TIFF 2017: Great Films In An Amazing City

TIFF 2017: Great Films In An Amazing City

My love affair with TIFF and Toronto continues. I feel extremely lucky to be able to attend a major festival in such a friendly and vibrant city. By happy accident, the majority of our screenings this year took place in our favorite theaters in Toronto-the Elgin, the Princess of Wales (now called the Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre), and that storybook come to life, the Winter Garden. As always, I was struck by how many Canadians turned out to support their festival. It is truly inspiring, and also makes for great conversations while waiting in line.

The only down note relating to the festival came when we learned that the Milestones restaurant at 132 St. John St. will close in early October. I want to thank Jamie B., Michaela, and the staff of St. John St. Milestones for their kindness to us over the last four years. My husband and I both have food restrictions, and Milestones at St. John St. did an amazing job of accommodating them. Jamie, I will always appreciate how you greeted us each year- and even remembered what we ordered from the year before. Please keep in touch and let me know how it is going.

Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre

An additional shoutout to Sigourney McCauley, whom we met at the Milestones on Dundas St. East. She is an accomplished actress, and I know she’ll do great things in the future. You heard it here first.

We saw thirteen films in all, which I have ranked in order of preference:

  1. Loveless. Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev’s powerful, heartbreaking film about a neglected child who goes missing and how his disappearance affects his divorcing parents. Nothing in this film happens the way you would imagine. Impeccably shot, directed, and acted. Zvyagintsev’s leisurely style may be an acquired taste, but after that his films become essential viewing.
  2. The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The same comment about acquired taste applies to Yorgos Lanthimos, director of The Killing of a Sacred Deer. He is sometimes called a director in the Greek Weird Wave. I am happy to report that his latest film is a gripping tale that is equal parts Greek tragedy and horror. It draws on, but does not retell, the story of Agamemnon and his daughter Iphigenia. Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, and Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk) are standouts among the cast.

  3. Disobedience. Chilean director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria) co-wrote (with Rebecca Lenkiewicz) and directs this adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel. Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams are terrific as two Orthodox Jewish women fighting a mutual attraction. The film is exquisitely made and its story told with sensitivity.
  4. Downsizing. Alexander Payne’s satirical solution to overpopulation has people volunteering to be reduced in height to five inches. Funny and insightful for the most part, though marred by a stereotypical portrayal of one key character. In the Q and A after the film, Payne said it was a combination of his more political films (Citizen Ruth, Election) and “films about some poor shlub trying to figure out who he is” (Sideways, About Schmidt)”.
  5. Tigre. Fabulous Argentine film about an elderly woman fighting to hold onto her home despite pressure from developers. Although this might sound similar to last year’s Aquarius, the two films are different. Tigre has more of an environmental emphasis, juxtaposed with a theme of wildness versus civilization. The feature debut of directors Silvinia Schnicer and Ulises Porra Guardiola. Tigre shared top honors at the 2017 Miami Film Festival.

    The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
  6. A Season In France. Writer/ director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun tells the story of a man who battles government bureaucracy as he tries to build a new life for himself and his family. At his home in the Central African Republic, Abbas (Eriq Ebouaney) taught French. Now, in Paris, he works for a produce vendor while attempting to gain asylum. This well-made, empathetic film shows the obstacles in his path without preaching. Sandrine Bonnaire delivers a sensitive performance as his lover.
  7. Youth. Feng Xiaogeng’s followup to I Am Not Madame Bovary is a sweeping tale of a military arts troupe in the 1970s. Feng’s recreation of the period, which employs widescreen camerawork and dazzling colors, is outstanding. The story covers the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979 and follows the troupe members through middle age.
  8. The Current War. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film deals with the rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in the late 19th century US. Many of the tactics, especially those employed by Edison, will look eerily reminiscent of those used by today’s politicians. Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon are predictably great in the lead roles. The visual style of this film is remarkable.

  9. Dark River. Writer/ director Clio Barnes makes a powerful statement about the persistence of memory in this film. Ruth Wilson (Showtime’s The Affair) and Mark Stanley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) play brother and sister vying for control of their family’s farm. A dark secret from their past lies at the root of the conflict between them. Dark River is raw, real, and poetic.
  10. Woman Walks Ahead. A well-intentioned, but ultimately bland film about a 19th-century New York woman who traveled to North Dakota to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull. Jessica Chastain stars along with Canadian Plains Cree actor Michael Greyeyes. Director Susanna White has made every attempt to be authentic in the scenes depicting Native Americans, but some facts have been altered.
  11. The Upside. An American (and Americanized) remake of the French hit from 2011, The Intouchables. The new version is well cast (Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart), and it has many funny moments. All in all, though, this is just another mediocre American version of an enjoyable French film.

  12. The Price Of Success. Teddy Lussi-Modeste’s film does not offer many new insights into the backstage story, beyond the fact that his main character-a standup comedian-is a French Arab.  There is a fine performance by Maïwenn as the comic’s girlfriend, but Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) seems miscast in the leading role. For one thing, he is too handsome to be convincing as a comic. It does not help that the jokes he is given are not at all funny.
  13. Kodachrome. Mark Raso’s film is a paint-by-numbers buddy/road movie. You know what is going to happen in the first two minutes. There are a few good exchanges between Jason Sudeikis and Ed Harris, but they are hardly worth sitting through the rest of the film.

A creative career can be a lonely experience with uncertain rewards. One of the reasons I value TIFF- beyond the films- is that it affords an opportunity to see filmmakers whose projects made it to the big stage. The enthusiasm they show in Q and A sessions is the same whether the individual is a first-time filmmaker or someone with multiple Oscars. It is a welcome reminder that success may be difficult to achieve, but it is possible. And always worth the attempt.

This week we have a special feature- a review of the new book Storytelling For Pantsers: How To Write And Revise Your Novel Without An Outline by Annalisa Parent. Here is the link to the review: http://www.thinkingcinema.com/special-feature-book-review-storytelling-for-pantsers/



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