A terrific chamber piece that illustrates one crisp fall Saturday afternoon in the life of one family, Ramon Zürcher’s film is a sumptuous journey of visual storytelling that fills its claustrophobic spaces with the animated pace of modern life and its quiet revelatory moments. Loosely inspired by Kafka’s novella Metamorphosis, and with comparisons made to Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman and the raucous hubbub of Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen, The Strange Little Cat is a hypnotic film that places its focus on the comings and goings of a family preparing a dinner for an ailing matriarch.
Despite his early filmography making him a critical favourite and causing film lovers to sing his praises, David Gordon Green’s recent ventures have moved sharply away from such films. The same can be said of Nicolas Cage, who has unfortunately been rendered something of a punchline by his recent performances, with few remembering his memorable turns in features like Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation. However, both make a return to their career roots through working together for the first time in Joe, and both manage to show what made them so well-acclaimed in the first place in this compelling drama.
In director Abdellatif Kechiche’s absorbingBlue is the Warmest Color, Adèle (newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a teenager whose growing pains are amplified by her attraction to women which she rightly sees as something a few of her classmates won’t be able to accept. The atmosphere at school is detrimental to Adele’s exploration of herself, and so it’s more than fortunate that the older, alluring, self-assured, and blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux ofInglourious Basterds) walks into her life. What follows from their meeting is an incredibly immersive love story that syncs the truth behind ardent, impulsive lust with the importance of emotional culpability in relationships.
Meet Teppo’s (Peter Franzén) gang. They’ve been through thick and thin together, and always have each other’s back. They laugh together, drink together, and are proud of each other. When Teppo’s brother Harri (Jasper Pääkkönen) decides to make good on his love for his native Finland and join the army, the group throws him a joyous party to celebrate his selfless decision. So what if they spend some of their weekends terrorizing black street vendors and beating Roma families to a pulp? And anyway, what’s a little race-motivated gang violence among friends?
In 2007, Daniele Luchetti garnered international attention with My Brother Is an Only Child, a nostalgic look at a pair of brothers in 1960s and 1970s Italy who find themselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum but loving the same woman. With Those Happy Years, Luchetti returns to the past once more, this time looking at family dynamics with the backdrop of art rather than politics.
Until Paradise: Love premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Austrian director Ulrich Seidl was a relatively unknown figure in the film world. Since then, he has released two more Paradise films to make up a trilogy withLove: Faith and this year’s Hope. With the release of the three films, Seidl has quickly propelled himself into art cinema stardom, earning comparisons to venerable filmmakers like his fellow Austrian Michael Haneke.
Quebecois director Xavier Dolanreturns to TIFF in the Special Presentations programme with the gorgeously atmospheric psychological thriller, Tom at the Farm (Tom à la Ferme), shedding some of his visual compositions while embracing the themes of desire, loss, and attachment with mixed results in its overall plotting. The film is an adaptation of a French-language play of the same name by Michel Marc Bouchard, who worked with Dolan to bring the story to the big screen. Tom (played by Dolan) leaves Montreal for rural Quebec to attend the funeral of his lover, Guilliaume. While this would usually provide opportunities for a sense of closure and some semblance of inner peace, Tom is initially met by confusion and then eventual acceptance by Guilliaume’s world-weary mother Agathe, played by Lise Roy. Tom settles in, Agathe makes him a delicious home-cooked meal, and invites him to spend the night at the house. The thing is, Agathe has no idea her estranged son is gay and in a relationship- two pieces of information her older homophobic son Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) intends on keeping a secret even if it means holding Tom in a captive role play that could cost him his life.
Stories about love are always difficult to tell; the cinema landscape is filled with such stories that didn’t work for numerous possible reasons, which makes an effective story that much more rewarding to watch. Rather than focus on the love story, however, Lucky Them screenwriters Huck Botko and Emily Wachtel explore the effects of the abrupt end of a relationship on a woman, and alongside director Megan Griffiths, manage to tell a story that earns its emotional reactions while still offering laughs.
Actor Ralph Fiennes’ second directorial effort (the first being 2011’s Coriolanus) puts the spotlight on Charles Dickens’ long-term romance with a much younger woman. Fiennes explicates how the prolific Victorian writer came to so brazenly act on his heart’s desires and outside the bounds of strict societal standards. Felicity Jones (Like Crazy) is Nelly, who would become Dickens’ mistress until his death. It’s a true story that begins with an attraction between like minds and wanders ever so slowly into physical intimacy that doesn’t match the warm intensity of their mutual opinions. Thinking they can have paradise, they lead each other away from prim and proper culture but not necessarily to happiness. Their relationship complicates our view of Dickens and expounds upon a woman largely brushed under the rug of literary history.
Full disclosure: before we set the cat among the pigeons, this is just to remark that some of the more praised films – The Double, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Abuse Of Weakness, Like Father, Like Son,and 12 Years A Slave – are omitted from this list as I hadn’t seen them. That aside, this is the top five of the 16 movies I managed to see at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the cream of my Canadian crop.
Based on the Joe Hill novel, Horns is about a young man (Daniel Radcliffe) who sprouts horns after his ex-girlfriend (Juno Temple) is murdered and raped. In the hands of director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes), one would hope for a mind-bending horror story about good and evil, with a special emphasis on the latter. Unfortunately, with an underdeveloped adapted screenplay (the first feature from screenwriter Keith Bunin),Horns falls short and at best, may become some decent late-night popcorn fodder with a few quotable-because-they’re-awkward lines and a charred-up Daniel Radcliffe with horns.