24 February 2020 07:24 PM




Learning to Drive

TORONTO: Running themes at Toronto’s ten-day overload of close to 400 films are on the vagaries that overtake the human psyche in the course of life. The subjects vary from family and gender confrontations to identities being eroded by today’s impinging technology. Here are three examples.

Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixets “Learning to Drive” is on life in New York city when two completely different beings are brought together in one of life’s quirky juxtapositions. One is a classy lady who is a reputed critic and writer. The other is a down-to-earth, upright Sikh taxi-driver leading a lonely and thin-line existence in the city. They meet when the lady and her husband have a huge marital fight in the back-seat of his car. The distraught woman has just found out that her husband is leaving her for a younger woman.

Painfully adjusting to her single status, she decides to learn driving from the Sikh in order to be able to visit her daughter in a distant suburb. Their trysts on driving extend further into imbibing healing lessons on life for both. She finds succour in the Sikh’s unshakeable belief in religion and tradition. He learns from her open transparency and vulnerability as a woman and also her sophisticated mind and upbringing. When his arranged marriage brings a small-town woman from India into his life he finds himself distanced from her. However, he learns to cope from looking at how his driving student has come to terms with her own domestic upheaval.

The film’s witty dialogue and brisk script keeps the audience chuckling and responding to the couple’s strange bonding. However, Ben Kingsley as the Sikh taxi driver and Sarita Choudhury as his home-spun wife lack conviction in their Indian roles and surrounds, whereas the American social scene is scintillating, enhanced by the sparkling performance of Patricia Clarkson as the stricken ex-wife.

From Chile, “I Am not Lorena”, directed by Isidora Marras, is on how a wrong telephone number can stalk, threaten and destroy lives of ordinary people. The film centres on the young girl Olivia, an aspiring actress, who is rehearsing for a play. She begins to worry when she gets increasingly persistent calls on her mobile for a woman called Lorena. The calling party insists that she is Lorena and when she protests, the voice on the other end says that she is trying to bluff her way out of trouble. Lorena then tries to validate her identity but the intractable records in the computer networks of the administrative institutions she visits corroborate that the number is that of Lorena. Completely cornered, Olivia knows she has to unravel the mystery if she wants to lead a normal life. What ensues is an eerie web of debt and accidental imposters in the dark, shady underworld of Santiago. The play that Olivia is rehearsing reflects the tortuous psychological space she is in and serves as comment on what the film is saying.

From France, “The New Girlfriend” directed by François Ozon, is a complicated and many-layered study of gender preferences and breaking social taboos and how both affect our behavior and choices in life. Claire and Laura have been the closest of friends since their childhood. They remain bonded until they both marry. When Laura dies after giving birth to a daughter, Claire reaches out to her grieving husband, David. She then discovers that David likes to dress as a woman, and that Laura knew about this. Claire then secretly becomes a party to David’s need and masquerades him in his woman’s gear as her girlfriend, Virginia. They go out together as women and Claire derives a certain satisfaction from this subterfuge. But then, David in every other way and sexually as well is a man. He begins to fall in love with Claire and she with him. The two then live together as girlfriends. They together raise David’s daughter and Claire is pregnant with his child. This film is masterful and convincing as it unravels its emphasis on femininity and the masculine role model in many different ways.