When I walked out of the final screening of “Stranger by the Lake” at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the man sitting behind me remarked, “So, watching soft-core porn at TIFF. That’s a new experience.”
The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival brings together directors, celebrities and cinephiles for 11 days and 366 international films
Since I started attending the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2003, I have watched this audience festival grow into what Roger Ebert dubbed the most important film festival in the world, marking the start of the movie year. It was controversial to suggest that anything trumped Cannes when Ebert first made that claim, but in the last few years TIFF has been growing exponentially in both celebrities and importance. This year, it positively exploded.
The Toronto International Film Festival screens many of the finest documentaries of the year, including those that can only be done full justice on the big screen. The Daily presents reviews of three of the most exciting documentaries at the festival.
Still from “When Jews Were Funny”. Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival.
“When Jews Were Funny”
There’s an interesting film somewhere inside Alan Zweig’s documentary “When Jews Were Funny,” but it has little to do with his thesis statement that Jews make the best comedians and that Jewish comedy is dying as Jewish oppression fades. The film is at its best when it starts to probe at what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century, now that secular Jews are more common than religious ones, Jews aren’t isolated in their own communities, and it’s fairly common for Jews to marry the “goyum”. Will this mean that the younger generation is less Jewish or unable to pass on the traditions? Through interviews with various Jewish comedians about their culture and what is special about Jewish comedy, the film suggests that it might just be the brand of Jewish comedy that keeps the culture alive. Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down by the director’s own personal issues – he’s 61 with a two-year-old daughter from a “gentile” wife and is concerned that his daughter won’t be a real Jew – and with a question that can’t be answered definitively, especially when the subjects interviewed are exclusively Jews, ignoring the broader context of 21st-century comedy.
Mature treatments of coming-of-age stories by international filmmakers are a staple of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and this year was no exception. On Day One of TIFF, I saw the touching German film “Exit Marrakech,” directed by Caroline Link (“Nowhere in Africa”), about a privileged German 17-year-old Ben (the very handsome Samuel Schneider) who is summoned to Morocco one summer by his absent father, Heinrich. In Morocco, Ben wants to meet people and see the real country they live in, while Heinrich prefers to read about it from his luxury hotel. When Ben meets a beautiful young prostitute, he impulsively follows her home to meet her family, worrying his father and putting himself in danger; Ben is diabetic and embarked on this adventure without necessary preparations.
Walking into Shakespeare’s “Henry V” without having read its synopsis and that of the tetralogy’s earlier plays can be challenging because there is an assumed knowledge that the average audience member likely won’t have. It falls instead to the Chorus – which in director Paul Mullins’ production of “Henry V” at Shakespeare Santa Cruz comes in the form of artistic director Marco Barricelli – to guide us through the play. Barricelli injects the past and distant world of the production with modernity, and reappears throughout the play to fill in blanks, comment on events and otherwise heighten our willingness to suspend disbelief over the spartan but well-used set
There are times when James Ponsoldt’s “The Spectacular Now,” which was released in theaters earlier this month, perfectly captures adolescent first love: the tentativeness of it, the confidence it can instill and, most notably, its sweetness and tenderness. Sutter (Miles Teller, “Rabbit Hole”) and Aimee (Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”) are an unlikely pair: he’s without ambition but always the life of the party while she’s academic and grounded. They start up a friendship by chance — when he wakes up on her front lawn one morning after a night of heavy drinking, and she takes him on her paper route to help him find his car – and the characters complement each other, with Sutter’s laid-back charm and wit detaching Aimee from her shyness.