Looking Forward/Looking Back: Where Does Canada Stand in the Oscar Race Pre-#TIFF15?

Monica Bellucci stars in Ville-Marie, one of the most promising Canadian World Premieres at TIFF.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
It’s time to ask the annual question: where does Canada stand in the race for the Oscars? With less than a month to go until this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, a launch-pad for award contenders and Canadian films alike, and six weeks until the Academy’s submission deadline, the field of Canuck contenders for Best Foreign Language Film needs appraisal. Say what you will about awards, but this particular competition, undeniably flawed as it is, helps a film stand out from the crowd. It’s a marketing tool, a rallying point, and a source of pride.

TIFF generally serves as the biggest showcase of the year for Canadian films, so it’s inevitable that our contender usually appears in the line-up and benefits from exposure from both Canadian and international press. Last year’s submission of Mommy was a foregone conclusion after its bow at Cannes, but its TIFF punch revived the buzz. This year, however, Canada doesn’t have a Mommy going into the festival. The race seems wide open.

If one surveys the field, one finds a notable lack of upcoming contenders to represent Canada in this year’s Oscar race. This year’s Festival has oodles of Canadian films; it’s just that the overwhelming majority of them are in English and the few Francophone films that are in the line-up pose unlikely bids. Canada, which uses Telefilm Canada’s Pan-Canadian committee to selection the submission, can always review the films released since the last submission, but we haven’t sent a lingering film to the Oscars since Water in 2006. A smart choice: it was nominated, so maybe the solution is to look back rather than to look forward for a contender.

Academy rules state that a film needs to run for a week before Sept. 30 in order to be our Oscar bid. (This rule is always controversial and it inevitably weeds out contenders, which is perhaps best exemplified by the ineligibility of Blue is the Warmest Colour in 2013 and France’s decision not to submit it in 2014.) Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar had a snap qualifying run in Edmonton shortly after TIFF to ensure eligibility (it was probably assumed that Jean-Marc Vallée’s superior Café de flore was going to be our bid), so anything is possible. The only hitch is that chances for qualifiers are slim given TIFF’s late start this year, which basically demands a film to open the Wednesday after the festival if it’s going to be a late player. 2015 is therefore a year for dark horses in Canada's Oscar bid.

Suzanne Clément and Patrick Huard star in My Internship in Canada.
Robert Plant / Les Films Séville

Looking Forward: potential contenders in the TIFF line-up:

My Internship in Canada (Guibord s’en va t’en guerre)

Director: Philippe Falardeau
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (North American Premiere)
Distributor: eOne/Les Films Séville

Philippe Falardeau took Canada to the Oscars in 2011 with his sweetly charming drama Monsieur Lazhar, which found an audience even as Iran’s A Separation rightly steamrolled the competition to the win. This year, Falardeau’s in the pack with his timely political comedy about a hockey player turned politician who sets out to shake up Ottawa. The film stars Patrick Huard, whose film Starbuck was the runner-up for the People’s Choice Award in 2011, alongside Mommy’s Suzanne Clément.

Internship comes Ottawa-shot film comes to TIFF after a grand debut at Locarno where it played to an audience of 6000 and earned mostly favourable reviews, from Québécois and German critics alike, some of which draw comparisons to Nanni Moretti.  On the other hand, Variety doesn’t think there’s much to fuss about, saying “the film’s very Candianness works against it” and that the film is more Welcome to Mooseport than All the King’s Men. Ouch. Making its North American premiere with a no frills CWC berth isn’t likely to amp up extra hype outside Canadian TIFF-goers, and but this political comedy could play best for a domestic audience that gets and appreciates the jokes.

Chances: Unlikely. The film is set for a release on October 2 and that’s unlikely to change since the film inevitably aims to capitalize on Canadians’ need for a collective laugh during the election. 


Director: Guy Édoin
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Distributor: Filmoption International

This one sounds very promising.  Guy Édoin follows his 2011 debut Wetlands (Marécages) with the multi-narrative drama Ville-Marie in which stories converge at a fateful hospital. Édoin’s Wetlands is an elegiac slice-of-life drama about a farming family in rural Quebec, and his sophomore feature Ville-Marie looks like he moves in a completely different direction. The darkness and strangely sexual elements of Wetlands, however, seem to foreground a lot of what audiences can expect here.

Ville-Marie is a hyper-stylish drama that looks like Pedro Almodóvar meets an Alejandro González Iñárritu plot. It seems to be the most internationally-tailored of the TIFF contenders with its mix of style and tragedy, as well as the notable bonus of Italian star Monica Bellucci, who gives the film extra currency with her role in the James Bond film Spectre coming out in November. Bellucci stars alongside Édoin’s Wetlands star Pascale Bussières (she’s always reliable) and TIFF rising star Aliocha Schnieder, so Ville-Marie checks numerous boxes to garner attention at the fest.  And the film’s gorgeous trailer ensures seats will be more filled than usual at Canadian film screenings at the fest.

Chances: Who knows? The film advertises an October release, but regardless of whether it was even submitted, Ville-Marie looks like the most intriguing Canadian film of the Festival. I eagerly await this one!


Director: André Turpin
Programme: Vanguard (World Premiere)
Distributor: eOne/Les Films Séville (release date TBA)

André Turpin brings his third feature film as a director to TIFF, although audiences are more than familiar with excellent work as the cinematographer of Mommy, Incendies, Tom at the Farm, and other Canadian films. (His short Take Me also screened at TIFF last year.) He’s no stranger to the awards game, though, since his honours include repping Canada in the Oscar race with his 2002 release Un crabe dans la tête being our submission. His new project, Endorphine, certainly sounds intriguing as it brings a trippy drama about a woman named Simone, played at ages 13, 25, and 60 by Sophie Nélisse, Mylène MacKay, and Lise Roy, respectively. The film joins Guibord as part of a one-two festival punch by producers Kim McCraw and Luc Déry, who look to have a healthy balance of commercial potential on one hand and art-house cred on the other.

Chances: McCraw and Déry also hold credits for three of Canada’s five most recent submissions, and since they sat out last year, they’re bound to be back soon. But with a slot in the Vanguard programme, which leans towards, darker, stranger, edgier fare for a niche crowd, Endorphine probably isn’t this year’s bid.

(no trailer.)

Our Loved Ones (Les êtres chères)

Dir. Anne Émond
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (North American Premiere)
Distribution: eOne/Les films Séville

Anne Émond, director of the notorious Nuit #1, reteams with Mommy producer Nancy Grant for Our Loved Ones. This film sounds like a decent sophomore feature and it recently enjoyed a reportedly warm reception at Locarno, although reviews of the film itself have yet to surface.

Chances: With a release date of Nov. 20, this film isn’t the pick, but put it on your radar anyways for the fest.

The Sound of Trees: the best film to come out of Quebec so far this year.
Christian Mouzard / K Films Amérique

Looking Back: Films from the year so far

These films might be the top 5 best bets. Three are holdovers from TIFF last year, while two are new titles.

The Passion of Augustine

Dir. Léa Pool
Festivals: Seattle, Newport Beach
Awards: 5 prizes at Newport Beach FF (Film, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress)
Status: Released theatrically in Quebec and on VOD (eOne/Séville)
Quebec box office: $1.84 million

Does anyone expect a film about a singing nun to be the top grosser for Quebec this year? Léa Pool (Emporte-moi, Pink Ribbons Inc.) directs this unlikely crowd-pleaser about a nun who works tirelessly to keep her Catholic school relevant in the Silent Revolution. This musical has audiences skipping out of the aisles in Quebec even if the reviews are generally only okay. (Admittedly, I haven’t seen it yet: it’s Ottawa premiere is next week as part of a free outdoor screening at the Governor General’s Movie Nights.)  The Montreal Gazette gives one of the film’s most positive reviews, albeit only at 3.5/5, saying, “Pool pulls off a neat trick with La passion d’Augustine. What could have been a simple story of teenage revolt against the stuffy adult world turns into a nuanced tale of generational shift, personal transformation and the galvanizing power of music.” Similarly, La presse enjoys the music and Pool’s hand with the actors in this 3/5 review, writing, “It is not Sister Act, we agree, but when the sisters decided to pull together, Léa Pool is helps uncover the most playful nature of her characters” (my translation). Films du Québec, finally, loves Céline Bonnier as Mère Augustine, but says this conventional baby-boomer crowd-pleaser ultimately gives a sense of déjà vu.

Chances: Augustine has more money than the other contenders do combined, but is it just a domestic affair? Decent reception at a few minor American festivals shows potential, although it probably sits in good company with 2013’s provincial hit Louis Cyr (which had a $4.2 million box office take) that won’t find nearly as much love elsewhere.


Dir. Mathieu Denis | Review: 4 stars
Festivals: TIFF 2014, Berlin
Awards: Canada’s Top Ten
Status: Released theatrically and on home video in Canada (eOne/Séville)
Canadian box office: $104, 000

Mathieu Denis’ strong debut feature brings a necessary and relevant chapter of Canadian history to the screen in this well-received drama that debuted at TIFF last year. Corbo is one of few Canadian films that dramatize the rise of the FLQ, and Denis’s assured debut is a handsomely-mounted pic gives a troupe of young protagonists who take the radical route to tragic ends. The film resonates strongly with recent youth movements in Quebec, which have been far less radical, but one sees why this story remains relevant. Production values are top-notch and the drama unfolds at a riveting pace.

Corbo brings less fanfare than most of the other early-year releases, but this kind of drama lets Canada submit a fair piece of history to American audiences while also engaging them in a legitimately gripping political drama. The film hasn’t been released in the US, but Canadian audiences may find the film on DVD… where (shameless plug) you’ll find endorsements from Cinemablographer on both the front and back covers! (TIFF and Berlin only got the front!)

Chances: Corbo is a dark horse among the films listed here, but it’s one I’d support since it’s ultimately a taut and thoughtful drama.

Felix and Meira

Dir. Maxime Giroux | Review: 4 stars
Festivals: TIFF 2014, VIFF, FNC Montreal, Whistler, San Sebastian, Hamburg, Tallinn, Torino, and more.
Awards/noms: Best Canadian Feature (TIFF), Canada’s Top Ten, 4 Canadian film prizes at Whistler (Film, Director, Screenplay, Actress – Hadas Yaron)
Status: Released theatrically in Canada and on Vimeo VOD (FunFilm) and the US (Oscilloscope) with full home video in Sept.
Canadian Box Office: $200 000, US Box Office: $447,353

Nobody really expected Felix and Meira to be the Canuck champ of TIFF last year, and that endorsement gave it a decent festival run. However, this film, lovely as it is, doesn’t really meet the expectations one brings when approaching the “best of the best.” Felix and Meira is nevertheless a sweetly understated love story set in Montreal’s Jewish quarter. This film is subtle and modest, and it boasts a remarkably layered lead performance by Hadas Yaron. Felix and Meira is a classically told love story that engages the heart and the mind as culture, religion, and tradition confront contemporary attitudes amidst thigh-high snowbanks. It’s a film that stays with you even if it doesn’t immediately knock you over.

Chances: It’s a safe choice given the festival endorsements, but is it a little too been there, done that since it will have maxed out much of its potential aside from VOD sales?

The Sound of Trees (Le bruit des arbres)

Dir. François Péloquin | Review: 4.5 stars
Festivals: Karlovy Vary
Status: Released in Canada – Quebec only. (K Films Amérique)
Canadian box office: $50 000 and counting (French release)

The Sound of Trees seems exactly like the kind of film that’s ready to get the boost it needs with a smart festival strategy. It boasts a world premiere at Karlovy Vary, where impressive coverage at Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Indiewire ensured that at least someone heard the tree in the woods. The film is now in theatres, having begun its release right after the KV debut, and is probably on par for a film of its scope with a release in the rest of Canada to be determined.

Québécois films have one advantage over other Canuck films in that TIFF allows them a Toronto premiere, rather than encouraging something more prestigious, if they simply have a French-only release in Quebec before the fest. (Rebelle is a good example of a film that came to Toronto after a strong release in Quebec after hitting the European festival circuit.) However, Trees surprisingly isn’t on the TIFF list, even though it’s exactly the kind of strong authentic filmmaking that deserves a spot in the slate. Péloquin’s richly observed film is slice-of-life Québécois cinema at its finest—stirring episodic glimpses of rural life—and strong performances by Antoine L’Écuyer and Roy Dupuis give it extra points, as does its resonant portrait of two ways of life meeting a crossroads. In a year with few Québécois films at the festival, Trees’ absence is surprising.

Chances: It’s the best film to come out of Quebec this year, so it deserves a shot at the prize. Additionally, while reviews from Quebec are respectably, but not exceptionally raving, the film could still benefit from the endorsement, especially if it wants to find the audience it deserves in the rest of the country. Trees, finally, arguably embodies a substantial body of regional filmmaking. If Canada wants to send a film that reflects a larger pocket of the film scene to the Oscars, Trees is a smart choice, and it’s the film most poised to benefit since it hasn’t hit theatres outside of Quebec. (Additional note: a 79-minute film is a godsend for anyone navigating a screener pile at the end of the year.)

In Her Place

Dir. Albert Shin | Review: 4.5 stars
Festivals: TIFF, FNC Montreal, Whistler, Palm Springs, Thessaloniki, Abu Dhabi, Taipei, and more.
Awards: Canada’s Top Ten, 7 Canadian Screen Award nominations (Film, Director, Actress - Da-kyung Yoon, Actress – Ji-hye Ahn, Supporting Actress – Hae-yeon Kil, Screenplay, Editing), Jay Scott Prize (Emerging Filmmaker) from Toronto Film Critics Association, 2 prizes at Abu Dhabi FF (Best Actress – Da-kyung Yoon, Best Film – Child Protection Award), Special Jury Prize at Taipei Film Fest.
Status: Released theatrically in Canada and available on iTunes. No US distrib.
Canadian box office: >$6 000

This under-the-radar word of mouth hit at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival is one of the stronger critical Canuck hits of the year. In Her Place got a spot on TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten list and scored a whopping seven Canadian Screen Award nominations. It was the dark horse and had no chance of toppling juggernaut Mommy, but it might have won a handful of prizes, like Best Actress and Supporting Actress, if it submitted next year. Add to this tally some international festival prizes and a strong PR team, but In Her Place just didn’t take at the box office. Admittedly, less than $6000 is still better than the haul of $881 that Big Muddy raked in over eleven weeks at the American box office.

There’s no excuse for audiences overlooking In Her Place since this powerful drama is one of the most urgent and engaging films of the year—Canadian or otherwise. Albert Shin’s searing triptych gives a daughter, a mother, and a wannabe mother who are ensnared in a devastating transaction that seeks to relieve one woman of her baby to make a family for the other. In Her Place comes from the Incendies school of Canadian film as it lets a top-notch Canadian talent engage in relevant stories outside the Canadian border and it grants the film a distinctly local-global perspective that sits in our three nominees in recent years. See more of what the team behind In Her Place can do to put Canadian stories in the global scale with The Waiting Room by director Igor Drljaca at TIFF this year.

Chances: We should send In Her Place to the Oscars on merit, but this could be one where strategy is key. The film still needs US distribution (and a recent LA spotlight of it with Felix and Meira shouldn’t be overlooked in this discussion). The film fits comfortably within the “internationally-Canadian” trio of Incendies/War Witch/Monsieur Lazhar that’s worked well for Canadian contenders in the past.

Other films of note: Sundance/Berlin drama Chorus, Bernard Émond’s soon-to-be-released Diary of an Old Man, Ricardo Trogi’s comedy Le mirage, and the Gatineau-shot First Nations thriller Le dep.

Conclusion: It’s an open race unless something at TIFF surprises and moves quickly. Either The Sound of Trees or In Her Place are sound choices, though, from the releases of the year so far.

What do you think we could/should send?