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!


John Leeson said...

Thanks for the writeup. Look forward to M-Z.

Re: Dallas Buyers Club... The story description sounds like it should be for "Parkland", about the JFK assasination. DBC is a different story/era.

Sherry Coman said...

John - thank you! My mistake. I have now corrected the post. It is Dallas Buyers Club that I'm interested in.