38th Toronto International Film Festival
Canada, September 5 - September 15 2013
With 20 more feature-length films than it offered last year — 289 by the festival’s count — the 2013 Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) could have been described as bursting at the seams. It certainly felt like it. With such high-profile awards contenders as 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and August, Osage County drawing a feverish international press community, and setting the table for the seasonal awards banquet-to-come, TIFF was operating with one fewer multiplex than it has used in previous years (albeit, somehow, with one more screen than it had last year) and the festival felt logistically chaotic, and physically uncomfortable.
Each selection featured fine films, though, from 72 countries, almost all of which were world, international or North American premieres. But the celebrity hubbub of TIFF, like it or not, eclipses the more modest films and subsumes any wider international impact. Frankly, it seemed that TIFF was poised at a crossroads: Stop pretending to be something cozy — stop boasting about your thousands of eager-beaver volunteers who can’t, and shouldn’t, be handed the responsibility of handling the day-to-day goings on at a world-class film event. Get professional. Or show fewer films.
What the festival showed did in fact include the kinds of film one actually goes to a festival to see — or used to, anyway. Films that one might never again get a chance to experience, that signify new talent blossoming, or about to, and the kind of immersion in cinema that involves an exchange of ideas about what the movies are, and are going to be.
You certainly saw that in a film like Gravity — not that there are any other films like Gravity, which has suddenly become the sine qua non of tech-oriented movies, one that marries actual ideas, profound ideas, with cutting-edge craft. For all its gifts, and grace, however, it is the electric, strobe-lit, 40-story version of the studio tent-pole picture, and as such predicts the future (or perhaps, destiny) of only a small number of films and filmmakers.
More inspiring from the under-$100-million-budget crowd was Mexico’s The Amazing Catfish (Los insólitos peces gato), recipient of one FIPRESCI prize and a kind of lost-soul story: A young woman named Claudia (the magnetic Ximena Ayala), meets ailing matriarch Martha (Lisa Owen) in a hospital ward, and having little purpose or direction is adopted by Martha’s family, fulfilling the duties and obligations the older woman’s raft of children don’t perform, either out of weariness or neglect.
Underlying director Claudia Sainte-Luce’s often droll account of distressed domestic life is a knowing examination of how people look for a place to fit, a need to serve, and a family to belong to. Needless to say, The Amazing Catfish also redefines the family in very welcome ways. At the other end of the spectrum was the phenomenal Canopy, a wartime drama, an action-adventure saga and an experimental film: Can World War II be recreated, essentially through carefully choreographed cinematography and (most especially) sound, in the jungles of WWII Singapore? There, a lost Australian soldier, parachuting into hostile Japanese-controlled territory, allies with a similarly stranded Chinese soldier and struggles to survive. The effect of director Aaron Wilson’s tour-de-force film — which manipulates the senses masterfully, and without much computerized enhancement — is visceral and anxious-making, despite having a cast of about a half dozen actors. (John Anderson)
Toronto International Film Festival: www.tiff.net