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TIFF 14 First Thoughts – The Appetizer Before the Meal

TIFF 14 First Thoughts - The Appetizer Before the Meal

I’ve been on the ground here in Toronto for three days. This is my fourth year, and it’s the first time that the first couple of days didn’t feel like I was going out of my mind. There are a variety of reasons for my schedule being more manageable, namely the lack of the premieres of films directed by high-profile women. Also, the fact that the big movies are more spread out throughout the festival due to the edict that nothing could premiere in Toronto during the first weekend if it premiered in Telluride. 

For me, this change of pace is wonderful. The Oscar-buzz mentality that has taken over the festival in the past few years, dominated the conversations and made it seem like movies were peaking in September. Maybe — hopefully — this will change the tone of the conversation and not presume the race to be over before it starts.

In general, Toronto is a beast of a festival, and there are so many wonderful things that are going on here. There are folks from all over the world looking to buy and sell films, and others looking for financing deals. You get into the bubble really quickly with films ending at weird times. By the way, decent fruits and vegetables are hard to come by. The festival is basically an exercise in drive-by eating carbs.

These first couple of days have felt like the appetizer before the meal. I saw Lynn Shelton’s Laggies, her most commercial movie to date, and the first one she did not write. Keira Knightley plays a woman who has no idea what she wants to do with her life and is stuck in a relationship with her high-school boyfriend. She meets an actual high schooler (Chloe Grace Moretz) and decides to take a time out from her life and hang out with Moretz’s character and her friends. The always good Sam Rockwell plays Chloe’s dad, a guy who was deeply hurt by his ex and is looking to find a new connection. You can guess how it ends. (Read Women and Hollywood’s interview with Shelton about Laggies.)

Moretz also figures in the fascinating Clouds of Sils Maria. Olivier Assayas has written some of the most interesting female characters I have seen onscreen in a seriously long time. Juliette Binoche (as good as I’ve ever seen her) plays a big-time movie star who is challenged to take on a stage part in a revival of the play that launched her career. This time, though, she plays the older female role and Moretz the ingenue role that had defined Binoche’s character’s career two decades earlier. Moretz’s character is also the hottest young actress and is constantly being stalked by paparazzi. The other woman in this constellation is Kristen Stewart, playing Binoche’s personal assistant. I can’t help but think that Assayas had to have written the part for Stewart, because every line out of her mouth seemed to me to be an actual commentary on her life as a celebrity. It was a fascinating look at fame, and I am still thinking about it two days later. (And I know that I have not done it justice here — I am still processing.)

Ruba Nadda wrote and directed October Gale the first of two films that I will see with Patricia Clarkson (the other is Isabel Coixet’s Learning to Drive.) Clarkson and Nadda have made several films together, beginning with Cairo Time. In this one, Clarkson plays a newly widowed doctor out on a Canadian island 45 minutes from civilization with no boat, when a wounded guy (Scott Speedman) winds up in her house. His arrival begins a night of intensity, and she and her guest wait out a storm and other elements. Clarkson is clearly Nadda’s muse — they remind me of the relationship between Nicole Holofcener and Catherine Keener. Nadda shoots her beautifully, and I just loved all the wonderful closeups that are richly distributed throughout the film. Also, a big thumbs up for the music. (Look for Women and Hollywood’s upcoming interview with Nadda about October Gale.)

Yesterday afternoon, I made it to a public screening of Duhktar (Daughter). In general, most press folks spend their days living in a bubble of PR, news, and industry screenings. It’s an entirely different atmosphere at a public screening. You get to hang out with the real folks, and I find it very helpful to do it a couple of times each year. Duhktar is Afia Nathaniel’s debut film, and it is about the tough subject of child brides. Samiya Mumtaz plays a woman married off at 15 who goes on the run when her young daughter is promised to an elderly warlord. This movie is another illustration of the lack of rights that women have. Nathaniel tells the story with great love for Pakistan, but also great disgust at what is done to women. Even though it had a couple of sappy minutes, I found it very moving. (Read Women and Hollywood’s interview with Nathaniel about Dukhtar.)

Coming up next are two films with Reese Witherspoon, Wild and The Good Lie, as well as Beyond the Lights directed by Gina Prince Bythewood and The Keeping Room.

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