Evan Hansen) His last words. Connor took his own life.

KELLY: Well, NPR contributor Bilal Qureshi and our film critic Bob Mondello have been gorging on movies from this festival. Hi, you two.

BOB MONDELLO: Hey.

BILAL QURESHI, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: So this is, alas, the second pandemic edition of the Toronto Festival, and I gather it was both virtual and in-person. So you two had very different festivals. Bob, where were you watching?

MONDELLO: Well, I was at home in my living room. Bilal made it to Toronto. I'm insanely jealous. Although he sent pictures earlier today, and it looks like we, in a way, had the same festival because there wasn't anybody there.

KELLY: Oh. Bilal?

QURESHI: Yeah, it was a most isolated and desolate experience in the cinemas of Toronto, which usually are packed. Yeah. No, I was at the cinemas. And to be honest with you, it kind of really echoed this existential angst facing cinema in general, you know, with so many things available to stream at home. To stream or not to stream was also a question for critics, and many chose not to come. But they still had, you know, some major, major films that were not available virtually because the studios and the directors chose to do that. So lots of tests, lots of vaccination records being shown and no hassle finding a seat.

KELLY: Yeah.

MONDELLO: That is so bizarre. You know, I'm - half of the experience being up there is standing in line, and it looks like there were none.

KELLY: Small silver lining then. You didn't have to hassle to find a seat. All right. Let's get to the actual films. What did you each see that you liked? Bilal.

QURESHI: Well, the big film at Toronto this year was the IMAX premiere of "Dune," and it premiered at the Venice Film Festival. And then this adaptation by the Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has been one of those movies that the whole industry is watching. How does it do? Do people come out in cinemas to see it? It was phenomenal. It was also phenomenal in a massive IMAX theater. There are other literary adaptations that I really loved. One was a movie called "The Forgiven" with Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain and "Mothering Sunday," another kind of period film about memory and love that was really beautiful. So all of those films from books into movies for the big screen.

MONDELLO: I've had a really good fest watching films I'd not even heard of. "I'm Your Man," which is a German rom-com about an archaeologist who's been asked to test drive an android who's supposed to be her ideal man. It's going to be remade in English in a nanosecond. I also saw a "Mad Woman's Ball," which is Melanie Laurent's film about a woman labeled hysterics and placed in French asylums in the 1800s because they had the temerity to express opinions to men.

KELLY: God forbid.

MONDELLO: Also - exactly. And then I also saw "Encounter," which is a sci-fi-inflected thriller starring Riz Ahmed - who is my new choice for the next James Bond - as a dad so desperate to protect his kids that he kidnaps them.

KELLY: Anything you hated? Top thing that disappointed you? Bob.

MONDELLO: Well, "Dear Evan Hansen," we played in the intro, that has the original Broadway star Ben Platt. He is fantastic, and so is the film for about 90 minutes. Unfortunately, it's 137 minutes long.

KELLY: (Laughter) OK, so before I let you go, bottom line - hybrid festival, you know, some in-person, some virtual - thumbs up or thumbs down? What did you think?

QURESHI: I mean, thumbs in the middle, I suppose. I guess the point is that it just feels like that existential angst question of, like, will things be in the theaters? Are they better in the cinemas? Are they just better at home? You know, of course, in a movie like "Dune," the answer may be a little clearer. But I definitely felt for smaller films. It seems that the immersion that you get in movie theaters really is - there's no comparison to that when you're kind of easily distracted by your phone, at least for me. So I feel, you know, one is hopeful that maybe we can go back to cinemas but a weird time.

MONDELLO: I so miss cinemas. I want this to be a film festival. And I want the experience of going back to the theater with audiences. I really miss it.

KELLY: Amen to that. That's NPR film critic Bob Mondello and contributor Bilal Qureshi talking to us about the Toronto International Film Festival. Thanks, you two.

QURESHI: Thank you.

MONDELLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.