Foreign-language titles embraced at TIFF

'All About Love,' 'Mandoo' benefit from receptive audiences

TORONTO -- Hong Kong filmmaker Ann Hui is relieved.

"The audience reaction seemed positive," Hui sais the morning after the first public screening at the Toronto International Film Festival for "All About Love," a comedy about two former lesbian lovers, played by Vivian Chow and Susan Ng, each on the verge of motherhood.

The Toronto reaction to the film from Wong Jing's Mega-Vision Pictures is in stark contrast to Hong Kong, where the theatrical release for "All About Love" bombed and, worse for Hui, was critically panned for its light-hearted treatment of serious, taboo subjects like sexuality, family and pregnancy.

"We got slashed by the critics," Hui recalls.

The Toronto audience, known by foreign distributors looking to launch pictures here for being generous, was more merciful in its reception for "All About Love."

"It's good for my self-confidence because it means that the film has a certain value and quality," Hui said.

Mega-Vision financed Hui's more recent films, "The Way We Are," and "Night and Fog," a hard-hitting portrait of a marriage that ends in violence.

Like "Night and Fog," "All About Love" has little chance of being released in China because of its difficult subject matter.

And now that Hui's latest movie is unspooling in Toronto, there's also little prospect of North American film buyers picking up the Hong Kong film amid the indie film downturn.

Here TIFF is reverting to its traditional role as a festival launching pad for foreign-language films, as few international titles have so far moved in the unofficial film market in Toronto.

TIFF as a gateway onto the festival circuit works well enough for Iranian director Ebrahim Saeedi, who is screening "Mandoo," a joint Iranian and Iranian Kurdistan production in Toronto as part of the Discovery sidebar.

"Mandoo" bowed in Locarno before shifting to Toronto, and now has invitations to festivals in Iceland, Pusan and Dubai.

"It's exciting to see the message we're trying to show in our film be brought out of Kurdistan and find an audience abroad," Saeedi said Wednesday.

"Mandoo" follows two sides of an extended family reunited in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2004 after years of separation.

"This film has a universal theme, the story of refugees and their plight of separation, something that anyone who has ever been displaced can relate to," Saeedi explained.