SPECIAL GUEST POST BY SADAF AHSAN
The 40th year of the Toronto International Film Festival now underway means industry elites and journalistic narcissists have descended on the eager-to-please Toronto.
The city is overly congested during this year’s festival thanks to the shutting down of some major intersections, which have instead chosen to operate Festival Street, complete with food trucks and photo ops and “fun”, it’s a misanthrope’s nightmare.
Fortunately, most of those misanthropes will be spending September 10-20 huddled inside a chilly movie theatre digesting as many heavyweight dramas and art house films as they can for your reviewing pleasure. You’re welcome.
Here’s your take on Day 1 and 2 of #TIFF:
THE LOBSTER ****
An incredibly original and absorbing drama (image above), The Lobster takes you in directions you can’t possibly predict, which is exactly where its value lies. It exists in a dreary dystopian future when all people who dare to be single are taken to The Hotel, where they have 45 days to fall in love or be turned into an animal of their choosing. Sounds absurd, but the film pulls it off as a legitimately terrifying consequence.
With Colin Farrell playing vulnerable and Rachel Weisz endearingly sweet, the two are easy to root for, no matter what they are pushed to do in order to save themselves in this social commentary on dreaded singledom.
Strange and surreal, as Yorgos Lanthimos films tend to go, The Lobster is an unusually witty comedy and so unexpected and fresh that it’s easily the one to beat at the festival so far simply for being able to fool and perplex its audience so well.
Although John Crowley’s Brooklyn is described as a love triangle—one young woman having to choose between a New Yorker and Irishman—it really concerns itself with a love between a single man and home. The triangle is heart-wrenching, yes, but as charming an actor as Domhnall Gleason has a knack for being, his character isn’t given much to do or convey. And that’s okay, because Brooklyn isn’t about that. It’s about the dilemma of choosing home and the family you grew up with or moving away and taking on a new place as a new home and new people as a new family.
Saoirse Ronan finally returns to material deserving of her, while Emory Cohen cleans up (dude has been needing a haircut for a desperately long time) and swallows the 50s New Yorker accent whole, pulling off a character that is entirely comprised of endearment after endearment.
With an emotional poignancy that stretches from beginning to end, Brooklyn has a surprising wit that pops up (sometimes obtrusively) and avoids cliché when it would be easier to give in to it. Most remarkably, it doesn’t explicitly idealize New York and all that it supposedly has to offer—the city is a stand in for any new home, as you know it.
Sicario follows an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) recruited by the American government to help fight the drug war on the US/Mexico border. The film presents an evenly heightened level of anxiety from the moment it opens, a stomach-turning intensity that persists throughout the film, which is quite an achievement on Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s part, whose Prisoners and Enemy both had the uncanny ability of maintaining a sense of compulsive viewing without resorting to cliche. Both were also different enough genres that seeing Villeneuve pull off what is, for all intents and purposes, a police-meets-military film, begs the question – what can’t he do? Imagine a Villeneuve comedy.
The grim tension is strong enough to warrant the graphic violence committed at the hands of both the Mexican cartels and American police.
Blunt is passionate, but she doesn’t deliver a lasting impact. No, that job comes down to Benicio Del Toro, a member of the team leading the charge at the border, in what should be considered an impressively startling comeback for the actor.
He spends his days drifting wide-eyed, noticing details around him for the first time, and ripping apart bathroom stalls and the refrigerator “just to see how they work”.
Despite resorting to a melodramatic reveal and some clunky characterization when it comes to Naomi Watts, who plays Karen, a woman Gyllenhaal inadvertently befriends to guide him through his grieving, the film remains a beautifully introspective take on what it means to truly grieve, and may only strongly impact those who’ve been there before.