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TIFF18 Retrospective

On its 18th birthday, TIFF looks better than ever.

It has a selection of films from very good to great, of all kinds and for all tastes, an online app where you can read about the films in the festival program and purchase tickets – when it comes to press, they can not use their badge to reserve tickets on the app, only online (on laptop or mobile), this would be maybe the only oversight of the app, and another flub would be the lack of communication and the behavior towards journalists.

Returning to the good things about # TIFF18, I applaud the jury of the international competition, made up of highly praised filmmakers: Denis Cote (director awarded for countless times at Locarno), Constantin Popescu (the director of Pororoca and the only Romanian member of the jury), Anita Juka (film producer with more than 70 awards in renowned festivals such as Toronto, Karlovy Vary, etc), Grainne Humphreys (director of Dublin IFF), and Mike Goodridge (producer and director of Macao Film Festival). The only press conference I’ve been at (out of the three organized during the 5 days spent at TIFF 2019) was with these people who shared with us from their favorite films to what it means being in a jury, and not agreeing with your colleagues. Before going further, I will quote below the best moments of the press conference with the five members of the official competition jury.

About the reasons for being part of a jury, in a competition festival:

Denis: I was a film critic so I used to share a lot of ideas about films. Then I started making films and this is a much more solitary project. When you’re in a jury, you hear what people say about films. So I do juries to not take myself too seriously when I’m making a film and I’m being judged.

Anita: I wanted to come here because I know you have a great competition. It’s a pleasure to be in a jury and watch all these great films and discuss with other members of the jury about each film.

Constantin: I always think that a festival is interesting if you have interesting films to see. It’s the case here. I like to see movies without reading reviews before, I like the freshness of a different approach. The important thing is that the jury understand each other. Like Denis said, it’s very important not to take ourselves too seriously.

About what is there to be done when you don’t like a film and you have to watch it until the end:

Denis: In a selection there are always films you don’t like. If I watch something I don’t like, I still take notes in case somebody liked it – although I hope nobody did (laughs). You need to consider everything.

Anita: What’s worse than not like it, is being different to a film.

Mike: You have to trust the curators of the festival. When I lose hope in storytelling, I lose interest in the film.

About what you like about TIFF, and what you would like to watch these days, if you have time:

Grainne: I would love to watch a film on the huge screen in Unirii Square. I think that would be a wonderful experience.

Denis: When I go to a festival, there are 2 possible approaches: sighseeing  or business, when I come with work. First time I came to TIFF in 2015, I enjoyed the city and the surroundings as a tourist. This year, I strictly came for the jury and the films in competition.

Mike: I would like to get to Dracula Castle (Bran), but I understood that it’s pretty far, so I don’t know if I’ll make it.

Anita: What impresses me about this festival is the large number of viewers at all screenings, people that stay until the end at most films. There aren’t many festivals that achieve such a performance.

 

And a bit about what I watched these days and what I liked. Besides the Romanian shorts competition, which I see it as a complete aberration – I apologize in advance to the programmer, but I honestly think that many titles were selected on no real merit, I enjoyed all the films I watched – international and Romanian, and I have seen more than any other year. Below is a brief presentation of each and a few reasons why I recommend you to go see them when you have the chance.

System Crasher (dir. Nora Fingscheidt / Germany, 2019)

Nora’s debut film presents Benni, a nine-year-old girl, small but dangerous, considered by the social workers to be a “problem child”.

Her mother, a single and weak woman who cannot get out of an abusive relationship, has never known how to deal with her child and her problems, which is why Benni is taken by social workers. The only adult who seems not to have given up on her is Maria Bafane, the person who deals with her case and who is struggling to find Benni a permanent home. There are two factors that trigger the girl’s aggressive behavior: telling her what to do and touching her face, a side effect of childhood trauma. Although the girl’s behavior doesn’t seem to change, the arrival of Micha brings new hope, a psychologist specialized in anger management, hired to accompany her at school. Benni’s life seems to get in order until Micha realizes that he gets too attached to a child who is not his own and can never adopt, since he already has a pregnant wife and a girl of only a couple of months.

System Crasher received the Alfred Bauer Trophy this year in Berlin and is the first film I’ve seen at TIFF18.

What the director has succeeded with her debut film is to show the desperation of social workers in the German system, a strict, rule-based system that tends to put all of its faults on them. Although it’s a film with an idealistic perspective on social cases, Benni’s character keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Helena Zengel, the leading actress who successfully passed the test of veracity, has blown me away. Helena was found following a long casting process involving 150 children, and she was number seven: “I I was writing and searching for four and a half years and I never thought we will find the girl. I saw 150 girls, and she was number 7. I always kept her in the back of my mind and came back to her. We worked for 7 months together, discovering Benni: what she wears, what she likes”.

Funfact: Because in Germany rules on working with children are very strict – a child is allowed to work maximum 5h / day, 30 days / year, Nora decided to shoot 30 days in December and 30 days in January, so she can finish her film.

Synonyms (dir: Nadav Lapid / Israel-France, 2019)

Synonyms is the story of Yoav, a young immigrant from Israel who arrives in France determined to give up his past and become a Frenchman. Once in Paris, he is helped by Caroline and Emile – a pair presented as a French couple caricature: he is a wannabe philosopher, she is a young chic and sensual musician. The two give him a place to live for a few days, and become shortly his only friends in Paris. Throughout the movie we follow Yoav, who struggles to abandon his language and Hebrew origins and get another identity.

The film is inspired by the director’s life story, who arrived in Paris when he was convinced that he was born in the Middle East by mistake. Nadav Lapid said at TIFF that “one day I had this feeling of running away, save my soul and never come back. Basically, the film is based on this period of time I lived in France, which was very a agitated and monotonous one – I really ate tomato pasta everyday, and I was walking on the the streets mumbling words in French, synonyms.”

Throughout the two and a half hours, we see Yoav trying to learn French, get a job and start a new life. The film may seem boring and chaotic sometimes, just like Lapid’s feelings  during the years spent in France; the whole story is told from the main’s character perspective – an immature guy whose reactions come in waves and whose behavior is often compulsive and radical: “Yoav is doing an extremely radical thing, he wants to eliminate his past, himself and be reborn. His tool are the words, he sacrifices his words, because his previous language contains his previous identity.” (Nadav Lapid). Tom Mercier, the young actor who plays Yoav, manages through his extraordinary interpretation to bring to light all the personal and political significance of his character, forcing the audience to analyze their own opinions about stereotypes and the current issue of immigration.

Funfact: The film was written by the director alongside his father and was edited by his mother. About this, Nadav said: “I think you should do films with people you can be impolite to, but still keep a good relationship.” The film won the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2019.

Monsters. (dir: Marius Olteanu / Romania, 2019)

Marius’ Olteanu debut film presents a day in the life of a couple married for over 10 years, whose friends admire them together but despise them separately, and their life decisions don’t seem to be in line with the mentality of society. When the inner monsters resurface, Dana and Arthur have to decide how they want to spend the rest of their life.

A study presented in three parts where the action takes place over 24 hours, the film is shot mostly in square format. The first part follows Dana (Judith State), who returns to Bucharest after a business trip, and spends the evening wandering through the capital by a taxi that she pays for the whole night. The second part presents Arthur (Cristi Popa), Dana’s husband, who spends most of his evening at the partner he met on Grindr, played by Şerban Pavlu. We learn that Arthur is gay and carries with him a great guilt: “I want to be the person you need,” he tells Dana in a telephone conversation. The third part presents the two of them together after the night they’ve spent separately and it is the only segment where the image has a “widescreen” format. A visual trick that many people disregard, but which I have appreciated – another way to highlight the strong connection between two partners.

I really liked their interpretation, the way they feel though they are not together, the fact that you can sense their love, though they seem so far apart from each other. There is a melancholy present throughout the entire film, and Marius Olteanu manages to keep it from beginning to end without turning the film into a hard-to-digest drama. It’s a film about love and all the forms it can take, about relationships and their evolution, about what happens when two people seem to get to the end of their journey together, but decide to make the impossible possible. A film that shouldn’t be missed out, soon in cinemas across the country.

Arrest (dir: Andrei Cohn / Romania, 2019)

Arrest is my favorite film from TIFF18, maybe because the subject is quite personal to me. Dinu Neagu (Alexandru Papadopol) is a Romanian architect who in the summer of 1983 is picked up on the beach by Securitate and brought to Bucharest, where he is locked up in the same cell with Vali – a detainee who became an informant for Securitate.

“The film was much more complex, and in the end I chose to focus on the two characters: how do you manage to cohabit, like in a relationship, with a cellmate. It seemed more right to make a film just about this thing.”

Throughout the movie, Vali uses an extreme torture treatment on Dinu, trying to find information for Securitate, and hoping that this way he will get out of prison sooner. Most of the action takes place in their cell; for more than an hour, the viewer is witness to the atrocities the main character is going through, being transposed into the time and space of the action. From the perspective of the two characters, Dinu, a man without dignity, easily frightened, and Vali, who fits the “vile” and letch profile, Andrei Cohn presents the reality of the communism that many of those who have known the system and still praise it today, haven’t lived through. A film that pulls an alarm signal and forces the audience to be aware of the real situation, and which personally affected me on so many levels. Due to the visual impact, I got a deep sense of the panic the communism system brought into people, and especially the unimaginable torment my father has suffered, together with other political prisoners…I want to take this opportunity to thank Andrei Cohn, and I recommend you to add this film on your to-watch-list this year.

And so, after four pages full of words, another TIFF passed by.

A retrospective by Laura Mușat
Translation by Andreea Toader

 

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