This year, the experience of Toronto International Film Festival was completely different: no long lines expecting to make the cut to get into the theater, no red carpets, no talking to colleagues between screenings. Also, sadly, for the members of our jury, no Canada, no travel.
Although atypical, the event went ahead in a very well-organized manner thanks to the TIFF staff, who out did themselves to ensure press and juries had access to platforms and, in some cases, screeners. So here is a list of films I was able to watch in alphabetical order, with a few impressions about each of them:
180 Degree Rule (2020)
Very interesting subject about women within the context of family in Iran, and about the role of the husband versus that of a wife, in Iran’s version of the nuclear family. A tragedy launches the narrative, but one cannot help to perceive some inconsistencies in the story and about the characters. There is a touch of implausibility, which makes the film less powerful.
Hopes were high because of the director’s work as producer for the Netflix series Anne with an E. Sadly it is disappointing. Marred by poor acting, and very under-realized, Beans looks like an after-school television special. The subject was a good—tensions between indigenous Canadians and French Canadians in the Quebec area in the nineties—but the final product looks very unprofessional, very amateurish.
This film grows on you. It succeeds in portraying what it means to be a woman not only in Georgia, but around the world: the veiled threats, the belittling that starts at the household. Amidst a political and religious backdrop, it focuses on the rejection of the Other, the dissimilar. Its concise dialogue corresponds with a silence that feels ominous; actor Ia Sukhitashvili shines both in words and gestures. The amazing images shout beauty and emptiness. Though painful to watch at times, its powerfulness lingers.
Concrete Cowboy (2020)
The subject is interesting as it is based on real African American cowboys in the streets of Philadelphia. Idris Elba is a fine actor, but Caleb McLaughlin as Cody, is excellent. The story, though, is a little thin. They try to build upon it but it feels just a little repetitive, it wears out. It is a correct movie, but lacks emotion.
Get the Hell Out (Bu zhi bu xiu, 2020)
This Taiwanese parody about zombies is neither novel nor funny. During its first quarter, it manages to make some interesting political statements, but eventually fails. The concept has been better realized elsewhere.
This movie about immigrants stuck in an island in Northern Scotland has many advantages: an interesting subject, beautiful photography, great humour, likable characters, touching moments. Limbo feels real and important because of its focus on human beings being put into an impossible situation. The film ebbs a little at the end, but nevertheless its story is good.
Memory House (Casa de Antiguidades, 2020)
Brazilian cinema frequently has a surreal quality to it, and this is the case with Memory House. As with Limbo, this film also portrays immigrants in a foreign land—in this case, Brazilians in Austria—but its visual narrative, though interesting at times, feels disjointed. The film tries to compensate for this with shock value, without success. Director João Paulo Miranda Maria fails to make you care about the situation and the characters. Some good sequences but definitely more miss than hit.
One Night in Miami (2020)
This film about four prominent African American figures in the sixties, among them Cassius Clay, Malcom X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke, has a very good story that reflects on the responsibility (or lack thereof) that comes with fame and power. It is beautifully shot, with great ambience and astringent colors. The characters are well written and effectively portrayed by a great cast. Based on the play of the same title, it does feel like a theater piece at times as it is dialogue-rich. But it succeeds in making you want to learn more about the history of those characters.
Spring Blossom (Seize Printemps, 2020)
Suzanne Lindon’s first feature is impressive on many grounds. Her acting is astounding as one empathizes with her character’s feelings: the wonder and the anticipation of the first love, the broken heart. The sequence when she dances on the street or when she puts mascara on for the first time are so likable and fresh. Such a young and talented female director.
The Best is Yet to Come (Bu zhi bu xiu, 2020)
This truly fascinating film is about the black market of forged health records in China and how a disease that is completely beyond your control, such as Hepatitis B, can doom you for life. The film’s emphasis is on the importance of good investigative journalism and how it can change history. It emphasizes the role of the underdog: in a society as competitive as China’s, the protagonist, a guy with no formal education, succeeds. There’s also a discussion about ethics and truth. It has great rhythm throughout and good characters. With all that’s going on under the current pandemic, this film is very timely.
The Inheritance (2020)
This a movie about African American heritage and culture is basically an essay, a statement. Doesn’t really have cinematic value, other than colourful backgrounds and characters. The film felt very unconnected, pretentious and frankly, boring.
The Water Man (2020)
This film manages to touch you with a story that seems simple but has depth to it. Disease striking a family is not an uncommon subject, but director David Oyelowo manages to imbue it with hope and wonder and without corniness. It also doesn’t shy away from the delicate theme of abuse. The kids are very good actors and the cinematography, depicting the Californian forests, is pretty. In sum, thi, family-oriented adventure film is emotional and sweet. Not your usual festival fare, but that’s precisely the reason why it is so fresh.
Part of the Midnight Madness section, this genre film is not without merits: it has some beautiful shots of nature and animals. But the plot has lots of holes in it, and feels like a pretext for abundant graphic violence. Interest in the subtext about hunting and male dominance wears off. Could have been a short film instead of a feature.
This movie takes us to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where a woman comes back to reunite with her estranged sister. They share a troubling family history. This film’s first half is interesting as we become intrigued by their past and their connection: blood is thicker than water. In this sense, the protagonists are very believable as broken women who become unrooted by memories. But then, it goes downhill.
© FIPRESCI 2020
Edited by José Teodoro