I’m thrilled to be back at the 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival. Last year’s festival was a huge success featuring high profile films such as ‘The Descendants’, ‘Moneyball’, ‘Pina’, the eventual Oscar winner for Best Picture ‘The Artist’, and the eventual Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film (my personal favorite of 2011) ‘A Separation’. This year, the festival features 400+ films at 11 different venues where auditorium seating ranging from 200 to 3,000 seats. As a regular TIFF-goer, I can say with certainty that the films at the festival are an indication of the level of quality of films that will be released during the Fall season. Four of the five previous Oscar winners for Best Pictures were pictures that were hugely successful with audience members during TIFF (‘The Hurt Locker’ is the only recent Best Picture winner that wasn’t featured at the festival). For those of you who are tired of the superheroics, bloated sequels, and unnecessary remakes so far this year, I am here to offer words of comfort: there is some fresh filmmaking on the way. We’re at the midpoint of the festival, and I wanted to mention three films which really impacted me.
Rust & Bone (Jacques Autiard)
The film stars Marion Cotillard as a whale trainer at a Marineland who loses both her legs in an accident. She develops a relationship with a bouncer who moonlights as a bare-knuckle boxer. The bouncer (Matthias Schoenarts) is struggling to make ends meet. He has a five-year-old son and is practically homeless. He is a brute, but has to learn show kindness to his son and to Cotillard. He eventually helps bring her back into life, and she helps him find his way. A beautiful romance, but also gritty and tough, and well deserving of its MPAA R-rating. This is a master class of acting, and Marion Cotillard deserves serious Oscar consideration for Best Actress. It’s by far the finest performance I’ve seen all year – a template of technical acting: a quiet, stripped bare performance that doesn’t wallow in self pity. We get the sense that we are watching real people, not character types or Hollywood constructs – people we can discuss like members of our own family. Films such as ‘Rust & Bone’ are why I became a fan of cinema. Autiard’s previous film was ‘The Prophet’, another huge success at TIFF in 2009.
The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)
Mads Mikkelsen – you may not know the name now, but I’m willing to bet that you will eventually. I’m certain his terrific performance in this new Danish film will grab the attention of Hollywood casting directors for future projects. Mikkelsen’s character finds his life turned upside down when a five-year-old student suggests that he exposed himself to her. This quickly escalates from an absurd statement to fact without any supporting evidence. Set in a small town, Mikkelsen soon finds his entire community against him. His innocence is clear from the beginning – there is no ambiguity or doubt, and we as an audience are with him every step of the way as he becomes the target of mass hysteria. What I really loved about ‘The Hunt’ is its sense of place – the film is specific about its setting but its themes are universal. This is a small town in Denmark where everyone knows each other – we know Mikkelsen’s character is innocent even if the town doesn’t, and it is heartbreaking to see what he has to go through. I think ‘The Hunt’ deserves Oscar consideration for Best Foreign Film. This isn’t the sort of picture that is exclusive to arthouse aficionados – it has great potential for crossover appeal. I hope it finds an audience. One of the great moviegoing experiences I’ve had this year.
The Impossible (Juan Antonio Bayona)
Bayona’s previous film was a horror film called ‘The Orphanage’. The horror he has chosen to depict this time is one that is very real – the Indian Ocean earthquake and Tsunami which devastated Southeast Asia in 2004. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play a couple vacationing in Indonesia during Christmas with their three kids. The opening disaster sequences is complete and convincing with visceral use of sound – one of the most horrifying and emotionally draining sequences ever put on film. The wave scatters and badly wounds the family members. This movie is an account of these family members fearfully seeking each other amidst tens of thousands of strangers caught in the mayhem of this natural catastrophe. Impressive performances all around – we’ve come to expect exceptional work from Naomi Watts, and Ewan McGregor, so I’m going to call out a very young talent in this film, Tom Holland. Breathtaking production design, terrifying special effects, uniformly excellent performances, and an emotionally involving story; the rare sort of film that makes you hopeful for humanity. One that sees a tragic event as revealing the best aspects of people.
– Jerry Nadarajah