Before TIFF 2017 began, festival director Piers Handling announced he would be stepping down after its 2018 edition. As the festival wound down, an 11 page investigative article was published in The Toronto Globe and Mail heavily criticising TIFF’s business operations and treatment of workers. So it is fitting that the film programme involved the theme of family troubles.
Here are a few movies which you might have missed from TIFF, and some of which don’t have a Where You Watch page yet.
Björn Runge’s adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s novel The Wife’ is a slow-burn subversion of a marriage that initially presents as comfortably traditional. Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), a celebrated novelist, professionally dominates his supportive wife Joan (Glenn Close) who is foregrounded by the title but backgrounded within the narrative. As the film begins, the pair are waiting in the wee hours of the morning for a call that will reveal he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. They celebrate together as a team. Only Glenn Close’s frosty eyes belie her character’s dissatisfaction.
Flashbacks reveal that she once wanted to be a writer and he was her professor. What happened to her dreams? Why is he the figurehead of their marriage? Christian Slater plays Nathaniel Bone, a would-be biographer sniffing around the Castlemans trying to uproot the true dynamic of their partnership. The sensitive male ego comes in for a skewering from a script that eloquently displays how power dynamics shift between public and private life, taking every opportunity to slam the wretchedness of how Joe is behind closed doors in contrast with his public grandiloquence. “You don’t have to do anything, just lie there,” he says to Joan in the opening scene, wanting sex to take his mind off the anxiety of waiting. As he tries to seduce a photographer half his age using a walnut (a gimmick from his first novel) a woman beside me in the screening yelled “grotesque!”.
“Is this about a woman with no agency? Am I a woman with no agency?” is a note I took during Darren Aronofsky’s mother! a film that has since been released (but has yet to leak as a download) and drummed up enough warring column inches for it to break out of the arthouse bubble. My observation seems babyish in comparison with the current slew of analytic hot takes. Still, in my own context of having just acted against my self-interest in a personal situation with men – feeling shaken by this and unreachable by subtler movies – I found something unflattering, unprogressive but true in the gender relations depicted in this fireball of cinematic bombast.
On the note of cinematic bombast, enter Brian Tayler’s Mom and Dad – starring Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair as the lead parents in a community overtaken by the urge to murder their kids. Broadly motivated by jealousy tor the extra life the children have left on them (and in one mother’s case the youthful physique of her daughter), the parents are depicted as sorrowfully ambushed by middle age. The movie never tries too hard to wring the poignance out of this emotional landscape, as it’s too busy delivering inventive, high-adrenaline cat-and-mouse sequences, but a drop sneaks out nonetheless.
I Love You, Daddy presents a different type of parent-child conflict, one more realistic but still unusual. It is cherished (edit: now tarnished) TV comic Louis CK’s third foray into feature filmmaking (after 1998’s Tomorrow Night and 2001’s Pootie Tang). It feels more like an extended sketch show than a film with believable characters but it sure does the Louis CK thing of jumping in at the deep end of a controversial issue. In this case Pedophilia: The Grey Areas. Chloé Grace Moretz plays CK’s 17-year-old daughter who ends up dating his hero, a 68-year-old auteur, played with transcendental finesse by John Malkovich. CK spends the whole film wrestling with how his sense of artistic relativity clashes with his responsibilities as a parent.
Even he is a better dad than the stern and violent patrician in Iram Haq’s disappointing culture clash drama What Will People Say. This unrelenting tale covers the ordeals of a free-spirited Norwegian teenager after she is caught by her traditional Pakistani father with a boy in her room. The character and atmosphere is presented with less nuance and conviction than similar issues in Haq’s debut feature I Am Yours (well worth seeking out).
To save the best till last, there could be no more idealistic vision of a family than the Perlmans in Call Me by Your Name. There was no moment in all of TIFF to equal what came into focus after Michael Stuhlbarg’s speech about allowing yourself to feel every moment of this bittersweet life.