Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fall Movie Preview: What We Saw at TIFF

Ceiling of Elgin Theater, Toronto
We have just returned from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). We also visited with two women who are living their second lives and then safely escorted (not that she needed us) one of our daughters to her second year of grad school and as she put it her “last first day of school.” The six films we saw moved us as did the city, its people, its history and its hyper-growth and vitality.(There are more construction cranes there than in Dubai!)  We attended screenings in ordinary multiplexes, the recently built Bell Lightbox and the renovated Elgin Theater (it opened in 1913 for vaudeville productions)…even theaters need a second life. Here's some of what we saw and thought. 

Imogene                    Frances Ha                           Jackie
These are the three films at TIFF with a female lead in the title role.  The first one also has a female co-director and a female writer.  The second one has a female co-writer, and the third  a female director.... better behind the camera ratios. Maryl offers a trio of reviews while Caryl names her favorite movie and favorite performance by an actress in a leading role.


Imogene is played by Kristen Wiig, a failed 30-something playwright, who never fit in with her fake Manhattan friends.  When her even faker boyfriend dumps her in a cab, she fakes her own suicide and winds up in a mental ward.  Her flaky and flighty mother (Annette Bening) is called to reclaim and return her to her roots in tacky Ocean City, NJ and a family that clarifies why Imogene left in the first place.  It’s one of those neatly packaged comedies where all is swell in the end and feels a little more like a Hollywood than an independent film.  

Wiig’s performance will remind you of her breakout role in “Bridesmaids”. You will enjoy her impeccable comedic timing and quirkiness but end up hoping that she will soon stretch her skills in different directions in upcoming performances.  Bening’s wacky character will make you laugh or at least smile and obsess a bit that roles for actors of her talent and age are not as deep or common as we would like.  Half of the director team is Shari Springer Berman. and the writer is Michelle Morgan, who also has a small acting role.  The "starting over again" theme is one of my favorites.

Frances Ha

Frances Ha starring and co-authored by Greta Gerwig (with Noah Baumbach) is another “coming of age” film but this one is shot in black and white.   Frances is a 20-something dancer and striving choreographer with a mix of friends and roommates that she can’t always negotiate.  When her best friend and roommate from college leaves and moves in with her boyfriend, Frances falls apart and acts out in ways unfamiliar even to her.  The movie’s plot points aren’t major and don’t come at you fast and furious.  It’s the everyday trivial yet comical occurrences on the road to self discovery that are so engaging because of the genuine characters and authentic dialogue. “I’m not a real person yet," says Frances, and “I like things that look like mistakes.”  

I’ll just say it: it’s my favorite film of the three.  It has the feel of a true independent film even though it was shot in New York, California and France.  Frances is finally able to build a structure around her talent and find a place in the world where she can literally put her name on the mailbox….except she can’t fit it all, which is why it’s shortened to Ha!  Frances is happy in her new life but my sense is that she will be on this road to self discovery at some time again in her future.


Jackie, uniquely performed as usual by Holly Hunter in the title role, is the American biological mother of twin sisters who was hired as a surrogate by two gay Dutch want-to-be fathers.  This is not so much another dysfunctional family film as it is an American road trip movie.  It takes place mostly in New Mexico and, despite the Dutch director Antoinette Beumer and the two Dutch actresses, it feels more American than European.  The two sisters are called away, one from an abusive boss and the other from an overbearing spouse, to care for the ailing Jackie, their uncultured and ornery mother.  

Jelka and Carice van Houten are real life sisters, whom we hope to see again soon in an American film. (Carice has a role in the HBO series "Game of Thrones.)  Jackie is a testament to the fact that maternal instincts and familial connections do not always come from the biological or even the psychological as evinced by the surprise ending.  

. . . and Anne from Amour

Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima, Mon Amour, 1959 and Amour, 2012
Caryl's favorite film at the Toronto film festival was without question Amour from 70-year-old director Michael Haeneke.  The movie stars two legendary French actors: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges) and Emmanuelle Riva (Anne). The long-married, octogenarian couple, who live in a luxurious Paris apartment, are a portrait of decline: she has had a stroke and wants to remain at home to die---and he, though frail himself, promises to care for her until the end. Amour is a story of aging, sickness and, ultimately, death but it also a story of love, kindness and irreversible devotion. It is one of the most visually-exceptional and emotional-affecting films I have ever seen. 

And, I’m not the only one who thinks so: Amour won the Palm d’Or at Cannes this year (the second for the director: The White Ribbon took the honor in 2009.) Emmanuelle Riva not only gives a beautiful performance but, at 85--yes 85!-- she is a beautiful woman. Haneke remembered her from her first film role in Hiroshima, Mon Amour, a classic French new wave film from 1959. To see why she was unforgettable then, watch this.

The subject matter of Amour is universal but the film is not a political plea for euthanasia, according to Haneke. He wanted to tackle the topic because of a personal experience with someone close to him. Not his parents, he said emphatically in his post-screening interview at TIFF, although the apartment where the entire film takes place was built to resemble the one where his mother and father lived in Vienna.  With Amour, Haneke  asks moviegoers to look death in the face.  Even the daughter played by Isabelle Huppert in the film finds herself unready--like so many of us--to let our parents go. We all will confront mortality eventually--our own, and our loved ones. Watching Amour helps to understand both the inevitability of death and the complexity of love. We do so by looking into the extraordinary countenance of Emmanuelle Riva who as Anne gives a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

Thanks for Sharing

Blumberg (left) and cast on the red carpet
One of the last two films we saw was Thanks For Sharing. Is a star-studded romcom format appropriate for the topic of sex addiction? Is sex addiction even a real disease or, as some people say, just an excuse for men to cheat? The movie gets you thinking, and the writing from Stuart Blumberg (The Kids are All Right) is terrific (i.e. "Worry is a meditation on shit."). His directorial debut is promising as well. Mark Ruffalo, and Gwenyth Paltrow are fun to watch and have believable chemistry but this film isn’t one of their triumphs.There is, however, a character and an acting newcomer who definitely stands out: ”Pink” (Alecia Moore). Keep your eyes out for her here and in the future.

Something in the Air

Our final screening took us back to our first lives when we were student activists in the 60s and 70s. Something in the Air is a lush autobiographical portrait from Olivier Assayas, who himself gave up political activism for painting and film-making. Set in France after the tumultuous protests of 1968, the movie follows a group of teenagers as they set about the business of growing up. Assayas won the Venice film festival prize for screenplay so he was unable to make it to TIFF but the movie speaks for itself: whatever our age we are always faced with choices of what we want to be. We should all hope to choose as successfully as Assayas has.


  1. Oh my gosh I can't wait until they come to a big silver screen in my neighborhood!!! Thanks for the reviews....

  2. Sorry I forgot to include my name.... from P.K.

    1. PK

      So glad to hear from you. We are finally back from Toronto and back to the serious business of blogging
      (Ha!). While we were there, we spent some people who are involved in your area. Love to talk to you
      about it.

      all best,

  3. I can't believe you two went to Toronto! I've been investigating air fares to go there for a little vacation this fall. One of my favorite 'zines, Covet Garden (, focuses on the stylish homes of creative people in Toronto.

    Thank you for reviewing all of those movies. It's always great to get recommendations. Like P.K., I'll be watching for them here.

    Oh, and if you have any restaurant/hotel suggestions for visiting Toronto, I'd love to hear those as well!

  4. hi Judith,

    You will love Toronto! My daughter is in grad school there, and I have
    lots of recommendations for you, which I can share by email. But
    while you are looking a plane fares, do consider Porter. The prop planes
    land at Billy Bishop airport on an island just five minutes from downtown
    Toronto--by ferry!! It's a great introduction to a great city some people
    call "New York Lite".

    More later.