With the Toronto International Film Festival fast approaching its 38th edition this week (Sept. 5-13), this week we look at some essential TIFF titles new and old currently available to stream on VOD. Some of these directors have new films screening at the festival, including Xavier Dolan and Claire Denis. If you’re like me, you, sadly, won’t be attending Toronto this year. So instead of curling up under the covers and sobbing as you restlessly check your Twitter feed for reviews, why not revisit great films from the annals of TIFF (trailers after the jump)? Check out this year’s lineup here.
24-year-old Canadian director Xavier Dolan has a new film at TIFF this year, “Tom at the Farm,” but his 2012 “Laurence Anyways” is now available on demand. This rapturous, exuberantly cinematic love story did not get the attention it deserved last year. Brief theatrical runs in New York and LA came and went in the blink of an eye. A pity, because this bold and brave film has stuck with me since I saw it in Cannes last year.
Suzanne Clement rightly won a Best Actress award in the Un Certain Regard sidebar for her performance as a manic-pixie-dream-girl with depth, the longtime girlfriend of Laurence (sensitively portrayed by Melvil Poupaud), whose sudden transition into transsexuality challenges an otherwise invincible romance. At a near three hours, this 90s-set film brims with pop art-inspired visual splendor and a rebellious punk spirit.
“35 Shots of Rum” (2008) Dir. Claire Denis
Revisiting Denis’ mesmeric, gut-wrenching film in anticipation of her Cannes and TIFF entry “Bastards,” you really feel the influence Wim Wenders must have had on the French filmmaker when she worked as assistant director on “Paris, Texas” (1984). This nimble, understated drama startles in both its narrative simplicity and the immense depths of its characters, among them a widowed man (Alex Descas) and his devoted daughter (Mati Diop, superb here and in this year’s “Simon Killer”). People come and go from their lives, but they stick together in this tender yet unsentimental film, gorgeously shot in verite style by longtime Denis collaborator Agnes Godard.
“In Between Days” (2006) Dir. So Yong Kim
Last year, South Korean director So Yong Kim made her first fully English language film “For Ellen,” starring Paul Dano. Named for The Cure’s infectious 80s new wave anthem, her debut film “In Between Days” is a striking, minimalist tale of youthful longing. Aimie, a Korean immigrant with a crush on her more westernized best friend, grapples with cultural alienation as she attempts to carve a space and place for herself and her mother in Canada. It features an achingly melancholy, near-silent performance by young actress Jiseon Kim.
“Margot at the Wedding” (2007) Dir. Noah Baumbach
Remember when Noah Baumbach was a brazen cynic? Nicole Kidman devastates in her scratchy, unglamorous performance as a bitter New York short story writer who sojourns to the Hamptons for her sister’s (a career-best Jennifer Jason Leigh) modest wedding. Baumbach riffs on the talky, character studies of Rohmer as adoringly as he does the French New Wave in his latest film “Frances Ha.” He has a knack for directing headstrong, eloquent women and here in this underrated, unfairly admonished indie, Kidman and Leigh play sisters on edge who go toe-to-toe and dredge up buried pain. Shot by the late Harris Savides, the film resembles a family reunion found footage film from hell. Siblings with emotional baggage beware.
“Morvern Callar” (2002) Dir. Lynne Ramsay
Though “Ratcatcher” (1999) is the film that put Scottish director Ramsay on the international arthouse map, “Morvern Callar” anticipates her 2011 “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Here, in this quiet drama of isolation about a down-and-out supermarket clerk who’s given the chance of a lifetime when her writer boyfriend drops dead, leaving an unpublished manuscript in her hands, Ramsay’s trademark montages, florid sound design and penchant for mentally splintered muses are in full force. Samantha Morton throws herself headlong into her broken Morvern, a free-spirit whose wanderlust leads her to some very dark and lonely places.
“Night Across the Street” (2011) Dir. Raul Ruiz
Prolific and fearless Chilean director Raul Ruiz died in 2011, but he left a legacy behind with his stunning and diverse body of work. His final film “Night Across the Street” is a fitting farewell to this brilliant auteur who directed the postmodern period epic “Mysteries of Lisbon” (2010). Like that film, this one shifts imperceptibly between dreams and reality in the telling of an elderly man who relives the seminal memories of his life from boyhood to present day. It is perhaps Ruiz’s most heartfelt film, and though he directed an adaptation of “Time Regained” in 1999, this could be his most Proustian, too, a cinematic version of the madeleine episode from “In Search of Lost Time.”
“A Zed and Two Noughts” (1986) Peter Greenaway
Mainstream audiences might know Greenaway’s NC-17 shocker “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” (1989), but this lesser known lurid psychosexual melodrama boasts one of the British director’s finest achievements in form. Each scene is a brutally symmetrical tableaux in this tale of twin zoologists who become, in the wake of a bizarre accident involving a rare swan, obsessed with watching flesh decay. While “A Zed” lacks the delicious malice of “The Cook” — and that film’s unrelenting scatalogical images — there is no shortage of ideas in this early Greenaway effort.