What to look out for, what you can definitely miss, and what you should be demanding your local cinemas to be showing. The first of three articles rounding up my time at Toronto, a truly wonderful experience.
So The 2019 Annual Toronto International Film Festival closed its doors for 44th time last week and it’s is safe to say that a lot went down. From Taika Waititi wowing audiences enough to earn the People’s Choice Award with his film Jo Jo Rabbit to Tom Hanks serenading fans who had dressed up as Mr Rogers for his red carpet event debuting his latest feature A Beautiful Day in The Neighbourhood. But such a jam packed festival means that there is only a slither of films that are physically possible to pack in, with a whopping 333 features from over 80 countries scheduled in the short 11 day period the following are the ones I managed to bag a seat for, and my advice for ones you should see, those you shouldn’t, and the ones you should be demanding your local cinema to be screening.
First up, films to watch. I was fortunate enough to see 10 film events whilst at the festival, ranging from British produced features to French-Canadian and beyond. The film I would recommend the most from this selection would be Blackbird. This film engulfed me from the very beginning, not daring to set me down again until the final credits rolled. I haven’t been quite so captivated by a film for an astoundingly long time. You know when you see a film doing something so spectacular and you suddenly realise to yourself that this is what film should be. This is the quality I should always be watching. And yet with all the fodder that is released throughout the years we somehow forget what true quality is. How cinema can truly move us. Make us see the world in a new perspective and hold our attention so intensely we forget for those brief hours that we lead our own lives outside of that theatre. Well, Blackbird managed that for me. This may sound like ridiculously high praise but the truth is, it’s justified. The tone of the film perfectly balances the morbid reality that the characters face in processing their dearly beloved matriarch’s death, and the humour that is forever present at the core of any tragedy. It’s human nature to deal with horrific circumstances in ways that somehow make us laugh. It’s why this film was able to catch you with a giggle as your sleeve got drenched whilst trying to conceal your tears. In my opinion, the best kind of laughs are the ones that catch you when you have a lump in your throat, that throw you off and surprise you. Susan Sarandon shines as Lily, a mother living with a degenerate condition that will leave her incapable of movement, and who makes the decision to end her life- but not after a fun packed weekend with all the family! She is matched by Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska who play her daughters. This is one of the many examples of where this film is so brilliantly nuanced and subtle in its approach. Christian thorpe – the Writer – has managed to capture perfectly both sides of Lily’s character in her two daughters. Jennifer (Winslet) representing her domineering, responsible and somewhat controlling side. She is filled with challenging qualities that form the core of the conflict with her sister Anna (Wasikowska) who represents the more fun loving, wild side of her mother. With these two juxtapositions we are given the true complexity of human nature and reminded that while none of us are by any means perfect we must stay united to face aspects of tragedy in our lives. One of the many refreshing aspects of the film is found with the central characters, we see how flawed they are, how complex, and how the film masterfully avoids any stereotypical pitfalls that may have befallen a lesser written film. It’s simple nowadays to make a film that means something, if it’s merely writing in a same sex relationship, or touching upon the complexities of mental health problems, or simply just displaying what may feel like a dysfunctional family at times, but what is in reality what we’re rarely shown: a family. At it’s heart this film portrays truth. And it’s this realism that make it so spectacular to watch. I never questioned any of the characters’ decision making, or actions, I was simply watching people live their lives, and there’s something very special about that. I could of course go on, about the other incredible performances, the subtleties contained in the brilliant storyline, but I won’t. All I will say is watch it, and see for yourself.
Next up: Marriage Story. This comes as Noah Baumbach’s 11th feature film and coming in as someone who is unfortunately unfamiliar with his work, I can say with complete confidence that you do not need to be a Baumbach fanatic to thoroughly enjoy this mesmerising film that documents the rise and fall of two people’s relationship, marriage, and eventual divorce. It takes a certain extremely talented individual to make something that in our everyday lives has become a mere statistic, something I rarely give that much weight to, a heartbreaking and captivating affair: divorce. We all know someone who’s parents have had one, and that’s only if we’re lucky enough to not have had our own parents go through it. And yet, it’s become so very normalised in our society that I think we forget to give it the heedfulness that it truly deserves. And it’s because of this that Baumbach has achieved something so brilliant. He has reminded us how horrific a circumstance such as this is, how heartbreaking, and the huge emotional toll it takes out on the individuals and those around them. Adam Driver has once again showcased the brilliant depths of his talent. Performing with unbelievable vulnerability as he portrays Charlie. It’s almost inaccurate to reference his talent as ‘performance’ as what he leaves on the screen is something far deeper than that, something that makes us believe that what he’s doing isn’t a mere performance, but rather something inconceivably real, and equally heartbreaking. Scarlett Johansson is utterly masterful in her role as Nicole, a woman who simply wants what’s best for herself, after what felt like a lifetime of living through her husband (Driver). She is able to inhibit the complete intricacies of the reality that is ending a relationship with another individual, the entire range of emotions that exist when you have to say goodbye to a person that you have loved, made all the more complicated by the introduction of their son, Henry (Azhy Robertson). He perfectly captures the reality of having a child, and how difficult children can be, as opposed to the rosy image of family life that we are so often forced to watch on the big screen. A special mention should be given to Julie Hagerty and Merritt Weaver who play Nicole’s mother and sister. They intertwine an element of comedic genius as they both portray the hilarious dynamic that ensues with a family going through the breakup of a relationship. And not forgetting the brilliant Laura Dern who appears as Nicole’s ruthless lawyer, Nora Fanshaw. I honestly don’t know how she does it but Dern always somehow manages to appear in the greatest films or TV shows of our times, even if just as a minor character, she never fails to make her mark clear. She is hilarious and yet also a much needed anchoring point for Nicole, she empowers her to see the bigger picture and as something that was written by a man I’m surprised- but ultimately delighted- that he was able to somehow capture the complexities of women so perfectly. In essence, it’s clear that I fell in love with this film, and it’s why I would recommend that you watch it. And I would watch it again, and again, and again, and if that isn’t the highest praise that you can give a film, I don’t know what is.
Thirdly, the film to end my films that you should watch, is Military Wives. This is inspired by the true story of a choir forming from a group of military wives. What began as a form of distraction from the harsh reality of existing in an isolated base while those they love face life threatening dangers progressed to inspire a nation when they performed at the Remembrance day concert. The director Peter Cattaneo has managed to create something, that might otherwise be purely morbid, into a charming and funny affair. Starring Sharon Horgan and Kristin Scott Thomas as the leaders of the choir, the story follows them as they battle the mental toll that arises from a loved one being at war, the uncertainty this brings, whilst also expertly incorporating just the right dose of humour. Sharon Horgan is brilliant. She always brings a certain truth and sincerity to the characters she portrays and this film is no different. Scott Thomas is equally moving, with sparks of humour that carry you through the film. As with Blackbird, this film would catch you while you were at your most vulnerable with a welcome giggle. It was surprisingly funny, and yet also deeply moving. Its funny how those two things often come hand in hand. This film is a perfect watch for a rainy Sunday afternoon, something that will make you cry, but then lift your spirits, ultimately shaping into an extremely inspiring story.
There’s something so special about being able to watch films in a crowded theatre filled with hundreds of excited individuals eagerly awaiting the Q&A with the filmmakers at the end of the film but I honestly believe that this fact did not cloud my judgement. These films truly were brilliant. And I could not recommend them highly enough.
Blackbird was released 6 September 2019 Marriage Story is released 6 November 2019 Military Wives was released 6 September 2019