Monday, August 26, 2013


Here is the continuation (M - Z) of my annual preview of the eighty most interesting films of TIFF13! Check the post before this one to see my intro and the first half of the list (A - L). The films are listed in alphabetical order and are linked to the appropriate TIFF info page. An asterisk is given to movies in my own top 20 (confession: it actually adds up to 22). Some notes repeat comments made on earlier blog posts about specific films. Take a deep breath, and dive in!

The films (continued):
Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez's Manakamana
*Manakamana. As I wrote in another post, I am quite intrigued by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez's Manakamana, the latest project of the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard, shot in the transcendental style, observing pilgrims as they arrive at the famous temple in Nepal - - by cable car. The film is shot entirely on the cable cars, allowing us to join these pilgrims in a liminal suspension as they ride toward the temple. Always drawn to films that touch on spiritual and religious themes, this is a high seed for me.

Is it my imagination? or does it seem like there has been this sudden resurgence of interest in the political rivalry that existed between Elizabeth I and her cousin, Mary I of Scotland? Perhaps because I live near Stratford, Ontario, where Schiller's Mary Stuart is selling out in a run that keeps getting extended. This feels like such well-heeled territory, in both television and film, but Piers Handling tells us that Swiss helmer Thomas Imbach's Mary Queen of Scots is the one we've been waiting for. Starring Camille Rutherford, and featuring a screenplay that moves fluidly back and forth from English to French (as the queen's life itself did), the trailer is admittedly quite powerful. Though I am tired of this story, I take it on faith that this version of it will revive and renew my interest in those sparring sixteenth-century royals!

Chris Jordan and Sabine Emiliani's Midway
*MidwaySome time last winter, I clicked on a video that was circulating on facebook which showed the plight of birds on a Pacific island, who are drawn to the brightly coloured detritus that floats on the ocean these days, and gagged to death on things like plastic bottle caps. I was so impacted by what I saw that I began collecting bottle caps off the ground, wherever I saw them. It turns out that the video I saw was the work of consumer photographer Chris Jordan. Now joined by Sabine Emiliani (who made March of the Penguins), the two are bringing a joint effort to TIFF, Midway, which observes the life of the albatrosses living on the Midway Atoll in the Pacific. This is a documentary that leans toward experience more than information, an immersion into the lives of these birds who are also live amid the wreckage of World War II aircraft. The internet video still haunts me, but I want very much to see the whole story.

Just one of about half a dozen films concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mais Darzawah's My Love Awaits Me By the Sea is possibly the most poetic. Taking its inspiration from the work of the late Palestinian writer and artist Hasan Hourani, programmer Rasha Salti is careful to describe it as an 'essay film', that re-emerging genre that is neither documentary nor drama, but a meditation/reflection on a particular subject told from a very subjective view. (For more on the essay film, read this great piece from The Guardian.) Making her way from Jordan to occupied Palestine, then into the older and more historical areas of Palestine before arriving at Jaffa where Hourani died, she makes her own kind of spiritual homecoming.

Hany Abu Assad's Omar
Omar by Hany Abu Assad (Paradise Now) won the Un Certain Regard jury prize at Cannes. Once again a story of Palestine, Omar is being described as a "noir thriller" in its story of a young man who hurdles the now-famous barrier wall, in order to hang out with his old friend, and more importantly, the friend's beautiful sister. When his love becomes known, he is goaded into testing his own loyalties. 

Korea isn't the first country one thinks of when looking for a good romantic comedy, but as I wrote in the other half of this list, this is the year of the wide-ranging and globally diverse romcom. Our Sunhi is Hong Sang-soo’s playful story of a woman filmmaker ardently pursued by three men, all of whom think they've won her. Something about the trailer gave me the feeling of an Asian Eric Rohmer film, in which the heroine both eludes and bewitches us without our knowing how. 

As more and more films emerge from or about Palestine, it is moving to see some names of directors who have always been in the region, always wanting to tell the stories of this part of the world. Rashid Mashawari, who has premiered a number of films at TIFF, including most recently Laila's Birthday, returns with Palestine Stereothe story of brothers who try to raise money for a move to Canada, after losing their home in an Israeli airstrike. From a filmmaker who never disappoints.

Bérénice Bejo in Asghar Farhadi's The Past
Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her performance in Asghar Farhadi's first film since A Separation, Le Passé (The Past) which also deals with relationships that have ended but remain caught in unforseen events. When you have followed the same TIFF programmers for decades, you develop your favourites and become familiar with their taste. Dimitri Eipides' usual reserve busts a seam in his notes for this film, which he calls "exquisitely written and magnficently acted".   

Stephen Frears' Philomena, has the promise of another bravura performance from Judi Dench, as a woman seeking the son she was forced to give up decades ago. Steve Coogan plays a BBC reporter walking with her in the search; he is also the film's producer and screenwriter. Fresh from the success of The Queen, Stephen Frears will no doubt add another fine film to a list of some of the finest British films ever made. (IMDB him!)

In the midst of a bountiful crop of Palestinian films, it's good to see evidence of the vibrant vitality the Israeli film industry has demonstrated in the first decade of this century. We need all voices from this region to keep speaking to us. Yossi Madmony's Place in Heaven ambitiously takes on an epic theme: the Faustian idea of trading one's life in the hereafter for the sake of a transitory pleasure in this one. Following Orthodox tradition that allows one to barter one's place in heaven, an Israeli officer falls into a contract with a Holocaust survivor.

Rebecca Hall in Patrice Leconte's A Promise
Sometime in the early 80s when I was housesitting for my grandparents while they were in Florida, I turned on PBS and watched a four hour production of Wagner's opera Die Walküre, completely mesmerized. I made note then of the director, Patrice Leconte, and have followed him ever since. Although his work has been uneven of late, A Promise, shows much promise indeed. A classic triangular love story set in pre-World War 1 England, it marks Leconte's English language debut and stars Alan Rickman.

Ahmad Abdalla's Rags and Tatters has one of the most intriguing premises of the year. A fugitive escaped from prison in Egypt finds himself in the chaos of the Tahrir Square uprising of 2011. All he wants is a place to sleep and eat safely, while others cheer on the changes at hand. Given the tremendous upheaval in Egypt right now and its vastly altered landscape since those heady days only two years ago, this should be an especially poignant entry.

There is already a considerable anticipation for Jonathan Teplitzky's The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth as a British soldier who is captured by the Japanese during the second world war and made to work as a heavy labourer. This might be a good film to view in dialogue with Steve McQueen's Twelve Years a Slave as there is a similarity of theme. Co-starring Nicole Kidman, the early word of mouth is very strong.

I was deeply moved by Philip Gröning's elegant and liturgical Into Great Silence, a documentary of the lives of Carthusian monks in Switzerland. 
Philip Gröning's The Police Officer's Wife
He is now back with a dramatic feature, 
The Police Officer's Wife. The brief description hints at a complex family drama revolving around the safety of a child. I am so fascinated by Gröning's understanding of emotional space and time that I don't actually care what the film is about - I'll be there.

Denis Villeneuve's script for Prisoners is based on a project from The Black List, a script depot accessed by both filmmakers and screenwriters as a way of discovering projects. The story is a familiar one: a man whose daughter has disappeared takes up his own pursuit of her safety when police release the most likely suspect. It stars Jake Gyllenhall, who also appears in Villeneuve's second film at TIFF13, Enemy.

Hiam Abbass and Nadine Labaki
in Laila Marrakchi's
Rock the Casbah
*Rock the Casbah is a rare opportunity to see some of the finest actresses in the Middle East working together in ensemble. Laila Marrakchi's first film since her hit Marock in 2006 could be called the Morrocan August: Osage County -- it is almost exactly the same story. The demise of a family patriarch (in a cameo by Omar Sharif) leads to the reunion of a family of sisters with their mother, where long-held resentments and revealed secrets wreak havoc and healing. Starring Hiam Abbass (who was so beautiful in The Visitor), Lubna Azabal (whose performance in Incendies was unforgettable) and gifted Lebanase filmmaker Nadine Labaki (director and star of both Caramel and Where do we go from here?), it promises great fun and good social satire.

In 2005, I had the chance to watch Roberto Rosselini's Rome, Open City?, sitting just in front of Isabella Rossellini, who had introduced the screening. I wrote then, "the rough condition of the print projected on Monday was a testament all by itself to the great need for restoration and loving attention to the work of Roberto Rossellini, a man who not only helped to launch the Italian neorealist movement, but whose work had a profound impact on the French new wave." [See original blog post here.] That moment has arrived and Isabella will be back. A cause for celebration!

Speaking of Morocco (see Rock the Casbah above), this is a year in which a number of films are either emerging from the North African country, or set in it. (See Exit Marrakech in the other half of this list.) Abdellah Taïa's Salvation Army is a first-feature adaptation of his own novel, which is also autobiographical. Essentially, a coming of age in sexuality story, the rich programme note from Rasha Salti promises a non-polemical and somewhat poetical excursion into one North African man's identity formation, when as a teenager he arrives to a new life in Geneva. 

Natascha McElhone and Rufus Sewell
in Stephen Brown's
The Sea
Stephen Brown's The Sea looks like it may be a compelling adaptation of the Man Booker Prize-winning book by John Banville. An art historian (Ciarán Hinds) writing a book about French Impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard, returns to a seacoast home and attempts to come to terms with both the death of his wife, and the raising of challenging memory associated with the house. The trailer suggests a past/present divide in strong visual style terms, and beautiful scenery. 

The City to City programme is one of the most innovative developments of TIFF in the last decade. With a focus this year on Athens, there is an impressive variety of film fare from masters and newcomers alike emerging from this other troubled part of the world. The one I am most likely to see is Penny Panayotopoulou's September, which chronicles a woman's attempt to find new life for herself after the death of her dog. The trailer makes clear that Panayotopoulou is as much interested in how we form new attachments, and how much we desire being loved, perhaps in that unconditional way that sometimes it seems only our pets can give us. The poetic emotional style has already drawn me in.

An alcoholic playboy and a tax lawyer become unlikely friends and business partners in Christoffer Boe's Sex, Drugs & Taxation: Spies & Glistrup chronicling the duo who revolutionized the Danish tourism industry. Starring an almost unrecognizable Pilou Asbaek from Danish television's Borgen and last year's festival sleeper A Hijacking, playing a "provocateur" womanizing millionaire, I can't wait. Denmark in the 60s? Count me in!

The Short Cuts Canada programme represents an important commitment on the part of TIFF to rising talent. Short Cuts Canada 5 is the particular collection that I have flagged, with four animations that look at slice of life realities (two of them in 3D), an essay film (see above), and the first directing effort from Québecois actress and Xavier Dolan favourite Monia Chokri. The films are: Impromptu (Alcock), The End of Pinky (Blanchet), The Chaperone 3D (Munden/Rathbone), Crime: Joe Latoya - The Beirut Bandit (Lambert/Chou), Numbers & Friends (Carson), Roland (Cornish), and Quelqu'un d'Extraordinaire (Chokri). The brief write-ups of these miniatures suggest a nice mix of the experimental and the animated comedy.

Richie Mehta's Siddharth
It's been six years since Richie Mehta debuted his lovely film Amal, about an Indian rickshaw driver who is unwittingly drawn into an inheritance he resists. So it is good to see that he is now back with his second feature, Siddharth a painful but likely deeply moving story of a man's search for his twelve year old son after sending him off to work. Without a photograph of him, and unable to read, the journey seems impossible. The redemptive and elegant spirit of his first feature offers strong promise for this one.

*A woman who has lost her entire home and family in the racial violence surrounding Kenya's 2007 elections, nonetheless tries to move back into the devastated house and start again in Judy Kibinge's Something Necessary. Meanwhile, a man anxious to separate himself from the violence of his own deeds searches ways to atone. The two stories overlap in ways that suggest theological underpinnings to the film, if the trailer is any indication. 

The sea figures strongly again in Fabio Mollo's South is Nothing, about a young girl devastated by the death of her brother. Set near the Strait of Messina, that small passageway that separates the tip of Italy's boot from the island of Sicily, the film might seem to suggest a division of worlds: a longing for the past and a new relationship forming in the present. No trailer here, but I'm trusting my gut and Piers Handling on this one. 

I am always happy to see new work by avant-garde legend Nathaniel Dorsky. Although his films invoke many moods and qualities, there is an irrepressible spiritual quality often, sometimes expressed through a mystical tone. This year, Dorsky is presenting Spring a 23 minute work that "conjures an abundant return of light and a retreat into nature so dense and rich that the film itself becomes a sort of wondrous garden-verdant, incandescent, with startling bursts of colour." How could I have found words better than those to evoke it? Song another Dorsky film, is an exploration of San Francisco from the autumn months to the winter solstice.

Roberto Minervini's Stop the Pounding Heart
I always feel a sense of dread when I start to read descriptions of films that attempt to look inside the fundamentalist Christian experience. It is rare to find a film that takes on this world without villainizing it (Higher Ground is a notable exception.) While it is not my own expression of Christianity, it deserves more subtle and caring portrayal, so that the complexity of that life becomes vivid. It seems like Roberto Minervini's Stop the Pounding Heart may just do exactly that. The story of a young home-schooled Christian girl who falls for the wrong man might lead us to expect the usual torchsong, but Minervini has tried to be true to the world and let us form our own conclusions. Watch the trailer.

Two years ago, Mark Cousins brought us the extraordinary Story of Film: An Odyssey in 2011, a fifteen hour solo exploration of the history of cinema. This year he is back with A Story of Children and Film, a look at how the experience of childhood has been depicted in movies throughout the ages.  Since we've learned that this charming Irish film historian knows his cinema, this doc seems likely to not only inform us, but do so in an elegant and uplifting way.

The evocative Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-Liang follows a Taipei family living in poverty as they make their way through daily life in Stray Dogs. The images on the TIFF page for the film, and the trailer, reveal incredibly beautiful compositions that offers a loving, if haunting frame of its subjects.
*Last year, I was knocked out by Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways, which went on to win the Best Canadian Feature Film of that year. Dolan is back with Tom a la ferme, which he also stars in. Featuring Evelyne Brochu, one of TIFF13's four "Rising Stars", it follows a young man as he visits the parents of his dead lover. Dolan co-wrote the screenplay with Quebecois playwright Michel Marc Bouchard, adapting from his own play. Also noteworthy is an original score by Gabriel Yared, who scored The English Patient

*It has been a while since there's been a new film from Robert Lepage, so I am happy that he is bringing one to TIFF. Based on his own theatrical project Lipsynch, Triptych follows three individuals in Montreal: a a bookseller, a brain surgeon and a jazz singer. Co-directed by Robert Lepage with Pedro Pires who is also the cinematographer, the programme notes promise a "sublime narrative geometry" as the three lives all eventually overlap and intersect.

Ariane Legault in Catherine Martin's Une Jeune Fille
*I am always very excited to see a new film from Québecois director Catherine Martin (Trois temps après la mort d’Anna, L’esprit des lieux), who never fails to move me with her poetic and elegiac films which seem to merge soul and setting. The trailer for Une Jeune Fille only increases my anticipation. The story, which "follows a teenage girl who flees an unbearable home life for the rugged beauty of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula" seems likely to continue my love affair with this filmmaker's work. In my top three. 

The relationship of Simone de Beauvoir to Jean-Paul Sartre is probably the best known aspect of her personal life, despite that both of these intellectual giants maintained other long intimacies. It's hard to tell from Piers Handling's glowing programme note for Martin Provost's Violette whether De Beauvoir's connection with French novelist Violette Leduc is an intimate one or not, but Leduc's love for the great philosopher and writer is the driving force of it. Told from Leduc's point of view, the film is a study in the underside of the writer's life when it is not quite as famous: in contrast to De Beauvoir, Leduc works eloquently to live out her identity in her work from the margins of society.

Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky's Watermark
*Jennifer Baichwal's Watermark, marks a return to collaboration between the filmmaker and photographer Edward Burtynsky (this time credited as co-director), as the duo explore the global traditions and cultural relationships to water that have impacted the way in which that most essential of resources is being depleted. Like Faith Connections, also featured in this shortlist, the film observes the religious festival of Kumbh Mela, where thirty million worshippers come every three years to bathe in a sacred river. The film is shot in ultra-hi def with impactful aerial shots. (Watch the trailer here.

The recent expansion of the Wavelengths programme is one of the most exciting developments of TIFF. No longer confined to just shorts programmes, this year there are fourteen features and a host of mixed length films. Of the short shorts, the Wavelengths 4 roster showcases "a trajectory of shifting perspective and iconographic reference". There is a spiritual quality emanating from this group, which begins with Nick Collins' Trissákia 3, a meditation on the ruins of a 13th century Greek church, and continues into Chris Kennedy's Brimstone Line. Kennedy's film contemplates landscape through a stationary-camera perspective on the Credit River in Ontario. Robert Beavers' Listening to the Space in My Room explores the filmmaker's old living space and we are told "carries rare emotional weight". 

Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises
*Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki became a festival favourite in the late 90s and early 2000s, as his unique style of animation brought together folklore and tradition in stories that seemed both naive and profound. It's been a while, however, since we have had a feature length film that offers the same kind of experience as Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away. Luckily, he is back this year. The Wind Rises brings together Miyazaki's interests in aviation and ecology to tell the story of a boy who dreams of becoming an aeronautical engineer, and is aided by the spirit of an Italian inventor. Not normally a fan of animation, the beautiful trailer makes me yearn for this one.

*From veteran director Fred Schepisi (whose The Russia House I've always loved), 
Words and Pictures is about a competition between a high school English teacher (Clive Owen) and an artist on the same faculty (Juliette Binoche), as to what matters more, words or pictures. It was not supposed to appear until 2014, so it might be a bit rough. But who cares. As a teacher myself, who has often challenged students to this very debate on the first day of one of my courses, I'm curious. And who can resist the first JB film to hit TIFF since TIFF11's Elles! (And thus the asterisk.)

Well, okay. Much as I enjoy the creative talents in this entry, the only reason You Are Here makes this list is because I can't get enough of Amy Poehler. Though she is not the main character, I can already imagine her portrayal of a workaholic sister, enraged to lose out on family inheritance to a deadbeat sibling (Zach Galifianakis). With Owen Wilson along as a playboy buddy, the mix seems like fun, and it all comes to us from Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men.

Marine Vacth in Francois Ozon's Young and Beautiful
Though it happened alphabetically, it is in some ways fitting to end this list with a filmmaker who has essentially grown up at TIFF, premiering almost all of his dozen feature films at the festival since the mid-90s. Of these, I was very deeply moved by his 5 x 2, the study of a marriage in decline told backwards from the divorce to the meeting. Ozon is back this year with Young and Beautiful, a profile of a young teenaged woman as she matures and claims a sexual identity and profession, told in four seasonal movements, and four songs. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Fernando Eimbcke's Club Sandwich
Here it is! My annual preview of the eighty most interesting films of TIFF13!

Doubles and doppelgängers. Romantic comedies with unusual characters and love stories amid chaos. Revisioned history and new perspectives on iconic events. These are a few of this year's trending visions! 

The films are listed in alphabetical order and are linked to the appropriate festival info page. Though no attempt was made to cover all the programmes in the festival, it actually works out that I do (with the exception of Midnight Madness). An asterisk is given to movies in my own top 20. Here is Part 1 from A - L. Part 2 from M - Z follows in a separate post. Some of the film notes repeat comments I've made in earlier blog posts. Although some trailers have been directly linked from these descriptions, where trailers exist they can be easily found on the linked TIFF page. So get out your highlighters and enjoy!

The films:
Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, is the true story of a free black man from the Northern United States kidnapped and sold into slavery during the years that precede the American Civil War. Race and history are two major themes of the global filmmaking crop of the past year and this film has not only been highly promoted by the festival, it has already gathered considerable buzz.

Oscar Dietz and Cecilie Astrup Tarp in
Ask Hesselbach's Antboy
AntboyDanish films are sparse in this year's fest, but Ask Hasselbalch's film about a Danish boy who imagines himself as an unusual kind of superhero, is among the headliners in the TIFF Kids programme.

What a gift, to be given the chance to see Yasujiro Ozu's last film, An Autumn Afternoon, projected in a digital restoration. This story of a man who slowly comes to terms with his own mortality, allowing the daughter who has been caring for him to have her own life, promises as much power to audiences now, as when it was first released in 1962.

Bad Hair. I'm intrigued by Mariana Rondón's newest feature, exploring a single mother's fearful response to the early signs of her's son's sexual identity. The boy takes refuge with a sympathetic grandmother. A coming-of-age tale that looks at the deep complexities of prejudice in families. The trailer points to both a light and dark sensibility: this isn't a sweet story, but promises to be moving.

Joao Viana's Battle of Tabato follows a man's journey to his daughter's wedding, where he must also confront his own violent history. The trailer is beautiful. The film is preceded by Ali Cherri's short film The Disquiet, a "poetic meditation" on Lebanon's history of earthquakes and tendency toward catastrophe. Again, the available preview images are stunning. 

Carina Lau in Flora Lau's Bends
*I am very drawn to Flora Lau's 
Bends which looks at the lives of two people trying to move forward in life against bureaucratic odds in China. One, a man whose wife is pregnant with an unallowed (one child per family) baby, and the other, a woman who tries to maintain the illusion that her husband has not left her, even as she slowly loses the lifestyle she's been accustomed to. Shot by Christopher Doyle, Wong kar-wai's cinematographer and a filmmaker himself, I cannot help but anticipate the melancholic tone of In the Mood for Love, which Doyle also shot. 

In recent years, the festival has seen a steady rise in films by or about Palestinian themes and stories. Yuval Adler's Bethlehem is one of these. About a Palestinian boy recruited as an Israeli informant, it follows the events when he learns that his own brother is a targeted extremist. 

Vilma Santos Jeffrey Jeturian's Bit Player
Jeffrey Jeturian spoofs the Philippino film and television industry in Bit Player, a comedy about a woman who becomes a film extra, with a serious allegorical observation of what happens to societies where the lowest paid worker is the least valued. Starring the great Vilma Santos.

*Blue is the Warmest Color, Adele: Chapters 1 & 2 by Abdellatif Kechiche won the Prix D'Or at Cannes and is an exploration of the first love of a young French woman. The movie gathered notoriety for its sexually explicit scenes when it debuted in May (and keep in mind -- this is in France!), and seems set to cause ongoing controversy, though a closer reading of the best critics points to a very solid and moving film.

Ines Oliveira's Bobo
Ines Oliveira's Bobo looks like it may have some chair-clenching scenes in it, but this story about two women from opposite ends of Lisbon's social scale who are brought together to stop the ritual genital mutilation of a young Guinean girl - has the makings of an important social drama.

*Bright Days Ahead. Frankly, I cannot wait for Marion Vernoux's romantic comedy about a sixty-something woman who falls for a man thirty years younger when she takes up classes in a senior's centre. Starring Laurent Lafitte and the always-incroyable Fanny Ardant, the trailer points to a levity and depth that remind me of Manoel de Oliveira's Mari-Jo et ses deus amours of 2002.

Polish master filmmaker Agnieszka Holland is returning with Burning Bush, a three-film series focused on Czech protester Jan Polach and the events in that country in the late 1960s. Although this is a serious investment of time (close to four hours), it has lately been too long between Holland's films. As someone who has helped to shape the voice of Eastern Europe in the cinema of the last thirty years, I plan to catch at least part of this opus.

Jafar Panahi and Kambozia Partovi's Closed Curtain
*In the past few years, the festival has found ways to uphold and support Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, as he tries to continue making films, despite that the government of Iran has banned him from doing so, and he lives in house-arrest. Panahi relies heavily on collaborators, and often is only able to get the films out of the country through extraordinary means: 2011's This is Not a Film, left the country baked into a loaf of bread. This year, Panahi is showing 
Closed Curtain made with collaborator Kambozia Partovi, about a filmmaker (ostensibly Panahi himself) haunted by his own fictional characters and trying to create from inside impossible odds.

*Fernando Eimbcke's Club Sandwich has much appeal. At its core, it is about the shifting landscape in the relationship between a mother and her fifteen year old son as they holiday at a resort in Mexico. When the boy begins to fall for a girl he meets, the mother struggles with her own inability to let him go. The trailer is very appealing and the performances seem likely to be nuanced and moving. 

As someone who has lost precious friends to this plague, I am drawn to Jean-Marc Vallée's Dallas Buyers Club which follows "the true story of accidental AIDS activist Ron Woodruff, whose cross-border smuggling network brought much-needed treatments into the hands of HIV and AIDS patients neglected by the medical establishment." From the Québecois filmmaker who brought us The Young Victoria and The Café de Flore.

Sarah McCarthy's The Dark Matter of Love
*UK director Sarah McCarthy's documentary The Dark Matter of Love takes on very current events surrounding the Russian ban on American adoption of children. McCarthy follows the story of one family who was able adopt three children before the ban went into effect. McCarthy's brilliance, however, is to link the events of these children's lives with science developed by Dr. Robert Marvin on how human beings "attach" to others and form the capacity to love. Having watched the trailer and a long clip (actually there are many available clips online), this film has already become a top twenty priority for me. (It is also a Kickstarter project that made good.) How can there be anything more important than understanding how we love?

Thanos Anastopoulos' The Daughter follows a young girl as she takes action for herself to avenge events in her father's life. Set in a deteriorating lumberyard environment, if the trailer is any indication, the felling of trees becomes increasingly symbolic of the fallen world around her. From the City to City: Athens programme.

Le DémantèlementQuébecois filmmaker Sébastien Pilote's film chronicles a farmer's decision to secretly dismantle and sell his own farm in order to help his daughter have the money she requires to keep her own home. Starring Gabriel Arcand, the trailer shows a promising subtlety and moving storyline. 

Reese Witherspoon in Atom Egoyan's Devil's Knot
Atom Egoyan's Devil's Knot, i
s about the events surrounding the murders and subsequent arrest and condemnation of the West Memphis Three in the early 1990s. Starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, it examines the impact of the murders and subsequent chaos on the inhabitants of the small town, in a way that seems like it may invoke some of the grace and feeling of Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Hollywood's wunderkind at the moment, having made a name for himself as an actor and a director in the same crescending career. The trailer for Don Jon points to the tone of a Silver Linings Playbook, and seems possibly more compelling than the write-up on it; however, it could just be that a comedy about a man addicted to porn doesn't turn my crank no matter how well described! Gordon-Levitt's writing is strong, however, and often features well-written and developed character work, so I'm giving it a shot.

The Double has the kind of plot that I grow used to seeing in the proposals of my screenwriting students: a man comes in contact with a seeming twin, who slowly takes over his life, leaving only ruin. British filmmaker Richard Ayoade's feature, however, starring Jesse Eisenberg and and Mia Wasikowska, seems to have the edge of a thriller, and watching Eisenberg play both edges of the man might just be worth the admission.

This year's fest offers a riches of films and performances from Canada's First Nations. Among these is Peter Stebbings' Empire of Dirt, about three generations of First Nations women in a small Ontario town who are forced to confront their own complex pasts. Having story edited a similar (though also quite different) project over the past two years, I am curious to see how Stebbings makes it work.

Danis Tanovic's Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker
*Bosnian director Danis Tanovic is no stranger to TIFF, having premiered several of his films previously here. 
Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker is one of a trickle of films emerging that looks at the extraordinary prejudice and injustice facing Europe's Roma peoples, as it follows a man's desperate attempt to have his wife's miscarriage receive medical attention. A true story, recreated by the actual real people.

Caroline Link's Nowhere in Africa was a surprise hit of the 2001 festival and went on to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Link brings  Exit Marrakech to this year's festival with some lingeringly similar themes. A European theatre director working in Morocco invites his son to spend time with him, only to watch him fall for a girl whose social status precludes an easy match. 

I'm quite stunned by how many romantic comedies are in this year's TIFF round-up, and by the seeming range in style and situation and cultural context of them. Michael Dowse's The F Word features Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan as best friends who may be fated for a bit more. The title hints at the edgy style of this Irish-Canadian co-pro. 

Pan Nalin's Faith Connections
*I am looking forward to seeing Pan Nalin's documentary on the Hindu pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela, in 
Faith Connections. Occurring once every three years, Kumbh Mela draws more than 100 million pilgrims to one of four sacred rivers (the location rotates with each gathering). 2013 is a year of Kumbh Mela, which occurred in March. Palin's documentary profiles specific lives impacted by the ritual observance amid a celebration of its spiritual spectacle.

Bill Conlon's The Fifth Estate is the festival's opening night film. A profile of the WikiLeaks founders, it has incredible timing, arriving after the sentencing of Bradley Manning, and as the continuing events in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden leaks unfold. It also features a strong cast, including Laura Linney, Alexander Siddiq and David Thewlis. 

*A young Chicago man buys a treasure-trove of prints and negatives at an auction, and makes one of the great finds of the history of modern photography. The photographer turns out to be an enigma, and the art world scrambles to try to understand who she is. These were the events of recent years that I followed closely, and thus I am very excited by the premiere of Finding Vivian Maier by John Maloof (the treasure owner) and Charlie Siskel, about the woman behind the mystery. Watch the trailer here.

Jasmila Zbanic's For Those Who Can Tell No Tales
For Those Who Can Tell No Tales continues a theme prevalent in this year's festival, of 'based on a true story'. Kym Vercoe, an Australian performance artist, relives a story from her own life, when travelling near the border of Bosnia-Herzegovina she became embroiled in the history of the Visegrad massacre, in which more than 3,000 people were killed. Jasmila Zbanic directs Vercoe in the adaptation of this personal story to film. The trailer feels a bit like a thriller, but then the events being depicted are nightmarish, no matter the genre. 

* Québecoise director Louise Archambault's Gabrielle follows what happens wehen a woman with intellectual challenges falls in love and wants a more independent life. The trailer indicates a film of subtlety and beauty from the producers of Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar, two of the best Québecois films of recent memory.  

*Rani Massalha's 
Rani Massalha's Giraffada
Giraffada boasts possibly the cutest production still of this year's fest: a boy and a giraffe appearing to nuzzle as the giraffe is being fed. However, there's nothing cute or coy in this story of a ten year old Palestinian boy who is sent to Tel Aviv to find a mate for the giraffe, after a male giraffe is killed in an Israeli air strike. 

Gloria. Paulina Garcia won the Silver Bear for performance at Berlin for this story of a middle-aged woman seeking to find a mate at a time of life when the pickings get slimmer and what's out there can't always be trusted. When you are as discriminating and idealist as the title character, the road gets long. Sebastián Lelio's fourth feature looks strong in the trailer.

Half of a Yellow Sun chronicles the revolution in Nigeria in the late 60s, following two women (one of whom is Thandie Newton) as independence gives way to the Nigerian-Biafran war. Playwright Biyi Bandele makes his directorial debut in a feature that TIFF is actually promoting strongly, with three public and two press and industry screenings. The trailer promises an epic story, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, also appearing at TIFF in 12 Years a Slave.

Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour is being presented in a new print struck from the original negative and supervised through its restoration by the cinematographer, Renato Berta. The story of a woman visiting post-war Hiroshima, while also reckoning the love relationships of her own life, it has been considered the most important film of the early post-war period in Europe. Resnais made an important contribution to the birth of the French new wave and film grammar in general with his use of mini-flashbacks, what we might call today Inserts or Flashcuts, in a way that took the viewer out of their traditional viewing comfort zone. The film also stars Emmanuelle Riva, last year's Academy Award nominated actress from Michael Haneke's Amour

Pawel Pawlokowski's Ida
*Pawel Pawlokowski's Ida, about a young Polish nun's discovery that she is Jewish, is a very high seed for me. Another filmmaker whose movies are few and far between, Pawlokowski's last effort Woman in the Fifth, at TIFF11, was disappointing. I am hopeful this new one will be closer in style and power to Resort and My Summer of Love, which first introduced Pawlikowski to the festival circuit.

I am quite drawn to Caroline Strubbe's I'm the same, I'm an other, in the Wavelengths programme, which follows a man and a little girl on a road trip through Western Europe as they try to overcome their grief. The film's story is evocative of Jacques Doillon's 1996 film, Ponette, and the trailer for Strubbe's film makes clear the dwelling in emotional 'real time'. 

I've always been partial to stories that focus on children making their way in a vanquished and seemingly overwrought world. Set in Valencia, Spain, Alberto Morais' Kids From the Port describes the determination and spirit of three children as they set out on a mission on behalf of a grandfather. Diana Sanchez' programme note for this film is one of the best-written ones in the whole catalogue.

Mohamad Malas' Ladder to Damascus
It's hard to imagine a place more on the mind of the world these days than Syria. As darkness and horrific war tear the country apart, a film like Mohamad Malas' 
Ladder to Damascus offers a glimpse of life in the ancient city in the few months just after the 2011 uprisings, as twelve youths gather to live in the same old house and figure out where their lives go from here.

I was so moved by Hirokazu Kore-Eda's I Wish in the 2011 festival. Focused on children whose lives are torn apart by divorce, but who devise a plan to make all things right, it relied on the tenacity of the imagination as healer. Kore-Eda's current film, Like Father, Like Son, debuting at TIFF, takes a more sober view of childhood and this time from the vantage point of the parents who raise them. A chance discovery throws their world in orbit and forces the question "Is this child really mine?" Looking forward to the latest by this master.

Pierce Brosnan has never been my idea of an appealing leading man - until I saw him last year in Susanne Bier's Love is all you need, opposite the always beautiful and compelling Trine Dyrholm. Though I had problems with the film as a whole, the two leads were lovely, and I decided Brosnan, if not a deep actor, could at least make me care about him. Joel Hopkins' The Love Punch, featuring Brosnan and Emma Thompson as divorced jewel thieves who decide to work together on a heist, looks like light fun. Co-starring the ubiquitous and under-appreciated Celia Imrie (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; Imagine Me and You). 

Irrfan Khan in Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox
Although it takes me to 41, instead of a neat 40, I could not leave off the "L"s without Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox. Set in Mumbai, where the dabbawallas (lunch couriers) speedily bring meals from home to working men, it portrays what happens when one lunch goes astray to the wrong recipient (who happens to be Irrfan Khan), and the love story that is born as a result.

Continued in next post with M - L!