TIFF report #1: Mustang, Brooklyn, Room

Reviews of three films premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF red carpet

I have a tendency to overbook myself at film festivals. It’s so easy, sitting in front of a computer months before as you watch the schedules drop, to assume that five movies in a day is a sane and totally feasible move. TIFF is particularly egregious in that regard, because between the regular screenings and the constant press and industry screenings, you can literally be in a movie theatre for 18 hours a day. I’m sure some pull it off, but I can’t.

My original plan for the first day of TIFF involved coming in to town, making my way from the bus station to the hotel, checking in, taking a shower, going to the TIFF office to pick up my press pass and make it in time for the sole press and industry screening of Denis Villeneuve’s hotly tipped Sicario, which was playing about an hour and 20 minutes after the bus pulled in. I’m no miracle worker — I failed, which meant that I only made it to a single screening on the first day, a pitiful count if I ever saw one.

Here’s a review of that film and two others screening at TIFF, which I saw prior to the festival in order to prepare for interviews:



The girls of Mustang

The growing pains of teenage girls are woefully underrepresented in cinema — not surprising if you consider that female filmmakers still constitute a shamefully paltry percentage of the pool and that there’s nothing filmmakers love to eulogize more than the passing of their own youth — particularly in the cinema of more conservative countries like Turkey. Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut Mustang is an affecting look at the lives of three teenagers and two preteens living in a conservative Turkish village, under the quasi-despotic rule of their trigger-happy uncle and his pious wife.

As the girls begin to develop sexual feelings and a desire for freedom, their guardians tighten the noose around them, removing anything that can be thought to “pervert” them and arranging to marry them off one by one. Ergüven shows remarkable candor and sensitivity in handling the sometimes funny, often depressing lives of these girls, resulting in a powerful and affecting film. Sofia Coppola diehards might find the numerous similarities to her debut film The Virgin Suicides distracting, but it’s an incredibly promising debut.

Mustang is slated for release in Jan. 2016.


Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

There’s a lot to like in John Crowley’s Brooklyn, a sweet period piece chronicling the beginnings of adulthood for a young Irish girl named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) who crosses the ocean to make a better life for herself in America. It’s beautifully shot, finely observed and rather well acted, but there are hardly any stakes at all. She moves into a boarding house, meets a nice Italian boy (Emory Cohen), gets a job in a department store and sometimes misses home. It’s not until two-thirds of the way into the film that actual conflict pops up, but there’s never really any question of which path she’ll actually choose. It sometimes seems screenwriter Nick Hornby has sanded the edges of Colm Toibin’s novel into something that resembles a young adult novel. Brooklyn (which was mostly shot in Montreal) works better as a portrait of a specific immigrant experience (though, as many characters point out, there are so many Irish people in Brooklyn, it feels just like home) than a star-crossed love story or character portrait.

Brooklyn is slated for release in Montreal on Dec. 18.



Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson in Room

There are tons of movies about saving someone from an abduction; about the race against time to find the abductee, about the heroic freeing of the abductee from their captors… There are few if any films that delve into the psychology of abduction and seclusion like Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. Adapted from Emma Donoghue’s novel of the same name, it follows the lives of Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and Ma (Brie Larson), whose entire lives are contained within the small fortified shed they call Room. Ma has lived there for seven years, ever since Old Nick kidnapped her off the street and forced her to live in Room. As Jack turns five, however, Ma struggles to explain the limitations of their world to his ever-expanding mind, and she devises a plan to get them out.

Based in part on the Josef Fritzl case, Room can be emotionally draining but is ultimately a captivating and rewarding experience thanks in large part to exceptional performances by its leads. Abrahamson sometimes struggles with the tone (it has to be said that this is some extremely touchy material — hard to fault Abrahamson for wanting to pull back as much as possible) and the score can dip into the distractingly cloying, but Brie and Tremblay are nothing short of amazing. If Short Term 12’s critical success didn’t really push Brie into the mainstream, this almost certainly will.

Room is slated for release in Montreal on Oct. 16.


Keep an eye on Cult MTL for regular reports from TIFF, which runs through Sept. 20