TIFF 2015 Tip Sheet: Your Best Bets for the Festival's First Weekend
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TIFF 2015 Tip Sheet: Your Best Bets for the Festival’s First Weekend

We help you navigate this weekend's available and rush-only screenings, from a dystopian comedy about endangered single people to a Toronto-set comedy of manners.

Still from The Lobster.

Having the most enormous public film festival in the world at your doorstep is a bit of a boon, but that doesn’t mean TIFF is the easiest institution to navigate, especially for beginners. With over 300 offerings and a labyrinth ticketing system serving as the gatekeeper, the Festival of Festivals is best experienced with a tip sheet in hand. We humbly offer these suggestions for how best to approach the fest’s busiest weekend, should you find yourself without advanced tickets.

As of press time, Friday is rough sledding for the uninitiated, featuring mostly sold out offerings. Anyone willing to brave the rush line — actually a pretty nice gathering of like-minded sorts, truth be told — can try their hand at some pedigreed off-sale titles, from Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’or winning migrant drama Dheepan to Yorgos Lanthimos’s star-studded dud The Lobster, a stilted absurdist comedy about a dystopian world where single people are given 45 days to mate at a luxe resort before being turned into an animal of their choosing. We weren’t so big on either film, but anyone who wants to see what the fuss is about may have some luck, given that the former is showing at the VISA Screening Room and the latter at the Princess of Wales, the kinds of hefty venues that tend to yield actual rush line tickets.

Still from Mustang.

Of course, some titles are still available. Festival opener Demolition, whose promotional material features Jake Gyllenhaal brandishing a reciprocating saw — not a jackhammer, as this author initially reported, to much reader disdain — didn’t go over so well with critics, but still has some openings. So does Ridley Scott’s Matt Damon starrer The Martian. Critical word isn’t out yet, but who can resist the trailer’s display of Kristen Wiig’s repertoire of concerned faces? We’re also keen to recommend Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang, an important and prescient first film about five teen girls resisting the patriarchal domination of their uncle and the systems he represents.

Still from Chevalier.

Saturday is similarly booked up with major off-sale debuts, like Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, but equally stacked with alternative options. Anyone up for more daring fare might like Athena Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier, her followup to the singular Attenberg, which for our money is a more effective surrealist comedy than her countryman (and former collaborator) Lanthimos’s more high-profile effort. The Wavelengths programme is also showing the second volume of Miguel Gomes’s epically long and critically claimed adaptation of Arabian Nights — which transposes the story to austerity-age contemporary Portugal — and Pablo Agüero’s Eva Doesn’s Sleep, a fitfully engaging, experimental look at at the legacy of Evita Peron for the Argentinian people. Perhaps most tempting, Frederick Wiseman’s classic documentary Titicut Follies and Lucino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers screen for free at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of TIFF Cinematheque’s programme.

Still from How Heavy This Hammer.

If Saturday is a kind of international alt paradise, Sunday is perhaps best spent at home with some of the fest’s Canadian offerings. Those seeking films with an LGBTQ angle might find much to admire in a pair of feature debuts — Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster, about an aspiring makeup artist whose repressed sexuality emerges as the titular creature, and Adam Garnet Jones’s Fire Song, about a young Anishinaabe man torn between tradition and experimentation as well as male and female partners. The latter is more successful, in part thanks to Dunn’s overweening ambitions to make a body horror opera out of fairly routine teen angst, but both are worth a look. If we had to recommend one Canadian title on Sunday, though, we’d go with Kazik Radwanski’s How Heavy This Hammer, an intimate, beautifully observed, and Toronto-set character portrait of a middle-aged father who escapes his humdrum life by zoning out into a fantasy game where he becomes some sort of viking. If that isn’t enough, the film boasts the finest canine performance of the fest — with regrets to the ravenous guard dog from Green Room — surely worthy of some sort of special award.