Saturday, August 15, 2015

#TIFF15: The Countdown Begins!

Cannes and Canadian content lead the promising first programming announcements.

Hirokazu Kore-Eda's Umimachi Diary or
Our Little Sister in its English release, is one of the many films that
debuted at Cannes and are coming to TIFF15. It tells the story of a death
that reunites stepsisters who are looking to  dissolve the
tensions and boundaries imposed on them by other family members. 
Some time last week as I was driving on back roads between two small Ontario towns, I began to feel my pulse race about TIFF. After six days of road trip, my dog hana was still refusing to sit or lie down in the backseat, her body leaned up against the cushions and her gaze fixed firmly on the road through the windshield. We were chatting, she and I, about the strange unexpected contrasts life offers. It's been a tough summer in some ways and a brilliant summer in others. I was carrying both of these truths in my bones, looking out onto haystacks and solar farms, glistening ponds and silent lakes.

Hou Hsiao-Hsien's The Assassin won the Taiwanese master the
palme for Best Director at Cannes
Taking some R&R in a lovely lodge a few days earlier, I looked in on the film fest press releases. I'd been wondering how much of Cannes would come to Canada? As it turns out, a whole lot. Nearly all the palmerès of the Croisette will make their way to TIFF. These include Hou Hsiao-Hsien's already-acclaimed The Assassin, a ninth-century story of a nun who abducts a general's daughter and schools her in martial arts (yes, you read that right). Laszló Nemes' Son of Saul, took the Grand Prix at Cannes, as a holocaust drama about a man who is forced to remove the bodies of gassed victims at Auschwitz and in doing so uncovers a young man who may be his own son. It too, will fill our screens.

Andrew Cividino's Sleeping Giant
Jia Zhang-ke's Mountains May Depart, Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster, Paolo Sorrentino's Youth, Palme D'Or winner Dheepan by Jacques Audiard and Hirokazu Kore-Eda's Our Little Sister were all acclaimed and/or won prizes in May and will find a home at TIFF. The last two and The Assassin, are my top picks among them, and Son of Saul. Audiard's win was a surprise in May to most critics, but it is clear that his story of an immigrant who manufactures a family for himself in order to survive France's xenophobia has made a deep impression on those who have seen DheepanQuébecois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve's Sicario, which features Emily Blunt has an unwilling hitman, had its world premiere at Cannes and will screen at TIFF. English Canadian Andrew Cividino's well-received coming-of-age drama Sleeping Giant was not in competition at Cannes, but it did screen there, and since the short version was at TIFF14, I knew the feature would be here this year. There are, of course, some surprise holdbacks and / or misses. We lost Stephane Brizé's promising Measure of a Man, for which Vincent Lindon picked up a a best actor palme, to the New York Film Festival. Todd Haynes' Carol, a love story among women set in the New York of the '50s and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, received an eleven-minute standing ovation at Cannes. It will also screen in New York, but is otherwise in exquisitely suspenseful festival limbo. A measure of hope was offered by its "New York premiere" status at that fest to those of us waiting breathlessly. Will Telluride or Toronto pick up the North American premiere? Only the Weinstein Company knows for sure. 

While the presence of Canadian content in Cannes was less than last year, it is at least an improvement to see a Canadian film and filmmaker opening TIFF after several years of American product holding the esteemed spot. Jean-Marc Vallée's Demolition has the honour. The director of last year's Wild and 2013's brilliant Dallas Buyers Club, in Demolition he turns his lens on the story of the grief-inspired destruction spree of an investment banker. Starring Jake Gyllenhall and Naomi Watts. 

Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood in Patricia Rozema's
Into the Forest
Canadians new and old will be featured at the festival. In introducing her to the audience at the Canadian programming press conference, programmer Steve Gravestock characterized Patricia Rozema as an icon of Canadian cinema. I remember very well attending the TIFF premiere at the Ryerson theatre of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing in 1987 and having the feeling of a tidal shift in English Canadian cinema - toward the voices of women filmmakers. In a decade dominated by Don Shebib and David Cronenberg, or American productions shooting in Canada with Canadian talent, Rozema's debut feature allowed us to imagine a different vision, one uniquely quirky and funny after so much gravitas. Her films since then that have screened at TIFF have been spread apart: the last time we saw her in the fest (I believe) was with the 1999 Jane Austen adaptation Mansfield Park. Stepping up to the podium, Rozema humbly characterized herself as a 're-emerging' director, more than an established one, but was clearly excited to be bringing her 2015 film, Into the Forest to TIFF15. The story of sisters facing a power outage while staying in a country house, the apocalyptic drama stars Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page, who is also a producer.

Page will have a busy TIFF, as 
Freeheld makes its world premiere in Toronto. A true life drama, Page is co-starring with Julianne Moore who plays Laurel Hester, a New Jersey detective whose battle with cancer spearheaded the question of same sex couples receiving pension benefits. The Peter Sollett film is just one of a number of high profile lesbian dramas coming out this year, alongside Haynes' Carol, and Grandma starring Lily Tomlin (whose character is lesbian) which will be released next week. Corsini's La Belle Saison (Summertime - see below) also offers a love story among women. 

Maxim Gaudette and Karelle Tremblay in
Québecois filmmaker Anne Émond's Les Êtres Chers
At the other end of the decades since Mermaid, women directors are among the finest in our country and Québecois filmmaker Anne Émond steps up to TIFF with her second feature Les Êtres Chers. A drama set in the Bas-St. Laurent of the 70s, it follows a family through the aftermath of the death of a patriarch.

Earlier in June, the festival announced programming shuffles. The shorts programs have been blended. Future Projections has been absorbed into Wavelengths (good news). Mavericks has been renamed "In Conversation With...." (also good news - there were no mavericks in Mavericks last year) and there are two new programmes: Platform, a juried competitive new directors series meant to showcase "original, personal" filmmaking by directors of "high artistic merit" and Primetime, which looks at "Serial storytelling: television in its artistic renaissance". Both of these programs have been announced and will be featured in another blog post.

Christopher Plummer in Atom Egoyan's Remember
which will have its North American debut at TIFF.
With the remaining half of the programming still to come, including the rest of the Galas and Special Presentations and all of the Contemporary World Cinema program to be announced on Tuesday, we can put out the divining rod in hopes of a few unannounced titles bubbling to the surface. Top seed: Carol. May the waters reveal her. But I would also love to see announced Piero Messina's L'Attesa, starring Juliette Binoche, or Christian Vincent's L'Hermine, featuring Danish Borgen actress Sidse Babett Knudsen.  Or French master Bertrand Tavernier's La Vie et Rien D'Autre. All of these are world preeming in Venice (did I just make a verb out of 'preem'!?). After its debut there, the floating city will send home to Toronto Atom Egoyan's thriller Remember, starring Christopher Plummer, about a man who avenges the Nazi murders of his family. In addition to these, fingers are crossed for Naomi Kawase's An and Nanni Moretti's Mia Madre, both of which were at Cannes. Given the TIFF history of these directors, the odds are in our favour.

Cécile De France and Izïa Higelin in
Catherine Corsini's La Belle Saison (or Summertime)
The increasingly competitive climate of the fall festivals means a feeding frenzy occurs on some titles while other worthy films are left hanging and announcements are made much later than ever before. Though much has been made in recent years of the tussle with Telluride, the sheer volume of movies at TIFF means that it never really loses out on anything. And as the sun sets in Switzerland and the Locarno fest finishes and names its winners, I am glad to see that Catherine Corsini's La Belle Saison (aka Summertime in its English release) and Hong Sang-Soo's Right Now, Wrong Then have picked up garlands in advance of coming to Toronto. Both of these are high on my current shortlist.

25 days and counting!

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