The Toronto International Film Festival kicked off last night with an animated film as its opener. That was a first and good for them for recognizing how artistically important that type of movie has become. But then, this one is from Japan's fabled Studio Ghibli. It's called The Boy and the Heron.
Two days earlier the Vancouver International Film Festival announced its line-up (which also includes that film) and opens and closes with Cannes festival winners. It starts Sept 28 with Fallen Leaves which won the Grand Jury Prize for Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, a perennial festival star.
It'll close with the latest from, Tran Anh Hùng, who won the best director prize at Cannes, thirty years after he won another big prize there for his debut film. His new one stars Juliette Binoche as a cook in a romantic relationship with a gourmand. It is called La passion de Dodin Bouffant, which IMDB says is its original title and lists as The Taste of Things. Early reviews have been very positive and full of food-and-love metaphors.
TIFF has 275 films (features and shorts); VIFF has 240 and I can't cover even a fraction of them. Not til they come back individually. But I've got a modest start today: three films, two of which play at both festivals, and one that should.
Others that most interest me in Toronto include Dumb Money, about the stock market frenzy over GameStop Videogame Stores that small investors stirred up, and Next Goal Wins, Taika Waititi's comedy about a World Cup soccer bid.
In Vancouver there'll be Anatomy of a Fall, a courtroom drama that also won big at Cannes, and new films by Adam Egoyan, Ken Loach, Catherine Breillat and Alice Rohrwacher (her first since Happy as Lazzaro).
You can find full lists for both festivals online and meanwhile ...read about these...
Monster: 4 stars
MONSTER: You'll be well-rewarded here by a very humanistic story with fractious undertones. They reflect real life as we go about it, specifically misundestandings and rumors, false allegations, how well we really know the people we associate with. It's the latest work from Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu who is a master at exploring human relations. It's fully absorbing, has plenty of narrative drive and to further keep you interested is structured as something of a puzzle like in the classic film Rashomon. You get the story from three different perspectives. Each adds and clarifies.
It starts with a near-teen boy Minato (Sōya Kurokawa) who alarms his mother (Sakura Andō) with erratic behavior and fear. He's thinks he's a monster because his brain has been switched with a pig. Who said that? His teacher, he says.
Mom goes to the school, is very aggressive and demands answers. The teacher (Eita Nagayama) denies it but apologizes anyway, and the principal (Tanaka Yūko) is only intent on saving the reputation of the school. This will resonate for both mothers and teachers, and probably with students of Japanese culture. Eventually, by looping back twice, the film reveals the full story, which is not at all as we originally expected. There's been bullying, a school-boy friendship, a lot of lying and eventually an emotional resolution. (Screens at TIFF tonight and Sunday. Also at VIFF) 4 out of 5
BLOOM: It's only 11 minutes long but this short film produced in Vancouver packs a punch. Not physically; eccentrically. It's bizarre. A young woman (played hypnotically by Jodi Balfour, who has been in The Crown, Ted Lasso and more) decides to bring home a present, a houseplant, for her girlfriend. She hasn't been answering the phone, hasn't returned her calls and horrors, judging from all the clothes gone from the closet, has moved out and ditched her. She almost chokes, almost collapses and binge drinks water. She's angry but helpless.
She repeatedly looks at the plant and gradually comes to feel connected to it. Then a voice starts talking to her, offering encouraging words, ending with “You don't need me.” It needs her though. It drops its leaves and she has to help. What she does doesn't seem horticulturally sound but of course the whole film has been pure fantasy. Apparently its supposed to express our desire to connect with nature. I saw it more as tripping out on whimsy and imagination. Terse, irresistable and well-directed by Kasey Lum it plays today and Tuesday at TIFF as part of a “Short Cuts” program. Curiously, though produced in Vancouver, it's not at VIFF. 4 out of 5
SEAGRASS: I understand what writer/director Meredith Hama-Brown is doing with this film. She's exploring the effect on children when their parents have marital difficulties. The instabilty makes them anxious and that she presents very well, possibly because she had the same anxieties when she was a child. They're genuine though the story is fictional.
A couple (Ally Maki and Luke Roberts) are having problems. She feels "disconnected," he says. He doesn't share his feelings, she says. They, with their two daughters (Nyha Huang Breitkreuz and Remy Marthaller), head to a couple's retreat on one of the Gulf Islands off the coast of British Columbia and join a therapy group. "Marriage is a fragile ecosystem," they're told. That's exactly as I imagine these circles would sound.
They're a mixed-race couple. He's Caucasian and she's Canadian-born of Japanese parents. He's a hockey fan and casually makes an anti-Asian comment. She's just lost her mother and regrets that she never got her to talk about being interned during World War II. Learning about your roots is key for the director who herself is half Japanese and half white. Another mixed-race couple at the retreat (Chris Pang and Sarah Gadon) seem better matched. Seem. But who knows?
Courtesy of Game Theory Films
The two girls meanwhile play with others, swim and are attracted to a mysterious cave. A growing sense of apprehension builds around them, aided by eerie music. That's the anxiety the film is working to evoke. It works but feels like a separate movie. In parallel to the other, but not as much a part of it as the director intends. It comes with good acting though and terrific scenery. (TIFF and VIFF) 3 out of 5