For the Love of Film. The beautiful motto seen everywhere across Toronto during the fabulous, exciting, and thoroughly fun film festival, also known as TIFF. This was our very first film festival and I am eternally grateful to my friend for sharing her yearly tradition with us. The festival’s energy had completely engulfed Toronto by our arrival time Wednesday which marked the 6th day of the Sept 11-19th TIFF09 calendar, and we were happily immersed into it right away.
While our first festival package of 11 tickets shared by me and my husband is shamefully small in comparison to the serious film lover’s package, our enjoyment and experience of the film festival could not be matched. That, and we are getting the serious film lover’s 5-movie-a-day package for TIFF10. Now on to the film reviews.
I watched 5 films in total. I am sad to say that I was not lucky this time to see any of the directors or stars before the screening, unlike my husband and Naomi. The directors, producers and often the stars are known to appear before the first showing of the films, or at the Midnight Madness showing. This can be part of the better planning process for my TIFF10, where I will select the package, the film and the particular showing in a way that would maximize those chance events. My TIFF review as you can see is from the perspective of a novice, but an eager and a fascinated one, nonetheless.
However, to me, while seeing the creators of the film would be exciting, it is only icing on top of the real reason for being there. It is all about the film, the acting, the story, the theme music, the foreign films with English subtitles, the view into the intensely diverse and artistic cinematography that is created by directors and producers who are often worlds away from Hollywood. It is about the opportunity to digest this form of entertainment in good dosage, about being the first viewer, about waiting in line for the showing well over an hour at times, and about sharing the excitement of the audience that is hardly seen in the average movie theater.
Below I am sharing my unforgettable experience of watching these 5 films during the festival.
No major spoilers in my accounts of the movies below, but an avid film lover may consider some of this more than enough information prior to viewing the film.
1. Jaffa (Thur, Sept 17th, 12:15pm showing at Varsity 3 Theater):
The moment that I saw this photo, and watched the first half of the trailer, a strange feeling came over me. What a terribly sad love story, with really no hope of happiness at all, doomed from the very start, and yet spell-binding in its brilliant weaving of the tale. Keren Yedaya is an Israeli film maker, and her unique talent is obvious in this film. There is no single scene that is out of focus from the story, there is no extra character or unnecessary sub-plot. As dramatic and intense as the film is, the dialogues are minimal and so much happens during moments of silence. I must commend Keren in that there was no dramatization of the characters or the events. The film is real, so very real, as though you are watching every day lives unfold in the unfortunate circumstances that ensue when a Jew and Arab fall in love and when tragedy strikes two families.
Even the theme song, powerful as it was, never once played just to dramatize the scenes; it only played during the select scenes, brilliant choices to intensify the story appropriately. There was a purpose, a clear intention and direction for every scene. The sadness in the story was overwhelming, so much so that I could hardly produce a single tear in response. Jaffa moved me and I will remember it as one of the best films of TIFF09.
Traveling changes your mind and expands your horizons! If you like to see the other travel stories here, check the index of Travel Tales.
2. Baaria (Thur, Sept 17th, 8:30pm showing at the Winter Garden Theater):
Cinema Paradiso moved me deeply. I found it to be a timeless story and mention the strengths of Giuseppe Tornatore’s directing on my movie blog post about his masterpiece. He has now created a second film very similar in plot, and characters and setting to Cinema Paradiso. I think perhaps his first mistake was just that, because you cannot create a second masterpiece by borrowing from the first one. Any masterpiece must stand alone.
Baaria disappointed on many scales. This was a loud and incoherent film, filled by unrelated sub-plots running along topics of politics and particularly Communism as it influences the main character, superstition in the form of old woman and her crazy son, the element of the dream and possible time travel, the love story, the fathers and brothers, and the loud squeaks from children, animals, festivals, armies, trains, screaming women. He was trying to do too much, and not succeeding at any one single plot. Sadly, the plots did not weave into the main story and to me, Peppino’s life seemed out of focus and scattered over too many pieces to follow.
This was a huge disappointment, as I was expecting heaps more from the reviews and reputation of the director.
3. L’Affaire Farewell (Fri, Sept 18th, 20:30pm showing at AMC 6 Theater)
“J’ai des papiers importants pour vous” and the manner with which Emir Kusturica, who plays KGB spy Sergei Grigoriev, uttered those words to his partner Guillaume Canet (playing Pierre Froment), hooked me from the trailer.
The movie is in French and Russian, switching back and forth between them swiftly, and adding nicely to the suspense and brilliance with which the movie is made. It is a film about the cold war era, done so well as it takes us through the scary path the two strangers, Sergie and Pierre, follow to leak information about Russia’s plans to the West and to the appropriate channels to expose them. From spying to the terrifying risks they take with their families, the secrets they keep and the price they pay, the suspense never lets up for a moment. The characters and their chemistry is superb, and the story of cold war is presented to us again in a new light.
The French dialogues were carefully chosen, and I was delighted to follow them for the most part. The slight mockery around Reagan’s obsession with his own Western flicks aside, I commend the making, directing and story telling of this movie, and highly recommend it.
4. Mao’s Last Dancer (Sat, Sept 19th, 12:45pm showing at Scotiabank Theatre 2)
A magnificent film, with gorgeous cinematography, and a magnetic story of a young boy who becomes a highly recognized ballet dancer, and in the process, tastes the sweetest reward, that of gaining freedom, although as is always the case, not without a price. Mao’s Last Dancer leaves you with a bittersweet aftertaste. Bruce Beresford brings to us a film with a gripping story of young Lee in China, growing up in utter poverty with his family during a time when communism was taking strong hold, a peasant with 5 brothers who is chosen for his talent to be sent to Beijing to train for the ballet. Personally, I have never been able to appreciate ballet, and shockingly, this story and not the best performance of Taming of the Shrew which I saw in Boston, was my eye opening view into the silent beauty that is conveyed through performances of ballerina and the “ballerino” (must see film to get the expression!). I thought that most gripping parts happened during Lee’s childhood in China, but when Lee is faced with the expiration of his visa and denial for extension, the series of events which follow prove to be just as heart-breaking. Based on a true story, and done superbly well, I recommend and applaud this film for the simplicity of its gripping story, the stunning acting of Lee as a little boy, the precisely sufficient level of humor, and for exposing the beauty of ballet and the ugliness of communism in one single film.
5. Ong Bak 2 (Sat, Sept 20th, Midnight Madness at the Ryerson)
My very first Midnight Madness, under the influence of my friend and TIFF advisor Naomi and my husband’s fascination with Ong Bak 1 and Tony Jaa, and I must say that now I understand why! Midnight Madness crowd is fun, fun, fun – vibrant, full of energy, patiently waiting in line (the line had already wrapped around the block at 10:40pm for the Midnight showing, and it continued well around the other block behind us). TIFF volunteers walked up and down the line and kept us company while we chatted away. The opening was delivered by the Midnight Madness host, Colin Geddes, set the stage well. He filled us with Tony’s whereabouts before surprising us all with the “special message” broadcast from Tony straight for this audience.
The excitement of this audience did not waver until the very end. I loved it! As for Ong Bak 2, it left me speechless. I rarely watch Kung Fu movies, and hardly share the passion of those who do. But this movie was different, and taking revenge is usually the greatest motive for me to watch a fighter seek his justice in whatever means he damn well pleases, and Tony Jaa delivers an unbelievable performance of just that. The elephant scenes mark some of my favorite scenes, and I am still confused about the crow-human fighter at the very end.
The story line was strong enough for me to keep the suspense alive and well, but the plot was criticized for being too weak. Did these guys not watch the movie? How could Tony make time for a story when the man is training 18 hours a day and fighting hundreds of beasts alone? Give him a break. He rocked. And couldn’t join us because he was making Ong Bak 3. I think we will cut him a slack this time.
Photo credits: The first photo is taken by me outside TIFF box office in Toronto. The rest are the unedited public photos from the TIFF website. I claim neither ownership nor copyright to them.