TIFF14 – Day 1

The 39th Toronto International Film Festival has begun! And with temperatures exceeding 30C, it was the perfect day to spend in an air-conditioned theater. Included below are capsule reviews for the two films I saw today. Ratings are based on a 0-4 scale.

the humbling

THE HUMBLING ★★

Barry Levinson directs this adaptation of a Phillip Roth novel about an aged actor (Al Pacino) who finds himself unable to remember his lines, seeks psychiatric help, and then embarks on an affair with the grown up daughter of two of his long-time friends (Greta Gerwig). ‘The Humbling’ has a few laughs, but something about this “older man falls for younger woman and it’s complicated not only because of their age difference but by the fact that she is a lesbian” story makes it feels like it was made twenty years ago. Ms. Gerwig, who was so great in ‘Frances Ha’, is trapped by the film’s screenplay, and her character’s arc is unconvincing. Mr. Pacino’s overacting is thankfully limited to just the film’s climax. The shoddy production doesn’t help things either.

Clouds of Sils

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA ★★★1⁄2

Olivier Assayas directs this picture about a veteran actress (Juliette Binoche) who looks to her assistant (Kristen Stewart) for help as she jousts with an arrogant younger actress (Chloe Grace Moretz). This is a career best for Stewart (finally, she has found the perfect role to distance herself from the ‘Twilight’ persona) and she holds her own opposite to Binoche, who is always outstanding.  I know it is only Day One of the festival, but I have a feeling this is going to be one of the stronger entries at TIFF this year. “A movie isn’t supposed to have answers, it’s supposed to raise questions.” said Mr. Assayas at the Q&A. His complex ideas about the movies, of art imitating life, of life imitating art, the phase of youth, the passage of time, and the need to adapt to a fast-changing world (and a quickly transforming cinematic world) fully engaged me. Opening shots within a moving train are a masterclass of technique, and the still shots of the Swiss Alps are no less powerful as they have a foretelling presence. 

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