Another year has come and gone for Toronto’s favourite circus of cinema and schmooze.
While it’s easy to use the 11 days to chase stars and get advance looks at the year’s Oscar contenders (or, as the case may be, a week’s head-start on seeing Easy A), some of the world’s most renowned and some undiscovered filmmakers have the chance to strut their stuff for Toronto’s cinephiles.
Here’s a round-up of just one way to have effectively killed off the last 10 days with a round-the-world trip in darkened theatres.
Mexico: Gareth Edwards created a sci-fi fantasy that pits two Americans against a host of giant monsters that threaten the sovereignty and security of the U.S. in Monsters. While not on par with some of the recent creature-feature/social-issues classics, it might garner a look when it hits multiplexes. Still baffled with why this made TIFF though, especially outside Midnight Madness.
Cuba: Spanish filmmakers Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba delivered the Havana-to-New York animated love story Chico & Rita. Steeped in nostalgic looks at the glory days of both stories and crammed with a lot of the best Cuban and American jazz, recreated for the time period by some of today’s top musical talents, was one of the fest’s hidden gems.
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Djo Munga offered up the Congo’s first action thriller in Viva Riva! Surprisingly violent and sexual, it manages to find humour in the plight of the poor and oppressed while offering enough thrills to keep the general public interested. Maybe not a cinematic classic, but certainly a fresh look at an unconventional national cinema.
Egypt: Ahmad Abdulla actually showed up to this year’s TIFF after boycotting last year, plugging in his newest feature, Microphone. A rare look into the streets of Alexandria, the film is worth a look if for no other reason than to see a side of Egypt that’s not all King Tut and pyramids.
Palestine: Julian Schnabel’s latest epic, Miral, looks at the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations through the life of a boarding school set up for the Palestinian displaced. Some fantastic performances and adept direction at work here, if the story has no inherent resolution.
Italy: Toni Servillo dazzled in Gorbaciof. Though I’ve already drawn my fair share of heat for speaking out against the movie’s pacing, the performance alone warrants a look to see how one man can take a film entirely on his back and make it work.
France: Sylvain Chomet picks up the paints once again to deliver The Illusionist, based on an abandoned script by Jacques Tati. It takes a lot of cues from Tati’s cinematic legacy delivering a silent, sorrowful hilarity. Maybe not as complete a film as his previous effort (Triplets of Belleville), but still Chomet still delivers a great addition to the international animation boom.
Wales: The TIFF guide called Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, the Welsh Rushmore. While the Anderson parallels are there to be made (as there are between Rushmore and, say, Harold and Maude or The Graduate), Ayoade’s sense of humour is sharp and he creates an original world full of unbelievable characters negotiating believable trauma that delves past the comparisons. This was easily the funniest film I saw in this year’s fest and quite possibly my favourite.
Japan: Anh Hung Tran took a whack at adapting Haruki Murakami for the screen with Norwegian Wood. I give him full points for the effort, since Murakami’s work is based on being very introspective and dwells heavily on description. While it’s a slow burn (like smoking a banana), if you’re willing to give the characters and the story what they need to breathe, the upside is definitely there.
Also: Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins riffs heavily on The Seven Samurai in a very good way. It was definitely interesting to see his take on the Shogun era and this film is a must for Miike-ites and Japanese cinema lovers on the whole. The last 45 minutes is one of the best action sequences I’ve seen in years.
Korea: Hong Sang-Soo’s Oki’s Movie plays with the audience at every turn. Hong delivers an interesting cinematic experiment on the nature of the filmmakers themselves. The movie is hilarious, even if it’s difficult at times to follow the puck.
Also: Kim Ji-Woon follows up his exploration of genre with one hell of a revenge movie, I Saw the Devil. The film is brutal and fierce and makes no apologies for the monstrosity of the heroes and villains it brings to light. Korean cinema lovers will drool over the idea of pitting the bad guys from Oldboy and The Good, The Bad and The Weird against one another.
Philippines: Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood road show stops in the Philippines to explore the exploitation cinema movement there from the 70s in Machete Maidens Unleashed! This one features great interviews with Roger Corman, John Landis, Joe Dante and other filmmakers influenced by the movie and has more beats, blood and breasts than you can shake a tit at. A crowd-pleaser for sure that escaped the Midnight Madness realm to the Real to Reel program.