Sexually transmitted hauntings. Viggo Mortensen as a Danish general in 19th-century Patagonia. Here's a look at some of our favourite and most anticipated titles at the fest.
Take a look at the offerings for TIFF’s 39th annual kick at the can, and, if you’re the sort of person who vaguely follows film (or, no shaming here, celebrity) culture, you might notice some familiar titles: a Foxcatcher here, some Maps to the Stars there, with a healthy smattering of other Sundance, Cannes, Venice, and Telluride selections for variety. That isn’t to wag our collective fingers at North America’s largest international film festival, but to emphasize just how large it is—big enough to welcome any number of festival slates under its big tent and still have room for its own world premieres. Simply put, any festival that can boast of screening nearly 400 films expects you, the audience, to bear some of the curating load yourself. We’re here to help, so here’s a handy guide to some of our most anticipated titles—a vision of what a more streamlined version of the festival might look like if we were programming it.
Because of its proximity to awards season, TIFF is often used as a launching pad for studios and specialty houses’ highest pedigree films, but, like a lot of repeat customers, we’ve become fondest of the fest’s more eccentric offerings. This year’s edition boasts one of the slickest, most ingeniously assembled thrillers we’ve seen in some time in David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, making its North American premiere in Midnight Madness. Starting from a silly premise that might have proved disastrous—a young woman finds herself pursued by a shape-shifting phantom after having sex with her young beau, who cautions that the only way to shake it off is to pass it on—Mitchell wrings unbearable tension out of his rapt audience largely by playing things straight, translating his horror conceit into the more mundane language of a tender film about young college freshmen ambling their way through life in the suburbs of Michigan. While, you know, being pursued by a ghost.
If hauntings aren’t your thing and art is, you might consider setting aside three hours for Frederick Wiseman’s smashing National Gallery, the latest of the venerable documentarian’s looks at the inner workings of an institution—in this case, the publicly funded London art museum housed at Trafalgar Square. Wiseman is famous (or, in the eyes of some of his more resistant audiences, infamous) for ceding the narrative designs of his films to the droning bureaucrats who handle the day-to-day management of his chosen institutions, and there’s plenty of droning here, to be sure. But what surprises about National Gallery, and makes it vital viewing for residents of a city with its own share of art galleries, is its incisiveness about the intellectual labour (as well as the marketing) that goes into setting up an interface between the inherently dead art that hangs on the walls and the various audiences that animate it. For the price of a slightly fusty-sounding profile of how an art gallery is getting on in an age of public cuts to arts funding, you’ll get both an art history education and a primer on the difference between static and narrative art.
Those seeking nonfiction that hits a bit closer to home might wish to take in Alanis Obomsawin’s Trick or Treaty? The director’s first film to land her a coveted spot in the Masters programme, Trick or Treaty? is also a thorough education—this time in First Nations land claims and social justice activism—as well as an incisive look at Treaty 9, a 1905 accord through which First Nations communities ostensibly signed away sovereignty over their lands to the Canadian government, while believing themselves to have also committed to a mutually beneficial alliance in an alternate spoken contract that was, of course, never taken down in print or entered into law. While Wiseman’s film participates in a longstanding nonfiction tradition of direct observation—that he himself pioneered—Obomsawin’s is a fine, equally accomplished example of an alternative tradition of using documentary as an essayistic medium for political engagement and outrage.
Our enthusiasm for stirring nonfiction aside, we’ve always been eager to see what lands in Wavelengths, the festival’s most formally adventurous programme—which has long been curated primarily by the invaluable Andréa Picard. We hadn’t yet seen any of the major titles as of press time, but we feel we can safely vouch for Matías Piñeiro’s The Princess of France, which promises to continue the filmmaker’s string of playful, smart, and affecting riffs on Shakespeare and contemporary life in Buenos Aires. (We chatted with the filmmaker ahead of his TIFF Cinematheque retrospective in April.) We’re also eager to get our eyes on Jauja, from Piñeiro’s Argentine countryman Lisandro Alonso. The Cannes critical darling stars Viggo Mortensen as a Danish general wandering the wilds of Patagonia in search of his runaway daughter during the Spaniards’ colonial campaign against the indigenous population.
As Mortensen’s presence in the fest’s most offbeat programme will attest, it wouldn’t be TIFF without stars, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a shout-out to some of the higher-wattage titles we’re most curious about. We’ve already waxed poetic on the rarified charms of the Juliette Binoche-Kristen Stewart two-hander The Clouds of Sils Maria and expressed our joy at seeing Greta Gerwig pop up in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden, a personal history of the French electronic music scene. But we’re also looking forward to seeing what Gerwig’s Frances Ha director Noah Baumbach makes of odd couple Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried in While We’re Young, costarring Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts. And though we were down on Ramin Bahrani’s ridiculous last film At Any Price (which at least had the decency to introduce us to It Follows star Maika Monroe), we’ll see Michael Shannon in anything, even the dopey-looking 99 Homes, co-starring Andrew Garfield in his long Spider-Man off-season. As always with TIFF, one must strike a balance between genuine highlights and the movies you saw on the off-chance of making the most fleeting, desperate eye contact with a beautiful star.