Monday, September 02, 2019

TIFF 2019 - Here we go!

Note! Alphabetical list below is not complete yet but will be soon --- please check back! T - Z is coming!

Another year has passed, and a particularly challenging summer for this blogger, and so looking forward to TIFF19 has been like seeing the line of shore from a storm-tossed boat. That image might also capture the spirit of this year's TIFF programming list, which pitches and rolls and floats its way through the world issues that are most preoccupying us, while also looking within at our deepest hopes and fears. Here's a glimpse at how.

Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche in
Hirokazu Kore-eda's The Truth
Families! The old saying that you can't live with them and you can't live without them will find its many voices in this year's TIFF programming. In thirty-five plus years of attending the festival, I have never seen a year so marked by stories of the way we come together and form families, whether biological or chosen, broken, reunited, struggling, or free. Mother-child stories are at a premium, followed by stories of families in migratory or refugee realities. People separated from families and loved ones looking to find ways to be whole again will take us on many journeys. (See below: Antigone, Balloon, Beneath the Blue Suburban Skies, Blackbird, Bring Me Home, just to name a few from the front of the alphabet).

Biopics! Some documentary, some docufiction, some dramatic reconstructions will reframe the lives of performers and legends of all kinds as the movies bring us the stories of Judy Garland, Jean Seberg, Helen Reddy, Truman Capote and two popes!, among many others! A film can show us what a written biography can't -- the quiet moments of decision and uncertainty and triumph that build the story of a life. All of these will be tapped in the next two weeks.

TIFF is taking very seriously its commitment to upholding women filmmakers. The Share Her Journey campaign, which seeks to support the voices of women in film from all over the world, continues this year in the presence of new and provocative talents, rich with vision and wisdom from all over the globe.

So get out the highlighters and settle in! The voyage to new and familiar worlds is boarding! Titles are linked to the TIFF programme page and directors are named in brackets. The associated programme area is also included. Bon voyage!


Hassen Ferhani's 143 Sahara Street
143 Sahara Street (Hassen Ferhani). The brief clip available for this doc about a woman running the only cafe in the middle of the Sahara promises a bit of humour, while contemplating what it means to surrender your whole life to be an oasis for others. Wavelengths

37 Seconds (Hikari). A woman living with cerebral palsy dreams of being a Manga artist while managing a family in this first feature by Japanese filmmaker Hikari, which won the Audience Award at the Berlinale. Contemporary World Cinema (CWC)

Oualid Mouaness' 1982, starring Nadine Labaki
1982 (Oualid Mouaness). Nadine Labaki wowed the film world last year with her Oscar-nominated Capernaum. This year she goes in front of the camera in Mouaness' story of a boy-girl romance set in a posh Christian school in 1980s pre-invasion Lebanon. Discovery

About Endlessness (Roy Andersson). The lofty and the earthbound are evoked in the compelling series of images that have emerged from this latest film by Swedish master Andersson, which includes a couple floating like Chagall lovers. Little can be found about the actual story except that it offers a series of vignettes about "personal lack of awareness". Visuals are very compelling. Masters

Roy Andersson's About Endlessness

Adam (Maryam Touzani). Two outcast women -- one pregnant and shunned and the other widowed and bereft -- join forces in this first-time feature from actor Touzani set in contemporary Casablanca. I've watched the only available clip several times, drawn by performances. CWC

American Son (Kenny Leon). Kenny Leon is bringing to the screen the Broadway award-winning play by Christopher Damos-Brown about a young man's disappearance and the mixed-race parents who are trying to find out what may have happened to him and confronting racism and police violence in the process. No trailer, but Kerry Washington is reprising her Broadway role. SP

Louise Archambault's And the Birds Rained Down
And the Birds Rained Down (Louise Archambault). One of the great memories of recent Festival years was Louise Archambault's Gabrielle, about a young woman musician with Williams syndrome in Montreal who strives to be both an artist and independent. This year Archambault turns her lens on aging hermits hiding out in the Québec wilderness whose world is interrupted when a woman is brought to stay with them. Love the trailer. CWC

Anne at 13,000 Feet (Kazik Radwanski). I still remember vividly Radwanski's The Tower, and I have come to appreciate lead actor Deragh Campbell through her collaborative work with Sofia Bohdanowicz. So I am especially excited to see this story of a woman waiting for her life to take flight, figuratively and literally. Platform

Nahéma Ricci in Sophie Draspe's Antigone
Antigone (Sophie Deraspe). The ancient drama by Sophocles is given a modern re-telling in this story of a man gunned down by mistake, and how his sister, Antigone, finds a way to hold honour and family together as a new immigrant in Québec. CWC

Arab Blues (Manele Labidi). This first feature from French-Tunisian Labidi follows a woman returning to her native Tunis after a decade in France, hoping to set up a psychotherapy practice. But are people ready for it? The programme note hints at some comedic elements. CWC

Atlantics (Mati Diop). Fresh from her Grand Prix at Cannes, Mati Diop's first feature story of a woman coping with the departure of her lover and a requisite marriage to someone else has been hailed by critics and audiences abroad. CWC

Nina Hoss in Ina Weisse's The Audition
The Audition (Ina Weisse). The amazing Nina Hoss plays a violin teacher with an uncompromising commitment to talent, including a new protegé in this second feature from Weiss who previously directed The Architect. Discovery

August (Armando Capó). Capó goes home to rural Cuba to tell this coming-of-age story of a young man caught in the whirlwind of radically shifting Cuban politics, who joins those migrating by boat to the US. Discovery

Pema Tseden's Balloon
Balloon (Pema Tseden). Two sisters, a fulfilled mother of three and a Buddhist nun, must make unexpected choices in the face of changing family and relationship realities in contemporary Tibet. CWC

Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov). Fresh from the FIPRESCI Best Director (Un Certain Regard) prize at Cannes, Balagov (who was a protegé of Alexander Sokurov) brings us a story of post-siege Leningrad, and two women trying to rebuild their lives amid catastrophic losses. CWC

Jennifer Ehle in Edward Burns'
Beneath the Blue Suburban Skies
Beneath the Blue Suburban Skies (Edward Burns). Actor-director Burns brings us a contemporary story of a suburban couple -- and particularly a woman -- who are struggling to remember the meaning of life as children stretch their wings and not much else changes at home. Starring Jennifer Ehle, on the short-list of actors I would follow into anywhere. CWC

Blackbird (Roger Michell) 
Why are so many good Danish films being remade this year? I have been dreading the American remake of After the Wedding, as the original is one of my favourite films of all time. But now there is also Blackbird, which reconsiders Bart Freundlich's 2014 film, Silent Heart. Starring Susan Sarandon, Mia Wasikowska and Kate Winslet, it follows a dying woman's desire to bring her family together -- and the two sisters who collide when she does. Gala

Bring Me Home (Kim Seung-woo). A mother grieving her husband, who died looking for their lost child, finds new hope in a dubious hint that the son may be found in a local fishing village. There she encounters corrupt authorities and more challenges in this first feature being billed as a thriller. Discovery

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Violet Nelson in
The Body Remembers when the World Broke Open
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn). One woman comforts another when two strangers encounter each other on the street in the middle of a crisis. Compassion, empathy and solidarity lead to burgeoning friendship in this collaboration between two gifted Indigenous Canadian filmmakers. Director Tailfeathers also co-stars. CWC

Gitanjali Rao's Bombay Rose
Bombay Rose (Gitanjali Rao). Eight or more storylines converge and intertwine around a single rose as it moves through the heart of Mumbai in Rao's first animated feature. CWC

The Burnt Orange Heresy (Giuseppe Capotondi). Set on Lake Como (which might be reason enough alone to see it), this heist film follows an art dealer who becomes obsessed with the idea of having a particular painting, at any cost. Co-stars Elizabeth Debicki whom I loved in Vita & Virginia. Gala

The Cave (Feras Fayyad). We've all heard of the horrific intentional bombing of hospitals in the war on Syria. This documentary chronicles a subterranean hospital under the city of Damascus, run by women, and a particular surgeon seeking to hold the place together, despite criticism from male partners. Docs

Clemency (Chinonye Chukwu) This is such a great idea for a film, and there is every reason to believe it will be wonderful. Alfre Woodard plays a death-row prison warden whose job is to help make the last hours of inmates comfortable. The emotional reserve she must have to do her job is a liability at home, where her husband tries to recover the woman he once knew. Gala

Tamar Shavgulidze's Comets
Comets (Tamar Shavgulidze). I love how nuanced this story sounds, which follows two women in the country of Georgia who once came close to being lovers and who find themselves living as neighbours thirty years later. The programme note says, "sometimes only the language of cinema can unlock the secrets we keep and the words that go unspoken." Not sure how movies will make a difference but observing how love transitions and changes, while staying the same is a big draw for me. Disc

Wayne Wang's Coming Home Again
Coming Home Again (Wayne Wang) A veteran of the beautiful adaptation, Wang brings his considerable gifts this time to the story of a man taking care of his dying mother in San Francisco, while trying to remember and master her traditional cooking. SP

Coppers (Alan Zweig). Zweig has brought his insightful sensibility to so many Canadian realities -- so this profile of policemen and women and the toll the work takes on them personally seems likely to be very moving. The trailer also points to a more poetic experience than we might expect. Docs

Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa). I am very intrigued by the sound of this tale of a youth offender who poses as a priest in a Polish village. Rather than just a disguise, the ruse leads to opportunities for spiritual transformation for himself and the community, until his past catches up. CWC

Grímur Hákonarson's The County
The County (Grímur Hákonarson). Let's face it. Anything by an Icelandic filmmaker should be on your list. But this story of a farmer who tries to confront her corrupt local co-op after the death of her husband -- promises humour as well as a good fight, from the director of the fabulous Rams. CWC

Cunningham (Alla Kovgan). Many of us remember the awe-inspiring beauty of Wim Wenders' Pina, which celebrated Pina Bausch in 3D splendour. Perhaps inspired by that film, Kovgan has turned out her own 3D feature profiling American dance legend Merce Cunningham. Discovery

Desert One (Barbara Kopple). Blending live action with animation, legendary filmmaker Kopple goes behind scenes on the dramatic rescue of hostages in the 1979 Iranian revolution by focusing on the helicoptor that brought people to safety. Discovery

Oliver Laxe's Fire Will Come
Fire Will Come (Oliver Laxe). The trailer is gorgeous for this odd tale from the director of Mimosas, about a pyromaniac who returns to his home village from prison for having set a notorious fire. Will he do it again? Wavelengths

The Goldfinch (John Crowley) The novel by Donna Tartt is given the full Hollywood treatment for this story of a boy who loses his mother in a museum terrorist blast and goes on a quest to find the painting of a goldfinch that was the last thing they shared together. Gala.

Greed (Michael Winterbottom) It's hard to read what the style of this film will be -- but certainly some satire is implied in the title, in this story of a billionaire fast-fashion magnate (Steve Coogan) who holds a birthday party disrupted by refugees. SP

Guest of Honour (Atom Egoyan) It's always a time for celebration when Egoyan has a new film. I have been sitting in his TIFF screenings for close to thirty years. David Thewlis -- one of my favourite actors in the world -- tries to mend his relationship with his daughter while working as a restaurant health inspector. Watch the clip on the link. SP

Cynthia Erivo as the title character
in Kasi Lemmons'
Harriet (Kasi Lemmons) Some of us remember the beautiful nuance and character depth in Lemmons' Eve's Bayou. So we can only imagine what she will do with the life story of Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist who almost single-handedly founded the Underground railroad during and after the American Civil War. Gala.

A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick). I get to start my whole festival with Malick's latest, which has drawn good reviews in Europe, about a WWII Austrian conscientious resister whose faith prevents him from participating in Nazi ideology. All of the WWII dramas this year promise more depth and soul-searching than usual -- see also Lyrebird and The Painted BirdMasters

Hala (Minhal Baig). A newly-immigrated teenage Pakistani youth tries to balance her family's expectations of her with her newfound freedom and burgeoning desires. Parents start out in differing perspectives that change over the course of the story -- a nice way to show how immigration affects all members of the family. CWC

Hope Gap (William Nicholson) I'm so glad that we get this chance to see the deeper side of Bill Nighy's considerable gifts -- without the ironic edge which he seems constantly cast for, in this story of a couple breaking up after most of their lives together. Co-stars Annette Bening. SP.

Alanis Obomsawin's Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger
Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger (Alanis Obomsawin) Indigenous cinema in Canada has been born on the backs of Alanis Obomsawin, whose unflinching and human eye on Indigenous story in this country has illuminated worlds which have a harder time being understood in the wider media. I am so glad that she is bringing her lens to the unsettling and enraging story of Jordan Michael Anderson, whose childhood illness was unable to be treated properly because his case was mired in bureaucratic tape as to whose government responsibility he was. Jordan's Principle is the legislation that emerged from this tragedy, but we are still a long way from full implementation of it. A must-see. Masters

Renee Zellwegger as Judy Garland in Rupert Goold's Judy
Judy (Rupert Goold) Well. What to say about this!! Most of us know the story of the legend that was Judy Garland, whose early life as a studio actor at MGM led to a life-time struggle with overwork and addiction. Her talent inspired a generation of people and had no small impact on the birth of the LGBTQ+ movement. Renee Zellweger takes on the diva. The trailer is both worrying and reassuring in ways too complex to explain in sound bites.  SP

Kuessipan (Myriam Verrault). Indigenous cinema is fast becoming the most exciting in our land. As more Indigenous filmmakers have access to resources, a greater variety of story and experience emerges. What a gift to have a film (based on the novel by Naomi Fontaine) set in an Innu Québec community -- which follows two girlfriends whose futures are unfolding in vastly different ways. Discovery

Meryl Streep in Steven Soderburgh's The Laundromat
The Laundromat (Steven Soderburgh) It's Meryl Streep. It's Steven Soderburgh. And it's the Panama papers. That should be enough to put this one on your list! The story follows a widow trying to resolve her insurance claim who is led into the world of financial crime and money laundering. SP

Lyrebird (Dan Friedkin). This post-WWII art forgery drama is a first feature for Friedkin, and tells the story of a soldier and member of the Dutch resistance who investigaes the illegal sale of a Vermeer to Herman Göring  by an affluent Nazi-sympathizer. SP

Made in Bangladesh (Rubaiyat Hossain). Rights activist Hossain brings her knowledge and sensibilities to bear on this story of a Dhaka woman who attempts to form a union in her garment factory, after a fire kills a colleague. CWC

Satu Tuuli Karhu in Zaida Bergroth's Maria's Paradise
Maria's Paradise (Zaida Bergroth). The visuals are compelling in this fourth feature from Bergroth, which follows a young woman living from birth in a cult in 1920s Finland. A chance look at the outside world, brings new perspectives and desires. CWC

Military Wives (Peter Cattaneo) Kristin Scott Thomas leads a strong cast in this true story of a choir made up of military wives, whose ties deepen as their fame grows. SP

Shan MacDonald in Heather Young's Murmur
Murmur (Heather Young). Continuing a predominant theme of mother-child films in this year's TIFF, a woman forced to community service finds herself adopting pets as a way of overcoming the loss of other relationships, in this first feature by promising Canadian director Heather Young. Discovery

My Zoey (Julie Delpy). The programme note is a bit vague on plot -- but we can guess that Delpy is entering new and riveting territory with this psychological thriller, in which she also stars, about a recently divorced mother driven to extremes when tragedy strikes. Platform.

Apayata Kotierk and Kim Bodnia in Zacharias Kunuk's
One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk
One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk (Zacharias Kunuk). The Indigenous cinema of the Arctic has a pretty formidable history and much of that is due to the work of Kunuk, arguably Canada's greatest living filmmaker. The director of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner and Maliglutitt (Searchers), arrives at TIFF this year with the story of Inuit communities being forced to resettle, through the eyes of a nomadic Inuit hunter. Not to be missed. (Special Events)

Ordinary Love
 (Lisa Barros-D'Sa, Glenn Leyburn) Irish playwright Owen McCafferty wrote the screenplay adaptation of his play, about the ways that a cancer diagnosis reveals long-held truths for a couple in contemporary Ireland. Gala

The Other Lamb (Malgorzata Szumowska) I loved Szumowska's Elles, which screened at TIFF a number of years ago. So I am excited for this return feature from the Polish director, about a woman born into a female cult who starts to resist. Two films at TIFF this year follow extremely similar stories -- see also Maria's Paradise, above. SP

Atiq Rahimi's Our Lady of the Nile
Our Lady of the Nile (Atiq Rahimi). 1970s Rwanda is the background for Rahimi's newest film about schoolgirls at a Belgian-run Catholic school in Rwanda. Elitism and tribal differences foreshadow the genocide of the 1990s. CWC

Pain and Glory
 (Almodóvar) Memory and addiction are two themes in Spanish auteur Almodovar's self-reflective film about a filmmaker trying to reconcile aging, career and the return of an old flame. Antonio Banderas won the Best Actor prize at Cannes. SP

The Painted Bird (Václav Marhoul) Czech filmmaker Marhoul brings a "not for the faint of heart" gritty realism to his adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski's novel about a Jewish boy whose parents are killed and who wanders Eastern Europe during WWII in an effort to survive. An all-star cast, including Harvey Keitel and Stellan Skarsgard. SP

Parasite (Bong Joon-ho) Shoplifters, as a thriller. Korean master filmmaker Bong won the Palme D'Or this year for this story of two vastly different families, whose lives overlap when a son of one becomes tutor to the daughter of another. Throw in some sci-fi and unexpected twists, and you have one of the biggest hits of the year. SP

Adèle Haenel and Valerie Golino in Céline Sciamma's
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma) Those who remember Sciamma's Girlhood will be eager to see her latest film, set in eighteenth-century France, about a woman sent to paint a portrait of a young fiancée, who falls in love with her instead, causing both women to push the boundaries imposed on them by society. Starring Adèle Haenel. SP

Radioactive (Marjane Satrapi). Ever since Persepolis, I have loved (and taught) the work of Marjane Satrapi, whose humour and acutely truthful eye illuminates the stories she tells. This film blends live action and animation in chronicling the life of scientist Marie Curie. Starring Rosamund Pike and Sam Riley. Gala.

The Rest of Us (Ainsling Chin-Yee) There are shades of Kieslowski's Three Colours: Blue in this story by Canadian Chin-Yee about a single mother who welcomes her ex-partner's wife and daughter into her life when they become homeless. A wonderful cast, including Heather Graham, Bomb Girls' Jodie Balfour and Sophie Nélisse (Monsieur Lazhar). Discovery

Sarah Gavron's Rocks
Rocks (Sarah Gavron). UK director Gavron was able to steer the all-star team in Suffragette. This film about a teenaged girl forced to take care of herself and her younger brother also boasts a cast of many young women/girls and reflects on what happens when children are forced into adulthood and maturity sooner than they should be. Platform.

Seberg (Benedict Andrews) Kristen Stewart's reputation as a serious dramatic actress has been on the rise in the last few years, and largely because of her work with French auteur Olivier Assayas. Now she is working with Aussie-filmmaker Andrews, in this biopic of the American actor who inspired the filmmakers of the French New Wave -- and particularly Godard. The film picks up her life as she returns to America where she becomes obsessed with, and joins, the Black Power movement in the late 1960s. SP

Sing Me a Song (Thomas Balmès). Filmmaker Balmès first met his subject, a Buddhist monk in Bhutan, in the early 2000s when he was a boy of seven. Now seventeen, the filmmaker returns to discover that the young man, still a monk, lives on the internet. His transformation at the hands of technology, and his long-distance relationship with a woman form the narrative for this documentary by the director of 2013's Happiness. Docs

Wang Xiaoshuai's So Long, My Son
So Long, My Son (Wang Xiaoshuai). I still remember Wang's beautiful Flowers, from 2011, so I am keen to see this latest film about a couple coming to terms with the death of their son. Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei won top prizes for acting at Berlin. CWC

The Song of Names (Francois Girard) It's been several decades since Girard made The Red Violin, which follows a single violin through several continents and centuries. The complexity of vision that has a true ear for music and musicians seems set to wow us again in this tale of a violin virtuoso searching for a friend and fellow violin virtuoso, whom he knew in the camps of the holocaust. Gala.

Raha Khodayari and Mahan Nasiri in
Mahnaz Mohammadi's Son, Mother
Son, Mother (Mahnaz Mohammadi). Iranian activist Mohammadi makes her fiction film debut in this story of a woman working in a factory who must weigh the terrible cost of a marriage proposal that would allow her to provide for her children -- but one of them will be forced to live elsewhere. Discovery

Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach). When the year arrives that there is no Ken Loach movie -- we will stop the clocks. At age 83, he continues to confront the primary social issues of our time, and always with a deeply compassionate and ruthlessly honest heart. In this latest, he tackles the challenges faced by a family who strike out to work for themselves, while sliding slowly deeper in debt. Masters

Ellen Page and Ian Daniel's
There's Something in the Water
There's Something in the Water (Ellen Page and Ian Daniel). Page and Daniel interview Indigenous and Black communities in Nova Scotia who are directly (and it seems intentionally) affected by the toxic waste of industries. Extraordinary women who are living the fight every day -- narrate their experiences of environmental racism. Docs

The Two Popes (Fernando Mereilles) This film was a surprise to me -- I had not heard anything about it as the festival seasons wound their way around Sundance and Europe this winter-spring. But I am completely drawn to it -- a depiction of the shift in the papacy from Pope Benedict to Pope Frances, especially with Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce playing the respective pontiffs!.  SP

The Truth (Hirokazu Kore-Eda). (See picture at top) So many reasons to be excited about this first feature outside of Japan by Kore-eda. His ongoing preoccupation with family relationships moves to France, to follow a mother and daughter in the filmmaking business: the mother is a famous actress; the daughter a screenwriter. Forced to collaborate, they now must face long-held resentments. A top pick for me. SP