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The Conversation: Tipping into TIFF (Top 5 Most Anticipated Films)

The Conversation: Tipping into TIFF (Top 5 Most Anticipated Films)

As we head into the 42nd edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, change is afoot. Earlier this year, it was confirmed the festival would be cutting down on its monstrous programming by twenty percent, leading to some key excisions, including the removal of some distinct sidebars. With the absence of Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes, it’s perhaps no surprise his daytime version, the provocative Vanguard sidebar, has also fallen to the wayside. And, in less than a week before the festival is set to unfurl, TIFF Director and CEO Piers Handling announced he will be leaving the festival in 2018 after nearly helming it for 25 years.

As usual, the flights and fancies of the programmers dictates the content and magnitude of TIFF, which is often a conglomeration of high-profile items which premiered earlier in the year at Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, and the nearly concurrent unspooling Venice.

Whether due to the forced downsizing or as an ever-wieldy attempt to differentiate themselves from the slimmer yet substantial New York Film Festival, many international items failed to make the cut. Of course, all the lucrative English language prospects which premiered at Venice will get their North American premiere out of Toronto, and it’s often the case where some items on the Lido fail to swim across the pond.

This year, a glaring absence is the latest from Abdellatif Kechiche. More aggravating is a number of Locarno items which failed to make TIFF’s cut, particularly award winners such as Marco Dutra and Juliana RojasGood Manners or Serge Bozon’s Madame Hyde (which got nabbed by NYFF instead). Several Cannes items, which are usually more prominent at TIFF, also are surprisingly absent. But this is, perhaps, the only way forward for a festival which may mark the beginning of Oscar season, but is also a bloating buffet of cinematic offerings.

Here’s a list of some anticipated offerings in several of the remaining programs (of items not seen in previous venues):


5. Caniba – Dir. Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor
This anthropological doc duo, celebrated for their 2012 Leviathan, return with a disturbing new subject in Caniba, focusing on notorious Japanese cannibal Issei Sagawa. The doc will first premiere in the Horizons sidebar in Venice.

4. Skin So Soft – Dir. Denis Cote
French Canadian auteur examines the lives of six bodybuilders in his new documentary, which has been described as a compelling companion piece to his 2012 film Bestiaire.

3. Mrs. Fang – Dir. Wang Bing
Chinese documentarian Wang Bing won the Golden Leopard out of Locarno for this documentary about a woman dying of Alzheimer’s in rural China. A blunt and uncomfortable portrait of death and politics, it promises to be his most haunting work to date.

2. Prototype – Dir. Blake Williams
Former contributor and short filmmaker Blake Williams embarks on his first narrative feature, Prototype, which premiered at Locarno and has received comparisons to Lynch. Working within his favored 3D format, Williams crafts an experimental sci-fi narrative by transforming images from the aftermath of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane to concoct what’s described as a looping origin myth.

1. Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc – Bruno Dumont
Premiering out of the Directors’ Fortnight at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Bruno Dumont’s punk musical on the childhood of the titular historical figure was described as the jewel of the festival. Thankfully TIFF provides a second chance at seeing the feature, which became an instant hot commodity on the Croisette.


5. The House by the Sea – Dir. Robert Guediguian
While it’s no surprise to find Marseille based Robert Guediguian present another film in his beloved city, The House by the Sea, featuring his usual cadre of actors, promises to be a bluntly potent tale of familial discord as a group of relatives gather over the deathbed of a dying patriarch. Guediguian competes in Venice with his latest.

4. Rainbow – A Private Affair – Dir. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
The Italian Palme D’or winning duo (Padre Padrone, 1977) return with a period love story about a couple caught up in the Italian resistance of WWII. The famed brothers have remained prolific for over six decades. Although they recently won the Golden Bear at Berlin for Caesar Must Die (2012), and unveiled Wondrous Boccaccio in 2015, this latest is rumored to be their last.

3. First Reformed – Dir. Paul Schrader
If there’s anyone deserving of a late stage comeback, it’s writer/director Paul Schrader. Having toiled over many troubled projects the past several years (The Canyons; The Dying of the Light), his grungy 2016 title Dog Eat Dog put him back on track. His latest is described as an environmentalist thriller featuring Ethan Hawk and Amanda Seyfried, competing at the Venice Film Festival before making its way to TIFF.

2. The Third Murder – Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda, beloved for his Ozu-ish family dramas, takes a hard-left turn into genre with this murder mystery about a defense attorney who believes his client is the scapegoat for an insidious conspiracy. Kore-eda also competes in Venice with his latest title.

1. Zama – Dir. Lucrecia Martel
It’s been nearly a decade since Lucrecia Martel’s 2008 The Headless Woman, and many have been waiting endlessly for her ambitious fourth feature, the Almodovar produced Zama, which focuses on South American officer on a dangerous journey for the Spanish Crown. Premiering out of competition at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, Martel heads to TIFF in the appropriately designed Masters program.

Special Presentations:

5. Foxtrot – Dir. Samuel Maoz
Samuel Maoz won the Golden Lion with his 2009 debut at the Venice Film Festival. He takes his second crack at the Lido with Foxtrot, which finds the director returning to military culture as a father mourns the death of his son.

4. Thelma – Dir. Joachim Trier
After dipping into English language in 2015 with third feature Louder Than Bombs, Norwegian director Joachim Trier returns to his homeland for the thriller Thelma, a supernatural thriller about a woman who discovers she has terrifying powers.

3. Youth – Dir. Feng Xioagang
Chinese auteur Feng Xioagang’s 2016 title I Am Not Madame Bovary remains one of this year’s most underrated cinematic gems. His latest is an epically proportioned period piece about a military art troupe on 1970s China.

2. mother! – Dir. Darren Aronofsky
Darren Aronofsky returns to psychological thriller mode with mother!, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Comparisons to Black Swan and a bevy of marketing materials which are reminiscent of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby makes this a must-see from the continually compelling auteur.

1. Lean on Pete – Dir. Andrew Haigh
Ever since his 2011 sophomore film Weekend, Andrew Haigh has been one of the most exciting new directorial forces to come out of the UK. Not only creator of one of the best LGBT series ever mounted, the ill-fated “Looking,” which lasted two seasons and TV movie sequel, Haigh brought legendary Charlotte Rampling to Oscar’s pulpit for the first time in her career with the superb 45 Years (2015). He competes for the first time in Venice with Lean on Pete, a Western styled drama about a 15-year-old boy which co-stars Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny.


5. If You Saw His Heart – Dir. Joan Chemla
French director Joan Chemla scores Gael Garcia Bernal and Marine Vacth in her directorial debut in this moody drama about desolate souls at a crossroads.

4. Sweet Country – Dir. Warwick Thornton

Australian director Warwick Thornton, who won the Camera D’or at Cannes 2009 for his debut Samson & Delilah, returns with thriller Sweet Country, set in Australia’s Northern Territory, 1929.

3. Custody – Dir. Xavier Legrand
Director Xavier Legrand makes his debut in what is described as an intense and disturbing familial drama. The film features Denis Menochet and Lea Drucker.

2. Dark River – Dir. Clio Barnard
Clio Barnard returns with her third feature Dark River, a familial drama about old wounds being re-opened when a woman returns to her childhood home to settle the tenancy of her family’s Yorkshire farm. Ruth Wilson stars in what promises to be another heavy item from Barnard, who broke out in 2010 with The Arbor, and her solid 2013 follow-up The Selfish Giant.

1. Euphoria – Dir. Lisa Langseth
Swedish director Lisa Langseth reunites with her muse Alicia Vikander for the third time in Euphoria, a tale of two sisters traveling across Europe. When those sisters are played by Vikander and Eva Green (and a mother by Charlotte Rampling), this equates to a familial drama we can’t miss.

Contemporary World Cinema:

5. Angels Wear White – Dir. Vivian Qu
Vivian Qu’s (Trap Street, 2013) sophomore film (the only woman to be competing in the 2017 Venice Film Festival) is a modern-day noir focusing on female characters in the wake of a terrible crime.

4. Samui Song – Dir. Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang is always one to watch, returning with his delicious sounding latest concerning a soap opera star desperate to break out of trash television and escape the clutches of her husband, who’s a member of a cult.

3. Good Favour – Dir. Rebecca Daly
Coming off a strong sophomore feature (2016’s Mammal, featuring a tremendous Rachel Griffiths), Irish director Rebecca Daly tackles a Christian parable and magical powers in third feature Good Favour.

2. The Insult – Dir. Ziad Doueiri
Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri formulated one of 2012’s strongest titles with third feature The Attack. He’s back with The Insult, focusing on a dispute between a Christian man and a Palestinian man which spirals out of control. Doueiri is also competing with the title in the 2017 Venice Film Festival.

1. Hannah – Dir. Andrea Pallaoro
Charlotte Rampling headlines the sophomore feature from Italian director Andrea Pallaoro (Medeas, 2013) as a woman contending with day-to-day existence following her husband’s incarceration. The film also competes in the 2017 Venice line-up.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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