|Destroyer, Blind Spot, Birds of Passage, A Star is Born, Roma, and Hotel Mumbai were some of TIFF's best|
That’s a wrap for another year at the Toronto International Film Festival! TIFF had its best and arguably most exhausting year yet in 2018. There were some great movies and moments of TIFF, but the highlight might have been the Saturday of the first weekend when I came home and stress ate an entire bag of Kettle Chips with a bottle of prosecco. After spending nearly the entire day on email coordinating or conducting interviews that consumed the first few days of TIFF, it was a great way to unwind after missing several movies. Check out more coverage at POV and stay tuned to BeatRoute for the work fuelled by greasy chips and bubbly.
(Netherland/Belgium, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Esther Rots
Starring: Circé Lethem, Lien Wildemeersch (Miller, Lee), Martijn van der Veen (Simon)
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (World Premiere)
Audiences seeking a healthy dose of WTF needn’t look any further than Retrospekt. This Dutch oddity is a true original. One might classify it as the first arthouse domestic violence musical, but that doesn’t really fit the bill since nobody belts a tune onscreen in Retrospekt even though the soundtrack is layered with peculiar original songs that twist the story in myriad ways. It might sound disrespectful; it might sound stupid; it might sound awful, yet Retrospekt somehow works thanks to the fearless audacity with which writer/director Esther Rots pulls it off.
The Fall of the American Empire (La chute de l'empire américain)
Written and directed by Denys Arcand
Starring: Aléxandre Landry, Maripier Morin, Rémy Girard, Louis Morissette, Maxim Roy, Pierre Curzi, Vincent Leclerc
Programme: Special Presentations (Toronto Premiere)
Denys Arcand is back with a vengeance! The Quebecois master returns with The Fall of the American Empire, a Robin Hood fable for the Trump era that resonates strongly with the anxieties, tensions, and unrest of the time. It's a perceptive punch in the face to capitalism and a damning satire of these days of darkness.
Angel (Un ange)
(Belgium/Netherlands/Senegal, 105 min.)
Written and directed by Koen Mortier
Starring: Vincent Rottiers, Fatou N’Diaye
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (International Premiere)
Twelve years ago, Fatou N’Diaye gave a heartbreaking performance as Gentille, a young Rwandan waitress at the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Robert Favreau’s drama A Sunday in Kigali. Audiences who saw this touching story of the 1994 Rwanda genocide at TIFF 2006 (or in release later) will recall N’Diaye’s touching innocence as the better half of A Sunday in Kigali’s love story about a Hutu waitress and a Canadian journalist who fell in love in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cut to TIFF’18 and N’Diaye is the star attraction of another ill-fated love story, and she steals the film as Fae, a doe-eyed prostitute in Senegal who strikes the fancy of a Belgian cyclist named Thierry (Vincent Rottiers). Viewers who slept on her performance in A Sunday in Kigali won’t want to close their eyes this time around.
(Norway/Sweden, 86 min.)
Written and directed by Camilla Strøm Henriksen
Starring: Yiva Thedia Bjørkaas, Maria Bonnevie, Sverrir Gudnason, Casper Falck-Løvås
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
A phoenix is a symbol of renewal and resilience. The mythical bird rises from ashes to be born again, and its flame-lit image suggests light after darkness. There is little to lightness to be found in Camilla Strøm Henriksen’s feature directorial debut Phoenix, though, but after nearly an hour and a half of sombre melancholy, one can only leave the film with a sense of hope for its young protagonist.
Blind Spot (Blindsone)
(Norway, 98 min.)
Written and directed by Tuva Novotny
Starring: Pia Tjelta, Nora Mathea Øien, Oddgeir Thune, Anders Baasmo Christiansen
Programme: Discovery (International Premiere)
The power of the long take finds one of its best examples in Blind Spot. This outstanding Norwegian drama from actor-turned-director Tuva Novotny gives Birdman and Victoria a run for their money as the one-take wonder. A single 98-minute unbroken shot provides one of the most emotionally absorbing case studies in family dynamics and mental illness one could see at the festival this year. (TIFF’s programme guide incorrectly notes that Blind Spot is a series of long takes. The film doesn’t even credit an editor.) Even more impressive is the fact that Blind Spot marks Novotny’s first feature as a director, so the sheer difficulty of orchestrating all this camerawork and human drama into one perfect shot only makes the coup more noteworthy. Blind Spot is an outstanding technical and artistic achievement
Float Like a Butterfly
(Ireland, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Carmel Winters
Starring: Hazel Doupe, Dara Devaney, Johnny Collins, Hilda Foy
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
TIFF throws a crowd-pleasing punch in its line-up of girl power. Audiences willing to overlook the many boxing movie clichés in Float Like a Butterfly may find an empowering tale of a young girl’s fight for freedom. Whatever its shortcomings, Float Like a Butterfly has a lot to admire in the representational aspects, which inevitably tipped the crowd in its favour.
(India, 112 min.)
Written and directed by Nandita Das
Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Dugal, Tahir Raj Bhasin
Programme: Special Presentations (North American Premiere)
Great voices in literature often reveal truths the public doesn’t want to hear. Particularly in times of social change and political uncertainty, the pen is the mightiest tool to give voice to the disenfranchised. Writer/director Nandita Das provides a biographical rendering of Pakistani author Saadat Hasan Manto with a stark and sobering eye for the late writer’s significance in capturing the social inequities of Partition-era India and Pakistan. Manto is a thoughtful biopic that honours the writer’s courage and his ability to capture the cultural pulse with a voice ahead of its time.
|The Stone Speakers|
Courtesy Time Lapse Pictures
(Canada, 84 min.)
Dir. Aidan Shipley, Grayson Moore; Writ. Grayson Moore
Starring: Sheila McCarthy, Noah Reid, Katie Boland, Grace Glowicki, Peter MacNeill, Peter Spence
Sheila McCarthy gives the performance of her career in Cardinals. Is this really the same woman who was so effervescent and full of life in I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing? If McCarthy made audiences soar with Mermaids, she lets them feel the sharp pain of hitting rock bottom in Cardinals. Playing Valerie Walker, a suburban mother who returns home from prison after serving time for killing her neighbour in an alleged drunk driving incident, her subdued performance is a master class in restraint. I am in awe of her intensity and focus.
(Australia, 115 min.)
Dir. Simon Baker, Writ. Gerard Lee, Simon Baker, Tim Winton
Starring: Samson Coulter, Ben Spence, Simon Baker, Elizabeth Debicki, Richard Roxburgh
Adolescence feels a lot like being underwater. It has a certain murkiness and it takes a lot of feeling one’s way around to find direction. Add the feeling that time works against you while struggling to navigate this uncharted territory: there’s only so long before going up for air. This sense of suffocation, of life closing in on you the deeper you get, becomes more turbulent as the waves crash down and send you tumbling.
Never Saw It Coming
(Canada, 83 min.)
Dir. Gail Harvey, Writ. Linwood Barclay
Starring: Emily Hampshire, Eric Roberts, Tamara Podemski, Shaun Benson, Katie Boland, Nick Serino
Keisha Ceylon is a small town charlatan. She moonlights as a psychic, helping families of the small snowy town of Sorrow Bay find their missing loved ones, but only after she gets their cash. Five grand nets a few easily plucked clues and everyone generally leaves the transaction happy.
(USA, 95 min.)
Dir. Peter Berg; Writ. Lea Carpenter, Graham Roland (story)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich, Iwo Uwais, Rhonda Rousey, Peter Berg
Mile 22 opens with a bang and doesn’t let up. Mark Wahlberg and company deliver high octane, heavy calibre entertainment playing a group of covert operatives on a dangerous mission to transport and protect a key witness. Mile 22 is a slick, swift, and energetic thrill ride. It is also relentlessly, savagely, and exhaustingly violent. The flick’s going to please its target audience, but I just don’t have the stomach for this kind of movie anymore.
|Daveed Diggs (right) stars in Blindspotting with Rafael Casal|
New interview! Pick up a copy of BeatRoute if you’re in the Vancouver area this month to read a funchat with Daveed Diggs, the star and co-writer of the new urban drama Blindspotting. Diggs, who won a Tony and a Grammy for his work in the Broadway game-changer Hamilton, stars as Collin, an Oakland native who returns emerges from prison to see his city transformed in a state of rapid gentrification. It’s an urgent film, as Collin witnesses a police shooting of an unarmed Black man and navigates the deeply entrenched systems of inequality while trying to find middle ground between justice for his fallen brother and safety for his own life. With the beat of the city and the pulse of true poetry, Blindspotting is not to be missed.
|Jacob Tremblay in Xavier Dolan's The Death and Life of John F. Donovan Courtesy of TIFF|
I tip my hat to Xavier Dolan! The Québécois wunderkind stole the TIFF Canadian press conference two years in a row with the same movie. TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey pulled a rabbit out of his hat by making the surprise announcement that Dolan’s long-awaited English-language debut The Death and Life of John F. Donovan would World Premiere as a Special Presentation. The news was confirmed by the festival press office via a release sent immediately following the announcement.