Currently going into their 11th year (and second year housed in the new flagship Lightbox building), the Toronto International Film Festival kicks off their Canada’s Top 10 series starting Thursday, January 5 and running until Sunday, January 15. The ten jury-selected features and shorts represent a cross section of Canadian productions over the past year, and while some squabbling is always bound to occur in such situations, these selections add up to one of the most eclectic and crowd pleasing line-ups in the series history.
Here’s a brief look at some of the great features and shorts the festival has to offer.
Monsieur Lazhar (Thursday, January 5 at 8 p.m. and Friday, January 6 at 4 p.m.) – Canada’s official entry for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards and winner of Best Canadian Feature at this past year’s TIFF, Lazhar is director Philippe Falardeau’s thoughtful and heartfelt meditation on love and loss told through the students and faculty at a Quebec school overcome with grief following the shocking suicide of a teacher during the course of a school day. Into the lives of these wounded souls comes an Algerian refugee named Bachir who acts as the substitute for the still shocked youngsters. The film constantly eschews standard “inspirational teacher movie” clichés in favour of a more humanist and character driven approach.
Edwin Boyd (Friday, January 6 at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, January 8 at 3 p.m.) – Winner of the Best Canadian First Feature award at this past year’s festival, director Nathan Morlando’s debut feature and labour of love shows just how far someone can go with a small budget, a great idea, and a phenomenal cast. Lovingly recreating the look of 1940s Toronto (actually shot mostly in a very snowy Sault Ste. Marie), Scott Speedman gives the most electrifying performance of his career as the titlular Canadian folk hero and bank robber. With Edwin Boyd, Morlando establishes himself as a filmmaker with a bright future ahead of him and a Canadian talent to keep an eye on in the future.
Keyhole (Friday, January 6 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, January 7 at 4 p.m.) – Winnipeg auteur Guy Maddin adapts his trademark dream like style for his playful take on The Odyssey, retold as a psychological 1930s gangster film. Even for cinephiles who consider Maddin to be an acquired taste, the silly and sometimes hilarious asides that permeate the somewhat esoteric material, make the film a blast to watch with the right audience. Also, this is the role that leading actor Jason Patric seems like he was born to play.
Hobo with a Shotgun (Saturday, January 7 at 9 p.m. and Tuesday, January 10 at 4 p.m.) – While the sad snubbing of Michael Dowse’s Goon still stinging us slightly (there are sadly only ten slots for this series, anyhow), it comes across as somehow even more heartening that Jason Eisner’s gleefully deranged genre film – naturally about a shotgun toting hobo doling out justice “one shell at a time” – would find its way onto a list of generally more prestigious fare. Any why shouldn’t it? Eisner has crafted a love letter to past works of Canuxploitation that is almost more vital to the country’s cultural identity than a thousand period dramas. Seeing it in a building as posh as the TIFF Lightbox might be the most glorious desecration the cinematheque as seen thus far.
Starbuck (Tuesday, January 10 at 7 p.m., Wednesday, January 11 at 3 p.m., and Friday, January 13 at 3 p.m.) – One of the biggest success stories in Quebecois cinema last year, this crowd pleasing comedy that charmed audiences at TIFF follows a 42 year old layabout (Patrick Huard) who has his past catch up with him in the form of hundreds of children he unwittingly sired as a sperm donor come forward in hopes of exposing the identity of their paternal father. Easily the most generally accessible film of the line up (and that’s in no way a bad thing), writer-director Ken Scott’s film will appeal to anyone looking for some easy laughs and life lessons.
A Dangerous Method (Thursday, January 12 at 7 p.m.) – The evening before its limited Canadian theatrical run begins, the latest film from director David Cronenberg acts simultaneously as something familiar and altogether different for one of Canada’s biggest names in filmmaking. Sure, the idea of Cronenberg directly tackling the professional and personal relationships between psychoanalysts Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), might seem tailor made for a director as intent on conveying subtext as he is, but the fact that Cronenberg plays the material so straight and without an elbow-nudging slant, elevates the film beyond something one would’ve expected.
Café de Flore (Friday, January 13 at 9 p.m., Sunday, January 15 at 5:30 p.m.) – You know, maybe you should just read what I wrote about this one last time, instead. But I wouldn’t hesitate to beat the drum a bit more for this lovely film from Quebec director Jean Marc Vallee.
The series also includes three films I plan on making a point to catch that I haven’t gotten around to just yet. Despite building a great deal of buzz at TIFF, Sarah Polley’s second feature effort Take This Waltz (Saturday, January 14 at 9 p.m. and Sunday, January 15 at 3 p.m.) managed to get lost in the shuffle and craziness of the festival for me. There are also two further offerings from Quebec, Sebastien Pilote’s Le Vendeur (Saturday, January 14 at 6 p.m. and Sunday, January 15 at noon) and first time director Guy Edoin’s Marecages (Wednesday, January 11 at 7 p.m. and Thursday, January 12 at 3 p.m.), that I plan on catching at my earliest convenience.
In addition to the feature programming, there are two groups of some tremendous short films playing on Sunday, January 8. Programme A (at 7 p.m.) includes the 3-D dance offering ORA (which should appeal to those recently taken by Wim Wender’s Pina), the chilling post-apocalyptic satire We Ate the Children Last, the TIFF Best Canadian Short Film winning family drama Doubles with Slight Pepper, and a pair of visually stunning shorts in Hope and Choke. Programme B (8:30 p.m.) features two solid slice of life dramas (No Words Came Down and Rhonda’s Party) that deal with young people trying awkwardly to make true personal connections to others, and the emotionally wrenching La Ronde about twins trying hard to sever their connections following the death of their father. Also included in Programme B are the visually stunning Trotteur that harkens back to the work of the Lumiere Brothers (but with a modern twist) and Igor Drljaca’s home video based documentary of his childhood, The Fuse: Or How I Burned Simon Bolivar. These shorts packages showcase some of the finest and most often overlooked talents in Canadian cinema today.
Tickets are $12 each, with select screenings featuring appearances from some of the principal participants. Different ticket packages are also available for purchase. For more information and tickets, visit tiff.net.
Top image: A scene from Hobo With a Shotgun. Courtesy Alliance Films.