A holy day in the life at the Toronto International Film Festival
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Photo: [l to r] Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in “Philomena,” a standout film at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival
Almost 20 years ago, Wynton Marsalis released In this House, On this Morning, a 2-disc suite dedicated to capturing the experience of Sunday morning church services – from the devotional to the home-cooked meal awaiting the congregation at home. It is a celebration of the divine and the all-too human joined together. For me, the closest I come to that outside the confines of religion and spirituality is in the movie house, and what better expression of the calling forth of a congregation of the faithful to surrender to the power and the glory than in the revival-like atmosphere of a film festival. We walk in as individuals, but we become one in the dark, while facing the light of a striving artistic truth.
This year’s Toronto International Film Festival marks my fifth pilgrimage into these hallowed halls of cinema, and while I am by no means a mere novice in the ways, there is still a degree of mystery, a desire to explore the unfathomable that attracts me. Seven days of festival going – rising early for the queue to get tickets to public events, gathering together with colleagues at press and industry screenings and huddling over a digital recorder with available cast and crew members – and each day becomes a microcosm of the greater whole.
Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013
There is an opportunity today to achieve a festival record – six screenings – which eluded me last year due to higher than anticipated interest in Eli Roth’s “Aftershock.” I was no more than 10 people away from entry, and saddened to have missed the mark, but I told myself there need be no pressure to reach the mark this year. If it happens, it happens. So as the possibility loomed, I focused on each moment, each story rather than the big picture.
“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” from directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins feels like Jim Thompson pulp and dares to even reference him directly. Sue (Mackenzie Davis), one of its three desperate protagonists, reads the writer and dreams of escaping her dusty small Texas home, possibly with Bobby (Jeremy Allen White), who sees college on the horizon, too. But they find themselves saddled with BJ (Logan Huffman), a darker sort with no real aspirations other than to party and accept the fate before him. Combined with Daniel Schechter’s snazzy Elmore Leonard riff “Life of Crime,” which cruises through 1970s Detroit with Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Yasin Bey, aka Mos Def), a couple of ex-cons seeking to score big off a kidnapping job that’s never quite what it seems, I’m right in the pocket of that good old-time movie experience before the spectacle and the crash.
Stephen Frears wanders back into the awards season fold with “Philomena,” a true life piece about a sacked political journalist (Steve Coogan) who takes on the human interest story about a woman (Judi Dench) searching for the identity of the son she was forced to give up for adoption by the nuns of a Catholic abbey. This engaging and surprisingly fine-tuned dramedy offers a dose of real world religion – both pro and con positions no less – between the more surreal pursuit of identity found in Richard Ayoade’s comic take on Dostoevsky’s “The Double” and Roger Michell’s “Le Week-End” about an aging British couple’s return to Paris on their anniversary in the hopes of rejuvenating their relationship.
But the real revelation came at the end, after the final screening of the day. Writer-director Tommy Oliver’s debut “1982,” the personal story about a father (Hill Harper) struggling to keep his young daughter (Troi Zee) safe and whole, while also dealing with his wife’s drug addiction. Sharon Leal, as the wife, takes on the challenge of not only walking a performative tightrope, but also the knowledge that she’s the stand-in for Oliver’s actual mother who, remarkably, was in attendance at the world premiere of the film. There is nothing quite like coming face-to-face with the reality of the reel.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com.