The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is underway with the usual presence of stars and the hundreds of fans eager to catch a look of the guests. They have even waited long hours in weather that at least during the first four days of the event, has been less than benign. TIFF 2019 has been very much associated with big Hollywood productions, even Oscar potential winners. However, this festival is also an excellent showcase for movies from different parts of the world. However, the level of many of those international productions has not been as high as in previous years.
TIFF 2019 – with some political flavour
At the time of writing this piece (Tuesday), in the opinion of this critic, there are six remarkable movies, of which three have a strong political component. In no particular order they are:
‘Sorry, We Missed You‘ by Ken Loach (U.K.) a director with a well-known reputation as a sharp observer and critic of what’s going on with the new economic order introduced in his country by Thatcher. In this case, the story focuses on the growing practice of companies not to hire workers, but what they call “individual contractors” to whom they provide no social security and instead they are forced to work extra hours to complete their tasks. The man working for a parcel-delivery company also faces severe family problems compounded by the workload he and his wife have to undertake.
‘The Laundromat‘ directed by Steven Sodenbergh (U.S.A.) presents an ironic and powerful indictment of the so-called shell companies set up in tax heavens. The story is introduced and partly narrated by Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), the two lawyers involved in the scandal of the Panama Papers that shook Wall Street in 2016. Meryl Streep plays the role of a woman whose husband dies when a cruiser boat sank in a New York lake. The insurance company refused to pay any damages using several excuses. In the end, the insurer was one of those off-shore shell companies.
‘The Barefoot Emperor‘ is a movie from Belgium directed by Jessica Woodworth and Peter Biessens, narrated in an engaging and intriguing surreal form. The king of collapsing Belgium (Wallonia has separated) while visiting Sarajevo and attending a reenacting of the killing of Archduke Ferdinand, is accidentally shot. Hospitalized in a very strange institution in Croatia, located in what used to be a summer residence of Marshall Tito, the king learns that he will be the Emperor of New Europe. A strange group working in the shadows has set up that new institutional framework for a continent in crisis.
TIFF – A beautiful day in the neighbourhood
‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood‘ (U.S.A.) is, of course, another film on that American icon, Mr. Rogers. A documentary was released last year on the famous TV personality. This movie directed by Marielle Heller and featuring Tom Hank in the leading role is not exactly a biopic since it only focuses on one particular event in his life. That was the time when he was interviewed for Esquire magazine (the article inspired the movie, but the journalist’s name has been changed to create a fictional character). Hank delivers a compelling Mr. Rogers with all his mannerisms and tone of voice.
TIFF – A thriller with many twists – Knives Out
‘Knives Out‘ (U.S.A.) directed y Brian Johnson and featuring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer, Michael Shannon. This is one of those thrillers in which the spectator is told early on what happened, and who actually committed the crime, but the interest of the story lies on the many twists that would actually change the original perception of events.
TIFF, A nostalgic look at Hong Kong – No. 37 Cherry Lane
‘No. 37 Cherry Lane‘ (China, Hong Kong) is an animation movie directed by Yonfan. This film is a delightful, nostalgic look at this Chinese city in 1967, right at a time a mass mobilizations by young people. Against that background, a young university graduate student starts tutoring a beautiful 18-year-old girl. At the same time, he is attracted to her beautiful mother, with whom he would share the taste for some emblematic movies from the 1960s.
TIFF 2019 – Something on the rest
Not a very impressive presence from other parts of the world, perhaps the best among international features is “Spider” by Andres Wood (Chile): a dramatic look at three members of a fascist group that opposed the Salvador Allende government in the 1970s and contributed to its violent overthrowing in 1973. Two of those former members of the group were married and now lead “normal” lives, but the third would come back and disturb their pleasant existence.
TIFF 2019 – Devil Between the Legs
‘Devil Between the Legs‘ by Mexican director Arturo Ripstein is presented as some ironic and even somehow humoristic portrayal of sex in old age. Instead, it is loaded with sadness and bitterness, and was rather disappointing considering the prestigious career of this director.
‘Three Summers‘ by Brazilian director Sandra Kagut instead, is a movie that disappoints everybody. Narrated in three episodes, each set in Christmas in three different years, the plot gets confusing and loses its focus after the second summer.