BETWEEN STRANGERS written and directed by Edoardo Ponti, produced by Elda Ferri, Gabriella Martinelli and Roberto Pace, with Sophia Loren, Mira Sorvino, Deborah Unger, Pete Postlethwaite, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Gérard Depardieu, Malcolm McDowell, Wendy Crewson. 95 minutes. Opens Friday (October 4). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies. Rating: NN
When seasoned professionals at the Toronto International Film Festival start confusing Mira Sorvino with Mena Suvari, you know one of them's in trouble. Probably the one with the shaky career. Sorvino has an Academy Award for Mighty Aphrodite, but it's a best-supporting-actress prize. Sometimes that's like being handed a mirror and a sharp rock. Together with Anna Paquin, Marisa Tomei and Mercedes Ruehl, Sorvino barely made it out of the 90s thanks to the supporting-actress curse. Or maybe it was Quentin Tarantino. She credits her ex-boyfriend with guiding her toward starring roles opposite mutant bugs in Mimic and hails of gunfire in The Replacement Killers.
Now Sorvino comes to Toronto with Between Strangers. It's a subdued story about three women negotiating turning points in their lives. Sorvino plays a second-generation photographer trying to escape the hammering advice of her famous father, played by Klaus Maria Brandauer. The film was written and directed by Edoardo Ponti, whose mom, Sophia Loren, also stars.
Between Strangers's greatest selling point, at least in this town, is that it shoots Toronto as Toronto. This is a film that takes real pleasure in showing off Queen Street, and in turning Sorvino, Loren, Brandauer, plus Gérard Depardieu and Brits Pete Postlethwaite and Malcolm McDowell, into Torontonians.
It's an impressive cast, but the film's tepid drama won't exactly vault Sorvino back where she belongs. Somewhere inside, she's got to know this. She's magna cum laude from Harvard.
So the question that hangs over our interview during its entire duration is, "Why do you choose these godawful scripts?"
Just before time's up, I blurt it out.
A sour smirk crawls across Sorvino's face. Her eyes dart around the room to find the two publicists securing her perimeter.
"I don't even want to answer that question," she whispers.
In happier times, before her personal publicist kicks me out, Sorvino admits that she was first attracted to Between Strangers by "the concept of a young woman trying to individuate herself from her father's image."
Her own father, actor Paul Sorvino, was the opposite of her father in the film, she says. He discouraged her from acting until she was old enough to know better.
But it was Sorvino's interest in politics and ethics that led her to take the role. She was intrigued by "examining the responsibility of the photojournalist."
This launches Sorvino into a consideration of how and where art can effect political change. She's not optimistic.
"For the most part acting operates more on an emotional, artistic level," she says. "I don't think it changes anything."
Still, she did find her consciousness raised by Dead Man Walking, Frances and especially The Insider.
"That film made me think that if I light up a cigarette, I'm supporting a huge corporation."
So if engagement with the real world is what moves her -- her degree is in Asian studies, and she speaks Mandarin and French -- why crush cockroaches in Mimic?
"I was in this genre mood," she confesses, though not sheepishly. "I was at the time with a person who was a huge fan of genre films, so I decided to take that excursion."
But she did come out of her Tarantino haze.
"Summer Of Sam was a strong, interesting film," she protests. "Sweet Nothing is a film I did about crack addiction."
The heavy bracelet of a man's watch jangles at her wrist as she gestures.
"I did a documentary about anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union."
All right, all right.
"There are only rare topics that meet with your political or spiritual beliefs," she says finally. And she refuses to slap her face onto passing issues.
"Celebrities," she concludes, "bask in the warmth of doing a good thing and of being famous at the same time."email@example.com
also Opening: INVINCIBLE -- JONAH -- A VEGGIETALES MOVIE -- JUST A KISS -- READ MY LIPS -- RED DRAGON For details, see mini-reviews, page 95.