Thursday, August 28, 2014


Mia Wasikowska in Sophie Barthes' Madame Bovary
This list is a continuation of the one begun in the post below. Every year I select eighty of what I find to be the most intriguing films of the coming festival. It is highly subjective, as all lists are, but does come with some thirty plus years of attending TIFF! Here they are. Asterisks represent priority screenings for me but this is for many reasons. All the films are great picks. Some of these descriptions have appeared in earlier posts.

*Madame Bovary
Two films on offer in this year's fest, both directed by women, respond to the timeless novel by Gustave Flaubert; the other is Anne Fontaine's Gemma Bovery (see the list, part 1). Sophie Barthes' latest stars Mia Wasikowska as the woman who seeks freedom from a stifling provincial life.    

Julianne Moore in David Cronenberg's
Maps to the Stars
Mia Wasikowska is also a main reason to see Maps to the Stars, though the most recent film of David Cronenberg has had my interest since its strong debut at Cannes. The Fest blurb remarks on its 'satire and social commentary' and I'm hoping for more of the latter than the former as satire interests me less and less as I get older. Skip satire, let's deal in truthful moments. Julianne Moore has already won awards for a complex performance aiming to do just that. See for yourself in the trailer.

Kalki Koechlin in Shonali Bose's
Margarita, with a Straw
Margarita, with a Straw
This is a strong year for women filmmakers at TIFF, despite what some critics say. I did a whole post on the feast of women filmmakers and have a 'part two' followup that just needs to be finished, equally robust with offerings. Shonali Bose, like Mira Nair, is an Indian filmmaker who has been educated in the United States. Her stories are not just about Indian-Americans but about Indians and Americans finding their way in the shifting values of contemporary culture - anywhere. This love story, between a Delhi aspiring student and a Manhattan activist is one of a lucky crop of films this year which embrace in some way complex loving relationships among women. (See also Clouds of Sils Maria, Sand Dollars, and Breathe, among others.) 

Juliette Binoche
*Mavericks Conversation with Juliette Binoche
This is a rare opportunity to see the multivalent artist who has worked with literally every single living master filmmaker - or very nearly. Heartbreakingly, I will not be able to attend this session due to another important life event that day and it's a tough loss. Hopefully it will be taped. Binoche's English language films sometimes come into criticism for the way her voice inflects the language, drawing attention to a syntax that seems unusual and to some, awkward. But I am reminded of a story once told to me by the late Anthony Minghella, who directed Binoche's Oscar-winning performance in The English Patient. He said that Kubrick would often instruct actors to do exactly that - to repeat the line over and over a hundred times until the inflection changed, the word hit the ear differently and new meaning was found. Here is an artist who brings a luminous desire for presence to every role she plays and whose language of expression (unconfined to words) is often very hard to describe in its emotional and spiritual impact. If you can go, please do so for me.

*Men, Women & Children
There are many reasons to see the latest film by Jason Reitman (Juno, Up In the Air) but maybe the best one is the fact that it is looking at the impact of media, and particularly social media, on relationships. Yes, we know that's something that needs to be critiqued but the trailer looks very compelling and makes use of simultaneous graphics showing what people are currently tweeting, texting, thinking. The only thing that makes me nervous is that it is apparently voiceover narrated by Emma Thompson. Much as I love her voice, not sure I know why voiceover would be needed but it may turn out to be the most brilliant part. Who knows? An interesting aspect of this launch is that no production stills have been made available - there are none on the TIFF page and what exists on the internet has clearly been screen-captured from the trailer. I am intrigued to see what the social media rollout plan is going to be as it actually comes forward.

Robert Kenner's Merchants of Doubt
Merchants of Doubt
I am excited that Robert Kenner, the Oscar-nominated mind and vision behind Food, Inc., has made a documentary about the world of professional skeptics, people who are paid by corporations and others to generate mistrust and doubt about the veracity of climate change. That such people exist should hardly surprise us, but Kenner's plunging capacity to expose these truths will mean that Merchants of Doubt will leave us with little doubt about the long-term harm being done to the planet. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Julie Taymor's A Midsummer Night's Dream which is hiding in the Mavericks programme (but is curated by TIFF Docs programmer Thom Powers) seems like it could have lived well in Wavelengths. In a year which has offered Ontarians two vital productions of this play at The Stratford Festival, we seem destined for yet a third, from the extraordinarily rich visual mindscape of Taymor. 

Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain in
Liv Ullman's Miss Julie
Miss Julie
Liv Ullman was a goddess of my teenaged years, but her work as a director was not easy to access in the days before downloading, streaming and vibrantly rich film library collections. How wonderful that TIFF is bringing Ullman's most recently directed film, an adaptation of August Strindberg's Miss Julie. There have been a number of fine film adaptations of the classic play but this one will star Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton in the story of the relationship of a wealthy woman and a valet.

Anne Dorval and Antoine-Olivier Pilon
in Xavier Dolan's Mommy
By now most people are aware of the brilliance of this very young Québecois filmmaker who this year won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes for his latest film. I loved Laurence Anyways, was not as keen on Tom a la Ferme but am very excited about seeing Mommy, which seems to be even more experimentally playing with form than Dolan has previously, and which also features the wonderful Suzanne Clément. About a complex mother-son relationship.

Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner
Mr. Turner
There is already a lot of strong buzz for this latest from Mike Leigh about the famous 18th-19th century painter J.M.W. Turner and Timothy Spall won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his performance as the landscape master. I am very intrigued because it occurs to me (and it likely has to other critics) that Mike Leigh is both a companionable figure and also the antithesis of Turner: both men overturn the traditions of their form, but whereas Turner favoured a lush romanticism, Leigh turns an acute eye to realism. I can't wait to see how they go together. In addition to its many reasons for being high on any screening list, Mr. Turner has what will likely be one of the most memorable written lines at this year's TIFF: "I like to paint angels in anguish." Programmed by Piers Handling.

My Old Lady
Oh gosh. I am so hoping that this Israel Horovitz film starring Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline and Kristen Scott Thomas actually offers these actors an opportunity to do good work and is not just a series of story tropes with stars. The trailer has me a bit worried but Israel Horowitz's skills as a storyteller should win the day. About a man who arrives in Paris to sell an inherited piece of property, only to find a woman and her daughter occupying it. 

*National Diploma
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose history is marked by strife, Dieudo Hammadi profiles a group of youth in his home town who want to pass the state exams and secure a more promising future. National Diploma illustrates how a corrupt government, less interested in the welfare of these children, impedes their progress and how the students fight back.

Frederick Wiseman's National Gallery
A perfect screening companion to Mr. Turner! About life backstage at the famous London gallery, Frederick Wiseman's latest film continues a preoccupation of recent years with museum stories. I loved Jem Cohen's Museum Hours set in the Vienna Kunsthistorisches museum, and was even more moved by Aleksander Sokurov's Russian Ark, which toured three centuries of the history of the Hermitage Museum in one shot. Movies observing paintings and other motionless forms of art may seem counter-intuitive to some, but I love to be immersed into these worlds. 

*Natural Resistance
The subject of climate change is the focus of Jonathan Nossiter's Natural Resistance. In 2004, Nossiter's Mondovino became one of only three documentaries ever to be nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes. That film looked at the way in which wine production and wine regions have been impacted by climate change. This year's Natural Resistance profiles four Italian vintners who are defying government and industry odds to make all-natural wine. 

Patricia Clarkson in Ruba Nadda's October Gale
*October Gale
I'm a huge fan of Arab-Canadian filmmaker Ruba Nadda, whose Cairo Time is one of my favourite films of all time. Reteamed with Patricia Clarkson (also appearing at TIFF14 in Learning to Drive) the story follows a grief-stricken doctor whose retreat to a cottage full of memory is shattered by the discovery of a wounded man. A psychological thriller. A late-breaking clip from the film became available just today on Indiewire. Love it. Only Patricia Clarkson can make "Black. One sugar" read rich with subtext!

Though it is irresistible, it is hard not to be just a little nervous about Willem Defoe playing Pier Paolo Pasolini directed by Abel Ferrera. That is a very very very intense combination of artistic personalities. I am a fan of all three but my greatest hope is that the film sparks a resurgence of interest in Pasolini - for his films, more than how he died. The film follows the last 24 hours of the great filmmaker's life in a style being described as part reality and part imagination. 

Pawn Sacrifice
I would not normally be drawn to a film about chess but this story offers so much possibility and I am trusting screenwriter Steven Knight, director Ed Zwick and the rest of the talent presented to deliver something fine. 

Matthew Warchus' Pride
Who can resist a Britcom about Pride-meets-Labour in 1980s Britain? Not me, especially when featuring such cream of British comedy as Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy. The trailer for this Matthew Warchus film looks like it hits both dramatic and comedy notes.

Princess of France
Matías Pineiro's The Princess of France will bring Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost into a contemporary Argentinian setting with radio actors performing the play and experiencing its movement into their own lives. Pineiro brought us last year's Viola, and seems to have a gift for mining the cinematic possibilities of reflecting on the deeper currents of these plays.

The Riot Club
Her first film since An Education, Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself) brings to TIFF another film about learning experiences, The Riot Clubabout two men who are kidnapped into an exclusive club at Oxford and find themselves falling headlong into the moral dilemmas of the rich and famous. 

Charlotte Gainsbourg, like Reese Witherspoon and Patricia Clarkson is an actress appearing in several movies at once at this TIFF. I like the tone and style evident in the trailer for Olivier Takache and Eric Toledano's latest film since Les Intouchables.

Yanet Mojica and Geraldine Chaplin in
Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán's
Sand Dollars
*Sand Dollars
Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas's Sand Dollars is an inter-generational love story between two women: one, an elderly European and the other a young Dominican. Their relationship has been born out of tourism and sits uneasily among the cultural realities and expectations on all sides. However, the trailer points to a genuinely intimate connection, tested by class and monetary distinctions. Starring the formidable Geraldine Chaplin. 

*A Second Chance

I am always glad when I see that the newest film by Susanne Bier has made it on to the roster of films announced. This year she takes on the thriller genre with A Second Chance featuring Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. The film marks the continuation of a long collaboration with screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen and editor Pernille Bech Christiansen and tells the story of a veteran police officer whose decision to take over the life of a child has profound implications for his own marriage and the baby's birth family. 

*Silvered Water: Syria, Self-Portrait
The trailer for Silvered Water: Syria, Self-Portrait is a few moments from this documentary by Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan made up of raw footage, shot by people who live in the horror of Syria. It quickly brings home the meaning of "risk-taking". Risk-taking artistically, but risk-taking in terms of inviting us into an immersion of self in a heartbreaking place. The narrator is unseen; a child is our focus, whose exclamation at finding flowers amid carnage could act as an emblem for the deepest dreams of those forced to live in war. The combination of form and meaning make this particular doc a high-seed for me.

James Franco plays Benjy in his own film adaptation
of William Faulkner's Sound and the Fury.
The Sound and the Fury
James Franco both directs and stars in this adaptation of the William Faulkner novel which Piers Handling tells us "goes much deeper, exploring the psychoses of his characters with tremendous bravery. The gamut of emotions — jealousy, desire, lust, pride, resentment, stoicism — all bubble away as the Compsons try in their fumbling manner to make their way forward." A follow-up to  As I Lay Dying, Franco's other Faulkner adaptation.
Besides Maps to the Stars, Julianne Moore is also appearing in Still Alice, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's chronicle of a linguistics professor who starts losing language, and thus embarks on early onset Alzheimer's. No trailer yet but this much draws me in. It is hard to imagine a film that deals with this subject in a more insightful way than Sarah Polley's Away from Her but I'm open to it.

Naomi Kawase's Still the Water
*Still the Water
Right now the scheduling is working against my being able to see Naomi Kawase's Still the Water but I am hoping for a break that changes that, as this beautiful director (The Mourning Forest) has a visual style uniquely her own. The story of two young people on a tropical island finding comfort for "loss, loneliness and love" in each other after a typhoon, it will undoubtedly have some of the most gorgeously poetic footage of this year's fest.

It is so exciting that female Iranian filmmaker Rakhshan Banietemad finally has made another film (though appalling that the area that should have been the place of her bio in the programme note, is given over to the Contemporary World Speakers guest. Fix this TIFF!!!) The story which looks at the interweaving lives of seven characters is sure to show us how we still have to learn about the average lives of women in Iran.

This Is My Land
Children and the Middle East continue as TIFF Docs themes in Tamara Erde's This is My Land, which observes how six Palestinian and Israeli schools teach the history of that region. What a critical piece of the puzzle to take on. How would we ever otherwise know? Erde is Israeli but reaches across political lines. 

Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve and
Charlotte Gainsbourg in Benoît Jacquot's
Three Hearts
Three Hearts
Benoît Jacquot is another filmmaker whose work I have followed since the earliest days of his career, through TIFF screenings. This latest features a story of sisters (Gainsbourg and Mastroianni) who become involved with the same man. A master who never disappoints, but take a look for yourself at the 

The Tribe
There is huge buzz from Cannes around Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's The Tribe, which features deaf-mute non-professional actors who perform without subtitles or any spoken word. A Danish/Ukrainian co-production, the trailer hints at a vivid story of a deaf-mute gang who do what gangs do - get into trouble. Programmer Dimitri Eipides, whom I'd follow to any film, says we shouldn't miss it.

Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu
The words "luminous, lyrical and poetic" seem at odd juxtaposition with the story of a cattle herder subjected to fundamentalist rule, but with Malian master Abderrahmane Sissako, anything is possible. From the director of 2002's Waiting for Happiness.

Everything about the description for Reza Mirkarimi's Today prompts me to want to see it and the programme notes just confirm it. A pregnant woman about to give birth and a Tehran taxi driver find their lives drawn irreversibly together by the events of one night. The implications of each person's story as it is slowly revealed, profoundly affects the other. 

Alanis Obomsawin's Trick or Treaty
Trick or Treaty
Alanis Obomsawin has become synonymous with the struggle of Canada's First Nations communities to stay in historical and traditional relationship to the land. The trailer for Trick or Treaty invokes not only the horrors of European colonial engagement of this country's first peoples, but the specific legal ways in which its implications have been realized. Elegant, informative and always unsettling, this new work by Obamsawin turns its focus on the 1905 Treaty 9.

*Tu Dors Nicole
The programme note by Steve Gravestock for Stéphane Lafleur's Tu Dors Nicole paints an irresistible image of that moment between graduation and the real world in all our lives. About a young woman in small town Québec trying to figure out what to do with her life, it was loved by those who saw it at Cannes, perhaps because it is "infused with a gorgeous, sultry melancholy". From the director of Continental, A World Without Guns which won Best First Canadian Feature at the 2007 TIFF. 

Fabrizio Rongione and Marion Cotillard in
the Dardennes' Two Days, One Night
*Two Days, One Night
Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne always offer us something to reflect on and storytelling that is riveting while also feeling anchored in everyday experience. I think of them as a kind of edgy version of Eric Rohmer. This latest starring Marion Cotillard follows a woman desperate to hold on to her job after her workmates voted to increase their own wages rather than accept her return from a mental health leave. 

The women of Suha Arraf's Villa Touma
*Villa Touma
Suha Arraf's skill as a screenwriter (The Lemon Tree) will be no doubt present in her first feature film as a director (
if the trailer is any indication), in this story about a Christian teenager in Jerusalem who goes to live with her aunt in Ramallah and finds a world "frozen in time". She quickly becomes the remaining hope of a world long gone but being held up by the women of the family. 

*Wavelengths Programme 1
The very first programme night of Wavelengths shorts called Open Forms, features a collection of works from KwieKulik Group, "a Polish art collective active in the seventies and eighties led by and named after Zofia Kulik and Przemyslaw Kwiek", interspersed with a fantastic cross-section of short artists, including T. Marie, a festival regular whose work I have always enjoyed. Programmer Andréa Picard says the linking idea is "performativity in landscape and social sphere" but I also discern a more spiritual quality, drawn from preoccupations with colour and light. 

We Were Wolves
A second English-Canadian film that takes place in cottage country (see Ruba Nadda's October Gale), We Were Wolves is a first-time feature from Newfoundland filmmaker Jordan Canning, about two brothers who retreat to their father's Kawartha Lakes cottage after his death, to sort out his affairs and their own lives. A fun trailer.

Last year, Jean-Marc Vallée wowed us with the subtle and complex Dallas Buyers Club, one of my favourites of TIFF 2013 and of the whole year in cinema. This year he returns with an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, about a woman who walks the Pacific Coast Trail to help herself overcome her own demons. The trailer offers much promise.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep
*Winter Sleep
Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes film festival. There is no trailer for this three hour journey through the Cappadocia region of Central Anatolia in Turkey but those who have seen Once Upon a Time in Anatolia will know that this master will have us spellbound as he guides us through the moral and spiritual awakening of a writer and small hotel proprietor. 

That's it!! Enjoy. Happy #TIFF14! Look for reviews between Sept. 4 and 14th!

No comments: