By Jim Slotek
There are, I’m told, some 77 film festivals in Toronto during the year. As it happens, I’m on juries for two of them this month.
To wit: The Toronto Japanese Film Festival (at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Don Mills) and the Italian Contemporary Film Festival (presented simultaneously in Toronto, Vaughan, Montreal, Quebec City, Hamilton and Vancouver).
And they’re superlative alternatives to the latest slurry of superhero movies.
Some are derivative of Hollywood tropes, some are pure entertainment (Gojira alert! Shin Godzilla, a.k.a. Godzilla 29 screens at the TJFF June 18!).
And some of them turn left and take film in places it seldom gets to go on North American screens.
Here are some worth watching:
TORONTO JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL (http://jccc.on.ca/tjff/)
HER LOVE BOILS BATHWATER (Tues. June 13). Humanizing a saint has to be one of the hardest acting jobs in the world. Rie Miyazawa plays a single-mother whose terminal cancer diagnosis leads her on a bucket list crusade that inspires her bullied daughter, ennobles her immature ex-husband, reunites families and kickstarts a failing bath-house enterprise. Amazingly, she shines. (Miyazawa won best actress at the Japanese Academy Awards).
OVER THE FENCE (Wednesday, June 14). Guy with traumatic past meets crazy woman who turns his life upside down. For some reason, every culture in the world seems to gravitate towards this story. This one is well emotionally rich, with Joe Odagiri giving a nuanced performance as Yoshio a divorced man who bonds with eccentrics in a night-school carpentry class, and Yu Aoi letting her freak flag fly as the bird-obsessed Satoshi.
DANCHI (THE PROJECTS). (Saturday, June 17). Possibly the wonkiest movie in the TJFF sked (next to the Coen-brothers-esque black comedy Himeanole, which already screened). A sorrowful elderly couple who’ve just sold their herbal medicine business move into a dilapidated apartment complex with eccentric, gossipy neighbours. And, um, aliens are involved. Junji Sakamoto directed this odd little entry that won Naomi Fujiyama a best actress award at the Shanghai film festival.
IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD (Tuesday, June 27). I’m going to say it. If you see no other film at TJFF, it should be this beautifully rendered anime by Sunao Katabuchi about Suzu, a drawing-obsessed teenage girl in Hiroshima during the war, who marries a man in a nearby town and is encumbered with feeding his family during rationing. What we know about Hiroshima’s fate inserts a dark cloud over the brightness of the movie, while the anime form allows Suzu’s drawings to blend seamlessly with the world around her.
ITALIAN CONTEMPORARY FILM FESTIVAL (http://icff.ca)
CUBE. (Tuesday, June 13, TIFF Bell Lightbox). Here’s the best film experience to be had for free this week. Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 sci-fi indie is possibly the best first feature in Canada’s filmmaking history, a paranoid, Kafka-eque tale of strangers trapped in a surreal and deadly environment. A hodge-podge of terrific Canadian actors – including Nicole de Boer, David Hewlett, Maurice Dean Wint, Julian Richings and the late Wayne Robson – flesh out the stomach-knotted atmosphere. A brand new 35 mm print. Director Natali will be in attendance.
MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE. (Wednesday, June 14. TIFF Bell Lightbox). The classic 1964 Vittorio De Sica comedy with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, about a cynical businessman who takes a prostitute as his longtime mistress, and moves her into his home under the ruse of being his ailing mother’s caretaker. Original-Cin’s own Liam Lacey will conduct a post screening Q&A with De Sica’s son Christian.
INDIVISIBLE. (Monday, June 12, TIFF Bell Lightbox) That’s today, so get out there! One of the top vote-getters in this year’s Toronto Film Critics Association award at the ICFF. It’s the troubling and emotionally affecting story of teenage conjoined twins (Marianna and Angela Fontana) whose father turns them into B-level pop singers. When doctors suggest they are easily separable, everyone with a financial stake – including the local priest - objects to losing a meal ticket.
THERE IS A LIGHT. (Monday, June 12, Vaughan – Cineplex Cinemas). Again, that’s today. And did I mention earlier that the “guy with traumatic past meets crazy woman who turns his life upside down” seems to transcend cultural barriers? Luca Marinelli, who usually plays the heavy, is the sexually-conflicted Paolo who is drawn to the plight of Mia (Isabella Ragonese), a drugged-out, pregnant, wannabe rock singer who’s prone to irrational acts that get his heart beating. An Italian road movie with twists and turns.
Already screened in Toronto, but worth a look if you’re in Montreal or Quebec City:
FIORE. (Monday, June 13. Cinematheque. Mtl. Tuesday, June 13. Cinema Cartier, QC). Highly-recommended. Deeply affecting story of a teenage girl in an Italian reform school, who finds love, friendship and is somehow humanized despite her dehumanizing surroundings. Daphne Scoccia is in nearly every frame of Claudio Giovannesi’s sensitive and frank film.
THE ITALIAN RACE. (Wed. June 14. Cinema Cartier, QC. Friday, June 16, Casa D’Italia in Montreal and Rio Theatre in Vancouver). Also highly-recommended. Fact-based tale of a teenage F3 race car driver Giulia Martino (Matilda De Angelis), who is faced with having to win to save her family home after the death of her father/coach. Clumsily into the breach comes her drug-addict brother Loris (Stefano Accorsi), a former racer who, through his haze still remembers what it takes to win.
Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.