Revenge, couture go hand in hand in Aussie film ‘The Dressmaker’

16 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

At TIFF: Winslet/Hemsworth can’t mend ‘Dressmaker,’ and a glorious last tango.

TORONTO – Though the Toronto International Film Festival lasts through Sunday the 20th, it’s already winding down today; crowds are noticeably smaller, Festival Street (the festive closed-off section of King Street, full of pedestrians and music and kiosks of all sorts) is only a memory, and most of the big-pedigree films have already screened. “The Martian” remains a favorite among the chatterers in line; I’m also hearing a lot of praise for “Anomalisa,” Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion animation comedy (which is here fresh off its grand jury prize win at the Venice Film Festival last weekend, and which unfortunately I wasn’t able to see) and for “Spotlight,” though with the latter it’s hard to tell how much of that is because journalists enjoy films about journalists. (Then again, a lot of us didn’t like “Truth” much.) Of the films remaining to be seen; well, sometimes there’s a reason a film doesn’t get an early slot. (It didn’t go unnoticed by me that Roland Emmerich’s drama “Stonewall” isn’t press-screening until Friday . . . . in other words, long after the majority of the reviewing press have left town.) “The Dressmaker,” this morning, was an odd, wildly uneven comedy starring Kate Winslet as a 1950s-era femme fatale in rural Australia.

Couldn’t get a ticket to the public screening doubling as the world premiere of “The Dressmaker” Monday night so opted for a press and industry screening this morning. Judy Davis, as Winslet’s mother, hams it up like an Easter dinner; the absurdly handsome Liam Hemsworth goes dramatically shirtless (it’s like a peace offering to a restless audience); and the whole thing left me thinking that the novel, by Rosalie Ham, surely must be better. It would have been helpful to watch it with a (regular) audience and see how they rode the waves of comedy, tragedy, fiery score-settling, mystery, romance and a nod to women’s couture in the Australian Outback in 1951.

Hemsworth took to Instagram on Tuesday, Sept. 15, to share a cheeky snap of himself wearing only a white tee and boxer briefs (and his complementary hat), which he captioned, “#TIFF15 #nopants #freeswag.” Charmed? A Paris-trained dressmaker, she returns to her rural hometown of Dungatar to take care of her ailing mother (Judy Davis), but also is on a mission of revenge, wanting to dole out a comeuppance to those who drove her out of town when she was younger. Speaking of novels, I had a lovely interview today with Irish writer Emma Donoghue, who adapted her own novel “Room” for the screen. (The film, one of the highlights of the fest for me, is the harrowing yet lyrical story about a mother and child imprisoned for years in a shed, and their eventual immersion back into the world.) Interestingly; she told me that she began work on the script long ago, before the novel was even published; she had an inkling that the book might make a good film and wanted, she said, to have “first bash” at telling the story for the screen.

She was shipped away from her single mother at age 10 after being accused of an awful crime – the details of which elude her – and she landed in Paris where she studied under legendary designer Madeleine Vionnet. The Aussie actor hit the festival premiere of his latest film, The Dressmaker, the night before, and his costar Kate Winslet could not stop gushing about him. “[The Dressmaker] is a predominantly female cast, which is great fun, and it was filmed in Australia,” Winslet, 39, began, addressing the audience. “Australian actors are wonderful, incredible artists, and it’s a comedy which is different for me. She is now a fashion designer and seamstress who arrives with picture hat titled to the side and topping her ensemble, heels, white gloves, stylish cigarette case and portable Singer sewing machine. For example, they were never able to have the traditional table read of the script, she said – because little Jacob Tremblay, who played Jack in the film, couldn’t read that fast yet. In one scene, Australian actress Sacha Horler “just decided to fall over randomly in the middle of it and trip over a chicken, and it’s completely in the film,” Winslet says. “I was like, ‘Sacha, there’s nowhere that could fit,’ and she was like, ‘Oh no, it fits.’ She’s right, it’s bloody funny, there’s Sacha tripping over a chicken.” Tilly also has a penchant for taking a golf club and driving balls at the houses of nasty neighbors, though Winslet herself only took a couple of shots. “I’m not a golf player, I don’t like golf at all, I think it’s extremely boring,” she admits with a laugh. “Sorry, golf players, I do.” However, the girl who was helping out as a nanny behind the scenes was obsessed with the sport, so she was recruited as Winslet’s golfing body double: “She was ready, was the same height as me, fit the clothes — it was perfect.” In the case of The Dressmaker, those clothes do make the woman, and building Tilly’s fashionable wardrobe was quite a project, according to Winslet.

Because the filmmakers wanted Tilly to look completely different from everyone else on screen, they hired a second costume designer just to do Winslet’s wear: Margot Wilson, whom the actress worked with on John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 (out March 4). “She wanted my opinion,” Winslet says of Wilson, “and she also knew that I knew my own body very well so I would know what would work and what really wouldn’t.” Wilson also knows the power of a dress, as does Tilly. Now in their 80s, Cope and Nieves spoke about their long, passionate, troubled partnership of nearly 50 years; interspersed with glorious contemporary tango-flavored dance sequences depicting their lives. “We cursed each other when we danced,” recalled Nieves; whose still-fiery presence lights up the film. Is that why I’m cursed?” The costumes are gorgeous, from curve-hugging strapless gowns in red and black to a chartreuse dress and headpiece for a formal affair. In one sequence at the rugby pitch, Winslet’s character changes into a red, curve-hugging number that distracts most every man around. (That dress was made from a piece of fabric Wilson had bought in Milan in 1970 and was keeping around for a special occasion.) “The outfits Tilly wears are largely not practical at all and had to function in pretty harsh conditions, sometimes being really quite physical in those outfits,” the actress says. “The biggest challenge we had was not ripping things, and we did rip things.

Liam Hemsworth plays her love interest and Judy Davis is her mother, who gets all of the best lines and laughs as when a local bride-to-be saddled with an awful dress comes looking for help. “Princess Elizabeth’s here for a fitting,” she yells, in between stealing the contents of whiskey flasks and ogling Hemsworth who strips to his boxers for a fitting. Last few films: the British thriller “A Patch of Fog” later tonight; Stephen Frears’ Lance Armstrong biopic “The Program” early tomorrow, then home I go.

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