TIFF 2016

The Bait (Buddhadeb Dasgupta, India) — Masters

By Robert Koehler The West Bengali auteur Buddhadeb Dasgupta is sufficiently ignored in the West so that his new movie, The Bait, isn’t listed among his 35 director credits at IMDb. Before watching it at TIFF, I would remark to friends, cinephiles, and fellow critics that I was “about to see the movie by Dasgupta,”…
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Bleed for This (Ben Younger, US) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler Fun fact about the tenacious American boxer Vinny Paz, or as he was known during his heyday, Vinny Pazienza: In his final bid for the WBC world super middleweight title, he lost to Canada, represented by Quebec’s Eric “Lucky” Lucas. No Canadian has made a movie about Lucas, not yet anyway, but…
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Miss Impossible (Emilie Deleuze, France) — TIFF Kids

By Michael Sicinski It may be a painfully obvious point, but the simplest gauge of Miss Impossible’s unassuming success is to consider all the cheap, ingratiating tics you’d see in an American version of the same material. This is a very small film buoyed by a lead character, 13-year-old Aurore (newcomer Léna Magnien), whose snark…
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Once Again (Adoor Gopalakrishnan, India) — Masters

By Michael Sicinski I have to hand it to TIFF. It’s one of the few film festivals in the West that still pays substantial attention to the “parallel cinemas” of India, even though the very idea of independent art film on the subcontinent has gone very much out of style. Back in the ’70s and…
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Into the Inferno (Werner Herzog, UK/Austria) — TIFF Docs

By Robert Koehler Like certain kinds of sports fans, those who are into volcanoes can’t understand those who aren’t. (I’ve met a few, and I’ve found little else in life to discuss with them.) So Into the Inferno, Werner Herzog’s third film addressing volcanoes, and the first taking a global perspective, is not for those…
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India in a Day (Richie Mehta, India/UK) — TIFF Docs

By Jay Kuehner Never mind the city symphony—here is the cacophony of an entire country. The “user-generated doc” is enlisted to reveal (or effectively colonize, depending on your view) its own vast territory, in this case the world’s largest democracy, India. By virtue of sheer plurality and simultaneity—and under the dubious tutelage of Ridley Scott…
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The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig, US) — Gala Presentations

By Robert Koehler Since few grieved over the demise of the dead-end genre known as the High School Comedy, it’s hard to fathom the purpose behind debuting writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s gambit to revive it with The Edge of Seventeen. But because James L. Brooks is backing it as producer and Hailee Steinfeld—currently best-of-show among…
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Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo, Canada/Spain) — Vanguard

By Josh Cabrita Nacho Vigalondo’s discombobulating rom-com monster movie occupies an awkward middle ground. Neither committing to its darker undertones nor giving itself over to unhinged absurdity, the film shifts between an ironic and forthright treatment of its preposterous concept: that thirtysomething alcoholic Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is responsible for unpredictable monster sightings and attacks in…
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Salt and Fire (Werner Herzog, France/US/Germany/Mexico) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler In an ideal world, some things wouldn’t be possible in international cinema, such as Kim Ki-duk making any more movies. (Actually, China is doing its bit for that cause, in its own dubious way, right now.) Another would be that Werner Herzog couldn’t make any narrative features in English. The man, so…
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Maliglutit (Searchers) (Zacharias Kunuk, Canada) — Platform

By Jay Kuehner There’s something poetic in the notion of an indigenous reworking of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), although it does not appear to be the motivating principle behind Zacharias Kunuk’s Maliglutit, which fashions itself as a western told in an Inuit way. There are of course a host of political/theoretical implications to such…
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Yourself and Yours (Hong Sangsoo, South Korea) — Masters

By Robert Koehler A parlour game likely to happen at many festivals around the world over the next several months will be this: Is there one Minjung who appears on screen as the central female character in Hong Sangsoo’s Yourself and Yours, or are there at least two, maybe even three? Does she have an…
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Barakah Meets Barakah (Mahmoud Sabbagh, Saudi Arabia) — Special Presentations

By Ethan Vestby Belonging to a burgeoning new sub-genre known as “cinéma de selfie-stick” (or at least that’s what I’m calling it), the Saudi romantic comedy Barakah Meets Barakah has the temerity to tackle what most would, with a snicker, refer to as “How We Live Now.” Thankfully, this framework is used to present a…
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The Commune (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands) — Special Presentations

By Dominik Kamalzadeh In his Danish films, director Thomas Vinterberg prefers to turn his attention to more personal (and sociopolitical) matters than in his international productions. After The Celebration (1998) and The Hunt (2012), the ’70s-set drama The Commune, originally conceived as a theatre play that premiered at Vienna’s Akademietheater in 2011, is another examination…
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The Autopsy of Jane Doe (André Øvredal, UK) — Midnight Madness

By Josh Cabrita André Øvredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the follow-up to his witty Trollhunter (2011), is bolstered by the clever conceit that a locked-room mystery can be housed in a corpse’s crevasses. Naturally then, our detectives are morticians, Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son Austen (Emile Hirsch), who perform a late-night autopsy…
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Barry (Vikram Gandhi, US) — Special Presentations

By José Teodoro Among Barry’s most likable attributes is the fact that it barely even needs to be about Barack Obama, whose actual given name is never uttered over the course of the film. Set in August 1981, the loose narrative introduces us to its 20-year-old protagonist just as he arrives in NYC to study…
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Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader, US) — Midnight Madness

By Jordan Cronk It requires a unique level of creative autonomy to make a film as gleefully uninhibited as Dog Eat Dog. Luckily for director Paul Schrader—who couldn’t quite maintain the precarious balance between financial and artistic considerations with his previous film, the recut and subsequently disowned The Dying of the Light (2014)—he’s been granted…
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We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice (Alanis Obomsawin, Canada) — Masters

By Adam Nayman There is a moment near the end of Alanis Obomsawin’s purposefully epic-length courtroom-procedural documentary We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice where the camera catches a lawyer’s convictions wilting—he can’t even really make eye contact with the tribunal he’s trying to convince, much less sell them on the idea that the Canadian…
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Water and Sugar: Carlo Di Palma, The Colours of Life (Fariboz Kamkari, Italy) — TIFF Docs

By Robert Koehler There’s no excuse making a poor film on the life and work of one of cinema’s greatest cinematographers. A film about Carlo Di Palma should practically direct itself: stitch together clips from his major (and some of his minor) work—from Pietro Germi’s Divorce Italian Style (1961) and Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964), Blow-up…
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Prank (Vincent Biron, Canada) — Discovery

By Josh Cabrita There’s a self-reflexive moment in Vincent Biron’s feature debut where a group of delinquents watch Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse (2011) stoned in a backyard. It’s an odd cinephilic reference point for a film that is ostensibly the bastard child of Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers (2009) and Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the…
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Politics, Instruction Manual (Fernando León de Aranoa, Spain) — TIFF DOCS

By Steve Macfarlane If one major lesson can be drawn (as opposed to countless small and terrifying ones) from the last few years of populist upsurges, maybe it’s this: a consistent, well-sold policy—whether Bernie Sanders’ or Nigel Farage’s—can still resonate with dissatisfied voter blocs in a major way, wild-carding the amnesiac Central Casting burlesque that…
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The Empty Box (Claudia Sainte-Luce, Mexico/France) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski There are only so many variations on the “watching a family member slip into dementia” story. This is a difficult truism to volley at any work of art, precisely because as each of us experiences that painful eventuality—and more and more of us will, given the rapid greying of our Baby Boomer…
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Birth of the Dragon (George Nolfi, US/China/Canada) — Special Presentations

By Steve Macfarlane When it comes to biopic treatment, everybody deserves better. But this is especially true for Bruce Lee, who left behind a rich and varied filmography, lest we forget—by my lights, the drinking sequence in The Big Boss (1971) is as termitic a portrayal of shit-facedness as the movies have offered, facing competition…
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Katie Says Goodbye (Wayne Roberts, US) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski Full disclosure: I have been seeing most of this year’s Discovery titles without reading any synopses, production notes, or press packets, because I have wanted to evaluate them in as close to a tabula rasa state as possible. So I did not learn until well after seeing Katie Says Goodbye that it…
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Never Ever (Benoît Jacquot, France/Belgium) — Masters

By Diana Dabrowska To be honest, I really dont understand how, after the debacle of 3 Hearts (2014), Benoît Jacquot is still allowed to make cinema. At this point, somebody should take away his French citizenship for a miserable and paltry contribution to a sparkling filmmaking heritage. One could naïvely ask, just like Werner Herzog…
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Una (Benedict Andrews, UK) — Special Presentations

By Josh Cabrita An indication of what Elle could have been if it wasn’t directed by Paul Verhoeven or led by Isabelle Huppert, Una treads dangerous territory without tact, nimbleness or reflexivity. Certain subjects require more care than others, and when representing sexual abuse on screen, there’s always the risk of trivializing its effects or…
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The Limehouse Golem (Juan Carlos Medina, UK) — Special Presentations

By Josh Cabrita Edgar Allen Poe, the creator of the detective story, and Conan Doyle, its popularizer, conceived their protagonists as psychoanalysts as much as investigators. The framework they established was male-dominated and placed women only in misogynist types. Juan Carlos Medina’s film is a feminist deconstruction of how we record history and a critique…
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Old Stone (Johnny Ma, Canada/China) — Discovery

By Ethan Vestby Cab driver Lao Shi (Chen Gang) has his worst fare ever when an inebriated passenger unexpectedly grabs his arm, causing his car to strike a motorcyclist. Quick to act when an ambulance won’t show up, Lao Shi rushes the injured man to the hospital. Yet his good deed only brings him misfortune,…
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Blair Witch (Adam Wingard, US) — Midnight Madness

By Alysia Urrutia While it’s ostensibly a bold gesture to reboot the pre-viral benchmark of independent cinema, Adam Wingard’s millennial sequel Blair Witch lacks what its cunning predecessor had in spades: the element of surprise, both in its premise and its grassroots promotional method. You have to hand it to Wingard and his distributor for…
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The Age of Shadows (Kim Jee-woon, South Korea) — Special Presentations

By Tommasso Tocci A satisfying cloak-and-dagger thriller set in Japanese-occupied Korea during the 1920s, Kim Jee-woon’s The Age of Shadows betrays a kind of business-like approach to spy games, institutional and otherwise. With an unobstructed point of view that moves swiftly between the upper echelons of the Japanese police force and the busy Seoul shopfronts…
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Layla M. (Mijke de Jong) — Platform

By Angelo Muredda The youth-in-extremis movie gets a relatively fresh new face in Mijke de Jong’s Layla M., which, together with Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, positions TIFF’s Platform programme as a quality clearing house for coming-of-age melodramas with a critical difference. Here the point of distinction is the budding radicalism of the heretofore university-bound Layla (Nora…
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Deepwater Horizon (Peter Berg, US) — Gala Presentations

By José Teodoro We know from the start that this baby’s gonna blow; it’s only a question of when and how abysmally. Deepwater Horizon is everything you might expect from a Gala: it’s big, it’s bad, it has famous people. There’s bald foreshadowing involving bald men and reams of mumbled exposition from Mark Wahlberg and…
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I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, US/France/Belgium/Switzerland) — TIFF Docs

By Steve Macfarlane This past summer, I attended a screening and panel discussion hosted by the New Negress Film Society in Brooklyn; standing outside the venue afterwards, a flustered British gentleman took the evening’s general political timbre to task as follows: “I’m just a bit tired of hearing about the whole ‘white supremacy’ conversation. It’s…
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White Sun (Deepak Rauniyar, Nepal/US/Qatar/Netherlands) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler One of Sohrab Shahid Saless’ earliest masterworks is titled A Simple Event (1973), which could easily be the title—and a better one—for co-writer/director Deepak Rauniyar’s White Sun. The movie comes to TIFF direct from Venice’s Horizons section, which suggests that it may be an adventurous piece of cinema. It’s not, but aside…
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Indivisible (Eduardo De Angelis, Italy) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Diana Dabrowska In all of this three feature films Eduardo De Angelis goes back to his roots in his homeland in southern Italy, and discovers a new side of Naples and its surroundings. In Indivisibile, Castel Volturno appears as a more poetic version of Gomorra, a no man’s land of weird saints and fake…
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(Re)Assignment (Walter Hill, Canada/France/US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman A potential powder keg of (trans)gender politics provided anybody ever actually sees it after its TIFF premiere, Walter Hill’s (Re)Assignment is sort of two movies in one: a low-rent, bullet-in-the-head revenge thriller that embraces clichés like long-lost friends, and an inconngrously high-minded disquisition on style that cribs from Shakespeare and Poe en…
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Planetarium (Rebecca Zlotowski, France/Belgium) — Gala Presentations

By Diana Dabrowska In an early scene in Planetarium, the character played by Natalie Portman says “I don’t want to be a disappointment.” After Portman’s powerful performance as JBK in Pablo Larraín’s “HBO-style” biopic Jackie, Rebecca Zlotowski’s film is not just a disappointment for its star, but a fiasco—and not just for her, but for…
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Sand Storm (Elite Zexer, Israel) — Discovery

By Steve Macfarlane Tradition at loggerheads with modernity: that ancient “world cinema” chestnut gets another diffident tango in Elite Zexer’s Sand Storm, concerning a Bedouin family in the south of Israel. Ruba Blal-Asfour stars as Jalila, a steely matriarch with no choice but to suffer in silence as her husband Suliman (Hitham Omari, who also…
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Sámi Blood (Amanda Kernell, Sweden/Denmark/Norway) — Discovery

By Jennifer Lynde Barker Language marks us. What seems innocuous in a familiar setting becomes abruptly conspicuous when contrasted with different sounds and intonations. This makes language an easy target for discrimination, perhaps because we seldom feel more vulnerable than when we cannot understand what someone else is saying. Being denied comprehension means being shut…
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150 Milligrams (Emmanuelle Bercot, France) — Special Presentations

By James Lattimer Even if Emmanuelle Bercot’s stultifying biopic 150 Milligrams weren’t based on a true story, its outcome would anyway be clear from the outset: when feisty provincial doctors take on the system, convention demands that they must win. Bercot doesn’t seem to have a problem with embracing total predictability however, given that she…
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The Hedonists (Jia Zhangke, China) — Short Cuts

By Michael Sicinski This is a bit like Jia Zhangke’s version of a Ken Loach comedy, and actually that’s not bad. In just under 30 minutes, we witness the closure of a coal mine in Fenyang due to a collapse in the Chinese energy sector. The boss, while a garden-variety curmudgeon, doesn’t even seem like…
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City of Tiny Lights (Pete Travis, UK) — Special Presentations

By Mallory Andrews There’s hardboiled and then there’s just a waste of perfectly good eggs; City of Tiny Lights is regrettably the latter. “Death weighs heavier than heartbreak” intones London-based private investigator Tommy Akhtar (Riz Ahmed, fresh from HBO’s The Night Of and soon to be ubiquitous for his role in the upcoming Rogue One:…
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I Called Him Morgan (Kasper Collin, Sweden/US) — TIFF Docs

By José Teodoro Trumpeter Lee Morgan belonged to that wave of early-’60s Blue Note recording artists that included Sonny Clark and Ike Quebec, guys who did not embrace the radically dilating apertures of free jazz but, rather, confined their explorations to the vernacular of bebop. Over time, these musicians have understandably become overshadowed by the…
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Sweet Dreams (Marco Bellocchio, Italy) — Masters

By Blake Williams Pressed so far beyond his trademark disdain for the patriarchal legacy that Catholicism has left (and continues to assert) over modern-day Italian life and culture, master filmmaker Marco Bellocchio here follows up his sublime and mysterious Blood of My Blood (2015) with a handsome and shamelessly cloying picture that represents the most logical culmination…
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In the Radiant City (Rachel Lambert, US) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski “A mom is a mom, even if you call it a tree.” So speaks Richard Gonzalez (Jon Michael Hill), the public defender assigned to the parole case at the centre of In the Radiant City, a vague piece of Kentucky regionalism from first-time director Rachel Lambert. (It’s almost tempting to reimagine the…
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Off Frame AKA Revolution to Until Victory (Mohanad Yaqubi, Palestine/France/Qatar/Lebanon) — TIFF Docs

By Robert Koehler Beyond the rare screening of Far From Vietnam (1967), viewers today have few chances to encounter the Third Cinema movement, that brief but intense burst of nonfiction work generally informed by Marxist-Leninist internationalism whose superstar was a radicalized Jean-Luc Godard. If you attended North American universities in the mid-’70s you would have…
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My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea (Dash Shaw, US) — Vanguard

By Ethan Vestby Any feature-film debut boasting a stacked cast of celebrities tempts us to conjure up the image of a big-deal producer calling in as many favours as possible. Yet detecting the reasoning for the number of marquee names involved in the freshman effort of comic-book artist/writer Dash Shaw perhaps derives from its script…
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Soul on a String (China, Zhang Yang) — Contemporary World Cinema

By James Lattimer The amount of enjoyment to be derived from Soul on a String hinges on one’s tolerance for heavily processed images. While all the shots of vast natural vistas, tastefully furnished interiors, and portentous encounters have been painstakingly composed, each and every frame of Zhang Yhang’s Tibetan epic has been flushed through a…
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Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (Steve James, US) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski Most of the films related to the 2008 financial meltdown (documentaries and features) have assumed an audience thoroughly cowed by the very topic. In fact, the films themselves have often seemed flummoxed by their very subject, doing their best to present the complexities of 21st-century international finance in broad strokes and simple…
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Kati Kati (Mbithi Masya, Kenya/Germany) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski A genuinely surprising film from an unexpected source, Kati Kati is a film that draws on tradition (Nollywood, Senegalese counter-cinema, faith-based films) without falling into the stylistic or genre traps of any of those approaches. The plot is basic enough, but inventive in its execution: Kaleche (Nyokabi Gethaiga) wakes up in a…
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Daguerrotype (Kurosawa Kiyoshi, France/Japan/Belgium) — Platform

By Robert Koehler Everybody wants to go to Paris, even Kurosawa Kiyoshi. Usually, these ventures to France by non-French directors in order to make French movies result in seriously messy omelettes. (Asghar Farhadi, anyone?) Kurosawa’s Daguerrotype is certainly a mess, though it’s easy to surmise why he was attracted to bring his interest in ghosts,…
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Buster Mal’s Heart (Sarah Adina Smith, US) — Vanguard

By Robert Koehler Rami Malek has become the new face of the Disturbed Man, a type owned in the past by Peter Lorre, Ray Milland, Anthony Perkins, Dustin Hoffman and Jake Gyllenhaal. That list suggests that the quality of our Disturbed Men has been somewhat declining. Malek may have reversed that trend purely with Mr.…
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Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (Terrence Malick, Germany) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler Time was, when he was actually doing good work, Terrence Malick seemed to appear with a new movie once a decade, if that. Now that he’s making drivel, Malick can’t stop himself from churning them out, which, a theory goes, is why they’re drivel. That theory, however, can’t explain the ridiculous new…
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The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé! A Trip Across Latin America (Paul Dugdale, UK) — Gala Presentations

By Robert Koehler Robert Frank’s Cocksucker Blues (1973) remains the gnarliest rock-band tour movie ever made, and the best Stones movie too. Watching the new Stones tour movie, The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!, will recall Frank’s movie for all the ways in which the band has changed. Once profane and on the verge of…
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Amanda Knox (Brian McGinn & Rod Blackhurst, USA/Denmark) — TIFF Docs

By José Teodoro What’s finally most objectionable about Amanda Knox is encapsulated right in this glossy and obnoxious film’s title. Its fundamental sensationalism bubbling under a patina of seriousness, exemplified by cocoon-like, squarely composed, quasi-Errol Morris interview sessions, Amanda Knox revisits the botched investigation—and re-investigation—into the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, a British exchange student,…
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The Ivory Game (Kief Davidson & Richard Ladkani, Austria/USA) — TIFF Docs

By Jay Kuehner A “call to action,” a “wake-up call”—call it what call you will, The Ivory Game is stylized broadcast journalism for the Netflix set, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering how smart elephants are; if only they can outlast cinema when it comes to extinction. To be fair, the ivory trade is…
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The Untamed (Amat Escalante, Mexico/Denmark/France/Germany/ Norway/Switzerland) — Vanguard

By Angelo Muredda Repressed sexual impulses find a novel form of expression in Amat Escalante’s The Untamed, a genre film for people who find genre films distasteful. As in his Cannes-winning Heli (2013), Escalante’s knack for high-concept premises—there, using the family unit as a means to explore the insidiousness of violence—is undone by his obvious,…
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Forever Pure (Maya Zinshtein, Israel/UK/Denmark/Norway) — TIFF Docs

By Mallory Andrews They call themselves La Familia, and the mob connotations don’t end there for the yellow-and-black-clad uber-fans who reliably fill the stands during each game of Beitar Jerusalem F.C. But in exchange for their loyalty, they exact a high price. In Forever Pure, Maya Zinshtein follows the controversial 2012 season, when Beitar recruited…
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The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography (Errol Morris, US) — TIFF Docs

By Jay Kuehner As a portrait of a portrait artist, Errol Morris’ framing of Elsa Dorfman is scaled with commensurately intimate and life-sized means, perhaps surprisingly given the director’s predilection for the everyday uncanny (you’d suspect Diane Arbus to be the more fitting subject). Morris drops in on Dorfman’s studio for a guided tour of…
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Below Her Mouth (April Mullen, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Nomi Malone’s swimming-pool gyrations in Showgirls (1995) have nothing on the scene in Below Her Mouth where fashion editor Jasmine (Natalie Krill) brings herself to orgasm via a full-blast bathtub faucet while perched perilously over the porcelain basin; if nothing else, it’s quite a display of upper-body strength. So, credit director April…
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Queen of Katwe (Mira Nair, Uganda/South Africa) — Gala Presentations

By Robert Koehler Disney’s second African movie of the year since The Jungle Book is set in India, Queen of Katwe is deep-dish Disney of the live-action variety, the kind that parents take their kids to to make them better and make themselves as parents feel better. Director Mira Nair, operating far from her Indian…
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Jeffrey (Yanillys Perez, Dominican Republic/France) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski From its aerial opening shots of the massive urban crunch of Santo Domingo, zeroing in on one particular family in a corner of the slums, Jeffrey looks at first as if it’s going to provide a Dominican riff on City of God (2002). Thankfully, first-timer Yanillys Perez foregoes most of the clichés…
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Trespass Against Us (Adam Smith, UK) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman In a film filled with significant canines—from an accidentally immolated mutt to a prize police-unit sniffer to a redemptive purebred puppy—Michael Fassbender’s hangdog eyes are best in show: after all, acting Shame is right in our hero’s wheelhouse. As Chad, a reckless, criminally-inclined traveller caught somewhere between his firebrand father’s (Brendan Gleeson)…
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ARQ (Tony Elliott, US/Canada) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski Bearing a surface resemblance to Primer (2004) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014), ARQ thrusts its viewers into a vaguely futuristic world that [REBOOT] Bearing an unnervingly derivative resemblance to Shane Carruth’s Primer (2004), which did much more with considerably less, the debut feature by TV writer Tony Elliott (most recently of Orphan…
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Weirdos (Bruce McDonald, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Having given Bruce McDonald a pretty rough ride in this space last year for the so-bad-it-had-to-be-contractually-obligated horror movie Hellions, I’m inclined to go easier on Weirdos, which has the same rambling, open-road sensibility of the director’s very best movies. Not that this gentle period comedy (dateline: Antigonish, 1976) ever really challenges the…
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Burn Your Maps (Jordan Roberts, US) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler A small tale of a boy’s obsession realized, writer-director Jordan Roberts’ Burn Your Maps is the perfect movie for TIFF audiences who want to do some armchair travelling but don’t want to bother with those pesky subtitles. Albertan visitors to the festival will be doubly happy: the landscapes of their wealthy and…
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Gaza Surf Club (Mickey Yamine & Phillip Gnadt, Germany/Palestine/US) — TIFF Docs

By Josh Cabrita Whether it’s admirable wish-fulfillment or just plain dishonest, Mickey Yamine and Phillip Gnadt’s Gaza Surf Club is a “feel-good” documentary that wants to be—and is about being—distracted from injustice. Focusing on the bourgeoning surfing culture in the Gaza Strip, the film follows three interconnected individuals: a female adolescent who can’t swim because…
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The Giant (Johannes Nyholm, Sweden/Denmark) — Discovery

By Aurelie Godet Johannes Nyholm has forged his own path, bending techniques to suit his personal vision in a number of astonishing music videos and short films, including the award-winning Las Palmas, which featured marionettes and his own baby daughter. An artisan in spirit, he has continuously experimented, mixing genres in a style both rough…
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Park (Sofia Exarchou, Greece/Poland) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski Given that we’re now about ten years into the Greek New Wave, it stands to reason that we would begin to see some younger directors rejecting the rigour and clinical distance that characterized the best-known films of the movement. Park shares the bleak attitude of 21st-century breakdown that we find in Dogtooth…
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Heartstone (Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson, Iceland/Denmark) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski Heartstone is the type of debut film that is brimming with good intentions but ultimately doesn’t make a strong enough case for its existence. Trading in coming-of-age tropes and stock markers of identity, Heartstone at least has the courtesy to spread its youthful anxieties over a stunning Icelandic coastal landscape, allowing its…
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The Road to Mandalay (Midi Z, Taiwan/Myanmar/France/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By James Lattimer Like most things in The Road to Mandalay, the border crossing happens quietly: a small group assembles at a rural meeting point, a girl named Lianquing takes the front seat and the men the trunk, they drive through the night, a deal is made at the checkpoint, and by the next morning…
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The Levelling (Hope Dickson Leach, UK) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski A promising debut hobbled by the perhaps inherent difficulties of making a first feature, Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling has the mood, tone, and overall feel of so many British TV procedurals of late. Granted this is a family tale, not a police story, but like recent entries such as Southcliffe, The…
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Blessed Benefit (Mahmoud al Massad, Jordan/Germany/Netherlands) — Discovery

By Steve Macfarlane The inmates are running the asylum in Blessed Benefit, a dissection of Jordan’s masculinist pecking order that—if documentarian-cum-satirist Mahmoud al Massad is to be believed—runs entirely on graft/dumb luck/both. An easygoing contractor named Ahmad (Ahmad Thaher) finds himself jailed over an uncompleted job, to the tune of 1800 dinars (roughly $2500 American),…
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The Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Let’s stick to what’s on screen here, and say that Nate Parker isn’t the first multi-hyphenate to conflate artistic megalomania with authentic heroism—a pre-damage control Mel Gibson got an Academy Award for it, for instance. At the risk of praising with faint damnation, The Birth of a Nation is roughly on a…
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Catfight (Onur Tukel, US) — Special Presentations

By José Teodoro Is it all right that I derive pleasure from watching Sandra Oh and Anne Heche beat the living shit out of each other? I promise I have nothing against either actress. It is simply not often that you get to see normal-looking women both exact and absorb Lone Survivor-levels of corporeal punishment.…
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Godspeed (Chung Mong-hong, Taiwan) — Vanguard

By Shelly Kraicer Hong Kong comic idol Michael Hui defined Hong Kong comedy (and, to a large extent, a specifically local Hong Kong Cantonese identity) in the late 1970s and 1980s with classics like The Private Eyes, Chicken and Duck Talk, and Teppanyaki. Now he is back on screen in festival habitué Chung Mong-hong’s latest…
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American Pastoral (Ewan McGregor, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Only Philip Roth could conceive an epic in which a Jewish patriarch is literally blameless and figuratively guilty for the sins of the Greatest Generation—self-flattery and self-flagellation conveniently interlaced. That said Jew is played, in this new cinematization of Roth’s American Pastoral, by the Scots-born Ewan McGregor (pulling double duty behind the…
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Snowden (Oliver Stone, Germany/US)

By Robert Koehler If Snowden, director Oliver Stone and screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald’s version of the Edward Snowden affair, is remembered for anything, it will be as the first Hollywood movie that turned Barack Obama into a bad guy. Time was, back in the day when Obama walked on water, there was a thing you could…
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The Magnificent Seven (Antoine Fuqua, US) — Gala Presentations

By Robert Koehler Diversity, thy name is The Magnificent Seven 2016: what was once a group of white guys saving a town of poor Mexican campesinos is now a veritable United Nations of the West. The assemblage of these gunfighters is the apotheosis of the Obama Era in the movies. The assemblyman and leader is…
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Karl Marx City (Petra Epperlein & Michael Tucker, US/Germany) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski An impressive outing from the pair who made the rather shambolic Gunner Palace back in 2004, Karl Marx City is that rarest of objects: an exploration of family history that avoids solipsism and manages to connect the personal to much broader things. Petra Epperlein and her family grew up in the GDR;…
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Interchange (Dain Iskandar Said, Indonesia/Malaysia) — Vanguard

By Adam Nayman The supernaturally-inflected police procedural is a subgenre with international traction (as evidenced by the recent success of The Wailing), but while there’s surely something trendy about Malaysian director Dain Iskandar Said’s new thriller, it draws on local culture in a way that suggests its inspirations predate and supersede True Detective. Said shows…
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Free Fire (Ben Wheatley, UK) — Midnight Madness

  By Angelo Muredda A canny genre filmmaker with a Situationist’s knack for how people’s surroundings sculpt their blinkered worldview, Ben Wheatley is wise to make Free Fire, his first film set in the US, a crime caper with big-mouthed braggarts shooting off their guns in a confined space just large enough to let them…
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The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz, Philippines) — Wavelengths

By Lorenzo Esposito If there’s someone who thinks that The Woman Who Left is a minor Lav Diaz film—because it’s the second one this year, or because, at 227 minutes, it’s “short” for him (film critics’ clichés are both endless and predictable)—let’s say up front that this is one of his best. And this is…
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The Journey (Nick Hamm, UK) — Special Presentations

By Jennifer Lynde Barker “Politics is a long game,” remarks Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) near the beginning of The Journey, and for the two main characters of the film—McGuiness and Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall)—it is a game deeply embedded in nationalist and religious fervour. The film is based…
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Souvenir (Bavo Deferne, Belgium/Luxembourg/France) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler A movie bonbon that melts in your hand before you can pop it in your mouth, Souvenir tries to package its kitsch as dressed-up fun, but all it does is give Isabelle Huppert something to do between her real movies. Huppert, like any actor, needs breathers between the heavy assignments; for example,…
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Window Horses (The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming) (Ann Marie Fleming, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Angelo Muredda Though it’s a bit scrappy on first glance, Window Horses director Ann Marie Fleming’s drawing style has a good story behind it. After surviving a car accident while she was an animation student, Fleming resorted to the barest of shorthands in her minimalist sketches of a character she called Stick Girl, made…
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I Am Not Madame Bovary (China, Feng Xiaogang) — Special Presentations

By Shelly Kraicer “The local police are idiots: there are no idiots in Beijing” is just one of the rather unusual lines of dialogue in Chinese blockbuster director Feng Xiaogang’s newest film I Am Not Madame Bovary. This one is different: a) there’s acid dripping from every line and shot, although Feng clearly wants to…
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Chasing Trane (John Scheinfeld, US) — TIFF Docs

 By José Teodoro If you own one jazz record, it’s probably Kind of Blue; if you own two, the other one’s probably A Love Supreme. John Coltrane plays on the former and is composer and bandleader on the latter, and it is not unremarkable that the legacy of this once popular musical form is now…
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The Bad Batch (Ana Lily Amirpour, US) — Vanguard

By José Teodoro In the future and/or some parallel universe, the US will reject numerous citizens for unspecified reasons and banish them to some arid stretch of Texas-Mexico borderland. On one side of this desert of the forsaken is an airplane graveyard where elaborately tattooed bodybuilders glisten in the sun while the limbs of less…
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Orphan (Arnaud des Pallières, France) — Special Presentations

By Aurelie Godet Arnaud des Pallières’ visually powerful and cerebral works have kept critics intrigued and hopeful for the day that these qualities would espouse a certain narrative efficiency for which he consistently demonstrates a clear distrust. One of his weapons in this internal struggle is an irrepressible penchant for dislocation, which is all over…
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A Decent Woman (Lukas Valenta Rinner, Austria/South Korea/Argentina) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Mallory Andrews Decency, decorum, politesse, virtuous social mores—all are rigidly upheld in the gated community in Buenos Aires where Belén (Iride Mockert) finds herself gainfully employed as the live-in housekeeper for an affluent woman and her college-aged son on their huge estate. One day while cleaning, she catches a glimpse of the adjoining property…
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Mimosas (Oliver Laxe, Spain/Morocco/Qatar/France) — Wavelengths

From Cinema Scope #67 (Summer 2016) By Jay Kuehner A Sufi western? In the parole of Cannes’ critical taxonomy, the designation bestowed upon Oliver Laxe’s desert-fevered, Semaine de la Critique-winning allegory would seem reductive if it didn’t allude, paradoxically, to the film’s radically expansive nature. This leads one to wonder just what “a Sufi western”…
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Jackie (Pablo Larraín, UK) — Platform

By Tommaso Tocci In his first English-language production, second unconventional biopic of the year (after Neruda), and third impressive film since February 2015, Chilean auteur Pablo Larraín keeps racking up successes. He hits the ground running in Jackie by prefacing the opening shot with the strange, self-collapsing flute-and-violin notes that will accompany his portrayal of…
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Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, US) — Special Presentations

From Cinema Scope #67 (Summer 2016) By Richard Porton Cannes 2016, if nothing else, presented viewers with object lessons in the rudiments of political cinema—from the hoariest agitprop to films that might not even have been perceived as overtly political. I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winner, personifies a certain brand of over-determined, melodramatic…
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Ember (Zeki Demirkubuz, Turkey/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski In 2003, TIFF showed three of Zeki Demirkubuz’s very best films in a Turkish cinema showcase (a kind of forerunner to the current City to City programme). What made Fate, Confession (both 2001) and especially The Third Page (1999) so lively and inventive was the sense that the director was still figuring…
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Singularity (Albert Serra, Spain) — Wavelengths

From Cinema Scope #63 (Summer 2015) By Andréa Picard First presented in the 2015 Venice Biennale at the off-site collateral event “Catalonia in Venice,” Albert Serra’s Singularity, a sumptuous, monumental film projected on five screens, reveals a seductive, barren, yet baroque beauty over its consistently engaging three-hour duration. This is a feat of prolonged attention-grabbing…
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Kékszakállú (Gastón Solnicki, Argentina) — Wavelengths

By José Teodoro Gastón Solnicki’s third feature and first fiction film is, like its predecessors, named after a piece of music: Kékszakállú is Hungarian for “Bluebeard,” and Solnicki has cited Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle as a key source of inspiration. The film is, however, only related to the oft-adapted folktale in the most tenuous manner…
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Zoology (Ivan Tverdovsky, Russia) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Boris Nelepo Kids engage in erotic asphyxiation. Students with special needs gang-rape a girl in a wheelchair. A lonely, middle-aged woman suddenly sprouts a tail. These are, respectively, synopses for the short documentary Space Dog (2013), the first feature Corrections Class (2014), and now Zoology (2016) by Ivan Tverdovsky, a 27-year-old rising star of…
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The Cinema Travellers (Shirley Abraham & Amit Madheshiya, India) — TIFF Docs

By Shelly Kraicer Mohammed, Bapu, and Prakash are three cinema magi: half wizards, not-quite-ghosts, intelligent and hard-working men who have been keeping the art of film (and we mean celluloid) projection alive in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The first two run travelling cinemas, where ancient 35mm projectors show old films inside tents to rural…
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Foreign Body (Raja Amari, France/Tunisia) — Special Presentations

By Josh Cabrita The 2014 Palme d’Or winner Dheepan was torn between being a traditional art-house film about lower-class immigrants and director Jacque Audiard’s genre fixations; the film is boilerplate social realism until it ends with disorienting, internalized violence that recalls the climax of Taxi Driver (1976). Something similar happens in Raja Amari’s Foreign Body.…
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