Film Scouts Diaries

2016 Toronto International Film Festival (41st Edition) Diaries
Films I Saw at TIFF 2016 -- A-B

by Henri Béhar

'in alphabetidal order, more or less)

All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception And The Spirit Of I.F. Stone, directed by Fred Peabody (Canada, TIFF Docs)

The title says it all, and journalism has begun to adjust. Top investigative reporters - among them Glenn Greenwald who, while at The Guardian, brought Edward Snowden to our attention - are leaving established (read ''mainstream'') media for independent alternatives,. better to uncover government and corporate secrets. In many ways, a throwback to the groundbreaking American journalist who in his I.F. Stone's Weekly column, took on the likes of Senator Joe MacCarthy, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan.

which brings us to:

Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone (Germany/USA, Gala Presentations)

Intriguing man, confusing - and confused - film. Director Oliver Stone often goes for the didactic embodiment of an idea, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (remarkable) keeps reminding him Snowden is first and foremost "a human being". Too much screen time given to one female (and no doubt essential) character, Snowden's fiancée Lindsay Mills, with minimal effectiveness -- and that's no fault of the actress who plays her.

and to

Black Code, directed by Nicolas de Pencier (Canada, TIFF Docs)

A post-Snowden documentary on the impact of the Internet on free speech and privacy, Governments and corporations may spy on you at will, but then, in contrast, protest movements have a field day (and open battleground) to counter those entities' propaganda. Both scary and exhilarating.

(back to the alphabetical order)

American Pastoral, directed by Ewan McGregor (USA, Special Presentations)

Ewan McGregor means well. But. Taking on the 1997 Pulitzer Prize winning Philip Roth novel about a shattered family - pretty ambitious for a first-time director - he sticks almost too faithfully to the letter of the novel instead of focusing on the rage and despair within. Dakota Fanning delivers a chilling performance as a radicalized teenager, while Ewan McGregor, though working pretty hard, may have seriously miscast himself in the central role. Had he not, however, would he have got the budget?

AUSTERLITZ, directed by Sergei Loznitsa (Germany, Wavelengths)

Eerie, brilliant, and troubling. Director Sergei Loznitsa plants his camera on the grounds of a former concentration camp in Germany and, without moving it, in black-and-white long takes, films the flood of tourists as, alone, in pairs or in small groups (complete with tour guides), they pass before the camera. Shocking? At first, yes. Overwhelmed by the place and the ghosts that haunt it, you cringe at the sight of those short- and t-shirt-clad visitors as they amble about, pulling selfie sticks and playfully posing by the camp entrance, just below the Arbeit Macht Frei ("Work Sets You Free") sign. Sardonic? Yes. Obscene? No. For it gradually dawns on you that, perhaps, in Loznitsa's mind, not only an educational purpose ties together the two previous - and apparently irreconcilable - preoccupations, but also, in a strange way, the presence of those tourists, whatever their age, is a reclamation, an affirmation of life in a place designed for death.

Barakah Meets Barakah, directed by Mahmoud Sabagh (Saudi Arabia, Special Presentations)

Saudi Arabia's first romantic comedy that brings together a mild-mannered mid-range civil servant in charge of penalizing minor "infractions" in his small town. and the outspoken daughter (adopted) of a wealthy couple -- both named Barakah. Ever tried dating freely in that part of the world? Impish and engaging, it may remind you of early Stephen Frears - all things being relative.

Birth of a Nation, The, directed by Nate Parker (USA, Special Presentations)

Too Cecil B. DeMille-ish for my taste and comfort - and perhaps its own good. Still, a (potentially) intriguing pendant to William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner

Bleeder, The, directed by Philippe Fallardeau (USA, Special Presentations)

The true story of New Jersey born boxer Chuck Wepner, nicknamed "The Bayonne Bleeder" because he could take punches longer than anyone would think possible from the likes of George Foreman, Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali. and who ultimately inspired the "Rocky" character. Overflowing with blue-collar energy, Liev Schreiber in the title role is stunning.

which brings us to:

Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mâki, The, directed by Juho Kirosmanen (Finland/Germany/Sweden, Discovery)

Close to "The Bleeder", but funnier and more charming, also inspired by the life of Finland's most legendary boxer who, in the 1960s, fought against (and lost to) world champion Davey Moore. Shot in black-and-white, the film, by a first-time director, got the top prize in the Certain Regard section at the most recent Cannes Film Festival.

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