September 23, 2011
The middle of September is a time that’s both exciting and stressful for Toronto film lovers. When the Toronto International Film Festival rolls around, it’s time to brace yourself for tough decisions, long lineups, pushing and shoving, and general crowdedness and confusion in order to get to the films that have captured your interest. Last week, I spent a significant portion of time doing just that. And my schedule was hardly anything compared to some other film reviewer that I know, for whom staying up till 3am during TIFF and then waking up a couple of hours later constitutes business as usual.
Whenever I look up TIFF programs, my brain threatens to explode, because there is so much stuff going on all at the same time. How am I to choose? What’s especially frustrating is the presence of all the films from various countries that might be difficult to find later on. Makes me wish the festival would go on for a more extended period of time, with all the same films, instead of packing it all into a frenzied ten days.
I’ve had a chance to see six films at TIFF this season – Drive, House of Tolerance, Miss Bala, Your Sister’s Sister, Wuthering Heights, and Burning Man. You can find my full reviews at The Toronto Film Scene if you click on the titles. Below are just a few of my overall impressions.
I’m not going to play the “which one did you enjoy the most” game, but I’d just like to say that Drive and Wuthering Heights both really blew my mind because they were both such complete surprises for me. Drive isn’t the sort of genre I usually go for, so, it caught me off guard when I started to get into it so much. “Genre” is probably the wrong word - this film blends a variety of different genres very smoothly. You don’t get the “I’m a film nerd, and these are the references to all my favourite movies” vibe from it (I wish I could say the same for Quentin Tarantino, haha). The story really speaks for itself, and, at the same time, you can see that Nicolas Winding Refn uses such eclectic sources of inspiration.
As for Wuthering Heights, I didn’t know it would be so different. I do enjoy your regular “period dramas”; there’s just a certain feel that most of them have in common, and I don’t think that suits Wuthering Heights at all. Well, if you agree, you’ll be pleased to hear that Andrea Arnold’s adaptation has a completely unique and haunting atmosphere, which, to me, seemed like a better interpretation of such a strange and spooky novel. It’s not at all about the costumes, but rather about the emotion.
I found that House of Tolerance is another film that transcends the trappings of a “historical” setting. It takes quite a serious look at the life of a high-end 19th century Parisian brothel, and goes for the true-to-life feel. Miss Bala also creates a narrative that tries to come across as realistic as possible – this film being about the present-day terror of the drug war in Mexico.
Of all the films I’ve seen at TIFF this year, Your Sister’s Sister was the lightest one – it’s just a warm-hearted and silly indie relationship film that succeeds on the strength of the actors’ performance (them being Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Mark Duplass). While the other movies I caught really took a bite out of me as far as their emotional gravity, I could walk out of this one feeling somewhat carefree.
Burning Man is also comedic, but very darkly so, seeing as it deals with grief and trauma, exploring those subjects by throwing humour at you when you least expect it. You might feel kind of odd for laughing during it, but then you might also recall the way reckless humour helps when difficult situations do arise in real life.
After this whole intensity of TIFF was over, I was happy to take things easy for a few days, and process what I had seen. I don’t get how some of my friends are perfectly content to watch fifteen films during the festival if they can – for me, six was plenty to think over, and I find myself still wanting to walk about them a week later.