The Friendly Greek likes movies as much as I do. If one was predisposed to do so, one could argue that his passion for film came well before mine, growing up as he did with occasional night shifts serving up popcorn at his father’s theatre. Across the city, I was sneaking into a second-floor den to watch what my school teacher’s mother called “the boob tube.” My love for cinema came when I arrived in Montreal to study English Lit at McGill and fell hard for the art form in my film studies classes.
Scheduling TIFF is a study in which neither of us excels. I can’t remember when it hasn’t been a circus. Still, we find each other in the darkness in many of the same movies. He takes ten days off work and writes fantastic reviews for his Facebook friends when not surveying raccoon damage to our backyard lawn.
He agreed to share here his take on his Top
Ten Eleven. Starred titles are ones I loved too.
- What happens to the millions of migrants who flee conflict zones to find new homes in the cities of the west? With fake documents and stories about their past, this Tamil family arrives on the outskirts of Paris for a fresh start. But, for former Tamil Tiger Dheepan, conflict is never far behind. This Cannes winner was powerful and authentic. My favourite film at the festival.
- Winner of the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. This film is a monumental cinematic achievement—two and a quarter hour of passion and adrenaline — shot in one continuous take. Having recently moved to Berlin, Victoria meets four charismatic local guys at an underground dance club. She gravitates towards charming Sonne, and the two make a warm connection. Before the real-time film is over, she is the driver of a robbery. From slow and sweet to insane, in over 20 locations, all in one unbelievable take. A must-see this film.
Son of Saul*
- Saul, a Hungarian Jew, is a member of the Sonderkommandounit at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. He is assigned to shepherd the constant stream of prisoners into the gas chambers and dispose of their bodies afterward. When a young boy he retrieves from the gas chamber exhibits a brief flicker of life before dying, Saul is shaken out of his deadened state. Determined to give the child a proper burial, he manoeuvres his way through the camp’s intricate networks, searching for a rabbi to perform the Jewish prayer for the dead.
I was done for the evening and should have gone home. A Holocaust film like no other. Most of the film is focused on actor Géza Röhrig’s upper body. The slaughter, from train arrival to the disposal of the ashes, takes place out of focus on the edges of the claustrophobic framing around him—very difficult to watch for obvious reasons, but a significant film. Expect several nominations and awards.
- After a day of disappointment came the film that made it all worthwhile. Two brothers have side-by-side farms raising sheep. They have not spoken in 40 years. Then, the disease strikes the sheep in all the valley farms, and the sheep must be destroyed. A simple story, two great grizzly-faced characters, and you have magic. A heartwarming and funny film unfolds with the dramatic Icelandic landscape in the background. And what an ending.
- Juliette Binoche stars in this Italian tale of grieving and concealment. As a house descends into mourning, a young French woman, Jeanne, arrives blissfully unaware of the events about to take over her life. Jeanne is the girlfriend of the son of Anna (Binoche). Anna has never met Jeanne and is surprised by her visit. Anna’s son, Giuseppe, is not there; Jeanne calls his cell phone and leaves numerous messages. As Anna and Jeanne await Giuseppe’s arrival, they slowly begin to form a friendship.
Binoche is once again divine. The film is beautifully filmed and surprised me over and over again. Powerful and moving. I don’t want to give too much away. This is a must-see film.
Born to Be Blue*
- The Chet Baker film. It picks up later in life when he tries to restart his career. Now, this is how you do a biopic. None of the usual “let’s spend 30 seconds on each of the important moments in his life and hurry up” nonsense. With flashbacks, conversations with old friends, and a short visit to his parent’s farm, you get all the information you need about his upbringing and career. Shot in Sudbury! Shout out to my high school classmate and producer, Len Farlinger. Ethan Hawke was a dead ringer for the role and gave an outstanding performance.
Jafar Panahi’s Taxi*
- Acclaimed Iranian director Panahi was arrested and sentenced to a six-year term of imprisonment for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” in 2010. Although his jail term was commuted to house arrest, Panahi was also subjected to a twenty-year ban on making films. Nevertheless, Panahi has found resourceful ways to circumvent this ban and continue making his forbidden art.
Taxi is shot almost entirely within a cab that circles the streets of Tehran, with Panahi himself in the driver’s seat. In the course of a day, the cab becomes a stage for the assorted strangers that Panahi picks up.
Winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Taxi exposes us to the repression and fear that permeates Iranian society. More docudrama than a feature film.
- Six men are out on a fishing excursion when they discover a mechanical issue with their luxurious yacht and quickly moor in a safe harbour to make repairs. While stuck there, they kill time by playing “Chevalier,” a game designed to determine who is “best in everything.” No one is to get off the boat before the outcome has been determined.
With each scene, we witness the slow reveal of each character’s fears, anxieties and desire to dominate. They quiz each other on recipes, test blood pressure, order and race to assemble Billy bookcases from Ikea. Of course, no competition between Greek men would be complete without comparing the size of their…manhood. It’s done very tastefully.
This absurd comedy was a real treat—finally, a Greek film at the festival that was not about the state of the economy.
One Floor Below
- Returning home to his apartment one night, Sandu eavesdrops on an argument between his downstairs neighbour Laura and her boyfriend Vali, who catches Sandu listening in. Laura is found dead the next day. When the police come asking questions, Sandu reveals nothing. He seems content to go about daily business until he comes home one day to find that Vali has befriended Sandu’s son. Soon Vali has ingratiated himself into the family.
I kept thinking how Hollywood would have made a mess of this film: the lights go off in the building hallway, and the ominous music comes on; the dog stops barking and it’s found dead in the bathtub; the son is lost in the park, and the bad guy is buying him an ice cream (just a warning for anyone thinking of talking to the police).
It’s not that film. However, the buildup and final confrontation are authentic and believable. I enjoyed the real-life tension in this film. As an aside, another tremendous Romanian film from TIFF’s past, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” is a must-see.
Land of Mine*
- The Danish army forces a group of teenage German POWs to clear tens of thousands of landmines at the end of WWII. The second film of the day truly impressed me. Revenge and hate give way to forgiveness and a return of humanity. However, I should warn you that the tension one feels in every scene where the boys dig for mines is unbearable.
- The Omar Khadr story. A heartbreaking documentary with interviews of Khadr, his lawyer Dennis Edney and several Canadian and US officials who have reconsidered the handling of this case. Not many dry eyes in this audience. At the risk of breaking my politics-free-week rule, consider the following: even IF Khadr, at the age of 15, killed that US sergeant, why was he not thought a child soldier? Who took Khadr to Afghanistan? Who armed him? Who put him in harm’s way? And why is it murder? If US soldiers had killed Khadr, they would have been hailed as heroes. Why did CSIS interview a juvenile, a Canadian citizen, who had been tortured? Why did it take eight years to have his trial? The successive Canadian government failed Omar Khadr. We failed Omar Khadr. And the current government has gone even further by learning how to use him. The real hero in all this is Dennis Edney. He spent 12 years fighting to have Khadr released. Edney spoke at the screening. A real gentleman. A testament to my profession.
TIFF is now over; our project is to absorb it all and inhale some sunlight and fresh air. Good thing fall arrived with plenty of both.
Celebrating a new season seems good if these apple cider-baked doughnuts are any indication. So if you want the recipe, sign up with your email for my buzz sheet for the recipe for these little wonders.
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