The most intriguing titles at this year’s TIFF celebrate geographical diversity while homing in on social issues of modern life. Whether the characters are in Brazil or Croatia or Japan, or the filmmakers are from Romania, India or China, their stories feature the struggles of everyday people, some of whom have become familiar with brutality and darkness. There is much despair and desperation, but it is occasionally tempered by moments of poignancy or hilarity. Here are five titles of note, and a mention of one of TIFF’s top Japanese stars.
The Fixer (Competition)
This is Romanian filmmaker Adrian Sitaru’s newest feature, created almost simultaneously with the widely acclaimed “Illegitimate,” which took the Berlin Film Festival by storm earlier this year. “The Fixer” follows a Romanian journalist working in Paris, pursuing a story on human trafficking. He’s intent on televising the life of a 14-year old prostitute (also from Romania) but the assignment goes badly. The job begins to poison the journalist’s personal life, even jeopardizing the relationship with his young son.
Mr. No Problem (Competition)
This three-act fable from China is longtime screenwriter Mei Feng’s directorial debut. Shot in black and white, “Mr. No Problem” is based on a 1943 short story, but it’s very modern in mood and aesthetic. From start to finish “Mr. No Problem” is about business, cash flow and management methods. There’s even an Airbnb-like episode that is hilarious as well as prophetic. To think all this took place in pre-Communist Party China. They had the capitalist thing nailed before it went awry.
The Silence of the Sky (Competition)
Directed by Brazilian Marco Dutra, this film looks at sexual violence and the heart-wrenching damage that ensues. When a young wife is raped by two strangers in her own home, she decides to keep it a secret from her husband. The husband, however, knows that she has been violated and is torturing himself for not having prevented the attack. The couple have no idea how to broach the subject and psychologically lock themselves into separate prisons of pain and trauma.
Lipstick Under my Burkha (Asian Future)
Despite the similarity to a song title, “Lipstick Under my Burkha” by India’s Alankrita Shrivastava is not a Bollywood vehicle. The story revolves around four women of different generations in a small town in India, each with a secret longing to break free from the repression of tradition.
Shrivastava lives and works in Mumbai and writes in the production notes that although she herself has never worn a burka, she has never felt completely free either, and that the small acts of rebellion staged by the four women in the film are a reflection of her own heart.
Quit Staring at my Plate (Competition)
Croatian director Hana Jusic is stifled by family, or so it seems. Throughout her career she has written and directed short films about children and young people suffering in family situations. “Quit Staring at my Plate” is her first feature, and it’s a powerful indictment of familial ties.
Protagonist Marijana lives in a tiny apartment with her parents and disabled older brother. Cramped not just by the space but also her controlling, aging and demanding parents, it’s a nightmare that she hopes to escape.
Festival favorite: Munetaka Aoki (actor)
Aoki has always been obsessive, prolific and extremely watchable. In this year’s TIFF, he’s appearing in two films: “Snow Woman” as the terrorized husband of the titular creature of folklore, and as the mystery man in Yoshihiro Hanno’s “Woman Wavering in the Rain.” Hanno who met Aoki in Paris 14 years ago and was inspired by the actor to write the screenplay for him.