There is no program more daunting than the Toronto International Film Festival, an annual fall gathering with more movies than any single mind can fully comprehend. This year’s lineup is no exception: With 289 features and 110 shorts, including 138 world premieres and 71 countries, the 2015 program — now fully revealed after several rounds of announcements — includes the usual collection of awards season hopefuls ("The Danish Girl," "Trumbo," "Spotlight"), high profile documentaries (Michael Moore’s "Where to Invade Next," Davis Guggenheim’s "He Named Me Malala") and the occasional big studio premiere ("The Martian").
But that’s only a fraction of a lineup rich with international work from filmmakers working in a wide variety of modes. Here’s a look at a few more TIFF titles, with some input from artistic director Cameron Bailey. They may not jump out as easily as some of the other films, but deserve just as much anticipation. Stay tuned for more.
"Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)"
The festival’s new "Platform" section has been created to single out "director’s cinema," by featuring a dozen filmmakers from around the world at relatively early stages of their careers. The best-known of the bunch might be British director Ben Wheatley ("Kill List," "A Field in England"), whose "High-Rise" stars Tom Hiddleston, but there"s a lot more to explore beyond that. French director Eva Husson’s "Bang Gang" stands out as the only feature-length debut in the section, but that’s not the only reason: Bailey calls it "one of the sexiest films at the festival." The story of teen lovers who engage in a "group game" to explore their sexuality, Husson’s drama reportedly includes a lot of graphic nudity — and rich characters, to boot.
"The film is a complete immersion into the world of these teens," said Bailey, comparing it to early work by Sofia Coppola as well as her cousin Gia’s recent "Palo Alto." "It has a lot of insight into the male-female dynamics of teenagers." Though TIFF will also showcase 3-D graphic sex with Gaspar Noé’s relationship drama "Love," Husson may be on the right track applying that uncensored approach to a more grounded story.
Speaking of Gaspar Noe: He’s not going alone to Toronto this year. The director"s wife, Lucile Hadžihalilović, follows up her 2004 debut "Innocence" — the eerie, gothic tale of a boarding school — with another allegedly unsettling tale of isolation. "Evolution," which was picked up ahead of the festival by "Love" distributor Alchemy, focuses on the experiences of a 10-year-old boy trapped in a remote village where a hospital subjects him and others to cryptic experiments. The mystery behind his situation sits at the center of the film, but Bailey suggested viewers won’t get any easy answers. "It’s a really odd, creepy, weird, Lynchian thing," he said, comparing aspects of the production to "Under the Skin." That movie, the rare experimental narrative with appeal to broader audiences, kept viewers talking about its meanings long after the credits. "Evolution" seems poised to do the same. "It’s a really fantastical world," said Bailey.
Another entry in the Platform section from France announces the progress of a filmmaker who goes by just one name: Diastème, who previously directed 2008’s ensemble comedy "Sunny Spells," comes to Toronto with "French Blood," the portrait of a skinhead in France. Since the days of "American History X," the topic of skinheads has probed from a number of different angles in cinema around the world, from "This is England" to "The Believer."
But France’s own history with the movement remains underexposed. Diastème’s drama, which focuses on a young racist who associates with France’s controversial National Front party and makes his way through decades of violent encounters as his mindset evolves. "The guy changes over time, but he starts out pretty nasty," said Bailey. At a time when European politics are more heated than ever, "French Blood" is well-positioned to strike a topical note.
Little is known about this five-minute short film scheduled to precede Jeremy Saulnier’s Nazi punk thriller "Green Room," but the synopsis hints at a crazy surprise: "It’s hard for a boy not to get excited when his dad gets a new job as Senior Chief Night Manager at Charbay’s Chicken World and Restaurant Resort, the world’s largest fast-food entertainment complex in North America. But things quickly get very, very clucked." Elsewhere, the festival program refers to director Davy Force and Nick DenBoer’s "lucky fast-food horror flick." So it’s a scary movie about chickens? Rumor has it that "The Chickening" is something far stranger — a mind-bending, possibly psychedelic media mashup that pays homage to "The Shining" while pushing the medium in a bizarre new direction.
Dig deeper and the weird factor starts to grow clearer. Co-director Force is a longtime animation director, title designer and video artist whose credits range from title sequences on "Tim and Eric’s Show, Great Job!" to animation on "Code Monkeys." His YouTube channel illustrates his trippy, sometimes horrifically disorienting projects. On top of that, "The Chickening" is the rare short film slated to play at TIFF’s Midnight Madness section, which tends to attract wild crowds eager for wacky experiences. One has to assume that this mysterious nugget will deliver the goods, clucks and all.
"Men & Chicken"
Director Anders Thomas Jensen is perhaps best known for his trilogy of films about outlandish Danish characters, which concluded with the peculiar tale of ex-cons "Adam’s Apple." But Jensen hasn’t finished exploring his country’s psyche in strange and surprising ways. The delightfully-titled "Men & Chicken" finds him re-teaming with Mads Mikkelsen as one half of a sibling duo who come together for their father’s funeral only to learn that he wasn’t their father at all. The ensuing comedy follows the troubled men on a journey to an abandoned island in the hopes of meeting their true parent. It’s there that their family problems get a whole lot weirder. Bailey described the movie as "really disturbing but also darkly funny." He added that "it’s best if you don’t know too much about it going in," but provided this much: "It’s kind of a social critique of normalcy." Certainly its home country agrees: "Men & Chicken" is already a box office hit in Denmark.
"Return of the Atom"
Set on a remote Finnish island, non-fiction entry "Return of the Atom" focuses on the first nuclear power plant in the West built after the Chernobyl disaster. Launched in 2004, the plant arrived with much fanfare, ushered along with the hopes that it could once again prove that nuclear power can do good in the modern world. Instead, the project devolved into a comedy of errors, with the French firm hired to build the plant running into a series of setbacks. TIFF’s programmers compare Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola’s documentary to a real-life episode of "The Simpsons," in which the dangers of nuclear waste set the stage for a darkly funny look at humanity’s most dangerous obsession. With nuclear plants back in the headlines thanks to the Iran deal, "Return of the Atom" may very well offer a fresh perspective on this timely issue.
Among the many unknown variables in TIFF’s Discovery section, one that stands out is "Spear," the first feature from aboriginal filmmaker Stephen Page. The Australian production follows a young man who journeys from the outback to modern Sydney in a quest to reconcile modern times with his provincial upbringing. With little dialogue, the film is reportedly a visual marvel, perhaps the first of its kind to meticulously delve into this unique subculture since "Walkabout." Page, who last directed a short segment in the omnibus film "The Turning," draws on his experience as a choreographer to use Indigenous dance — previously showcased in Australia’s Bangarra Dance Theater — in cinematic terms. All signs point, as the section’s title promises, to a genuine discovery.