Film4.com Editor Michael Leader runs through ten standouts from the Toronto International Film Festival…
I’d already seen three of the four Film4-backed films screening in Toronto (including Free Fire, which picked up the Midnight Madness People’s Choice award) before the festival. The fourth, Baltasar Kormákur’s The Oath, was high on my most-anticipated list, and not just because I was interviewing the actor/director/writer/producer while out there. Kormákur is one of the most versatile directors working today – and after the starry adventure movie Everest, he’s returned to his native Iceland for a chilly, existential thriller that sits comfortably alongside his 2006 detective gem Jar City, and his recent TV serial Trapped, as the best the Nordic Noir genre has to offer.
My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea
Animated over the course of 5 years in Brooklyn, this feature debut from erstwhile graphic novelist Dash Shaw bears all the hallmarks of the artist’s distinct visual style – bold washes of colour leaking across the frame; intricate scribbles and paper collage; playful line art that takes inspiration from Hergé and Charles M Schulz. It certainly looks nothing like your typical animation, but Shaw’s offbeat storytelling voice – not to mention the literally distinctive voices of Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Susan Sarandon and Maya Rudolph – brings to mind the esoteric tone of 90s animation. Best to think of this as Daria’s droller, disaster-movie cousin.
Heal The Living
Simply recounting the plot for this devastating French drama makes me choke up, so I’ll be brief. Katell Quillévéré’s powerful medical drama is essentially a procedural, deep-diving into a single heart transplant case. What would be a minor story thread in an episode of ER is here handled with incredible care, clarity and humanity, as Quillévéré foregoes the tension and twists of conventional drama to trace the invisible threads that unite an ensemble of characters via the miracle of modern medicine.
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography
There’s a temptation to label this film as something of a B-Side itself, coming out while documentarian Errol Morris toils away on his upcoming Netflix series. But don’t underestimate this generous, quietly complex documentary about Morris’s friend, photographer Elsa Dorfman, whose large-format Polaroid pictures possess a unique, unadorned power. What starts as an entertaining introduction to the woman’s life, work and personality works up tremendous poignancy as Dorfman gently touches on her life-long friendship with poet Allen Ginsberg, the undimmed magic of portrait photography, and the insidious, institutional processes that threaten her reputation and legacy.
I was gutted to miss Julia Ducournau’s French cannibal horror (much-hyped by my colleague Catherine Bray) at Cannes – but I can’t think of a better place in the world to have seen it than at the Ryerson Theatre, in TIFF’s legendary Midnight Madness strand. The MM crowd are smart and savvy genre diehards, and they took to Raw perhaps too well – if you believe the stories that ambulances were called to the cinema to tend to passed-out cinemagoers. To some, that’s testament enough – you can judge for yourself when Raw plays at the London Film Festival in October.
Another must-see at the LFF, Alice Lowe’s directorial feature debut is a revenge-themed black comedy with a twist. Lowe stars as Ruth, a heavily-pregnant woman on a killing spree inspired by the voice of her unborn child. Darkly humorous, Prevenge jabs at the heart of the presumptuous and patronising culture that surrounds pregnancy. A cult classic in the making. Plus points for a strong supporting cast, featuring Jo Hartley, Kate Dickie and Kayvan Novak – and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Tom Meeten (who’s also appearing at the LFF, alongside Alice Lowe, in The Ghoul).
One for fans of the Duplass brothers’ HBO series Togetherness, this black-and-white two-hander directed by seasoned cinematographer Alex Lehmann stars Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson as middle-aged friends meeting by chance after two decades. Your mileage may vary based on how much you like either of those actors, or the prospect of storytelling as a metaphorical onion – where character relationships, personalities and histories are slowly revealed, layer by layer, through dialogue. That’s precisely the sort of film I love – and after appreciating her supporting turns in Carol, 12 Years A Slave and Martha Marcy May Marlene, I’m now a paid-up member of the Sarah Paulson fan club.
A Monster Calls
Based on Patrick Ness’s best-selling ‘low’ fantasy novel, about a troubled boy and his nightly visits from a wise, if fearsome, oak tree, A Monster Calls sees director JA Bayona returning to the gothic mould of his Guillermo del Toro-produced debut, the Spanish chiller The Orphanage, bringing with him a few of the tricks learned from Oscar-friendly disaster drama The Impossible. This is a new entry in that small canon of allegorical reality-meets-fantasy stories, joining the likes of My Neighbour Totoro, Coraline, and del Toro’s own Pan’s Labyrinth – although remarkably honed-in on working through one specific, complicated emotional conundrum. Props to Bayona and casting director supreme Shaheen Baig for discovering young Lewis MacDougall, whose versatile performance ably matches the heavyweights on screen (Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones) and carries the complex emotional drama in scenes with the CGI, Liam Neeson-voiced Monster.
The Limehouse Golem
A compelling, full-throated gothic murder-mystery adapted from Peter Ackroyd’s novel by screenwriter Jane Goldman, The Limehouse Golem is dripping with London lore – from raucous music halls to the grime of the Victorian East End. There’s a strong, contemporary feminist undercurrent running through the twisty-turny investigation, as Bill Nighy’s detective is led through a deeply patriarchal society in pursuit of the identity of the Limehouse Golem, as well as the evidence that will clear the name of a famed actress wrapped up in the case (Me And Earl And The Dying Girl’s Olivia Cooke). But, frankly, this is delightful dress-up – the sort of chilling page-turner that will play perfectly as the nights draw in.
Elite Zexer’s Bedouin drama picked up awards in Sundance and Locarno, and was the last film I saw before returning to the UK. Sand Storm tells the story of a teenage girl and a love affair that puts her at odds with her mother, father and the traditions of her community. On the face of it, Sand Storm is not too dissimilar to 2015′s Turkish crowd-pleaser Mustang, but substitute the thrill of seeing young women rage against the boundaries imposed on them by the older, patriarchal generation with tougher social questions, and even tougher compromises. It might prevent Zexer’s film from capturing the international crowd – but the film is all the more powerful for it.