The Toronto International Film Festival is one of the biggest film fests in the world. With more than 300 films from all over the globe, its scope is both broad and deep. Even fanatics who try to see five or six movies a day for ten days can hope to see only a fraction of what’s available.
The most impressive movie of this year’s festival was a Japanese film called Shara. An incredibly moving family drama, it concerns a teenage boy, his pregnant mother and artistic father. The boy’s twin brother mysteriously disappeared several years before, but his absence haunts the family to the present. The movie slowly builds in intensity as the teen awaits his new sibling, falls in love and discovers himself in a driving rainstorm. It might sound like Oprah material, but director Naomi Kawase has a sure hand, creating something close to perfection.
Another one to watch for is Michael Haneke’s apocalyptic Time of the Wolf. Set in the aftermath of an unnamed disaster, a mother (played Isabelle Huppert) and her two children struggle to survive in the countryside. The movie is at times incredibly difficult to watch (animals are killed on screen, for instance), but Haneke’s formal rigor and trenchant philosophy are extraordinarily impressive. And the film builds to a climax that’s profound and deeply spiritual.
The most pleasant surprise of the festival was the emergence of Moroccan cinema, with the premieres of A Thousand Months and Dry Eyes. The former recalls a strange mix of Abbas Kiarostami and Emir Kusturica. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the portrait of a Moroccan town during Ramadan is captivating. Dry Eyes also features some glorious images, with amazing interior sequences. The story — about a man trying to save a village of prostitutes — flirts with magic realism but finds a touching conclusion.
Russia reasserted its place on the cinematic map with two striking features: Koktebel, a road trip movie about a preadolescent boy and his father, and The Return, an allegorical tale about two brothers and their father, who returns after many years away. Both movies are beautifully paced, with wonderful landscape photography and sparkling performances.
Other movies worth your time include the delightful animated feature The Triplets of Belleville, the Israeli family drama Broken Wings, and the rapturous Korean feature Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring.