Treks, Twins & Teeth

Wasikowska is TIFF’s triple threat MVP

by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Jorge Ignacio Castillo at TIFF

Over 300 films were screened during the 10 days of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival  — making for a movie marathon that gets even more exhausting when you throw interviews into the mix. Still, the thrill of discovery is worth the effort. I saw around 40 films this year. That’s slightly less than I saw in 2012, but I made it to the most important titles, including 12 Years a Slave — meaning that for the first time ever, I saw the film that ended up winning the festival’s People’s Choice Award.

Still, based on my sample it was a middling year for TIFF: very few titles stood out as markedly superior, and more than a few shouldn’t even have made it into the festival.

But it was a good year for women. Not only was the number of female directors on the rise (including, for the first time ever, an African filmmaker), their stories were predominant.

Here’s my rundown on TIFF 2013.

BEST FILM: TRACKS

This stunning film by John Curran was refreshing in its simplicity and candor. An unassuming Mia Wasikowska kills it as Robyn Davidson, a young Australian woman who decides to cross 1700 miles of desert to discover what she’s made of. The movie portrays the transformative nature of travelling like no other film since The Sheltering Sky. (Eat Pray Love, you say? Don’t make me laugh.)

HONOURABLE MENTION: GRAVITY

 Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) hits new levels of technical proficiency without abandoning his trademark humanism. In theory, Gravity follows two astronauts adrift in space, but it’s really about never giving up control over your own life, no matter how powerful the forces you’re up against seem to be. Cuarón also achieves the unimaginable by making 3-D feel worthwhile again.

BEST INTERVIEWEE: IRRFAN KHAN

At a mere five minutes, this was the shortest interview I conducted during the festival but it was brilliant. The Life of Pi star opened up about being a minimalist, his masterful work in the short-lived series In Treatment, and playing much older characters (Khan is far younger and fitter than he seems on screen) — and he even offered to make me tea. The film he was promoting, The Lunchbox, is a delicate romantic drama in the vein of An Affair to Remember. It’s also a rare example of a movie from India that will open widely in Canada.

MOST PROMISING TREND: NEW AUTEURS

Two young filmmakers with unique styles continue to make their way into the mainstream without betraying their sensibilities. Kelly Reichardt (Wendy & Lucy), an American director whose fussiness can be as maddening as it is enthralling, delivered Night Moves, a phenomenal thriller with none of Hollywood’s fake flash. Night Moves is an eco-terrorism drama that casts Dakota Fanning and Jesse Eisenberg against type to startling effect.

Eisenberg is also the star of The Double, Richard Ayoade’s sophomore effort. Ayoade is tremendously good at creating atmospheres and getting superb performances from his actors, and this adaptation of Dostoevsky’s classic exudes Kafkian undertones. Mixed with absurdist comedy, it becomes a nightmare you wouldn’t mind having.

MOST WORRISOME TREND: GENRE FILMS FALL FLAT

Horror films (which comprise the festival’s Midnight Madness programme) are normally one of TIFF’s strong suits, but the roster was particularly weak this year. Blame both the programmer, who brought in the same filmmakers as he always does (Eli Roth, Ti West, Lucky McKee), and the genre specialists, whose movies were as basic as could possibly be. Flat characters (The Green Inferno, All the Cheerleaders Die), pathetic dialogue (Almost Human) and a pervasive lack of originality (The Sacrament) are symptoms of widespread laziness. Between overcooked ghost stories and low-budget splatterfests, the horror genre is in dire need of inspiration.

FESTIVAL MVP: MIA WASIKOWSKA

She starred in my favorite film of the fest and her other two TIFF movies (the previously mentioned The Double and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, in which Wasikowska plays a vivacious vampire) weren’t half bad either. I also had the chance to interview Wasikowska and she’s sweet-natured and gentle, although not all that willing to talk too deeply about her process.

BEST TIFF TIFF: SEYDOUX AND EXARCHOPOULOS VS. KECHICHE

The timing for Blue Is the Warmest Colour stars Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos to come clean about the abusive working conditions they allegedly endured while shooting the Palm D’Or winner couldn’t have been worse. Just a week later, Seydoux, Exarchopoulos and director Abdellatif  Kechiche were all together promoting the film in Toronto. Seydoux said she signed on for a two-month shoot and ended up working for five (with 10 days used solely for a sex scene). Kechiche replied that if Seydoux had been any good, it wouldn’t have taken that long. I asked Seydoux how hard it was to share space with Kechiche. I was abruptly interrupted by the translator, but Lea — who’s a delight — quipped, “What do you think?” Zing!

BEST COUNTRY: FRANCE

I was watched three France-made productions — Blue Is the Warmest Colour, Young and Beautiful and Bright Days Ahead — and they were all winners. There’s a sexual frankness to French films that’s mostly amiss in other productions. Take Bright Days Ahead: a 60-year-old woman (Fanny Ardant, as hot as ever) unwillingly ends up in a community centre for the elderly. Instead of attending classes on pottery or dance, she takes a much younger instructor as a lover. It’s basically An Unfinished Song, but with a lot more between-the-sheets action.

BEST BATHROOM: SOHO HOTEL, 2ND FLOOR

Let’s just say it was a welcome find in the midst of a lot of other, well, less than desirable options.

2013-09-19