Price of Love – Arabian Nights, Vol. 1: The Restless One – Psychic Driving – The Assassin – Ixcanul – Son of Saul – The Witch

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People's Choice Award Winner and Runners-Up:
Room, USA, dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Angry Indian Goddesses, India/Germany, dir. Pan Nalin
Spotlight, USA, dir. Thomas McCarthy
 

 
Films I Screened in Toronto:
Ranked in order of preference
 
The full Arabian Nights triptych was the event of the festival. Each part makes most sense in light of the others. Do see them in order!

My Vote for People's Choice
Arabian Nights, Vol. 1: The Restless One (Wavelengths; Portugal, dir. Miguel Gomes) - A+? So many good films here but this inhabits a whole other level as piebald art and political intervention.

Son of Saul (Special Presentations; Hungary, dir. László Nemes) - So formally brilliant you can't help noticing, even as you expend all emotional and moral energy. The sound! The story.

Francofonia (Masters; France/Germany/Netherlands, dir. Aleksandr Sokurov) - Louvre, the End of History. Witty, moving essay on doomed objects surviving, enemies collaborating, time as tight knot.

Arabian Nights, Vol. 3: The Enchanted One (Wavelengths; Portugal, dir. Miguel Gomes) - What Obama said about guns and religion, but about chaffinches. Heavy histories shrink to bearable fetishes.

Ixcanul (Discovery; Guatemala, dir. Jayro Bustamante) - Guatemalan drama quietly, sturdily makes expert choices scene after scene, culminating in my biggest jaw-drop of the fest.

Arabian Nights, Vol. 2: The Desolate One (Wavelengths; Portugal, dir. Miguel Gomes) - Less obviously intricate than Vol 1, and more frontal in stating themes—I thought. Then I grew less sure.

In Jackson Heights (TIFF Docs; USA, dir. Frederick Wiseman) - Most democratic US community abounds with sidewalk pedagogy and filibusters. Everyone tries to save everyone.

Wavelengths 4: Psychic Driving (Wavelengths; Austria/Brazil/Canada/France/Spain/USA, dirs. Miscellaneous) - Links radical activism to African diaspora, occult folklore to synaesthetic abstraction. Dazzling.

Right Now, Wrong Then (Masters; South Korea, dir. Hong Sang-soo) - Lovely. Iridesces with sadness. Hong's Purple Rose of Cairo? Well, that's not exactly true. Nothing ever is.

Victoria (Special Presentations; Germany, dir. Sebastian Schipper) - Morvern Callar rebuilt as pulse-pounding thriller, astonishingly executed in a continuous, 132-minute take. Overwhelming.

Much Loved (Contemporary World Cinema; Morocco, dir. Nabil Ayouch) - Bracing, gutsy, humane drama of Moroccan prostitutes. Moving and nuanced images, sounds, and characters. Pass it on!

Dheepan (Special Presentations; France, dir. Jacques Audiard) - Sleek, observant, steadily winching synthesis of prior Audiard themes. Psychology deftly externalized. Actors keep it hot.

Minotaur (Wavelengths; Mexico, dir. Nicolás Pereda) - Totally bewitching miniature about profound indolence. Possibly class critique of a new, Lynch-meets-Pina Bausch type.

The Treasure (Contemporary World Cinema; Romania, dir. Corneliu Porumboiu) - Comic gold, with an impressively ferrous structure of ironies and nuances that hold it together and expand its scope.

The Assassin (Masters; Taiwan, dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien) - A royal marriage of many lines, sumptuous, as much Unforgiven as Scarlet Empress. Hou's hand still unsteady on story.

The Pearl Button (Masters; Chile, dir. Patricio Guzmán) - Empathic, poetic speculation from a filmmaker whose equanimity is a miracle. Not quite Nostalgia but much-needed.

As I Open My Eyes (Contemporary World Cinema; Tunisia, dir. Leyla Bouzid) - Sonorous, trenchant portrait of an artist as a young woman, riding sharp lines between petulance and dissidence.

Frenzy (Contemporary World Cinema; Turkey, dir. Emin Alper) - Formally stunning mitosis of one suspense thriller into two, enigmatically related. Two parts Audiard, one Don't Look Now.

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (Platform; France, dir. Eva Husson) - Remarkably assured, richly executed debut. Not all story beats fresh but layered, meticulous study.

In the Shadow of Women (Masters; France, dir. Philippe Garrel) - Tiny ficelle of a film takes witty stock of knotted infidelities. Neither one-sided nor free of judgment.

The Other Side (Wavelengths; France/Italy, dir. Roberto Minervini) - Beasts of one nation, arguably under God, arguably indivisible. An upsetting revelation no matter how "true" it is.

3000 Nights (Contemporary World Cinema; Palestine, dir. Mai Masri) - Stirring drama inside Israeli women's prison, with mostly Palestinian inmates. Gutsy takes on solidarity, maternalism.

Story of Judas (Contemporary World Cinema; France, dir. Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche) - Daring rewrite of 2000-year-old treachery, passing for a long time as classical, almost POV-less account. Gorgeous.

Te prometo anarquía (Contemporary World Cinema; Mexico, dir. Julio Hernández Cordón) - Rare bird. Rewards patience and trust as it builds from vaguely illicit skater/dealer pic to humbling tragedy.

Eva Doesn't Sleep (Wavelengths; Argentina, dir. Pablo Agüero) - Eva Perón as Addie Bundren. Caryl Churchill-esque. Brute embodiments and symbolic afterlives in unwinnable duels.

Cemetery of Splendor (Masters; Thailand, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul) - Reader, I must confess I'm starting to find Weerasethakul tedious, as much as I admire his directorial craft.

Taxi (Masters; Iran, dir. Jafar Panahi) - Feels less ambitious than Panahi's two previous house-arrest movies but it's funny and wise and has good tricks up its sleeve.

Starve Your Dog (Contemporary World Cinema; Morocco, dir. Hicham Lasri) - Boldest shredding I've seen here of cinematic form, story flow. Death and the Maiden as punk Moroccan cherry bomb.

The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (Wavelengths; UK, dir. Ben Rivers) - As elaborate and idiosyncratic as it is, the postcolonial metaphors become a bit flat and static.

Chevalier (Contemporary World Cinema; Greece, dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari) - Greek surrealist, quasi-Apatovian remake of American Psycho business-card scene. Finds its berth fast, hangs out a while.

Price of Love (Contemporary World Cinema; Ethiopia, dir. Hermon Hailay) - Some story beats are sadly familiar, but this streetside Ethiopian drama conveys them with nuance and piquant detail.

Evolution (Vanguard; France, dir. Lucile Hadžihalilović) - What if Matthew Barney and Jacques Cousteau co-directed a YA dystopia? I couldn't imagine, but Lucile Hadžihalilović did.

Schneider vs. Bax (Contemporary World Cinema; The Netherlands, dir. Alex van Warmerdam) - Another 18th-century comedy about 21st-century mercenaries. Merrily morbid, somewhat for its own sake. Thin look.

Beasts of No Nation (Special Presentations; USA, dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga) - Value, impact hard to deny but formal and narrative storytelling are a little crude. Young Attah is a find.

Short Cuts: Program 5 (Short Cuts; Canada/France/Germany/Iraq/Spain/UK, dirs. Miscellaneous) - No clinkers, few coups. My faves were the angry Society and the compactly suggestive New Eyes and El Adíos.

The Endless River (Contemporary World Cinema; South Africa, dir. Oliver Hermanus) - Strikingly shot. Taps a rich seam of region-specific tensions and story traditions. Maybe exploits them a bit.

Mountains May Depart (Special Presentations; China, dir. Jia Zhangke) - Hi, I'd like a Hong Sang-soo, a Stella Dallas, a Notes on a Scandal (iced), and a small side of Drrrainage?!

Dégradé (Contemporary World Cinema; Palestine, dirs. Arab Nasser and Tarzan Nasser) - Entrapment, suffocation are topics, occasionally effects of one-set suspenser in Gaza salon. Bold vision. Hang in there.

Return of the Atom (TIFF Docs; Finland, dirs. Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola) - Vividly mounted and persuasive on its basic grounds, but several editing and sound choices baldly manipulate.

Anomalisa (Special Presentations; USA, dirs. Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman) - Could summon no enthusiasm. The self-pity of Kaufman's men is usually ballasted by much more creative detail or insight.

Blood of My Blood (Masters; Italy, dir. Marco Bellocchio) - My astigmatism around high-theatrical Italian melodrama persists. Less crude than Vincere but ideas seem simple?

Girls Lost (Contemporary World Cinema; Sweden, dir. Alexandra-Therese Keining) - A century after Florida Enchantment, we're still using magic-beans device for transgender tale. Shaky on its own themes.

The Witch (Special Presentations; USA, dir. Robert Eggers) - Antichrist meets The Village. Spooky surface meets crossover dreams. Old tropes about faith meet some about the colonies.

Sunset Song (Special Presentations; UK, dir. Terence Davies) - First hour a stilted slog. Middle fights its way to poignancy but last act falters. Barely ten oxygen molecules in it.

Fire Song (Discovery; Canada, dir. Adam Garnet Jones) - Noble intents, rare focus, and solid production values lose out to stiff writing and editing, erratic hold on character.

The Promised Land (Platform; China, dir. He Ping) - Way too airy-fairy Chinese romance between ballerina and hockey coach. Barely a premise, endlessly pre-rehearsed.

Green Room (Mignight Madness; USA, dir. Jeremy Saulnier) - Blue Ruin had assets in all areas; this has zero in any. What happened? Quoth its own eviduh, "This is taking too long."


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