This year TIFF features a slew of acclaimed foreign films very much worth a viewing. Here are four in particular that shouldn’t be missed, with compelling performances by some familiar faces, and a pair of entrees with a powerful look at history, while two more look at the despair of the present. Heart-felt comedies these are not, but to be sure there is some genuine elation and charm amid chaos, corruption, and internal struggles.
A Royal Affair
Mads Mikkelsen stars in this sweeping retelling of the ruling class of Denmark during the Enlightenment. Mikkelsen is Johann Struensee, a German doctor requested to diagnose and cure the king of Denmark, an erratic and childish ruler more interested in whores and animals than his citizens, or his arranged marriage. King Christian, as disgusting as he is enthralling, ignores his quietly strong wife Caroline while befriending Johann, the only person who seems to understand him.
So begins a most intense triangle, a layered one altered by love, loyalty, and power. Johann is a man of the Enlightenment, looking to change the archaic laws of Denmark, and he has the ear of the man in power. Meanwhile, he and Caroline slowly grow to know one another, she looking for a mind as forward thinking as Johann’s. As evil as the King initially seems, and as heroic as Johann enters, when love and power are within reach, people start to change, altering their once specifics notions of right and wrong. Danish director Nikolaj Arcel (screenwriter of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), keep the tension palpable in this dramatic struggle between emotions and ideals at a crucial time in Europe’s history.
Wednesday September 12 – Roy Thomson Hall – 6:30 PM
Thursday September 13 – Visa Screening Room (Elgin) – 2:30 PM
Rust & Bone
The lives of two fierce and self-sabotaging individuals become intertwined when the poor Alain, young son in tow, travels to the south of France to live off relatives and crosses the path of Stephanie, a stubborn whale trainer. Their first meeting finds Alain a bouncer, helping home a bruised Stephanie, while their next meeting sees Alain taking care of her once more, this time, however, as a result of a horrific accident at SeaWorld.
A powerful film painstakingly outlining the limits of human frailty and emotion, Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) pines for carnal sex and fighting, all while appearing far more interested in taking care of Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) than he is his own family. Both of them need help, though, as their desires for isolation, for lack of responsibility, for sex, for pain, and for meaning grow and change as they spend more time with one another. Taking place across months, following Alain across several jobs and Stephanie across rehabilitation, there is not a lethargic moment in the film, despite the music of Katy Perry, arguably justifiable.
Mentally, emotional, and (because there are several bloody street fights), physically draining, Rust & Bone is filled with grit, sweat, and tears. There is plenty of heart too, Alain and Stephanie, like others, just may have a bit of trouble expressing it.
Thursday September 6 – Visa Screening Room (Elgin) – 9:30 PM
Friday September 7 – Ryerson Theatre – 12:00 PM
The Hunt (Jagten)
Mads Mikkelsen stars in another riveting drama, giving an earnest, emotionally powerful performance as a school teacher accused of a most horrendous crime. This well-paced and paranoid filled look at fear, perception, and trust, is a terribly slow burn, as Mikkelsen’s Lucas watches as his personal and professional life are tested and ruined by a rumor that turns into a lie that turns into perceived fact.
An utterly captivating film, offering a discussion on how we society chooses what it wants to believe, and how prevailing ideas and labels are simply too hard to overturn. Mikkelsen won a best actor honour at Cannes this year for his performance, deservedly so. It is an intense, emotionally raw, and very unnerving journey to seek out the truth, and to find, if even possible, salvation.
Monday September 10 – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 – 9:15 PM
Wednesday September 12 – TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 – 3:00 PM
A bizarrely funny and affected look at a campaign of misfits during Pinochet’s rule looking to end the dictator run during Chile’s 1988 election is fascinating, yet grave. Mad Men it is not, but Gael Garcia Bernal as an optimistic and sometimes out of touch advertising executive is the center of this historical drama with plenty of cultural infusion of the 1980’s. Silly American nostalgia from the decade is everywhere throughout the film; Rene (Bernal) is the filmmaker being the campaign that is allowed 15 minutes of air time a day across a month to convince the public to vote no.
Director Pablo Larrain puts you back in the time period, shooting on analog with a 4:3 aspect ratio and incorporating archival footage documenting Chile’s time of change. The humour throughout complements the serious backdrop and important stakes as a group of dedicated citizens looks to change a nation and forever alter history.
Monday September 10 – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 – 6:00 PM
Tuesday September 11 – The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema – 3:00 PM