The Toronto International Film Festival turned 40 this year. But to this late-comer to the festival (I’ve only attended six), TIFF might as well have always existed. TIFF just is.
The TIFF Phenomenon
TIFF is the phenomenon that happens every September, where new films from around the world converge in a marketplace — a literal market for buyers of film, as well as a marketplace of ideas.
We attendants can sample the drama from films large and small, commercial and experimental, and try to make sense of the global zeitgeist.
My deep conclusions about the state of the world? Only these:
- Smoking is in.
- Breasts are in.
Nearly every film I saw featured at least one character who smokes cigarettes. It got so that I could practically smell them. I’d like to think filmmakers still use them only for aesthetic reasons — because smoke looks good on film. But maybe we can infer something worse — that the world is a more tense place than usual, and more people turn to nicotine for their nerves.
As visually appealing as smoke is the sex scene. A fellow critic (Walter Chaw) has remarked in the past on annual trends of sex scenes in films. My own observation for 2015 is that there were more breasts than usual. Maybe it was just the intensity of Penelope Cruz’ fever dreams about losing a nipple to breast cancer in ma ma. My wife saw different films; she believes the trend was toward more male frontal nudity. (Yes, she says this trend includes the puppets in Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa.)
There are so many different films with different styles that it’s really impossible to find global themes. But see enough films and patterns will emerge. The patterns I saw this year include:
- Fantasies with social commentary such as High-Rise, about an apartment building where the affluent and powerful live on the high floors and the poor live down low; or The Lobster, set in a world where the loveless must choose what animal they’d like to be transformed into if they don’t find a mate
- Stories of social chaos such as the fictional drama Into the Forest, about the aftermath of a long-lasting power outage on a pair of sisters; or the real-life grind of being young, black, and male in London in the documentary The Hard Stop
- Meta-film experiments such as Zoom, in which the three main protagonists create each other in their fictional worlds; or Taxi, from banned Iranian director Jafar Panahi, pretending here that he’s not a filmmaker but a simple taxi driver with a dashboard-cam
I’ll have much more to say about the films I saw in the coming weeks. Keep checking this page and its sidebar for new links to reviews.
For now let me leave you with those teasers while I spend more time figuring out what the world was trying to tell me at this year’s TIFF.