TIFF: the festival experience

Wade Thompson

Itinerary

12:30 p.m.
Face (Visage)
Directed by: Tsai Ming-liang
France/Taiwan/Belgium/Netherlands

4:15 p.m.
The Wild Hunt
Directed by: Alexandre Franchi
Canada

6:45 p.m.
Last Ride
Directed by: Glendyn Ivin
Australia

Considering the fact that the Toronto International Film Festival has never been farther than an hour drive for me, I am ashamed to admit that this year was my first ever experience making the trek to bask in the closest experience Canada has to housing international cinema royalty.

However, after taking it all in, I am completely dumbfounded as to why it has taken me so long to make it there. It was phenomenal.

On the day of the festival, we were to see three films in the span of approximately nine hours. Along with a few minor setbacks regarding the distances between showings and an almost encounter with Brad Pitt, we were able to make it to every screening with a little bit of time to spare.

Face (Visage)

The first screening of the day was Visage, a film from auteur director Tsai Ming-liang. This was the international premiere of the film, having only previously been screened at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, where it was up for the Palme d’Or.

In any case, I’m not sure if I was as prepared as I could have been for what I was about to sit through. An art film if there ever was one, the film takes a surreal look at the life of a filmmaker and the fine line between reality and fantasy on the film’s set.

Spanning over two hours and twenty minutes, the film boasts an alarmingly small number of cuts and dialogue, relying almost entirely on single long takes of silence. Some of it becomes hypnotically wonderful to watch, whereas other moments sparked my sleep-depraved mind into fading out for a few moments at a time.

It can’t be denied that Face is quite beautifully made, but when you have a climax of a film that is basically a non-intercourse, visual orgasm, you must be aware that you are most certainly not watching an ordinary film.

The Wild Hunt

The next screening on the docket was across town, so after a 40-minute walk, we took our seats to witness the premiere of a Canadian film entitled the Wild Hunt. The story concerns a group of young men who retreat into the bush to live out their fantasies in a real-life Dungeons and Dragons type of game.

What could have been Canada’s version of Shaun of the Dead quickly became one of the most frustrating films I have ever sat through.

From the very first scene, director Alexandre Franchi cannot decide what type of movie he wants this to be. It starts off as a comedy, but a dramatic plotline is quickly introduced.

Then, the camerawork and score suggest an action movie. Then, he turns it into horror. Basically, by the end we are left with an adult version of Lord of the Flies, and a totally different film than the one that began 90 minutes earlier.

If Franchi had picked a genre and stuck with it, this could have been a much better movie.

The high point in the film came from the acting of Nicolas Wright, who I guess saw the potential of a comedy and seized it at every opportunity.

The main female character, whom the plot is based around, quickly became one of the most annoying women I’ve ever encountered on film. So again, anything positive was short-lived for me.

A rather delightful little short film from Canadian director Héléne Florent entitled Léger Problém preceded The Wild Hunt. This nine-minute piece was much more enjoyable that its counterpart.

Last Ride

Sitting in the exact same seats we were in for Visage, we watched as director Glendyn Ivin gave a nice little introduction for the international premiere of his film Last Ride, which has not been seen outside of Australia.

The film stars Hugo Weaving in an unbelievable performance as a dead-beat father who takes his son on the road to escape something that the audience has to wait to find out. Weaving is absolutely eons away from any Blockbuster character we have seen him in, and Tom Russell, the boy who plays his son, completely holds his own against the veteran character actor.

The film elicits some wonderful direction, very soft cinematography of the fierce Australian landscapes and beautifully composed score in the background.

All in all, Last Ride allowed me to get any bad taste from the previous two screenings out of my mouth. It was a fantastic way to end an overly exhausting day.

Most of all, I can’t wait until I can do it again next year.

Rebecca Vasluianu

Itinerary

11:15 a.m.
Google Baby
Directed by: Zippi Brand Frank
Israel

3:00 p.m.
Creation
Directed by: Jon Amiel
United Kingdom

5:30 p.m.
The Good Heart
Directed by: Dagur Kari
Iceland/France/Denmark/
Germany

This year was my first time at TIFF. Needless to say, my expectations were pretty high for Toronto’s celebrated festival.

While I would have loved to see Penelope Cruz or Oprah roaming the streets of my beloved city or a full-out red-carpet procession, the overall movie-going experience I had at the festival quickly blew anything I had previously imagined out of the water.

Not only was our movie itinerary remarkable – considering we had not gotten tickets to higher-profile films that we had hoped for, like The Men who Stare at Goats.

But being able to hear each director speak about his or her film and answer questions afterwards added a dimension to movie-going that I had never experienced and now want to have every time I see a film.

Google Baby

Starting the day off perfectly was Google Baby. One of the most unique documentaries I’ve ever seen, Google Baby was a truly thought-provoking film.

Tackling the issue of outsourcing surrogacy and birth to India – using egg or sperm donors from North America to produce Caucasian babies – the film was genuinely disturbing.

Director Zippi Brand Frank is able to follow the experiences of individuals from across the globe, seamlessly showing how they are all intertwined in the process, from the surrogate mothers being housed and monitored in India, to egg donors in the U.S. to an Israeli running the company that manages the entire process.

Short and sweet, Google Baby is an expertly crafted documentary that manages to show the shift of baby production into a business, which like most businesses looks to Asia for its cheap manufacturing. All in all, the film captured the unbelievable process poignantly, leaving me unable to forget it.

Creation

Hands down the best film of the day – strike that, the best film I’ve seen in months – the festival’s opening film Creation was a biopic of Charles Darwin, shedding light on his personal struggle to release On the Origin of Species, a move that would alienate him from his already-dwindling religious faith in a time when spirituality was the glue of society.

Before the film began, director Jon Amiel spoke to the packed Ryerson Theatre, praising lead actors Paul Bettany as Darwin himself and Jennifer Connelly as his wife who find themselves torn apart by the death of their eldest daughter and Bettany’s belief in evolution, a belief Connelly struggles to accept.

“These two actors are both incredibly courageous. They go to raw, dangerous and difficult places,” Amiel said. After watching Creation, I saw that he wasn’t just being nice.

Connelly and Bettany – perhaps due to their real-life marriage – are flawless, making you feel much more than you had bargained for going into the film.

A truly magical film experience, Creation packs in the beautiful cinematography of quiet hamlets on the English countryside with the untold story of Darwin’s personal demons.

Not only did Amiel’s film creatively tell a story that is distinctly original, it was touching and believable.

The Good Heart

Simultaneously the strangest and weakest film of the day, The Good Heart was quite frankly confusing.

Making me laugh out loud, Brian Cox’s portrayal of a sour, lonely bartender was perfectly scripted and delivered. Young actor Paul Dano also delivered a solid performance – as always – as the homeless youth Cox takes under his wing to help him manage his bar; but as the film progresses, it’s clear that Cox just needed companionship.

However, the dark, strange film loses steam when it attempts to become a touching drama. While the film had potential as a quirky comedy, it comes across forced and phony when it tries to become moving and serious.

Although providing me with my only actor-sighting (the movie’s main star Cox) The Good Heart ended my day in slight disappointment – partly with the movie’s quality, partly with the fact that
Dano was unable to make the premiere screening.

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