TIFF is an eleven-day festival that opens with a burst of excitement palpable throughout this metropolis of 2.5 million people, as buzz films and celebrity sightings become the talk of the town. A very different and almost curious mood permeates the last few days of the festival. Most films have screened twice already, and for their third and final screenings there are fewer filmmakers present, resulting in somewhat smaller crowds in the festival’s 20+ auditoriums—not to mention increasingly bloodshot eyes and a cicada-like chorus of sneezes and sniffles.
That said, the often-lighter crowds and lack of Q+As that mark many screenings make the final days of TIFF a great opportunity for the diehard cinephiles to jump in and smoothly attend 5 or more films a day. That’s exactly what the MFF programming team did, walking away with heaping plates from TIFF’s heaping buffet line of international and indie films (while being mindful not to make contact with the sneezeguard). The results? Some of the very best films we saw at TIFF this year, including:
POST TENEBRAS LUX – The new film from young provocateur Carlos Reygadas (BATTLE IN HEAVEN, SILENT LIGHT) masterfully touches down on issues of class, family, sex, and animal cruelty. Its sumptuous, otherworldly exterior shots use unconventional lensing to render a rural Mexican landscape but fantastical and warped. Audiences will be puzzling through this challenging film, a narrative with transgressive- and experimental-film elements, for years to come.
IN ANOTHER COUNTRY – Offbeat South Korean humorist Hong Sang-soo brings Isabelle Huppert into his unique comic fold with this story of three French women, all named Anne and all played by Huppert, who visit a small coastal village in S. Korea and encounter the same cluster of offbeat characters. One of the three Annes is a French film director, reportedly modeled after frequent Huppert director Claire Denis (an MFF staff favorite). Winning notes of Bunuel sound throughout, but the voice sounding these notes is singularly Hong’s—and this is both one of his best films and the one most likely to cross over to larger art-house audiences.
JOHN DIES AT THE END—One of TIFF’s most popular programs is its nightly Midnight Madness series, and this new mind-melter from PHANTASM director Don Coscarelli was arguably the best cult film of the fest. Based on the novel of the same name, Philip K. Dick collides with Bill and Ted in this fun, high-energy story of a mysterious new drug that opens minds to other dimensions.
LEVIATHAN—This film about large-scale commercial fishing off the coast of New Bedford, MA was perhaps the festival’s most visceral experience, crossing over from documentary into the realm of experimental film as it eschews interviews for violent bursts of location sound and unflinching (and sometimes unrecognizable) imagery of the vessel, the ocean, the sky above, and the bloody culling of each day’s catch. Co-director Lucien Castaing-Taylor directed the acclaimed pastoral documentary SWEETGRASS — also a visually splendid film, but of a very different look and tone.
HERE COMES THE DEVIL—Also from Mexico, director Adrían García Bogliano‘s gory horror film has one foot rooted firmly in the art-house, drawing heavy inspiration from Peter Weir’s mysterious classic PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. A Mexican production from an Argentine director backed by U.S. money, this was a prime example of a creative, international genre-film production that knows its audience well.
AUGUSTINE – French director Alice Winocour impresses with this strong debut feature concerning the prevalence of institutionalizing young women under the catch-all diagnosis of hysteria in 19th Century Europe. Young servant Augustine suffers a seizure during a dinner party at her employer’s home. She is quickly whisked off to a psychiatric hospital where she becomes the star subject of the prominent Dr. Charcot’s neurological experiments. As she becomes aware of her illness, she gains insight into the dynamics of her institutionalization and her doctor’s motives, thus altering the balance of power between doctor and patient. Several films on similar subjects have been made in recent years (most notably Cronenberg‘s A DANGEROUS METHOD); what sets this one apart is a decidedly female perspective and an excellent insight into the devastating effects of a repressed, patriarchal society on women’s sexuality. Smart, gritty, and frank in its depiction of the time (with plenty of lessons for the present), this is not your average period costume puff piece.
THE CREMATOR – Chinese director Peng Tao‘s 3rd feature centers on the relationship between Cao, a lonely undertaker, and Xiuqiao, a young woman who is far from home on a journey to uncover the whereabouts of her sister. Cao may know something of the sister’s whereabouts, but is reluctant to share this information with Xiuqiao, until an unforeseen turn of events causes him to divulge. Interspersed with striking tableaus depicting Chinese funerary rites, THE CREMATOR is a beautiful and deliberately paced film that holds many subtle rewards.
– Eric Allen Hatch, Director of Programming