The Canadian major-film festival season kicked off on September 10 with the behemoth of them all, the Toronto International Film Festival. Since this has been a tough year at the movies, with box-offices reporting doleful figures, you might have thought those glimmers of uncertainty would be evident up there on the gala stages at Roy Thompson Hall. But nah. Everything was as shiny as usual, maybe moreso.
As they always are, the hooks were being baited for Oscar season. Among the squirmy worms this year were Johnny Depp almost unrecognizable as Whitey Bulger in the gangster biopic Black Mass, and Matt Damon utterly recognizable in Ridley Scott's The Martian. And let's not forget Demolition, the festival opener from Jean-Marc Vallée. It treads much the same ground as his 2014 film Wild, which opened last year's VIFF—only with a less interesting actor, Jake Gyllenhaal, in the Reese Witherspoon role of the bereaved in extremis.
As sometimes happens, though, some TIFF catches struggle off the line and swim on down to this end of the pond. VIFF has inherited I Saw The Light this year, the Hank Williams biopic starring Tom Hiddleston—doing a fine job of warbling his way, beneath very prominently penciled-in eyebrows, through a shakily directed picture—as well as 45 Years, a film about secrets and marriage starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, which is already being termed a masterpiece. I found it brittle and a bit slow, but it will certainly play to the moviegoing demographic. Because, Charlotte Rampling.
As far as I was concerned, the hottest ticket of TIFF, which will also grace screens at VIFF, was Dheepan, French director Jacques Audiard's drama about Tamil refugees setting up in France. With this complex and compelling film, the director of Un Prophète and Rust and Bone won not only the Palme d'Or at Cannes but also the prize (is there a prize?) for most topical and unlikely blockbuster. As usual, Audiard has a riveting sense of character and follows suprising plot twists to expose unexpected corners of the heart—and the whole time I was watching it, I kept reminding myself that this was the whole point of film festivals. VIFF audiences will have the chance to see it here, before an inevitable subsequent release.
Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa also made me glad to have made the trip. Fans of Kaufman's other work—Being John Malkovich (screenplay), Synecdoche, New York (writer- director)—won't be disappointed by this antidote to everything saccharine Hollywood has to offer. It's a memorable, erotic—possibly life-changing—summation on human disconnectedness in the modern age, all told through stop-motion animation by characters made of felt, who, among other things, perform a sex scene that replayed in my mind for days.
Finally, TIFF, like all good film festivals, offered the chance to see things not easily seen elsewhere. This year, this included Office, Johnnie To's musical about chinese office culture. It stars a rarely-seen-these-days Chow Yun-Fat, and I kept wanting him to dance like Fred Astaire during the musical numbers, but he doesn't, and the film suffers for it. Also, The Reflektor Tapes, for sure the most "auteurial" band movie I've seen lately, or ever. And finally, Christopher Doyle's Hong Kong Trilogy , a semi-documentary loosely covering the Umbrella Protests in HK, as shot by Wong Kar-Wai's usual cinematographer. So beautiful, and a little bit weird, much like the festival itself.
As usual, though, TIFF killed. Nobody does what they do as well as they do it, and there will never be a festival that manages to make us feel like we can never see all the movies in the world, which of course we can't. For Vancouverites, it sets the stage for the slightly more manageable smorgasbord to come in the next few weeks.