Toronto Opens Its Doors to Women Directors

in 22nd Toronto International Film Festival

by Andrea Crozzoli

At TIFF 2022, an excellent selection of the Discovery section, with 67% of films directed by women.

At full volume, they listen in the car—in cinema, a universal place of conflicts and family ties—to the popular songs of Ricchi e Poveri, a very pop music group, well known in Italy but also in Canada, it seems. Or at least in the Italian-origin family of the protagonist of Something You Said Last Night, by Luis De Filippis. The young trans director, in her first film after the short Nonna Anna, shows in a fun and dynamic way the varied family that goes on vacation to their usual place on the edge of a lake: Mona (Ramona Milano) and her husband Guido (Joe Parro), together with trans daughter Renata (Carmen Madonia) and her sister Sienna (Paige Evans).

Inspired by her own family experience, director De Filippis frames the family intimacy of the four with sensitivity and insight through a series of small but significant domestic moments. And with this work she undermines the usual conception of the family of Italian origin as being traditionally closed to any novelty concerning the sexual sphere. So it’s no surprise that Something You Said Last Night won the TIFF Next Wave Change Maker Award, an award honoring films that elevate the voices and issues of social change. In fact, the visionary debut film by the Italian-Canadian director Luis De Filippis, intimately tender and loudly funny, also undermines another cliché, that of the powerful Italian matriarch; in this case, instead of a conflicted relationship with her trans daughter, as so often seen on screen, she has a layered relationship of subtle complicity, thus making the mother/daughter relationship by far the most touching part of the film.

De Filippis reveals an extraordinary ability to capture the embarrassment and intimacy of bodies in relation to each other, mainly with the character of Renata (Carmen Madonia). Reserved but sure of herself, she manages to make Renata’s existential discomfort, which is almost palpable, coexist at the same time with her confidence, representing the trans body on the beautiful, normal screen, self-confident and loved.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, directed by young American trans director Aitch Alberto, is also a queer coming-of-age drama, this time based on a 2012 bestselling novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. The exploration of the cultural and sexual identity of two Mexican-American teenagers, Aristotle Mendoza (Max Pelayo) and Dante Quintana (Reese Gonzales), takes place in the summer of 1987, a year plagued by social unrest and radical activism against AIDS. The film (and the novel) is told through the point of view of Aristotle, who did not have many friends, or rather none, before Dante. In this queer coming-out, director Alberto shows us how hard it was in 1987 to be young teenagers and in love; how complicated is the intense and immediate bond that the couple Aristotle and Dante form. The film is vital even if not all the narrative junctions are connected in a fluid way, alluding to extra scenes most likely eliminated in the editing phase.

Another female director who has made her mark is Bess Wohl, with her feature-length debut Baby Ruby, a disturbing psychological thriller about having a baby and behaving as if this experience didn’t happen. It is a harsh film about the good and at the same time bad aspects related to motherhood, to giving birth to something that will then have an independent life. The real star of the film is therefore not so much Noémie Merlant or Kit Harington as the baby girl, whose uncontrollable cries pierce our eardrums and those of her fragile mother for 89 minutes in a slow but inexorable descent into the abyss reminiscent of some moments from David Lynch’s cinema.

There were many other surprises in the beautiful and interesting Discovery selection at the 47th edition of the Toronto Film Festival. In addition to Basil Khalil’s A Gaza Weekend, Fipresci 2022 award winner in Toronto (discussed in another report), among the 21 excellent titles in the selection, 14 were the films directed by female directors. Among the world premieres, the vast majority of the works were feature film debuts, confirming the great liveliness and vitality of world cinema, combined with the fact that 67% of the films were directed by female directors. A remarkable result that bodes well for the future.

Andrea Crozzoli
Edited by Robert Horton