TORONTO - The Toronto International Film Festival groups its more than 300 films into specific groupings, such as Contemporary World Cinema, Masters, TIFF Docs and a dozen more. And it's to be expected that bilingual Canada offers several French-language films from Quebec and other French-speaking regions of the country. Directors from these areas have honed their artistry and created some of the finest films at the festival.
This year that includes two from master Quebec director Denis Villeneuve, whose growing popularity has drawn him to Hollywood to make Prisoners, a thriller allegory about U.S. foreign policy featuring a dream cast including Hugh Jackman, Terrence Howard and Melissa Leo. Jake Gyllenhaal stars in both Villeneuve's films, the other being Enemy, another stunning thriller about a man who discovers his double.
Another Quebecois director worth watching is Sébastian Pilote, who presented Le Démantélement (Dismantling). A Quebec farmer (Gabriel Arcand) balances his personal life with his diminishing bank account and realizes it's time to pack it in. Life didn't unroll the way he planned, and his two daughters are recipients of his love and the few dollars he has left. It's a touching humanistic paean to farming, and an ode to the graceful demise of the independent farmer.
The latest from up-and-coming director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek's Cutoff) is again a carefully paced introspective study of common people confronted with moral challenges. Night Moves is more political, though, following three environmentalists plotting to blow up a dam. At once both a moral study and a suspense thriller, the story focuses as much on the unexpected aftermath, the psychic dilemma that ultimately threatens to destroy the well planned scheme.
In a festival this size there are bound to be several biopics and documentaries about prominent figures. This year featured Jimi Hendrix and Simon Bolivar, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela and Lance Armstrong, to name a few.
Controversial biker Armstrong was featured in political documentary champion Alex Gibney's (Taxi To the Dark Side, Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room, Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer) newest investigation, The Armstrong Lie. Gibney lost faith among some progressives in his recent attack on Julian Assange in We Steal Secrets.
Eastern Europe was represented in Toronto by typical anti-communist diatribes, most obviously Walesa: Man of Hope, by Poland's master chronicler of everything bad about communism, Andrzej Wajda (Man of Iron, Man of Marble).
Another Polish master filmmaker, Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa, Olivier, Olivier), brought Burning Bush, a chronicle of everything bad about communism in 1969 Czechoslovakia, where a student protester sets himself on fire and a frightened regime tries to cover it up. Unstable Elements exposes everything bad about communism in current day Belarus, where "Europe's last dictator" hides out. The Belarus Free Theater produces shows that antagonize the authorities while gaining praise in the West.
Sort of a biography, but more an expose of Pat Robertson's self-serving involvement in Africa, is the highly entertaining and revelatory Mission Congo. Reminiscent of last year's expose of the international House of Prayer (that's right, IHOP) entitled God Loves Uganda, this one also shows the hypocrisy of religious cults supposedly saving souls but more likely filling pockets with money. Robertson shamelessly scams Rwandan refugees with a front organization, Operation Blessing, that covers up his real project of mining diamonds in a neighboring country.
Photo: Prisoners official site