There seems to have been some kind of a mistake. "Care to cover the biggest festival in North America?" my editor had said. It sounded like a peach of an assignment. That very evening, I disembarked from the Montreal-Toronto Express, eager to pick up my press pass and check into a nice guesthouse. I located the festival press office without a hitch, but on stepping inside, I realised something was amiss. Press bags overflowing with anti-aging pomades; walls lined with Hello! magazines, and ghastly media types, everywhere, screaming into cell phones. I may have one of the sharpest tongues in literary criticism, but in my confusion there and then, I was rendered speechless.
In the midst of it all, a young woman in a tight black T-shirt, with "VOLUNTEER" emblazoned across the bosom, thrust a catalogue into my hands.
"Welcome to Toronto International Film Festival," she gushed.
I looked at her in horror.
"I beg your pardon?"
So there I found myself, the following morning, ready to cut my teeth as a film critic among the sharks. Inside the Varsity Cinema, I awaited the media screening of Ken Loach's new offering, The Wind that Shakes the Barley. A lady journalist clutching The New Yorker squeezed her ample derrière into the next chair and initiated idle chit-chat.
"Where are you from?" she asked.
"I used to go there a lot before they all started speaking French," she replied.
Fortunately, just then, the lights dimmed. As Oscar Wilde once said, "Why was I born with such contemporaries?"
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the film, but then of course the director is British. He has a gift for portraying the heartrending struggles of Ireland's little people-not the leprechauns of course, the peasantry. Loach's compassion extends to assigning the role of dog to a three-legged collie, but not to sparing the life of an illiterate -directorial choices I applaud. Cillian Murphy is wonderful as Damien, a young doctor- cum-IRA terrorist, thanks to the underplayed heroism and perfect cheekbones he brings to the role. After the film, I rushed back to the press office, grabbed the perky volunteer and screamed: "Set me up an interview with Mr. Murphy!"
In the afternoon, I was torn between heading for the red carpet to photograph Murphy or catching another film. One look at my Roman sandals had me worried about plan A. Those paparazzi couldn't stop ducking and diving when stars came down the carpet. I didn't want them treading on my tootsies. I could not take it if Murphy saw me hopping around clutching my foot in agony and averted those big blue eyes in indifference. Not without regret, I opted for plan B and joined the line for another movie.
The Varsity was bursting at the seams for Almodovar's Volver. I would recommend this film to anyone who appreciates an intense emotional journey, brilliant ensemble acting and the bosoms of Penelope Cruz. In an unprecedented move at Cannes earlier this year, Cruz and all the leading ladies of this film were together named "Best Actress." Although grammatically flawed, the jury's decision has my blessing.
Back at the guesthouse, my bedtime reading consists of schedules, talent lists, flyers, and the new Canadian Hello! Magazine. As my eyelids grow heavy, I regret the cutting down of trees for such superficial prose. Then two words catch my eyes and suddenly I am wide-awake again.
When you think of Celia Lloyd the literary critic, you undoubtedly think "brilliant", "witty" or perhaps even "cruel-to-be-kind". I am all those things, but do not forget, I am still a woman. Can two words constitute a poem? As an authority on the matter, I say yes, when they are "Brad" followed by "Pitt". I didn't know he was going to be here. Finally, my presence at the Toronto International Film Festival makes some kind of sense.