The 46th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) had some in-person shows and a digital section. However, the event is very different from the ones in pre-pandemic times: the stars descended on the town, the red carpet events attracting many spectators, the large crowds on King Street waiting to take a glimpse at their favourite actors and actresses, all of that was almost gone this time. But in the end, it should all be about the movies. Here I have chosen what I consider the five best movies I had the chance to see at the time of writing this piece. (I saw 14 during the five days of in-person shows, and I am now watching others online).
ARTHUR RAMBO (Laurent Castet, France)
Karim D (Rabah Nait Oufella), a young author of Algerian background, has written a book that has become a sensation for the topic it touches: Arab immigration in France and the treatment it gets. The novel has captured the imagination of both the French, at least the intellectual elite, and those that the book describes, the author’s fellow immigrants. However, as the writer would soon realize, the success of an immigrant is always fragile. He will experience that in a brutal way when some tweets he had posted when he was 16, using the alter ego of “Arthur Rambo,” are divulged. Those messages would project an image very different from the gentle Arab author amply recognized by the French public. With the revelations of those tweets, he would have to face difficult decisions. I especially liked that the movie leaves the spectator facing dilemmas as well. What would the disgraced author do now?
THE MAD WOMEN’S BALL (Mélanie Laurent, France)
Set in France in the 1860s, this movie presents us famous Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot, director of the Salpetrière Psychiatric Asylum at the peak of his glory as the introducer of hypnosis as a treatment for mental illnesses, especially hysteria, as neurosis was then known. The young Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge) has been committed to the asylum by his father.
She shows a rebellious character, much in contradiction with what would be expected from a lady of a high social rank in those days. She also claims to receive messages from the spirits of people who have died. The treatment she receives at the asylum is far from therapeutic, but those were standard practices in those days. Things would change with the unexpected help from the chief nurse, Genevieve (Mélanie Laurent).
THE SURVIVOR (Barry Levinson, USA-Hungary-Canada)
A compelling movie based on the real story of Harry Haft, a Jewish boxer who managed to survive his internship in Auschwitz by facing other prisoners. As staged by the sadistic Nazi guards, the fights were really a matter of life and death: losers would be killed.
Haft moved to the US, where he was trying to get information about his girlfriend, who was also taken to a concentration camp. However, his unorthodox way of surviving in the camps would raise some eyebrows among his own people—a movie presenting some critical ethical issues.
THE POWER OF THE DOG (Jane Campion, Australia-New Zealand)
This New Zealand-born director, famous for that beautiful movie “The Piano,” takes us now to the 1920s Montana, to what was still very much the Wild West, at least for the prevailing attitudes. This is especially important when considering sex roles and, more specifically, the male sexual identity in that very macho ambience of cowboy life. However, things don’t always are what they seem. This is a poetic film that approaches masculinity in a very unusual way for a western–great cinematography too.
ANATOLIAN LEOPARD (Emre Kayis, Turkey- Germany-Poland-Belgium)
At first, the plot of this film seemed somehow comedic: Fikret (Ugur Polat) has been the director of the Ankara Zoo for 22 years. However, the town mayor has plans to privatize the place and instead allow that an Arab consortium builds a large amusing park in its place. There is an obstacle, though: one of the animals in the zoo is an Anatolian leopard, considered a national symbol. Privatization cannot go ahead without transferring the animal to another zoo, although there are no takers so far. But when the leopard dies, things get even more complicated. Fikret and other employees decided to hide this fact, stated instead that the leopard had escaped. The story is not so much about the missing animal but rather about Fikret’s loneliness and the destiny of people like him in the hands of unscrupulous politicians.