Vanishing Borders in Cinema

in 48th Toronto International Film Festival

by Cem Altinsaray

In a Strasbourg suburb, a young man falls victim to police brutality. The spark that his family ignites in search of justice turns into a mass revolt against the racist legal system. After The Fire (Avant que les flammes ne s’éteignent, 2023) is the story of a Frenchman of Algerian descent—an immigrant, like the director Mehdi Fikri.

Inspired by true events, The Teacher (2023) follows a Palestinian teacher, who tragically lost his own son in the occupied territories and has dedicated his life to protecting others, and a British social worker who tries to help him. The writer and director Farah Nabulsi is also a British citizen of Palestinian origin.

Without Air (Elfogy a levegő, 2023), the story of a teacher accused of instilling homosexuality in her students because of a film she recommends in class, criticizes conservatism in contemporary Hungary. Although she is a great teacher, she is dragged into a nightmare, but there is a way out for her. If she wants, she can go to a developed Western country to join her partner and work there as a waitress to escape this conservatism.

Mandoob (2023) highlights the class conflict in Saudi Arabia through the story of an ordinary man struggling to make ends meet. It underlines the fact that poverty is a reason for being unwanted even in one’s own country. Our protagonist, who works as a courier, meets a Western soccer star who has come to this country to earn an amount of money beyond the courier’s wildest dreams. This chance encounter changes his life forever.

Yellow Bus (2023) revolves around the tragedy of a family that emigrates from India to the Persian Gulf with dreams of a better life. A collaboration between American director Wendy Bednarz, who also teaches in the Middle East, and Jordanian producer Nadia Eliewat, the film depicts a mother’s struggle for justice in five different languages.

The Iranian film Achilles (2023) brings together a male character—a filmmaker turned nurse who knows pain and anger all too well—and a female character who is a political prisoner in a psychiatric hospital. This time we see the escape story of people who have become “refugees” in their own country due to state oppression.

Imagine looking in the mirror and seeing a Japanese person, but not being able to speak a word of Japanese. Centered on a Canadian woman of Japanese descent, Seagrass (2023) delves into issues of marriage, what it means to be a family, a parent, and a child, while subtly touching on issues of race and identity.  

The Queen of My Dreams (2023) is a coming-of-age story about a young Canadian woman of Pakistani descent who returns to her country after losing her father, where she struggles with a demanding mother and outdated traditions. Interestingly, the film tells this story with the aesthetics of Indian cinema, through the mother and daughter’s shared love for Bollywood star Sharmila Tagore.     

The list of films we watched at TIFF23 could go on and on.

Stories told by storytellers from various cultures and territories, speaking many different languages, about protagonists with equally diverse roots. Like human life, the life of societies is changing and changing fast. From the colonialism that spread all over the world in the 19th century, to the globalization that marked the late 20th century, and to the refugee crisis as one of the most important issues of our time, the destiny of humanity is constantly being rewritten. From a cinematic perspective, there is no shortage of stories to tell. On the contrary, stories multiply, deepen and become multi-layered. Cinema, an art that reproduces and reshapes life while reflecting it, is becoming more powerful by the intricacies of today’s world and is being increasingly nourished by the new world order where everyone is looking for a “home.”

As a first-time visitor to Canada for the Toronto Film Festival, who spent nearly two weeks here, one may not have a concrete idea of what it means to be Canadian. Yet there’s no denying that Toronto, with its dazzling cosmopolitan makeup, is the perfect host for this new narrative movement that connects races, nations, languages and identities in myriad ways. One would also feel thankful for the Land Acknowledgement clip that was shown at the beginning of all screenings during the festival, reminding us that what matters is not races, states, borders, etc., but people and life itself.

Cem Altınsaray
Edited by Robert Horton