My TIFF Experience Part 2
In my previous article I talked about the experience of TIFF as a festivalgoer, now I’ll be looking at TIFF from the perspective of a filmgoer. This year’s festival was packed to the brim with phenomenal and highly anticipated films, of which I caught 7. I think the best way to view these films is through a ranking and my brief thoughts on each film.
It should also be said that I watched as many as I realistically could. Between classes, volunteering, and the hour-long commute each way, my time was extremely pressed for the 11 days. As a result, some of my most anticipated films I was not able to see. Such films included The Whale, The Menu, The Son, and Moonage Daydream, all of which I would imagine to be very great films. I would also like to mention that The Fabelmans won the coveted People’s Choice Award, which was very well deserved. Anyways, onto the ranking!
The Swimmers dir. Sally El Hosaini
Country: United Kingdom
The Swimmers was the opening gala presentation for the festival held at the glamorous Princess of Wales Theatre. I was severely underdressed, and my seats were the second highest row in the venue, but that didn’t dissuade how surreal and amazing it was to be there. As for the film…
The Swimmers was the weakest film by a fair margin. For a festival that prides itself on showing the best and most innovative films cinema has to offer, The Swimmers sticks out like a sore thumb. Based on the remarkable true story of Sarah and Yusra Mardini, The Swimmers sanitizes and guts the harrowing experience into consumer-friendly drivel. The film has good moments for sure, but the film’s attempt to please everybody creates a shallow narrative with no lasting impact. It tries to cover dozens of themes but never goes further than the surface level on each of them. The result is a very hollow experience that fails to do justice to the incredible story the film is based on.
Pearl dir. Ti West
Country: United States
The prequel to X was one of my most anticipated films of the festival. I watched it at the Ontario Place Cinesphere in the second row, which made for a film experience that hurt my neck for days afterwards.
Ti West’s X was one of the best slashers in recent memory and Pearl looked to expand upon its maturity and brutality. It delivered in ways, but also disappointed in others. Pearl’s best qualities are Mia Goth’s performance and the film’s aesthetic. Mia Goth gives it her all and it shows. She is absolutely deranged, but her sympathetic moments lose no power either. She elevates a character who teeters on being one-dimensional into a fairly engaging protagonist. The aesthetic drops the Texas Chainsaw-esque grit of X in favor of the technicolor dream of 1930’s musicals. It's like if Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis was replaced with Norman Bates. It’s gorgeous and Ti West’s attention to detail and shot composition cannot be understated. Unfortunately, the narrative is very one note. The singular focus on the character of Pearl is not compelling enough for a very lengthy runtime. We could just have easily understood her motives and story in 80 minutes rather than 102. It gets repetitive, there is not enough substance, but the film attempts to stretch said substance way further than it could realistically handle. The result is multiple retreads of similar ideas with diminishing returns. It’s still a very well-crafted film with plenty of stellar elements, it just needed more time in the cutting room and a more focused narrative.
Wendell and Wild dir. Henry Selick
Country: United States
Wendell and Wild was another one of my most anticipated films of the festival. Both a reunion of Key and Peele and Henry Selick’s return to the silver screen, Wendell and Wild had a lot to deliver on when I caught it at the Lightbox. Like Pearl, I received a mixed bag, but much more positive than negative.
Visually, the film is a massive stride forwards in animation. Almost expressionist next to the already otherworldly Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas. The fluidity and unbridled creativity on display meets the lofty expectations associated with Selick’s name. Animation-wise, it is flawless. The film’s animation also couples well with the storybook aesthetic of the film. The dialogue, visuals, and plot progression feel like reading a children’s storybook. It reflects Coraline’s macabre yet fantastical aesthetic but distinct enough to mark it as a separate entity.
Unfortunately, the storybook aesthetic hurts the narrative. The brevity of the story beats make emotional moments far weaker than they should be and the in between stuff is weak as well. A film needs more than just strong beats, the plot in between needs to advance them, and the excessive storylines and limited thematic core severely hinder that development. It needed a stronger backbone than dark whimsicality and parent/child dynamics, but it still made for a joyously creative film and another reminder of why stop-motion must never die out.
Bros dir. Nicholas Stoller
Country: United States
Bros may seem like an ordinary romantic comedy, but it is so much more. I expected Bros to be one of the safest bets of the festival based on my undying love for Billy Eichner’s comedy and my recent reappraisal of the romantic comedy genre. Suffice to say, walking out of the Scotiabank theatre, I was not let down in the least.
Marking the first mainstream romantic comedy with a predominantly LGBTQ+ cast, Bros is a great romcom with an even greater message. It follows many tried and true romantic comedy tropes that we’ve been seeing for years, but it does them with both a wink to the camera and transparent sincerity. These tropes are as integral to the plot as their inversion. Bros like to contort the romantic comedy subgenre to examine LGBTQ+ relationships in a historically heteronormative landscape. Its messaging regarding LGBTQ+ relationships is powerful and important, providing an astonishingly genuine soul behind a very funny film. While the vast cast of characters each make a great impression, Bros is owned by Billy Eichner. Working both in the writing room and on screen, Eichner proves that he is so much more than a good comedian. His authentic acting is equally strong as his comedic acting, and he makes his character magnetic. My only criticism would be a relatively rocky start where the film struggles to choose a lane to explore. Luckily the film quickly finds its footing and weaves between romcom, satire, and drama. Bros is a landmark film for representation, and it fully earns its merit as a smart, sincere, and especially hilarious romantic comedy.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery dir. Rian Johnson
Country: United states
Anyone who had seen the first Knives Out knew that this sequel was not one to disappoint. Watching this at the cinesphere, the biggest screen of the festival, with around 600 other moviegoers confirmed that this sequel was just as captivating, twisty, and entertaining as its knockout predecessor.
This will undeniably be the briefest review of mine as I don’t want to give anything away whatsoever. Glass Onion doesn’t build upon Knives Out at all, rather choosing to cover a totally different mystery in the same vein as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series. Rian Johnson wears his Christie influences like a badge of honor, crafting a memorable and engaging whodunnit that owes quite a bit to Christie’s writing. The sequel adds new themes, new stakes, a new setting which completely transforms how character interactions work, and a brilliant narrative structure that keeps you guessing throughout. Its stakes feel a lot more contained, which heightens their impact a substantial amount. Suffice to say every member of the audience was consistently on the edge of their seats. While many films in 2022 may have moved me, scared me, made me think, or made me reevaluate every life choice, I doubt any will come close to how entertaining Glass Onion is.
The Fabelmans dir. Steven Spielberg
Country: United States
I went into The Fabelmans with the most trepidation out of any film at the festival, maybe even of the year. Based on my lukewarm feelings towards biopics, the lengthy runtime, and my immense disdain towards the last director biopic/period piece to play at TIFF (Belfast, which somehow won the people’s choice award), I was worried I was in for an excruciating experience. Yet, upon leaving Roy Thomson Hall, all I could think of was how dumb I was to ever doubt the master.
Spielberg is the definitive name in film for a reason. Despite film Twitter attempting to reject so called “Dad Cinema” Spielberg will forever remain the definitive director of all time, and The Fabelmans is another example why. Less a story about Spielberg’s past than a brilliant reflection on creativity and what it means to be an artist. The film masterfully balances drama, comedy, romance, and corniness all to create a beautiful ode to art. If anyone understands passion it’d be Spielberg, and he and Tony Kushner are able to explore it in a scarily subtle and natural way. The Fabelmans feels like a domestic drama at times, but that allows for multiple intersecting relationships to form a complete picture of an artist’s life. Performance wise, every cast member kills it, nothing else to say they. They simply sell everything and considering this is a film with around a dozen emotional climaxes, their ability to bring authenticity to each of them is as remarkable as it is essential. I feel as though that’s the simple beauty of The Fabelmans, everything works. It seems as though it should be a cheesy, overlong, boring ego trip, but the impeccable craftsmanship on display keeps it from being any of those (asides from cheesy, but the cheese is good, I promise). It's a swan song that culminates decades of art, experience, hardships, and most of all passion into a beautiful embrace with a wink to the audience. Spielberg is taking a bow and reminding us that cinema, and even all of art are so much bigger than all of us, and it’s beautiful when we can even capture a glimpse of that. Long live the master.
The Banshees of Inisherin dir. Martin McDonagh
The Banshees of Inisherin felt as mystical as the howling demons of its namesake. This was my last film of the festival and undoubtedly my most anticipated. Sitting in the Royal Alexandra Theatre waiting for it to begin I started getting nervous that it might fall short of my expectations, especially after having my mind blown by The Fabelmans two nights previous. Upon leaving the theatre what I was worried about was true. Banshees did not even come close to my expectations, it surpassed them tenfold.
After the film finished, I don’t think I breathed for a good minute. I have not seen a film this brilliant in a very long time. Of course, that’s expected coming from Martin McDonagh, but the shocking maturity and complexity of Banshees is unlike anything from any filmmaker. It is a film that says so little, but in doing so says more than everything else. Each sequence, each line, each word slices through the air like a knife aimed straight at the soul of the viewer. It makes you reevaluate so many things in your life but not in a cheap and loud way, in a very subtle and genius way. A ticket to Banshees is a $15 existential crisis, and it’s incredible. It’s hard to put into words without spoiling its singularity as a film, which cannot be understated. It’s apparent that McDonagh’s talents as a playwright helped this film, but even with that added element of the stage, Banshees is such an anomaly in today’s cinematic landscape. It goes to places many wouldn’t dare to go in ways many wouldn’t dare to attempt, it’s truly lighting in a bottle. The supporting cast is brilliant with Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon each giving career best performances. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson give all-time best performances out of any actor that the film works in tandem with. It feels like everyone working on this movie was operating on a wavelength separate from the rest of Hollywood and we are so much better off because of that. Banshees is a transcendent experience and one of the best works of art I’ve ever seen. A morose but beautiful way to end 11 of the most exciting and busy days of my life.
TIFF 2022 was an unforgettable experience that has altered the way I see film for the better, and I truly cannot wait for next year!