The 29th edition of the TIFF, like every other festival, has suffered from content bloat over the years, but scanning the schedule carefully is worth the effort. A good place to start is usually the World Focus section; this category doesn’t require that films be exclusive to TIFF, so it can draw from a range films that are currently hot on the festival circuit.
Nocturama (World Focus)
Top of the list is “Nocturama” by French director Bertrand Bonello, who made 2011’s “House of Tolerance,” an alternately brutal and mesmerizing look at a fin de siecle Parisian bordello. “Nocturama,” which just premiered to controversy at the Toronto Film Festival and won an award at San Sebastian, is kind of like “Room,” in that you’re better off not knowing too much about it because it delivers a mean plot-line sucker punch.
Bonello imagines the return of 1968 radicalism (the Paris student uprising), but shorn of idealism and left only with cynicism and the viral revolutionary ideologies of groups like Anonymous and ISIS. Bonello began work on his terrorism-infused script some five years ago, but in the wake of the recent Bataclan terrorist attacks in France, “Nocturama” will be nothing if not provocative.
Heaven Will Wait (World Focus)
“Heaven Will Wait,” by director Marie Castille Mention-Schaar (“Once in a Lifetime”), actually started filming in Paris shortly after the Bataclan massacre. This film contrasts two quite different teenage girls — one from a working-class Muslim background, one from a privileged secular upbringing — who are both recruited as potential jihadis. This is a detailed, insightful look at radicalization — at what leads someone to the brink and, also, what can bring them back.
Clash (World Focus)
Just as timely is Egyptian director Mohamed Diab’s “Clash,” set in July 2013, shortly after then-President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by Egypt’s military. “Clash” takes place entirely in the back of a police van, which is driving around Cairo, randomly arresting those who have been caught up in the unrest and celebrations surrounding the coup. Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opponents, journalists and random bystanders alike are thrown into the truck, and what plays out is a microcosm of the postrevolutionary chaos that Egypt is still going through.
Sacred (Special Programs)
Those looking for something more uplifting may want to head over to the Special Screenings section to check out the documentary “Sacred,” which will premiere at TIFF. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Thomas Lennon, “Sacred” ties together contributions by over 40 filmmakers from around the world to find a unifying vision of faith in an age of religion-inspired hatred.
The Birth of a Nation and The Neon Demon (Special Screenings)
Two of the festival’s hottest tickets will no doubt be “Birth of a Nation” and “The Neon Demon,” both also appearing in Special Screenings. The former is director Nate Parker’s explosive tale of a slave uprising in antebellum Virginia in 1831. Based on history but needlessly adding entirely fabricated bits, this is more of a bloody revenge flick than anything else, but it has sparked no little controversy in this year of Black Lives Matter and revenge attacks on the police.
Judging from a few YouTube clips, “The Neon Demon,” starring Elle Fanning as an aspiring LA model who falls into a nightmarish den of iniquity, looks like it could be fantastic, some unholy hybrid of “Mulholland Drive” and “Tron.” But Nicolas Winding Refn’s last few films — influenced by visionary director Alejandro Jodorowsky — have felt like little more than bad acid trips, with dazed characters, woozy cinematography and an over-reliance on gore. Here’s hoping he gets it right this time.
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