DDW previews the trends set to hit the Ontario capital ahead of the Toronto Film Festival 2022
Toronto Film Festival 2022 (TIFF) is making an IRL comeback. After two years of suspension and virtual activity, the festival returns with a programme including almost 200 feature films and forty short films. It’s the largest slate of films the festival has seen since the start of the pandemic and reflects a Canadian industry rebounding after record high hospitalisations during the Omicron wave.
The epicentre of the festival – the TIFF Bell Lightbox cinema – struggled since its closure on March 14th 2020 during the onset of the pandemic. The venue bounced between moratoriums and COVID-precaution plans before permanently re-opening on February 3rd 2022 with an increasingly hopeful post-pandemic outlook.
Despite such recent uncertainty, Toronto Film Festival 2022 remains as socio-politically aware as ever. Russian films with state-backing have been excluded from consideration following the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, with official Russian delegations banned from attending the festival in any capacity.
“TIFF will suspend participation by film organizations and media outlets supported by the Russian state,” wrote organisers to Variety, “as well as Russian cultural ambassadors and delegations related to our Festival.” Independent Russian filmmakers are still permitted to attend and submit, while numerous films in the programme focus on the multi-faceted migrant experience, particularly for those leaving Ukraine and the subsequent effects on neighbouring states.
Michal Vinik’s Valeria Is Getting Married is dealing with the phenomenon of Ukrainian mail-order brides. Chosen for the Venice Film Festival’s prestigious Orizzonti Extra screenings, Valeria Is Getting Married will show at Sala Giardino next week before making the hop across the pond to Toronto.
Written and directed by Vinik, the tale follows two sisters as the elder, Christina, convinces her younger sister Valeria to agree to the same sort of arranged marriage she once followed. A joint production between Israel and Ukraine, Vinik’s film pushes beyond the hot-button topic of political geography in an attempt to deconstruct the idea of a committed relationship while exploring gender and socioeconomic inequality.
Like Valeria Is Getting Married, Slovak director Michal Blasko’s debut Victim will open in competition in the Orizzonti section of Venice before moving alongside Vinik to the Toronto Film Festival 2022 for their North American premieres. The confused feelings of sympathy evoked by Christina in Valeria Is Getting Married are compounded in Blasko’s complex anti-heroine, Irina.
A Ukrainian immigrant and single mother working as a housekeeper in a small border town in the Czech Republic, Irina returns to her home country to further the progression of her European citizenship. While in Ukraine, she receives the news that her 13-year-old son, Igor, has been grievously harmed while at home alone.
Upon waking, Igor states the assailants were Roma and Irina campaigns for justice around the neighbourhood thereby encouraging the already prevalent anti-Roma hysteria. It’s a tale complex in its layers of oppression, but as Igor’s story begins to falter and the case is taken up by right-wing activists, Irina’s sobering inner conflict drives the overwhelming intensity of the film.
English-language films that will undoubtedly steal some spotlight during the festival include Matt Smukler’s Wildflower – starring former CW starlet Kiernan Shipka – and Paul Mescal’s newest project Aftersun from Scottish writer-director Charlotte Wells.
While the former follows a young woman finding independence while she cares for her intellectually disabled parents, Aftersun is expected to be the devastatingly raw recollection of a woman re-exploring the 35mm footage shot on a father-daughter holiday 20 years prior. It also offers Mescal his first of two leading film roles set to screen at the Toronto Film Festival 2022.
Alongside his turn in Aftersun, Mescal will star as military veteran Aidan in Benjamin Millepied’s modern reinterpretation of Carmen – the 19th-century opera of seduction and betrayal. With a soundtrack by Succession and Moonlight’s Nicholas Britell and script from Alex Dinelaris of Birdman, Carmen is set to be an auditory and visual feast with a spectacular plot to match.
With the festival opening date fast approaching (September 8th), the TIFF Tribute awards are at the forefront of the festival’s press coverage as new recipients are announced daily. Brendan Fraser is set to receive one of the two available Tribute Awards for Performance.
Fraser’s performance in The Whale, directed by Darren Aronofsky, has already been touted as a DDW highlight of this year’s Venice International Film Festival, with the TIFF Tribute only further solidifying an almost-certain Oscars campaign and nomination. In a first for the festival, the other award for performance will be handed to the ensemble cast of Amazon Studio’s My Policeman.
Led in part by tabloid magnet Harry Styles, My Policeman stars Emma Corrin (The Crown), Gina McKee (Phantom Thread) and Rupert Everett, alongside Linus Roache and David Dawson. The story follows a policeman in mid-20th-century Brighton as he marries a school teacher named Marion and continues his relationship with Patrick, a museum curator. The awards ceremony will return to an in-person format for the TIFF gala fundraiser on September 11th at Fairmont Royal York Hotel.
Now in its 46th year, the Toronto Film Festival 2022 will open on Thursday, September 8th with Sally El Hosaini’s The Swimmers before closing with Mary Harron’s Dalíland on Sunday, September 18th.