There's a part of me that still cannot believe that I am in Toronto covering TIFF. This opportunity essentially fell into my lap, and it took quite a bit for me to accept that it hadn't been made in error, and that I did in fact, deserve to be offered this opportunity. Now that I'm here and through my first day of screenings, I can't wait to get through the others. Being here is affirming in a way I didn't realize I needed, and I'm determined to make the most out of the experience.
For the 10 days of the festival I'll be writing short reviews of all the films I see, every day here on the blog. They won't be too detailed; mostly they'll be slightly more coherent versions of whatever notes I make in the theatre. But I want to capture the way these movies made me feel, and really settle into the magic of filmmaking. So here goes for Day One:
WILDLIFE: Paul Dano's directorial debut is a quieter film than I would have expected. The story follows the breakdown of a marriage through the eyes of the couple's son. When the husband loses his job and takes a position fighting wildfires that requires him to leave his wife and son, the wife unravels in slow motion, and the son is left helpless in the wake of his parents' tantrums. Over the course of the film Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) has moved the family around often, a consequence of what his wife sees as running away from conflict. We learn that they married young, and that Jeanette Brinson (Carey Mulligan) had her son at 20. Ed Oxenbould's Joe Brison is the star though, as he perfectly embodies the horror and shame of witnessing the bad behaviour of the people who are meant to be in charge. At one point he buys groceries and makes dinner realizing his mother can no longer be bothered, and later he sprints to the police station to collect his father after he sets fire to the home of his wife's lover. It's a helpless kind of desperation that is familiar to the children of divorce, but is so rarely portrayed with such aplomb. Gyllenhaal and Mulligan give fantastic performances themselves with Jake revisiting the crazed intensity of Nightcrawler and Carey embodying the wistful disregard of an abandoned woman. Combined with the sparse scenes and steady, close shots, the performances coalesce into an impressive first outing for Dano.
THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER: This film struck such a chord with me that I'll be writing a longer review at some point. Suffice it to say, that I find it fascinating the lengths that we will go to to rectify a sense of unfulfilled promise. Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance as a kindergarten teacher who becomes increasingly obsessed with her 5 year old charge and his advance poetry is arresting, hilarious and deranged in its own way. What begins as awe descends into what amounts to an emotional affair with a small child. Her dependence on his work to complement and substitute her own makes her reckless in a way that doesn't seem worth it in the end.
EVERYBODY KNOWS: This Spanish-language suspense drama is moody in just the right way and perfectly surfaces the unhealed familial wounds that large families always seem to create in each other. After congregating for a wedding, the teenage daughter of Laura (Penélope Cruz) goes missing from her bed. What follows is a wending path of clashes, secrets and revelations that is worth the journey, even if it takes a little longer than is strictly necessary.
*Header photo courtesy TIFF