TIFF 2013 Cannes

Cannes award winners screening at TIFF 2013

The Toronto International Film Festival used to be called the Festival of Festivals. The reason was simple: All of the major films from Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, and dozens of other important festivals made there way into the ten-day event, so we ended up with a who's who of festival darlings, without most of the filler that occupies even the most prestigious festival's line-up.

Even after the name changes, TIFF has stayed true to this philosophy, so among other perks, Toronto cinephiles have access to most of the big winners from Cannes, the most important film festival in the world. Aside from some nagging omissions - Coen brothers? James Gray? Alexander Payne? - TIFF programmers have done an exceptional job this year at reeling in the heavy hitters.

TIFF this year is atypically light on representation from Berlin and Sundance so I've decided to focus specifically on 2013 award winning titles that premiered on the Croisette, all compiled in a tidy package below. I attended Cannes this year, so will try to offer some personal guidance as well.

Blue is the Warmest Color [Palme d'Or]
As I mentioned in yesterday's post spotlighting the most buzzed about films at TIFF this year, Blue is the Warmest Color won the Palme d'Or, which in many people's books is a prize that sits right next to the Best Picture Oscar in terms of prestige. The film shows the sprawling relationship between two young French girls (performed so well by actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos that the Steven Spielberg-led jury decided to award them a Palme d'Or, too). Controversial for its sexual frankness and extended sex scenes, the extremely divisive film has struck up an intense dialogue since its Cannes victory about the ethics of female and lesbian representations in movies.

Like Father, Like Son [Jury Prize]
The Jury Prize is essentially third place, and it didn't come as a shock to anyone that Hirokazu Kore-eda (Still Walking. I Wish) took home a major award such as this one. The film seemed to play right into Steven Spielberg's wheelhouse, in the sense that it was an extremely moving and sentimental film about fathers' bonds with their sons. This isn't your ordinary family drama, though. The premise of the movie is situated on a pair of families who learn, six years after the fact, that their babies were switched at birth. They decide to swap the grown sons to their rightful parents; from there, much heartstring-tugging ensues.

A Touch of Sin [Best Screenplay]
Would've been my pick for the Palme, personally; instead, as perhaps the least-scripted film in the entire Competition slate, it got a Best Screenplay nod. Better than nothing, eh? As an ostensible (read: utterly unrecognizable) tribute to King Hu's A Touch of Zen, Jia Zhang-ke breaks form and makes an all-out, bloody wuxia picture. There's still some of his trademark introspective ruminations on the state of his union, but there's a dreamy and lucid undercurrent that feels wholly new for the Chinese master (he had two films in the Top 3 of Cinematheque Ontario's Best of the Decade (2000-09) Poll).

The Past [Best Actress for Bérénice Bejo]
Asghar Farhadi is a great dramatist. Probably the best one Iran has ever seen, and certainly one of the best working today. His last two films, About Elly (2009) and A Separation (2011), are riveting, class conscious dramas of the highest order. Now comes his new film, which is his first to play in Cannes, an honor well-deserved. The film is a melodrama about, to be blunt, the dangers of peaking through the rear-view mirror of life. The lead, Bérénice Bejo, does a lot of crying and screaming, which won her an award. Mileage on this one seems to vary greatly.

Manuscripts Don't Burn [Un Certain Regard FIPRESCI]
Now to move away from Cannes' Main Competition over to the sidebar (not to be confused with second-rate) section Un Certain Regard, which for my money had the best films in Cannes this year. This one, which won a prize awarded by the prestigious International Federation of Film Critics, comes from Mohammad Rasoulof, who, along with Jafar Panahi, is one of several high-profile Iranian filmmakers who were infamously arrested in 2010, sentenced to prison, and banned from filmmaking. That info alone will tell you how incredible it is that this film even exists, not to mention the pain in the ass it must have been to get it out of the country. The film is, as you might imagine, quite bleak.

The Missing Picture [Prize of Un Certain Regard]
Un Certain Regard's top prize; the winners are often political decisions, and I believe this to be one of them. Nothing to write home about cinematically, the film is, nonetheless, an extremely original and important work that mines Cambodia's gruesome political history, viz. Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge. Using handmade clay figurines and dioramas, director Rithy Panh recounts the ravages that Pol Pot's regime visited upon the people of Cambodia following the communist victory in 1975.

Stranger by the Lake [Un Certain Regard Best Director]
I was hoping this film would end up in the Masters programme (or, at the very least, in Wavelengths), because, pace Todd Stephens, this is not just another gay movie, and I worry that it will be treated like one in a mass of Contemporary World Cinema titles. Stranger by the Lake is, simply, the best and most artful queer film since Apichatpong Weerasethakul's landmark Tropical Malady (2004); there's a reason why it topped Blue is the Warmest Color to win the Queer Palm. In perhaps the boldest depiction of cruising life to ever grace an art house screen, French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie draws up a mysterious, noir-ish romance like nothing you've ever seen before. Yes, there is a lot of penis in this movie, but it's there with a purpose; by the time the last lines of the movie are spoken (rather, yelled, into a pitch black summer night), I was too stunned to speak.

Omar [Un Certain Regard Jury Prize]
From the director of Paradise Now comes another daring and provocative psychological thriller. I didn't see this film, so here's what the festival has to say: "Ever since the concrete Separation Wall divided their West Bank town, childhood friends Omar, Amjad and Tarek must surreptitiously climb over the wall -- risking their lives -- just to hang out. Omar has an additional motive for dodging the punishing watch of the Israeli military and their bullets: he is in love with Nadia, Tarek's younger sister."

Blue Ruin [Directors' Fortnight FIPRESCI]
Another prize-winner courtesy of the International Federation of Film Critics, here's a film I'm surprised wasn't placed in the Midnight Madness programme, not because it's some over-the-top, extravagant slasher flick; far from it. Rather, the film can work a crowd, and it'd have been awesome to view it with a revved up Ryerson audience. The film is a fairly classical, albeit gritty, revenge film. Made by the guy responsible for Matt Porterfield's bare aesthetic, it's best to go in knowing pretty much nothing.

The Selfish Giant [Directors' Fortnight Label Europa Cinemas Award]
If you've had a chance to see The Arbor, you know what a major new voice Clio Barnard is. The Selfish Giant is a totally different film - much more kitchen sink with zero documentary subversion, but it's a masterful neo-sink entry, much more credible than anything Andrea Arnold has made to date, and also quietly powerful.

Thanks to Grolsch for sponsoring our coverage of TIFF13

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Top film still from A Touch of Sin

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