EDITOR'S NOTE: This post now includes personal prizes from both of our TIFF correspondents, Amir & Paolo. I thank them profusely for all the coverage this year! -Nathaniel R
Amir here, back with the wrap up to this year's Toronto International Film Festival coverage for TFE. The festival ended yesterday with Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now? beating Iran's A Separation and Canada's Starbuck to take the top prize, the People's Choice Award.
For me personally, the festival went out with a bang as on the closing weekend I watched a very entertaining film called. ... wait for it... Where Do We Go Now? before it became the surprise winner. I have Nathaniel to thank because before he pointed this one out among his top 16 curiousities, it was not on my radar at all. On one hand, I'm a little upset that Nadine Labaki took the prize because this means A Separation came second. I haven't seen the latter yet but if you haven't guessed by the number of Iran-related films I covered, I'm from, you guessed it right, Iran. So if TIFF were to give legs to one Best Foreign Language Film Oscar contender, you know which team I’m rooting for. On the other hand, I did contribute to the People's Choice outcome by giving Labaki’s film a 5 star vote after my screening. My five star vote doesn't mean the film is perfect. Far from it, in fact. But I can overlook it's serious dramatic problems in favour of its many merits.
The film is about a group of women in a village in Lebanon who try to ease tensions between the Christian and Muslim men using methods ranging from hash cookies to bringing in Ukrainian strippers. Part comedy, part musical and part exercise in interreligious coexistence in the Middle East, the film should be applauded just for approaching something as controversial as the Muslim-Christian relationship with comedy. But the script also has serious problems, ignoring any development in its male characters and unable to make the profound emotional impact it's aiming for when it ventures, too far, towards the dramatic and serious. But it is consistently funny if contrived, and the musical sequences are marvellous. Best of all, its female ensemble is Volver-level fantastic, equally funny and poignant.
I'm certain we'll see this as a Best Foreign Language Film nominee though I doubt that the critics will fall head over heels. Based on the recent track record of the category, I’d say this film has a good shot at winning the actual Oscar over whichever critical darlings are nominated alongside it.
On the last weekend of the festival I also so quite a double feature: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's Chicken with Plums and Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights.
The first was a delightful film based on Satrapi’s own great uncle, a violinist played by Mathieu Amalric, that is heavily rooted in Classical Persian poetry and stylized in the same vein as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie. The film went over well with the crowd, but despite heavy stylization, I found it a little impersonal and distant. The most noteworthy element of the film is Golshifteh Farahani's (Body of Lies, About Elly) performance as Irane, the embodiment of the archetypal female in Persian literature; she nails her small role with both confidence and elegance.
I shamefully admit that I had no previous familiarity with the source material of Wuthering Heights. I knew the story, of course, but had neither read the actual book nor seen a previous film adaptation. Even so, I approached the film cautiously, as is always the case when I hear the word "revisionist" being thrown around. But given Andrea Arnold's resume (Wasp and Fish Tank), I have to say I was underwhelmed.
Arnold’s version is far from any costume drama I’ve seen. In fact, it really wouldn’t do the film justice to categorize it as such. It’s a detached and moody film that doesn’t rely at all on typical plots points, but on images and representations. Arnold has teamed up with cinematographer Robbie Ryan again, and following his work on Fish Tank this is an affirmation that he’s just a master of the art. For his camera, no distance is too close and no moment is too intimate for the screen. With his painterly brush, every mundane detail, a flock of hair or a butterfly on the ledge of a window, bursts with life. The film isn't only picturesque; the cinematography is reflective of the atmosphere of the story and the mood of the characters.
The biggest problem is Arnold’s misstep in casting. For a film that relies on the actors’ ability to emote without words, none of the new actors seem to have what it takes. Compare their performances with that of Brad Pitt in the similarly image-dependent Tree of Life and the difference is immediately evident. The only exception is Kaya Scodelario (Skins) whose performance is by far best in show, though her physique doesn’t seem to fit the role of Catherine. Arnold’s gamble paid off on new-comer Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank, but in this case, more experienced actors would have made a huge difference for the film.
A late screening on the last day of the festival managed to outweigh anything I'd seen up until then. Again, I should thank Nathaniel for pointing me to this one. The film in question is Oslo, August 31st, Joachim Trier's haunting drama about a man who struggles to get his life together after he leaves a rehab centre for addiction. I'll need more time to mull this one over before I can write a full review, but it had me paralyzed at the end, crying in the theatre and I definitely wasn't the only one. There's such a sense of loss and ennui in the atmosphere of Oslo. Trier gets every note right in this poignant story, but the star of the show is Anders Danielsen Lie (Reprise) whose performance has such grace and pathos without ever succumbing to sentimentality. As a depressed man on the verge of suicide, you can see his confusion and impulsiveness in every move, or even each glance. It's really pitch perfect work. Oslo will haunt me for a very long time and I hope a domestic distributor steps forward to nab it. It's a must-see.
So on that bittersweet note, my coverage of TIFF comes to an end. It's been an incredible festival in many ways, most importantly because I got this space to cover it for you guys. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Assuming TIFF gives out awards like European festivals and that the jury has only one member (moi!), here are my personal award winners:
*I've limited myself to one mention per film to spread the wealth.
Best Film: Oslo, August 31st
Best Director: Yorgos Lanthimos, ALPS
Best Actor: Michael Fassbender, Shame
Best Actress: The ensemble cast of Where Do We Go Wow?
Best Screenplay: Aki Kaurismaki (Le Havre)
Technical Achievement: Tie! Robbie Ryan (Wuthering Heights, cinematographer) and Gokhan Tiryaki (Once upon a time in Anatolia, cinematographer)
And for what it's worth, here's a top ten list with links to my past writeups:
- Oslo, August 31st
- This is not a Film
- Le Havre
- Where do we go now?
- Once upon a time in Anatolia
- A Funny Man
- Edwin Boyd
That about wraps it up. See you next year! -Amir
And Paolo here, showing you what would happen if I ran the world or at least the TIFF part of the world.
Best Film: Rampart
Best Director: Bela Tarr, Turin Horse
Best Actor: Woody Harrelson, Rampart
Best Actress: Tammy Blanchard, Union Square; also for your consideration: Gretchen Lodge, Lovely Molly and Adepero Oduye, Pariah.
Best Screenplay: Jason A. Micallef (Butter)
Technical Achievement: Robbie Ryan (Wuthering Heights, cinematographer)
And my Top Ten:
- Turin Horse
- Union Square
- Take Shelter
- Edwin Boyd
- Jeff, Who Lives at Home
And it's been fun, I can't wait 'till next year. -Paolo
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Another round of applause for Amir and Paolo for their Toronto Coverage this year. They were both so prompt and dependable and we were able to hear about so many interesting-sounding films. If you enjoyed, please show them your thanks as well. -Nathaniel R]