The movies of TIFF 2019, but not all of them

You don’t always get to see a whole movie at a film festival, but sometimes what you do see is enough, Jay Stone discovers

By Jay Stone


TORONTO — Another thing that happens at film festivals is that you don’t see a whole movie because maybe you had to leave to get to another theatre for an even more important film, or because it’s late and you have to get some sleep or you’ll pass out, or because it’s late and you do pass out right there in the cinema and the nice lady next to you has to poke you in the ribs because it turns out you were snoring. You can actually follow a movie this way — often you hear enough dialogue that you dream it — unless it’s a foreign film, in which case you jerk yourself awake and you’re not sure where you are and it takes a few seconds for your eyes to focus enough to read the subtitles.


This is part of the reason that professional film criticism is a young person’s game, or at least an awake person’s game.


However, seeing just part of a movie can be enough to form an impression; you can at least tell if you want to go back when it opens to see the whole thing. Thus, our first annual Eyes Wide Shut Film Festival capsules of movies I sort of saw but not really:


The Wasp Network: I saw most of this but I kept getting phone calls about an important family matter and had to leave the theatre to talk to relatives. It’s a kind of spy story directed by Olivier Assayas, who told the audience before the movie that people thought his previous film, Non-Fiction, set in Paris, had too much dialogue and not enough action. At least The Wasp Network isn’t about French people talking, he said.


Nor is it. It stars Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez and Gael Garcia Bernal in the true tale of a group of Cubans who defect to the U.S. and get involved in an anti-Castro movement. It’s an interesting adventure that examines the human cost of the Cuban embargo, but it is kind of confused and I’m pretty sure the explanations didn’t come while I was on the phone.


Ford v Ferrari: I could only stay for the first half hour of this high-profile film with Matt Damon and Christian Bale, about how the Ford motor company reinvented itself by designing innovative race cars in the 1960s. The opening racing scene was very exciting, but it was the kind of movie where people called each other “Iococca” or “Shelby” so we’d know which characters they were supposed to be. If I go back to see the rest of it, it will be because it was so comfortingly familiar.


The Joker: The last 20 minutes of this festival favourite (I was on a crucial personal errand for the first 100 minutes) were terrific. Joaquin Phoenix, who’s getting rave reviews, was astonishing as a psychopathic comedian who dons clown make-up, inspires urban riots, and founds a movement of violent chaos. Beyond the fact that it rang lot of uncomfortable contemporary bells, it looks like a showcase for a performance that goes deep into the disturbing horror of mental illness. I can’t wait to see it, even though I know how it ends.


Sing Me A Song: I was so exhausted from a day of sitting around movie theatres that I had to leave the evening screening of this documentary, but what I saw was great. Filmmaker Thomas Balmes (Babies) visited a tiny village in Bhutan that was the last place on Earth to get the Internet. He starts with scenes of young boys in religious robes chanting prayers in a temple. Then, a few years later, he returns to see the boys in the robes and the temple still chanting prayers, but staring at their cell phones at the same time.


It’s a vivid illustration of technology destroying a culture. The scene where a camera creeps along a temple floor past rows of monks-in-training playing video games was as powerful a moment as I’ve seen at the festival. This is the kind of movie that may not open everywhere, but I hope it does.


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