The Toronto International Film Festival
For those of you who have lived in Toronto for a number of years you may be aware of the Toronto International Film Festival. If you are not familiar with the festival where have you been? It is only one of the largest film festivals in the world, and is notable for hosting the premiere of many films that go on to be nominated for Oscars, including several best picture winners. Since there a several film premieres, many big time stars come to Toronto to do promotion, so there is a good chance that you may bump into Matt Damon or Lorenzo Lamas as you walk around downtown Toronto. I personally have never really seen any one of note. The most famous person I have ever seen is Spenny from “Kenny vs. Spenny”. I was underwhelmed. Looking back, it may not have even been him. If that’s the case then the biggest celebrity I saw was Rainbow Sun Franks from “Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem”. Apart from the big time stars walking around downtown, the film festival is a great place to see international films that would not normally get a North American release. This is the aspect of the film festival I like to take advantage of, and this year I watched a number of East Asian films from Korea, Japan, and mainland China. Just to let you know: I didn’t know anything about the movies I went to see. I bought the ticket based on the short synopsis that was provided in the program. So here is a quick rundown of what I saw:
"Cold Fish" (Japan; directed by Sion Sono): It was about a middle aged guy with a family, who is a bit of a wuss and gets roped into being an accomplice for a serial killer. It was a good start to the festival. The movie had some intense performances and dialogue combined with really black comedy. The director walked a fine line between realistic and over-the-top making the film surreal and demented. Thumbs up.
"I Saw the Devil" (South Korea; Kim Ji-woon): A secret agent hunts down the serial killer that murdered his pregnant fiance. This was the uncut version so there was a lot of gore, and some scenes that were really hard to watch. However, I liked the high tension throughout the film, and the plot was really original. I think the movie was more fantastic then I thought it would be, but I enjoyed it. Thumbs up.
"Confessions" (Japan; Tetsuya Nakashima): A teacher exacts revenge on the two male students that murdered her little girl. The movie starts out stylishly and I thought that it would have some relevant social commentary about Japanese youth, but it quickly degraded into silliness. All the characters are really ever-the-top. I thought their motives were really simple but they were exaggerated through constant monologues, which deprived the film of any subtlety. Also every delivery and emotional response was histrionic to the point of being cartoonish. I started giggling during the dramatic climax, which involved a homemade bomb, an estranged mother, and an implausible plot twist. Thumbs down.
… I am sure that you are noticing a similar theme to the movies I picked with them all featuring murdering sociopaths. That really wasn't my intention, but I thought they would be the most suspenseful. The last movie I saw was a lot more up beat:
"The Piano in a Factory" (China; Zhang Meng): A father tries to keep his daughter in a custody battle by building her a piano from scratch in an abandoned steel factory. I really liked this movie. I was not expecting much, and it ended up surprising me. I thought the cinematography was very astute and precise. The camera would either remain static, or slowly pan in shots, and all the objects and buildings would be carefully aligned in the frame. It had some great physical comedy and punchy Russian pop music too. There was not much conflict for the characters though, so the film seemed to drag towards the end. It also had this prevalent communist sentiment, which was that a fraternity between the working class could get anything accomplished. I heard that was normal for Chinese films, which was news to me. Thumbs up.
As for the festival as a whole: I do not know if I can recommend it. Buying tickets is an enormous hassle: they only accept Visa on their website, which crashed on the first day, and they only have one box office in the entire city. This meant that when I arrived an hour early on the opening day of ticket sales, I had to wait four hours to get my tickets, and I still did not get tickets to everything I wanted to see. The tickets are not cheap either at $20 a ticket for a regular screening, and $40 for a gala. Galas are where you get a chance to see the big stars, and there is a Q&A after the movies. It is really cool that you can get that insight, but not everyone is James Lipton in the audience, and some of the questions can be really dumb. So if you want to pay $40 dollars to see your favorite celebrity answer obtuse questions, and watch a movie that will be in theaters in a couple months go for it. Otherwise, why invest in the hassle? The movies are really hit or miss since there is not much information available on most of them. The lineups can take as much time as watching the films themselves, and everyone thinks making pirate noises is hilarious. The whole pirate joke is three years old! No one thinks pirates are funny anymore.
That’s my opinion, and anyone is welcome to share what they thought of this years TIFF.