One of the world’s most prestigious and heavily-attended festivals – the Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF 2019 – is about to kick off. While the ongoing Venice festival has received criticism (rightly so) for the lack of representation of women filmmakers in its line-up, TIFF continues to soldier along positively in that regard. Nine out of 20 Gala films in TIFF are directed by women. TIFF foresaw that this is a systemic issue and signed the “50/50 by 2020” gender parity pledge, with about 36% of the films (still a way to the promised number) in this year’s line-up directed by women. But, for both the festival goer and the press pass holder, it is a problem of plenty and embarrassment of riches.
A film festival goes through a lifecycle like a butterfly – it has astonishing expectations and a slew of natural forces guiding it. But, by the end, it is so vivid, beautiful and unrecognisable that there is always a part that you missed studying, regret not observing and wished you understood better. It’s always better to mix it up – go for the safe, well reviewed award-hoggers. There is Jojo Rabbit from Taika Waititi. It’s been less than a week but there is the already over-discussed Joker. There are Almodovar and Malick, Assayas and Kore-eda. Also look out for the word-of-mouth, out-of-left field choices that gain traction as the fest progresses. Do not listen to Yoda. It helps to throw in a lot of tries along with some dos.
Try: Sarah Gavron’s Rocks. The director who adapted Monica Ali’s Brick Lane into film and made the winsome Suffragette returns with an examination of class struggles in London, when a teenage girl suddenly finds her already-crawling household turned upside down – with the caretaker gone and a younger sibling to take care of.
Do: Portait of a Lady On Fire. The winner of Queer Palm and the Best Screenplay at Cannes. What else? It’s from the acclaimed director of Water Lillies, Céline Sciamma, and is about a young woman painter (Noémie Merlant), who is commissioned a portrait to be used for a woman’s marriage proposals. The woman in question does not wish to be married. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Try: Flatland. Directed by Jenna Bass (who wrote Rafiki), Flatland tells the story of two women on the run for murder, being pursued by a third, a policewoman. It’s from Bass, so it’s not as straight shooting as it sounds like, but one may not be mistaken in expecting the singular vibe of Killing Eve. Classified as a neo-noir Western, Flatland has the potential to be the festival sleeper hit, the one that you’d recommend to a friend from across the road, between movies.
Do: Ema sees the return of Pablo Larrain and his regular Gael Garcia Bernal along with Mariana di Girolamo. From the trailer, it looks nothing like Larrain and everything like Larrain. The same feverish pitch, the kinetic pacing and blocking but with one added element – dance. Lots of dance. The film looks like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg flipped inside out for a well thought out revenge plot.
Try: Made in Bangladesh Did you go to school in the United States of America? Or, the United Kingdom? It’s highly likely that the title of this film goes on your university clothes’ merchandise. My North Carolina State University tee screamed Made in Bangladesh. Director Rubaiyat Hossain brings alive the story of women making inexpensive textiles, in terrible labour conditions, and the difficult, almost-impossible process of unionising. It sounds like the very definition of “film of the moment”.
Do: Jallikkatu Lijo Jose Pellissery took a U-turn with his last film Ee Ma Yau. Until then, Pellissery was happy to be slotted in the grammar of known, accessible auteurs of modern Hollywood filmmaking. He was, therefore, the director more widely accepted outside his state, Kerala. With Ee Ma Yau, he switched to reverse gear and a radical reinvention occurred. The film harked back to the auteurs of Malayalam cinema, and was instantly recognisable to locals, but not necessarily transferable to the rest. This makes his new venture Jallikkatu even more intriguing.
Try: Simple Women Chiara Malta makes a film about a filmmaker with epilepsy. A seizure during a young age becomes an indelible memory for the director and leads to an obsession with dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena. Epileptic fits blur reality and fiction, mind and matter, in what promises to be an addictive acid trip.
Do: Sibyl This unites a host of favourites. There is director Justine Triet, who deals with concerns that the best among us find it difficult to articulate. Love, career and family unite in awkward proportions in Triet’s films. In Sibyl, another of Triet’s midlife crisis-balancing characters mulls over a late career switch. It has Virginie Efira returning from Triet’s In Bed With Victoria, Adèle Exarchopoulos of Blue is the Warmest Color and Sandra Hüller of Toni Erdmann. Everything about Sibyl is unmissable.