The market at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival wasn’t sleepy, as some of the hottest sales titles found eager buyers over the course of the 10-day gathering: from Focus Features buying the campy Neil Jordan-Isabelle Huppert team-up “Greta” to Neon picking up Brady Corbet’s wild Natalie Portman pop star saga “Vox Lux” and A24 nabbing Clarie Denis’ space opera “High Life,” plenty of TIFF breakouts found homes. Nevertheless, TIFF features a massive lineup and many strong movies failed to close deals before the festival concluded. Here are some of the highlights that still need homes.
Markus Schleinzer follows up his daring character study “Michael,” which focused on the experiences of a young child kidnapped by a pedophile, with another disturbing look at a boy kidnapped and forced to participate in a lifestyle beyond his control. This time, the setting is 18th century Vienna, where an African abductee (played by several actors across a disparate time period) is adopted into European aristocracy and forced to adapt to its strict expectations. Schleinzer’s quiet, haunting portrait follows the character from an oppressive childhood to the later stages of his life, when he continues to wrestle with the identity crisis at the root of his existence. An exquisite period piece with a fascinating meditation on race and class at its core, “Angelo” echoes “12 Years a Slave” as another absorbing look at the struggles of a black face in a white world. Based on a true story, the movie tackles a fascinating and widely ignored aspect of European history that could generate fresh interest in the hands of a distributor willing to give the story the care it deserves. —EK
Sales Contact: Playtime
Errol Morris excels at interrogating morally complicated men, from Robert McNamara to Donald Rumsfeld, but he’s never ventured as far to the dark side as he does with “American Dharma.” Confronting Steve Bannon in a cold, empty room for the duration of this unsettling portrait, Morris presses the alt-right icon to justify the racist ideology behind the machinations that propelled Donald Trump to the White House.
Morris consolidates Bannon’s evolution from conservative media maverick to the architect of the Trump campaign into a slick overview. However, those details are less compelling than Morris’ tendencies to interrupt Bannon’s self-mythologizing in search of the truth. “American Dharma” delivers a suspenseful and upsetting showdown between one man confident of his cause and another mortified by it. At this divisive moment in the country’s history, it’s a welcome attempt to wrestle with alt-right lunacy and combat the extremist with a healthy dose of rational thought. Audiences may be wary about watching Steve Bannon talk for a feature-length period, but this movie may be the first real window into what it takes to talk back. —EK
Sales Contact: WME
Directors Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron uncover a real-life hero in this riveting non-fiction adventure about the efforts of Thai activist Patima Tungpuchayakul to track down and save countless fishermen forced into slavery at sea. This ongoing persecution, unknown to most Westerners and shocking to anyone who considers slavery a thing of the past, has left many survivors with harrowing stories of being stuck at sea for years at a time. In some cases, they’ve escaped and hidden away in other countries, unable to get back home. Tungpuchayakul, a committed mother and warrior keen on addressing an assault on human rights by helping one person at a time. The filmmakers follow her every step of the way, as she joins forces with escaped slave Tun Lin and records messages from escaped slaves to address their loved ones. This gorgeous, devastating movie is thrilling to watch, but doubles as first-rate journalistic expose of a national problem that deserves more attention. —EK
Sales Contact: Endeavor
Alex Ross Perry’s work has always had the courage to be profoundly unpleasant, but none of his previous stuff can prepare you for the incredible sourness of “Her Smell,” which is one of the most noxious movies ever made before it hits bottom and tunnels out through the other side. Not coincidentally, it’s also Perry’s best.
Imagine if Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” was about Courtney Love in the mid-’90s, and you’ll have a pretty good sense of how this raw punk epic has been structured. Chronicling the reckless fall and tentative rise of punk rocker Becky Something — lead singer of the band Something She — “Her Smell” is told across five long scenes that stretch over 10 years, each of the vignettes unfolding in real time, and most of them set in the snaking bowels of a concert venue’s backstage area. Anchored by a loathsome and unhinged Elisabeth Moss in the lead role, Perry’s film boasts one of the year’s very best supporting casts (including Eric Stoltz, Agyness Deyn, and Amber Heard), and it puts them all to great use in the service of a difficult but rewarding story about the strength we get from the people in our lives. There’s no denying that “Her Smell” is going to be even harder to sell than it is to sit through, but virtually every member of the cast has their own built-in fanbase, and Moss’ go-for-broke lead performance is such a spectacle that people will have to see it for themselves. —DE
Sales Contact: WME
The last thing the world needs right now is another movie about a thirtysomething man whose existential crisis is solved by having sex with an 18-year-old girl, but leave it to the great Mia Hansen-Løve to mine grace, sensitivity, and tremendous nuance from such a nauseatingly familiar premise. An elliptical story of self-rediscovery and the strangers who can make it possible for us, “Maya” follows a withdrawn French war reporter named Gabriele (the handsome, bird-like Roman Kolinka) as he’s released from ISIS captivity, and retreats to his childhood home of Goa in order to center himself and rediscover his purpose. There in the coastal India state he meets the wide-eyed title character (first-time actor Aarshi Banerjee), and something instantly sparks between these two strangers — an adult who is retreating from the world, and a teenager who is just preparing to fling herself into it.
You can imagine what happens from there, but Hansen-Løve is less interested in the sexual element than she is in the context around it. The closer Maya and Gabriele come to each other, the more rootless they feel, and the more Goa reveals itself as a part of the world that’s unstuck in both time and tradition. There’s a stilted quality to this low-key love story, and not even the director’s cool mix of Indian and Euro pop soundtrack cues can settle it down into a comfortable groove. “Maya” is an off-kilter experience that never allows you to get settled, but it sinks deep under your skin because of how adamantly it refuses to get stuck in place. It may not be the best of Mia Hansen-Løve’s films, but it’s watchable and beguiling in a way that should delight audiences hungry for transportive international fare, or are champing at the bit for new work from the director of “Eden” and “Things to Come.” —DE
Sales Contact: Orange Studio
Argentine director Benjamin Naishtat has become one of Latin America’s most intriguing new voices. His first feature, “History of a Fear,” was an allegorical apocalyptic movie about the country’s deep-seated class issues; he followed that up with the equally suspenseful and strange “El Movimiento,” a black-and-white western that dealt with the nation’s history of oppression. “Rojo” is his most ambitious narrative to date, the ‘70s-set tale of a successful lawyer whose world begins to unravel after a testy exchange at a restaurant.
In the bizarre opening sequence, this awkward encounter takes a grim turn that involves one dead body and a couple forced to keep it a secret. But that’s just the starting point for the twisty noir to come, which also involves a shady real estate deal and one very nosy detective (the great Chilean actor Alfredo Castro) trying to make sense of it all. Not every loose end finds a clean resolution, but that’s sort of the point in this lush, at times dazzling period piece, as Naishtat chronicles a society steeped in obvious roads to corruption so often left unexplored. Though not to all tastes, it’s an impressive step up in scale for the director and the kind of movie that could help him uncover some new audiences intriguing by his enigmatic storytelling. —EK
Sales Contact: Luxbox
Fresh off the success of her first studio film, the winning YA adaptation “Everything, Everything,” filmmaker Stella Meghie returned to the big screen at this year’s TIFF with an energetic and slim new rom-com. Bolstered by star Sasheer Zamata, who charms in a tricky role, Meghie’s amiable chamber piece ably balances prickly people and nutty situations to put a fresh spin on the genre. Zamata stars as Zadie, a fledgling stand-up comedian who dedicates most of her act to sharing mortifying details of her three-year-old breakout. Zadie is still not over it, and it’s easy to see why when we soon meet the object of her affection and obsession: long-time pal Bradford (Tone Bell), who is taking this “let’s stay friends” thing to wild new limits. Thanks to what amounts to a totally bonkers plan, Zadie, Bradford, and Bradford’s new lady Margo (DeWanda Wise) end up spending the weekend at Zadie’s own parents’ bed and breakfast, where their awkward peace is made even stranger by the arrival of lone guest Aubrey (Y’lan Noel). What unfolds isn’t predictable in the slightest, but funny, smart, and zippy as anything. As the rom-com genre stages a steady comeback (thanks to both studio offerings and a big push from Netflix), “The Weekend” offers a twist on the genre with a sparkly leading lady to match, an appealing package for any distributor eager to get back in the business of fun, flirty movies that appeal to everyone. —KE
Sales Contact: UTA/CAA