TORONTO - Who knew that tears could be a sartorial hazard at the Toronto International Film Festival?
But French director Nils Tavernier confronted just such a situation after his uplifting drama "The Finishers" screened over the weekend.
"People wanted to take me in their arms to say thank you," Tavernier said Monday in an interview when asked about the audience reaction at the screening.
"The women were crying and they wanted to share the love they had of the film with me ... so my jacket was totally wet."
"The Finishers" tells the story of wheelchair-bound teen Julien (played by newcomer Fabien Heraud) who convinces his father Paul (Jacques Gamblin) that the pair should enter a triathlon together. The youth is inspired by Team Hoyt — a real-life American father-and-son partnership who compete in such events.
After Jacques reluctantly agrees, the pair begin to train: the father swims while pulling his son in a boat, runs while pushing his wheelchair and cycles with him in a specially outfitted bike.
The actual competition scenes were shot during the 2012 Ironman France, resulting in breathtaking panoramas of the Cote d'Azur captured by Tavernier, who has a background in documentary film.
As it happened, the competition scenes were some of the first in the film that were shot, creating a harsh initiation for rookie actor Heraud, who also uses a wheelchair in real life.
While the 19-year-old admitted to some fear (the film contains some harrowing cycling sequences), he had faith in his co-star.
"We trusted one another," Heraud said in French through an interpreter.
Gamblin, in turn, had high praise for the budding actor.
"Fabien (became) an actor in a few days. He didn't know anything about acting. But he's very sensitive and very intelligent."
While "The Finishers" is a tale of physical triumph, it is, at its heart, a father-son story, something that struck a chord with Gamblin. The actor said he had a difficult relationship with his own father that was improved through sports.
As for the sentimental reaction "The Finishers" inspired at TIFF, Gamblin said he knew he was part of something special early in the shoot.
"I became aware when I told the story (of the film) to a friend or to my family, always, I was very emotional," he recalled. "It was, for me, a sign of (the finished result)."
He added: "It was a film you had to do full blast, no reserve. It was an engagement. Not only as an actor but as a person."
"The Finishers" is still seeking distribution, so it's unclear when it will be seen by general audiences in Canada.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs through Sept. 15.
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