FILM REVIEWS: Toronto International Film Festival 2009

For those of you who aren’t familiar TIFF is the largest public film festival in the world. So it’s kind of like putting kids loose in a candy store or trying to ride as many rides as you can at Disneyland before close except Disneyland has nothing on TIFF.

As some of you already know or suspect:

I ♥ Film… A LOT.

Since I was fourteen I have been obsessed with movies, so of course, after moving to Toronto, I found myself my new favourite holiday: The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). For any dedicated cinephile it’s better than Christmas. This year I broke my record and saw 44 films in 10 days (Sept 10-19/09) while also working the festival which led to about 3-5 hours of sleep every night. There are still about 100 films I missed that I would have loved to have seen but you can’t be in two places at once. C’est la vie.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, TIFF is the largest public film festival in the world. It’s kind of like putting kids loose in a candy store or trying to ride as many rides as you can at Disneyland before close, except Disneyland has nothing on TIFF.

George Clooney at TIFF 2009

George Clooney at the Premiere of ‘Up in the Air’

Does Disneyland have George Clooney? I think not.

Anyhow, this years festival was wonderful and I saw some amazing gems that I hope everyone gets to see and of course some I’d rather forget. Now that I’ve had a good month to ponder the films I devoured at this years TIFF I feel more comfortable reviewing them. So here now is my TIFF movie review wrap-up.

Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard at the premiere of 'An Education'

Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard at the Premiere of ‘An Education’


Note: Nick Hornby is my favourite author. This was his first visit to Canada and I never thought I would actually ever get to meet him. I did and he was lovely. I became a little verklempt which never happens to me.

Note: Nick Hornby is my favourite author. This was his first visit to Canada and I never thought I would actually ever get to meet him. I did and he was lovely. I became a little verklempt which rarely happens to me but this was different.

1) An Education 4/5

Director: Lone Scherfig

Country: United Kingdom

Starring: Carey Mulligan as Jenny, Peter Sarsgaard as David, Alfred Molina as Jenny’s father, Dominic Cooper, Olivia Williams, Rosamund Pike, and Emma Thompson

Set in a London suburb in 1961, sixteen year old Jenny dreams of a different life for herself. One that doesn’t involve her father forcing her to do schoolwork 24/7 so she can get into Oxford- his dream, not hers. She wants to see the world and read interesting books and go to interesting clubs and live life to the fullest in Paris. Life takes an unexpected turn when she meets David, a much older man who can sweet talk just about anybody into doing anything, even Jenny’s father. David lives the life Jenny wishes she had. He makes her dreams come true by sweeping her off her feet to Paris and taking her to interesting places and buying her expensive things but when Jenny starts to question how he is able to afford all this she starts to realize nothing is what it seems. I don’t want to spoil the rest so I won’t say much more about the story.

Written by Nick Hornby (of High Fidelity and About a Boy fame) based on a memoir by Lynn Barber, I fell in love with this film despite its commercially broad appeal. We may know to some degree that this may end tragically but Nick lets the characters tell this story so impeccably with his trademark wit, humour, yearning, and sadness. We don’t care if we can foresee the inevitable outcome but we just want to take the ride with this lovely girl as she comes of age and explores the idea that an education will take her further than a man ever could.

I really loved the theme that seemed to be quite prevalent in the 1960’s: Education/Independence vs Marriage/Dependence. This movie was everything Mona Lisa Smile tried to be but failed miserably.

I also loved the costume design. It was spot on with all the right 1961 trends and looks that are timeless and classic. Jenny’s change is quite substantial and the costume design along with the production design really emphasizes her two worlds. Tartan school uniforms to elegant cocktail dresses and loads of eyeliner. Great stuff.

Willem Dafoe at 'Antichrist' Premiere

Willem Dafoe at ‘Antichrist’ Premiere

2) Antichrist 4/5

Director: Lars Von Trier

Country: Denmark/Sweden/France/Italy

Starring: Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg

The story revolves around a couple who’s toddler climbs out of his crib and jumps out of a window to his death while they (the couple) are having sex in the other room which Von Trier chooses to show explicitly. Symbolism abound in this Tarkovsky-esque film, the wife collapses at the funeral and spirals further into grief and despair. The husband decides to care for his grieving wife as he is already a psychologist. He plies her with pop psychology techniques which Von Trier himself has made known he hates pop psychology. In one exercise he figures out which place would give her the most anxiety and brings her there to deal with her fear and anxiety head on. This place is their cottage in the woods called “Eden”. Here, things go from bad to worse and I won’t tell you much more only that if you watch this film don’t eat before it because your stomach will turn. From this point on it’s practically torture porn. There are some beatings, a screw into a leg, and not to mention most disgusting of all genital mutilation. All of this is graphically and explicitly shown. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it and you won’t know what to think after it. In the end, what is the film about? Women and nature are the Antichrist could sum up what I think Von Trier was going for.

You may have noticed I rated this film well. Originally when I came out of the theatre I would have given it 3/5 just for shock value but after sitting on it I continue to be haunted and think about this film and what it was trying to say. Was it wild in getting it across? Yes. But was it successful in doing what it wanted to do? Yes. So overall I recommend this film to those who can stomach it. If you enjoyed the film Martyrs you might enjoy this film.

As a side note as well the cinematography and production design perfectly created this anti-reality where I thought Von Trier may fail but the most pleasing thing about the film is its visual look although I could have went without some of the shaky camera movement sometimes.

Jennifer's Body Premiere

R-L: Karyn Kusama, Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, and Amanda Seyfried at the Premiere of ‘Jennifer’s Body’ 

Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox at the Premiere of 'Jennifer's Body'

Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox at the Premiere of ‘Jennifer’s Body’

3) Jennifer’s Body 3.5/5

Director: Karyn Kusama

Country: USA

Starring: Megan Fox as Jennifer, Amanda Seyfried as Needy, J.K Simmons, Adam Brody, Johnny Simmons as Chip, and Amy Sedaris

Written by Juno scribe, Diablo Cody, this story also revolves around quirky words and teen angst but this time the characters are out for blood. Jennifer and Needy play BFF’s who are complete opposites. Jennifer is sexy and slutty; Needy is pretty but shy and bookish. Needy has a steady boyfriend named Chip while Jennifer chooses to play the field. One night they go together to the local crap bar where some emo punk band is playing. Jennifer decides to ‘get with’ the lead singer (Adam Brody) even after Needy exposes he only wants her because he thinks she’s a virgin (which she is most definitely not). A fire breaks out before anybody can go home with anybody and Jennifer and Needy miraculously survive with the band as many locals perish. Jennifer still goes home with the band despite her better judgment. Nothing is the same after this. Jennifer turns into a ravenous man-eating teen vampire and hilarity and scares ensue. Needy is left to figure it all out and save the day. This go around she won’t be letting Jennifer take control not to mention, eat her boyfriend.

All of this said you must be thinking wow, what a predictable piece of garbage. Predictable, maybe, but damn it was fun to watch and I hate vampire movies. Diablo’s writing and Kusama’s playful direction made these ladies badass, funny and hip all at the same time. Before the film Kusama had said the film was a cross between Carrie and Heathers and she wasn’t lying. I enjoyed this film for all of those reasons. I also went into it with zero expectations so that may have helped. Amanda Seyfried was pitch perfect as always and the perfect antithesis to Megan Fox’s dim-witted bubbly super-bitch. Megan was a bit of a one-note but it worked for this role. All in all a fun film but won’t be up for any awards other than MTV of course.

4) The Happiest Girl in the World 2/5

Director: Radu Jude

Country: Netherlands/Romania

Starring: Andreea Bosneag, Vasile Muraru, Violeta Haret Popa, and Serban Pavlu

The story centers around Delia, a year short of high school graduation, who wins a car in a mail-in contest for a juice company. In order to receive this prize car all she has to do is act happy in a juice commercial. More  obstacles lie in her way though since her parents have already planned for the sale of her car without her consent, which they don’t need, because she is under eighteen. Delia’s parents want to use the money to expand their business since they have recently fallen on hard times. Delia protests the car is hers to decide and she wants it so she can travel and use it for College.

I found the premise intriguing but in fruition I was less than pleased. Although I think my own bias killed the film once I realized we were going to spend the duration of the film on the set of a commercial. I hate commercial sets for all the reasons the film made apparent. They are boring and completely void of creativity and feeling and advertisers are often idiotic and dim. Now having said this not all are like this and I try and associate myself with good companies but for the most part I stay away from commercials altogether. Which is why watching a commercial set for almost two hours was more like nails on a chalk board. The story was also so excruciatingly simple that it didn’t lend itself to any further thoughts other than the life on this commercial set. By the end I liked Delia and the fight she had in her to not take no for an answer but it was painful getting to that point. I am a huge fan of the new wave of Romanian cinema but this was sub-par. Wish I could say it was better.


5) Cleanflix 2.5/5

Director: Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi

Country: USA

With: Daniel Thompson, Ray Lines, and Neil LaBute

Cleanflix is a documentary about a company who took it upon themselves to start editing violence, sex, and anything else they deemed inappropriate out of Hollywood films for the Mormon community. In the late eighties Mormon prophets began to ban Mormons from watching R-rated films as they believed it corrupted the mind once viewed. Thus ‘Clean Flicks’ opened up business in the late nineties, when editing software became user-friendly, editing The Matrix, Titanic and other popular films that Mormons felt they were missing out on. Other companies took note and started doing this as well but broke the rules that Clean Flicks made clear so no laws were broken: edits and rentals must be on a buy one, rent one basis with no mass copying of discs. Once the law was officially being broken Hollywood was able to swoop in and take down each company one by one. Filmmakers made their opinions clear and headed out to dissolve all censoring companies. Problem is just like Internet movie pirating, once it is started it is very hard to stop it and monitor new companies.

I really loved the premise of this documentary and it was one of the first films I put on my list as a must-see but the film left me cold with what felt to me like an amateur rough cut. The filmmakers even admitted they were editing the film down to the last minute before TIFF. It would have been fine had they stuck to the issue of morals and censorship but instead halfway through the film it no longer becomes a film about ‘Clean Flicks’ the company, and they choose to follow one of the copycat censurers, Daniel Thompson who had his own sex scandal in a censored video store himself. We gain nothing out of following this man because we don’t really sympathize with him nor really care what happens to him. Had they brought the film back to the issues at hand I would have felt better about the film. Also it didn’t help when the quality of the cinematography was weak as was some of the animation. I really wished it was better but it was mediocre at best. However, the strength of the original concept and theme were enough for me to give it 2.5/5.

Now I’ve decided 5 reviews is enough for today. I’ve been trying to write more of them but I just don’t have the energy which is why it’s taken this long just to get any post up about my time at TIFF this year. I’ll try and put more reviews up soon.

Have you seen any of the films I reviewed? What did you think?

Rose Lagacé | @artdepartmental

Posted by Rose Lagacé

Rose Lagacé is a production designer for film & television by day and an emerging filmmaker by night. Rose is also the creator and editor of Art Departmental where she celebrates the art and craft of production design.

  1. I can’t believe Megan isn’t going to be in Transformers 3! She was so awesome before.


    1. Art DepartMENTALMay 22, 2010 at 2:49 PM

      She’s a terrible actress with a bad temper. She’s basically blacklisted now after those comments she made about Michael Bay and the crew comments about her that followed. I’ve worked with too many divas to support her antics. I’m sure whatever new bombshell Bay casts will have manners… and hopefully can act.


  2. i was starting to feel i would probably be the sole human being whom cared about this, at the very least now i recognize im not gaga 🙂 i will make it a point to see a number several other blogposts immediately after i get a bit of caffeine in me, take care 🙂


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