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  • Hanna Flint

Highlights from Toronto Film Festival 2021

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

This year marked my fourth year in row at the Toronto International Film Festival, though as in 2020, my attendance was virtual. I did plan on attending in person but with the flight costs from London and the uncertainty over Covid restrictions to Canada, I decided to save cash and stick around in town to catch as many via the digital platform.

Of course, not all titles were available because of the geo-blocking permissions on TIFF's Digital Cinema Pro but from what I've seen I certainly didn't miss out on Dear Evan Hansen. YIKES! But here's what I did manage to get access to...

The first of which was THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN, the Benedict Cumberbatch biopic about the eccentric artist and inventor with a penchant for cats. I was surprisingly impressed give my somewhat disappointment at Cumberbatch's most recent historical dramas The Courier and The Current Wars. They were awfully dry in comparison to this wonderfully off-kilter, humorous and affable period biopic with a contemporary feel. It's scheduled to begin its limited release on October 22 before heading to Prime Video on November 5, 2021.

Netflix had a few films on offer. The less said about THE STARLING the better, but you can hear my thoughts via Fade To Black podcast episode 30. THE GUILTY, on the other hand, proved my obsession with Jake Gyllenhaal continues to be justified. Antoine Fuqua's remake of the 2018 Danish film of the same name, is dynamic and thrilling even with the confined setting and the voice work from Riley Keough and Da'Vine Joy Randolph is especially impressive.

I really enjoyed Michael Pearce's ENCOUNTER, an impressive follow-up to BEAST with Riz Ahmed on mesmerising form in this twisty sci-fi with gripping psychological undercurrents. You can read my Time Out review.

Mélanie Laurent's THE MAD WOMAN'S BALL was a frustrating yet very moving watch. It's real, a little bit gritty but with a dark sense of whimsy.Lou de Laâge is a captivating lead as a young woman able to communicate with ghosts but is locked up in an asylum doing bad things to women. You'll be swept up in her story and it's available to watch on Prime Video now!

The first thing I saw Adeel Akhtar in was Four Lions. He was the funniest thing in it. Every time I see him in something new, I warm to him even more and in ALI & AVA, he takes my breath away. I adored Clio Barnard's debut feature The Arbor, which I recorded a special introduction for on BFI Player, and she brings just as much candour and care to this love story that explores cross cultural relationships and ties in a Bradford community.

Adored the quiet brutality of SUNDOWN. It reminded me a little of Michael Haneke's Hidden. Tim Roth's languishing lead as wealthy man who chooses not to return home from a holiday in Acapulco with his family after a death is both frustrating yet intriguing to watch. You're just waiting for the other shoe to drop and when it does, whew. He and Charlotte Gainsbourg are on their finest form.

Léa Seydoux does a lot of heavy lifting in FRANCE. I was definitely obsessed with her wardrobe and hilarious double act with Blanche Gardin. But the film can't really decide what it wants to be and alas, yet another unethical female journalist character to add to a growing list!

Another media focused film, ARTHUR RAMBO has a clearer purpose. Loosely based on the controversy surrounding media personality Mehdi Meklat, the drama reunites Laurent Cantet with Rabah Nait Oufella, the Franco-Algerian actor who made his film debut as a teenager in Canet’s 2008 Palme d’Or-winner The Class. Oufella communicates his eponymous lead's hubris with subtle conviction. He and Cantet hit a nerve and the result is a rigorously intelligent cautionary tale for the social media age. Read my full review via The New Arab.

And COSTA BRAVA, LEBANON was a delightful way to end the festival. 2016’s Captain Fantastic comes to mind when appreciating the quirky off-the-grid humour underscoring the uneasy tension in Mounia Akl and co-writer Clara Roquet’s lightly dystopian story.


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