Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Jan-Willem van Ewijk's Atlantic.
Coming up with the "80 films to watch for" blog this year has been the hardest ever. I always think in terms of what seems impossible to miss since no one can see eighty films, but this year I wished it was possible. Therefore, this list is not a "best of". All lists are subjective and many fine films that you should see may not be here. At the same time I feel confident that it is a good culling. Asterisks represent personal priorities and some descriptions are repeated from previous posts.

Anaïs Demoustier in Pascale Ferran's Bird People.
Dive in or wade out cautiously. Move methodically or browse. All films are linked to the TIFF description page, and trailers, where available, have also been given. Let the feast begin! 

*1001 Grams
The gentle irony that pervaded Bent Hamer's Kitchen Stories has lingered in his later films and is visible in the trailer for 1001 Grams. Billed as an "offbeat comedy", Ane Dahl Torp stars as a Norwegian lab technician sent to a Paris conference with the Norwegian 'kilo' where she learns to reconsider what weight means. 

From the moment I watched the trailer, I have been drawn to the wide spaces and spiritual lighting of Jan-Willem van Ewijk's second feature Atlantic (shown at top), about a man who windsurfs across the sea to be reunited with a woman who has left an indelible impression. 

Hajooj Kuka's Beats of the Antonov
*Beats of the Antonov
Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka brings Beats of the Antonov to the fest: a celebration of the "Sudanese farmers, herders and rebels of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain regions, who defiantly celebrate their heritage and tend their lands in the face of a government bombing campaign" People who resist state acts of violence by offering witness to tradition -- this is part of how the human race survives. We need to hear stories like this one to ground ourselves in hope for the future of the world.

*Bird People
Again, the trailer has drawn me in, reminding me a bit of Kieslowski's Rouge in its uses of coincidences which may turn out to be profound. The film features French rising star 
Anaïs Demoustier whose subtle performance in Malgoska Szumowska's Elles I really loved. Here she plays a French chambermaid whose life patterns begin to overlap with that of a disaffected American businessman. 

Black and White
There is no trailer available yet for Mike Binder's film about the custody struggle among grandparents of a bi-racial child but there has been some conversational buzz about how issues of race are played out. There is an appealing cast, including Octavia Spencer and Jennifer Ehle in this drama about an alcoholic (Kevin Costner) struggling to hold on to the little girl he has been raising for seven years after his wife dies. 

Dustin Hoffman in Francois Girard's Boychoir
In another post, I have talked about the migration of Québecois filmmakers to Hollywood. Francois Girard, whose Thirty-two Short Films about Glenn Gould and The Red Violin are treasures of our national cinema, brings us this story of a young music prodigy who comes up against an intense choirmaster. This looks like a conversation partner to Whiplash, which Toronto Star critic Peter Howell tells me I have to see, about a contentious mentor-student relationship. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates and Debra Winger. 

A scene from Mélanie Laurent's Breathe
Breathe (Respire)
Piers Handling's programme note for Breathe makes it clear that this second feature from actor-turned-director Mélanie Laurent takes a dark and even harrowing look at an intense teenaged friendship/relationship among two girls. 

The trailer makes it even more vivid. I am nonetheless drawn to it, mainly because it shows signs of working in interesting ways with the metaphor of breath, as that essential life force is connected to love. 

Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche in
Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria
*Clouds of Sils Maria
Readers of this blog know that a Juliette Binoche film is always a top-seed but I liked also what I saw in the international trailer.
Olivier Assayas' gift for writing complex characters is another reason to see Clouds of Sils Maria, about an actress (Binoche) whose relationship with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart, in a career-changing performance) deepens as they retreat to the Swiss Alps to prep a play. From the director who brought us 2008's deeply felt Summer Hours

Coming Home
Once again, a trailer has drawn me in, despite that it is only ninety seconds. (And I would have likely wanted to see Zhang Yimou's new film anyway.) Featuring the incredible Gong Li, the Meryl Streep of Asian cinema, it tells the story of a post-cultural revolutionary woman suffering from amnesia, whose search for lost memory coincides with the return of her imprisoned husband. I really hope I get to see the film that Variety has called another Doctor Zhivago

Mathieu Denis' Corbo
I have to strain to think of any feature film yet that has dramatically portrayed the inside of the famed FLQ, though at least one or two have looked at the October crisis of 1970. In the absence of any programme notes online, the trailer for this first feature by Mathieu Denis not only hints at a strong visual style, but makes clear that we will see a rare point of view of an important moment in our nation's history. 

Hao Lei in Peter Ho-sun Chan's Dearest
I was very affected by Richie Mehta's Siddharth at TIFF13, a film which shares a storyline with Dearest of parents looking for a child who has been abducted into slavery. I enjoyed Peter Ho-sun Chan's Love Letter - another reason to believe in this film which takes a hard look at an impossibly hard subject. 

*The Duke of Burgundy
Danish star Sidse Babett Knudsen is my main draw to this Peter Strickland film. The star of Susanne Bier's After the Wedding and the lovely comedy Den Eneste Ene, she is most widely known perhaps for having played Birgitte Nyborg, the statsminister in three seasons of Danish television's Borgen. Joined by Chiara d'Anna here, she plays an amateur lepidopterist "whose wayward desires test her lover's tolerance". From the director of Berberian Sound Studio

Mia Hansen-Løve is one of the best women filmmakers to emerge during the last decade of TIFF. Her newest film, Eden stars Greta Gerwig and Brady Corbet as lovers invested in the meteoric rise of French electronic music in the 90s. Hansen-Løve shot the film in France and New York and co-wrote the script with her brother Sven who worked as a Parisian DJ during the period being chronicled in the film. The story focuses mostly on Paul, the DJ, and the impact on him of huge success. 

Elephant Song
In some ways it makes sense that wunderkind of Canadian theatre, playwright Nicholas Billon, should have a film made of his beautiful play that features Xavier Dolan, wunderkind of Canadian film (see Mommy, also at TIFF14). In this film, Dolan is an actor, playing the patient to Bruce Greenwood's psychiatrist in this adaptation of Billon's play, which I saw when it was produced at the Stratford Festival. The film is directed by Charles Binamé and also features Catherine Keener. 

Episode of the Sea
The spirituality of landscape seems to be very present in both Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren de Haan's Episode of the Sea and Joana Pimenta's The Figures Carved Into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana TreesThe first film dwells in the seemingly anachronistic Dutch fishing village of Urk, a community that was once an island. The second, a short, offers an amitié amoureuse among the two actual islands of Madeira and Mozambique through a correspondence made up of images. They are being screened together. 

The cast of Denys Arcand's An Eye for Beauty
*An Eye for Beauty
There are so many reasons to want to see the latest from one of Canada's greatest filmmakers but what I'm especially drawn to is its love story (between a Québecois architect and a Torontonian woman), and its promise of a return to some of the tonal qualities of Denys Arcand's earlier works. Or so the programme note tells me, and I have no reason to doubt it; no reason not to see any film by the director of Jésus de Montréal

I have been following the films of Michael Winterbottom ever since I saw the first instalment of his four-part movies for tv, Family, at TIFF in the early 90s. There has been some unevenness in the last years, I feel, of artistic success, but never any compromise of bravery and boldness. Always ready to confront the underlying truths of a situation, no matter how difficult, I expect the same from this film, loosely based on the Amanda Knox murder. 

Martin Dubreuil and Hadas Yaron in
Maxime Giroux's Felix and Meira
*Felix and Meira
Movies about faith and spirituality, and the cinema of Québec are two of the great passions I bring to TIFF. So I am very intrigued by the possibilities of Maxime Giroux's Félix and Meira, about a young Jewish Orthodox woman in Montreal whose religious and cultural identity is challenged by friendship with a compassionate neighbour. I don't know Giroux but the trailer looks promising. A high seed. 

*Force Majeure
Ruben Östlund's film was a sleeper hit at Cannes and here too the trailer would only confirm that promise. I'm guessing this story of a man who abandons his family during an apparent avalanche while on holiday in the Alps, will ask us to reconsider how the morals we hold dear hold up against brute instinct. Are we really who we think we are? A multi-Scandinavian country collaboration. Always good news.

*Foreign Body
I am intrigued by the possibilities of 
Krzysztof Zanussi's Foreign Body, about a man in love with a woman who has decided to become a nun, and his struggle to be near her and withstand the political and sexual maneuvering of a businesswoman who wants to promote him. The programming note indicates a portrait of very contrasting worlds in contemporary Poland. 

Gemma Arterton and Fabrice Luchini in
Anne Fontaine's Gemma Bovery
*Gemma Bovery
Years ago, I had the chance to interview Anne Fontaine in connection with her film Nathalie and was impressed not only by her graciousness toward my rusty French but also by her keen observation and understanding of the characters in that film. I've made it a point to see her films ever since and am never disappointed. This contemporary update of the famous Flaubert novel, featuring an Englishwoman in Normandy looks promising and will offer a contrasting view from the version being seen elsewhere in this festival in Sophie Barthes' Madame Bovary

*Gett, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
In the past decade, we have seen some incredibly insightful films about the way women's lives are affected by religious orthodoxy of many kinds in middle eastern cultures. While others have told stories of women from inside orthodox Judaism in Israel (Amos Gitai's Kadosh comes to mind), this film speaks to the legal experience of women in that world, in a way that Iranian filmmakers have done repeatedly. Therefore,
Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz's Gett about a woman seeking a legal divorce from a husband she has long separated from, is an expected highlight for me. 

In 1990 I remember seeing at TIFF (or the Festival of Festivals as it was known then) a very deeply moving film by Ann Hui called Song of the Exile, about a Hong Kong woman reconciling her relationship with her Japanese mother - a tale that was autobiographical. It was one of the first films to awaken me to Asian cinema and to the changes of pace and energy one could experience there. I went on to faithfully follow her work in a career that has been prolific and included Summer Snow and the more recent Night and Fog. I am so excited that Hui is bringing The Golden Era (pictured at top) to TIFF straight from Venice where it will first show. The film is a biopic of the 20th century female Chinese novelist Xiao Hong (The Field of Life and Death) who wrote brave books that chronicled the suffering of women in Chinese society, particularly under Japanese occupation. A Chinese trailer is available but none yet with English subs.

Goodbye to Language 3D
There are many who believe that Jean-Luc Godard is the ultimate French cinéaste, having offered over five decades a canon of film that is often exceptional and always experimental and controversial. This film is being described as a "visually sumptuous and richly complex meditation on history and eternity, being and nothingness, desire and death." I'm not sure I could add anything to that! But see for yourself in the trailer

*Good Kill
Recently, while in my car for three hours, I heard a CBC interview with an American soldier whose job had been to direct drones on Afghanistan targets. He had left the post because he found this form of combat severely challenging morally. So I am very glad that Andrew Nicoll has made Good Kill, about an Air Force officer (Ethan Hawke) who becomes increasingly disquieted by the job he does, firing from an office chair in the American west, drones intended for terrorists whose nature and identity become difficult to discern. Starring Ethan Hawke and January Jones and from the director of Gattaca.

Reese Witherspoon in
Philippe Falardeau's The Good Lie
*The Good Lie
Reese Witherspoon is at the apex of her career and will see two films launched at TIFF14, this one and Wild. Both are directed by Québecois filmmakers now working in the U.S. Philippe Falardeau, whose last film was the exquisite Monsieur Lazhar, is behind the camera for The Good Lie, about an American woman who helps four Sudanese refugees find their way on American soil. One of the strongest aspects of Monsieur Lazhar was the direction of ensemble work and the trailer gives every reason to hope for it here too. 

The Great Man

A conversation partner for Good Kill, The Great Man stars Jérémie Renier as a French Foreign Legion soldier who is given the chance to repay a war debt to a comrade by becoming guardian to his son. French filmmaker Sarah Leonor directs. 

There is considerable buzz around this latest feature from South Korean director Shim Sung-Bo; the film is also going by the name Sea Fog. It was written by Bong Joon-ho, whose script for Snowpiercer is getting tremendous praise. The story follows a group of fisherman who encounter incredible obstacles while trying to ferry people illegally from China to Korea in high seas. 

*Hector and the Search for Happiness
I am so excited for my old friend, Tinker Lindsay, who is the co-writer of this feature, continuing a long-time collaboration with director Peter Chelsom. Simon Pegg plays a disaffected London psychiatrist who travels to many continents exploring what makes people happy in the hopes of being able to reorient his own life. Also featuring Rosamund Pike and Christopher Plummer. The trailer promises a great ride!

*Hill of Freedom
There seems to be a plethora of promising South Korean programming this year and that was even before the titles for the City to City programme (which this year features Seoul) were made known. There's something about this one which tugs at me. From the South Korean director Hong Sang-soo who brought us the incredibly beautiful Nobody's Daughter HaewonHill of Freedom tells the story (in English and Korean) of a Japanese teacher who comes to Seoul to find and reunite with a woman he once proposed to and still loves. Themes of emotional longing and separation are close to this master's heart. 

Lixin Fan's I Am Here
I Am Here
Lixin Fan's I Am Here follows his beautiful 2009 doc feature Last Train Home, which looked at the separation and reunion of children and their parents who work hundreds of miles away. In I am Here, one of four films in this years TIFF Docs that looks at the lives of children and youth, Lixin profiles young singers in contemporary China as they attempt to win a major nationalized singing competition. 

Alan Türing is the man most largely responsible for having broken the elusive German Enigma code, which is often credited with changing the course of the second world war in favour of the Allies. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the Cambridge genius who is never described in historical accounts in the same way twice. From Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum (Buddy) and also featuring Keira Knightley.

Infinitely Polar Bear
Screenwriter Maya Forbes is another writer-turned-director at this year's TIFF, bringing to the fest this story based entirely on her own childhood experiences. Starring Mark Ruffalo, it follows a newly diagnosed manic depressive father as he tries to care for two daughters in Boston while his wife is away studying for a business degree in New York. Writing characters capable of mood shifts is always challenging, and even more so when it is close to home. But I am hoping for the best from this feature film debut. 

Martti Helde's In the Crosswind
*In the Crosswind
This film has perhaps the most intriguing
 trailer in the whole of TIFF14. Martti Helde's film, set in war-time Estonia, follows a woman and her daughter as they try to return home after deportation to Siberia. But it is the black and white and manipulation of time in the visual style that is most compelling in this film being billed as an ode to both home and memory.

In Her Place
The trailer for Albert Shin's feature evokes tones of a thriller. There are currently no online programme notes for this film, but I am nonetheless drawn to what appears to be a story of class differences and the delicate interweavings of a rich couple looking to secretly adopt a child born into local poverty. 

The trailer for Lisandro Alonso's Jauja, featuring Viggo Mortensen, offers only one scene, but one that is entrenched in a kind of ethereal uncertainty. About a 19th century general who goes searching for his disappeared daughter, beautiful emotional beats among its characters are contrasted with an intense story observed in careful beats. 

Tsai Ming-Liang's Journey to the West
*Journey to the West
if I had to choose one film that captures the spiritual capaciousness promised in this year's Wavelengths, it would be Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang's Journey to the West. The trailer made me feel as I did when I saw the trailer for Manakamana last year. This is the continuation of Tsai's walker series, begun (as a feature) in 2012 with a film of that name and continued in shorts. A monk moves slowly through urban spaces, head down and palms up, causing juxtapositions both physical, temporal and spiritual. Joined this time by Denis Lavant. It is being paired up with Margaret Honda's Spectrum Reverse Spectrumdescribed as a camera-less film made up of exposing film stock to light. 

Learning to Drive 
Catalan director Isabel Coixet directs Patricia Clarkson as a self-absorbed book critic who takes up driving lessons in the aftermath of a failed relationship. Her instructor is a Sikh man living in Queens (played by Ben Kingsley) who is also recovering from marriage problems. Coixet's feminist leanings will be upheld by the source material - Katha Pollitt's memoir/essay of the same name. 

Andrey Zvyagintsev's 2003 The Return brought him comparisons with Tarkovsky, but to date I've never seen his movies. Leviathan will likely be where it begins. Like Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, this story is loosely inspired by the biblical book of Job. It follows a man who is bent on preventing a land official from eliminating his home. Zvyagintsev won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes for this "painterly, primordial tale" and a Variety review describes it as his most accessible work yet. 

Kate Winslet in A Little Chaos
 A Little Chaos
Alan Rickman's second turn as a director is the closing night film of this year's fest. The story of a woman hired by Louis XIV's chief architect to create the great gardens of Versailles, it features Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts and Rickman himself. I might normally wait for the release of this film but will see how the industry scheduling lands. A costume drama set at Versailles may be the perfect getaway late in the fest! 

Love in the Time of Civil War
One of my favourite films of TIFF13 was Louise Archambault's Gabrielle, which went on to win a Canadian Screen Award for Best Feature Film. The beautiful performance by Alexandre Landry in that film caused me to become an instant fan, so I am keen to see his performance in this new docudrama by Rodrigue Jean about an addicted hustler in Montreal. 

Part 2: M-Z is in a separate post. Go here!

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