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Report from the Toronto Film Festival

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In the years I’ve been a film critic, I don’t think three days have gone by without someone asking ”How many movies do you see a week?” (For the record: about five.) At a film festival, though, even the theater-potato lifestyle of a reviewer gets pushed to gluttonous new levels of intake. During this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which ran Sept. 5-14, I kept running into people who claimed they were watching five movies a day. Generally, they blurted out this feat with a touch of pride, as if describing how many pounds they’d just bench-pressed. Fortunately, there’s a justification for the endless screening schedule: the quality of the movies. Less glamorous than Cannes, lacking the indie-chic identity of Sundance, the Toronto International Film Festival has become home to as many or more tantalizing discoveries as any other contemporary festival. Roger & Me first played here; so did Welcome to the Dollhouse and Crumb. With that tradition in mind, I went to Toronto looking for gems. This is what I found.

What can you say about a girl who likes her men young, handsome, and…dead? It doesn’t take a genius to see why Kissed quickly became the most talked-about film of the festival (it was picked up for U.S. distribution by the Samuel Goldwyn Co.). It’s a love story about — yes — necrophilia, and as if that weren’t taboo-smashing enough, the person who keeps making love to beautiful corpses is a fresh-faced young woman, Sandra (Molly Parker), who describes her death fix with a swooning intensity that lifts it into the realm of romantic obsession. Sex meets lyricism meets decay: It’s more than a little David Lynchian, and director Lynne Stopkewich, in her debut feature, establishes a mood of queasy erotic reverie. Newcomer Parker is a real find, with a hungry avidity reminiscent of Debra Winger in her prime. Kissed should prove quite the conversation piece when it finally opens, even if its solemn outrageousness does start to feel tidy and ritualized. Still, the film stays with you — it’s a sick-chick daydream served up without frills or apologies.

Swingers, Doug Liman’s terrific comedy about young Los Angeles guys cruising for love on the martini-and-retro-swing circuit, only sounds as if you’ve seen it before. It’s about what it’s like to be a hunk in the age of anxiety. Mike (Jon Favreau), mired in misery over a lost girlfriend, and Trent (Vince Vaughn), whose pickup maneuvers have all the spontaneity of a corporate takeover, travel from bars to parties to more bars, their eagle eyes peeled for ”babies” (i.e., babes). But since they spend most of their energy psyching each other up, the dialogue becomes an antsy white-boy rap — the comic rattle of the macho mind. The catchphrase of the year has to be Trent’s refrain of encouragement: ”You’re money!” The joke is that, deep down, none of these guys quite believe they are money. They’re as pixilated by doubt as Woody Allen, making Swingers the rare honest expose of the modern mating dance.