Arts Review, Movies

Special Presentations at TIFF

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Special Presentations
TIFF Report #2
By Marc Glassman

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Film critics—the serious ones—prefer the Special Presentations section at TIFF to the Galas. I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m one of the serious ones. And I suspect most of the listenership at Classical 96 will agree with my assessment.

Here’s how TIFF explains Special Presentations: “High profile premieres and the world’s leading filmmakers.” And here’s how the Galas are summarized: “Movie stars. Red carpet premieres. Major audience interest.”

You can see why mainstream media responds to Galas but, quite frankly, I have had my fill with red carpets and innocuous media interviews with big name actors. Everyone respects Denzel Washington, Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and so many of the luminaries appearing at TIFF’s Galas. But what do you get out of seeing them on stage to receive applause? They don’t even answer questions from the audience.

It’s altogether different with Special Presentations. You still get stars, at least some of the time, but the big names often include the director. The films tend to have stronger narratives and they’re still quite stylish.

If you go to a screening, at the end of the film, the director and some of the actors actually appear on stage and respond to questions from the audience. It’s a more satisfying experience, in my view, but I must admit that I’ve talked to many people who prefer the glamour of Galas. Let’s just shrug our shoulders and say, “à chacun son goût” — “to each his own (taste).”

Special Presentation is overflowing with promising new films. As always with TIFF’s new “embargo” policy, I can’t go into detail about these films—or even if I’ve seen them. (But you can be imaginative.) These are recommendations divined through the spirit world.

Below Her Mouth. April Mullen, director. Canada.
This is the year of gender equity—or at least talking about it during film festivals. April Mullen, a rising star in the Canadian scene, is an actor and this film, which she directed, used an all-female crew. It’s about a successful woman in the fashion industry, who falls in love with a female roofer—even though she’s about to get married to the “right guy.”

American Honey. Andrea Arnold, director. U.S (but the director is British)
A female auteur, Arnold won an Oscar for a brilliant short, Wasp, over a decade ago. She’s a master at setting up scenes that appear completely natural and letting them run for minutes. Families fight in parking lots; young lovers get excited alone in cars; a group of teens sing songs in cars or on a beach. Plot isn’t usually the point in Arnold’s films; it’s her mise-en-scene, the construction of the film moment to moment that makes them work.

American Honey looks at a bunch of misfits—aimless teens—who are barely making a living selling magazines. It’s long and some people may not like it. But I am sure some people will think it’s an amazing film.

The Commune. Thomas Vinterberg, director. Denmark.
In the early 1970s, many people lived communally in North America—but they tended to be young and relatively poor. Apparently, in Nordic countries, the middle class was indulging in that lifestyle experiment, too. Vinterberg, who is a wonderful director of actors and knows how to stage scenes with groups—his Celebration is an unsettling masterpiece about family secrets—is the right filmmaker to explore that time and place.

Window Horses. Ann Marie Fleming, director. Canada.
One of TIFF’s few animated features, this beguiling tale is about Rosie, an Iranian-Chinese-Canadian who is invited to participate in a poetry festival in Iran. The young poet grows up while being there, discovering family secrets and falling in love with the ancient culture of Persia. (I must admit the filmmaker is a friend but Window Horses is an exceptional achievement.)

L’avenir (Things to Come). Mia Hansen-Love, director. France.
There are actors and then there is Isabelle Huppert. To call her the Meryl Streep of France seems silly; both actors are wonderful and in very different ways. Huppert may have less range—or at least she doesn’t try to be a virtuoso in each role. Streep needs to stand out, but she actually succeeds in doing so more often than not.

In L’avenir, Huppert is a no-nonsense intellectual. Things may faze her but she never lets on, whether it’s her husband leaving the relationship or watching her publishing career come apart. She soldiers on, even when her beloved but impossibly neurotic mother dies. It’s a riveting performance (or so I’m told. Or, um, maybe I saw it. In a dream) In any case, I suspect that there will be buzz around this film and Ms. Huppert.

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

Tune in to hear Marc Glassman’s Art Reviews
Friday’s at 9:07am on Good Day GTA.

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