my TIFF 2017 top 5

At the close of my TIFF experience this year I was waylaid by a flu bug for more than a week, but in the spirit of better-late-than-never, here is the my personal top five from my 18-film binge at this year’s festival in Toronto. (I intend to follow this up soon with a list of some other notables that I enjoyed. Above: my photos from TIFF screenings of picks #5, #4, #3, and #1. Unfortunately Agnès Varda couldn’t travel to Toronto.)

Wajib5. Wajib
“Gives outsiders an insider’s view of Nazareth, and a feel for the politics, with subtlety and grace. v glad I decided to catch it,” was my hot Twitter take after this screening, and on reflection I still stand by that. This film, with its simple narrative structure of a young Palestinian man visiting home—after his successful career launch in Italy—to spend a rather tense day with his father hand-delivering invitations to his sister’s wedding, unfolds deliberately, only rarely feels repetitive, and under Annemarie Jacir’s accomplished direction, very effectively opens a window on a world we rarely see in this light.

First Reformed4. First Reformed
Paul Schrader’s return to form features strikingly inventive stylistic choices, is built around a remarkable performance by Ethan Hawke, and represents Schrader’s most serious exploration yet of the North American Dutch-immigrant Calvinist Christian Reformed Church tradition in which he was raised. It illuminates American evangelical culture from unexpected vantage points, gets serious about the environment, and, yes, revisits Taxi Driver territory—and has the nerve to end with unexpected abruptness. A remarkable, uncompromised film.

3. Call Me By Your Name
So, yeah, it turns out that all it took was a gem of a script of from the master himself, James Ivory, to unlock the full potential of the director Luca Guadagnino. Everyone is talking about Michael Stulhbarg’s remarkable speech as the scene that takes it over the top, but the film really won me over with its wonderful dialog that joyously bounces from English to French to Italian, and back again. It’s a legit criticism that the partners in the central gay romance, played by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, look respectively younger and older than the 17 and 24 years of age specified by the script, but the charm here is irresistible and I bought in fully.

Faces Places2. Faces Places (Visages Villages)
This deserving winner of the TIFF People’s Choice Documentary Award is a remarkable collaboration between veteran filmmaker Agnès Varda, now 89 and, as the film documents, experiencing diminished vision and mobility, and the giant-photo-wall-pasting activist artist JR. It is genuinely touching, irresistibly funny, and grounded in the weight of experience—and still somehow free. There was no other TIFF film this year that I can so confidently recommend to absolutely everyone.

Zama1. Zama
The most opaque and complex film I saw at TIFF was also unquestionably the best, for me. Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, whose previous film, The Headless Woman, drew comparisons to Antonioni, has finally returned nine years later with a follow-up that is more in the vein of Pasolini. With its incredible sound design and elaborate reconstruction of indigenous cultures wiped out centuries ago, this stylized, sophisticated head-trip of a colonial period piece strikes me as a film I will return to again and again in years to come—but maybe not before reading the novel on which it is based, recently, belatedly made available in English translation.


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