TORONTO — Beyond the red carpet glamour at the Toronto International Film Festival there are dozens of wonderful movies from around the world just waiting to be discovered.
Here are five standout films that didn't capture the attention they deserved at this year's TIFF, but should land on your must-see list:
"Burning" — A quietly unassuming film at first, South Korean director Lee Chang-dong slowly constructs a mystery that finds its protagonist caught in vice he might be tightening himself. Jongsu is a deliveryman who encounters Haemi, an old high school friend he barely remembers. She asks him to house-sit her cat while she's on vacation. He agrees. But upon her return she's accompanied by an affluent friend with a hazy background and an unusual hobby. As his wheels spin, Jongsu begins to think something is amiss, but he can hardly grasp the suspicions that are slowly overtaking his life. Simmering layers of subtext and tension build over the film's two-and-a-half hour runtime, giving "Burning" the space it needs to become one of the year's cinematic treats.
"Summer Survivors" — A young psychologist starting her career is tasked with driving two patients to a new facility, and it's on the road where she's forced to confront their mental health issues head on. Written and directed by Marija Kavtaradze, the film explores the isolation of bipolar disorder and depression while mostly inside the vehicle, leading to intimate moments that don't exploit the characters. A few lighthearted moments are balanced with a more tender and nuanced approach that never veers into being overdramatic.
"El Angel" — Argentinean director Luis Ortega's vibrant take on a 1970s true-crime story channels the spirit of Quentin Tarantino with an underlying wicked sense of humour. Newcomer Lorenzo Ferro plays teenager Carlitos, a charming and mischievous petty thief who befriends a classmate from a criminal family, and together they begin to experiment with the possibilities of their deviant ways. The storyline itself is wry and playful, but it's Ferro's performance which steals the film. Ortega riffs on the actor's androgynous looks, which evoke the demonic cuteness of Macaulay Culkin in "The Good Son," and with its self-conscious nods to classic cinema there's no wonder why Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar jumped aboard as a producer.
"Let Me Fall" — Harrowing stories of drug use have been part of cinema for ages, but Icelandic director Baldvin Z takes a startlingly tragic approach to examining the ways addiction tears apart friendships and families. The story follows two teenage friends who slip deeper into a world of hard drugs despite the best intentions of the people around them. Two pairs of actresses seamlessly portray the women at different points in their lives as what began as a careless habit turns into a struggle of recovery. Based loosely on interviews with the families of addicts, "Let Me Fall" doesn't blink in showing how drugs can destroy lives, and its heartbreaking moments come when it shows how powerless the people around an addict can feel.
"Stupid Young Heart" — When an unexpected pregnancy forces two high schoolers to dramatically alter their lives, each one deals with the onslaught of responsibility in different ways. That's how Finnish director Selma Vilhunen explores how far-right groups weave their rhetoric into the impressionable minds of young men in suburbia. Lenni is looking for a father figure and he finds him in an extremist leader, while Kiira struggles to deal with losing her support system. While "Stupid Young Heart" ties up a complicated story too easily, it draws some light to how fringe groups find weakness and exploit it for their own agenda.
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David Friend, The Canadian Press