Alex Heeney reflects back on the 17 best films at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2022), including two short films.
Read all of our TIFF 2022 coverage here.
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After two years of mostly virtual film screenings, the Toronto International Film Festival returned to (almost entirely) in person only screenings this year, delivering on the superspreader event it promised. TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey even proudly and gleefully proclaimed, in The Toronto Star, that “There are no COVID restrictions in place this year. We’re at 100 percent capacity in our theatres. We’re not asking people to wear masks.” Essentially, in the midst of two global pandemics (monkeypox and COVID), TIFF was excited to do its very best to become a hub for infection. Unsurprisingly, many journalists reported getting COVID at the festival. This was especially predictable if you’d seen the CO2 readings in the cinemas this year (#TIFFCO2 on Twitter), which were dangerously high in every screening.
Having suffered major losses from the last two years of virtual festivals, coupled with lower year-round film attendance, this year’s festival was obviously all about making TIFF money. With Netflix as one of its prime sponsors, the festival happily screened every film Netflix has on its docket. TIFF even charged $130 to attend the premiere of films like The Swimmers. Plus, the festival found a way to use Taylor Swift — who was likely already in town for the premiere of Catherine Called Birdy, in which her partner appears — for ticket sales by screening her ‘short film’ and doing an onstage interview with her.
At the same time, the festival continued its disastrous crusade to screen almost exclusively world premieres — unless the film premiered at Cannes or possibly Venice. Forty plus years ago, the festival began as the ‘festival of festivals,’ curating the best films of the year. Now, in search of big stars on the red carpet and the money that comes with them, the festival mostly gets the dregs that other festivals don’t want. That’s why you’ll only see seven world premieres on this list, which aren’t Canadian, one of which is a short film. It’s also why two of the most high profile world premieres at the festival, both destined for Oscar, Empire of Light and Women Talking (podcast coming soon!), were among the worst films at the festival. It’s why I couldn’t even come up with twenty films to list, despite having seen over fifty features in the programme and dozens of shorts.
Essentially, if a film could get a spot at any other festival, the filmmakers preferred to premiere there, even if it meant sacrificing a place at TIFF. If films managed to get a slot at TIFF, having not quite received the audience they needed at other festivals, they were relegated to the end of the festival. TIFF basically acted like they wished they hadn’t screened these films, including my favourite film of the festival, Other People’s Children, which TIFF was giving away tickets to on the final weekend to fill the cinemas. (It was also programmed in venues that were way too large for its scale.)
The one exception were Canadian films. The scaled down virtual versions of TIFF in the last two years were also particularly disappointing for Canadian films. Many of the best Canadian films of 2020 and 2021 — including Call Me Human, Québexit, and Monkey Beach — all premiered elsewhere. Back to its regular oversized program, the festival had space for more Canadian cinema. And since Canadian films do still benefit from a TIFF premiere with friendlier journalists and an international platform, many filmmakers elected to have their excellent films world premiere at TIFF.
At the same time, this year was the first year where almost every film that screened at a festival was made during the pandemic. And it shows. Most films were at least thirty minutes longer than they should have been. Eighty-minute features should have been shorts; two hour films should have been ninety minutes. Many films were of the ‘huis clos’ variety, which translates to ‘no exit’: that is, films that were primarily set in a single location with a bunch of characters who don’t leave.
Most filmmakers, including Sarah Polley, were not up to the challenge. Small Canadian films, by contrast, which have always been made on pea-sized budgets, felt largely unaffected. Despite a few films with pointless period settings to avoid dealing with COVID (and poorly executed ones at that), the Canadian films were really really good. There are five Canadian films on this list, and not just because TIFF failed to get better international titles. They’re better than most international titles I’ve seen at other festivals, including Venice, that were made under similar constraints. For example, Stéphane Lafleur’s excellent Viking is a mordantly funny and ambitious space film, in which nobody goes to space. The set mostly consists of about four rooms. In fact, Lafleur devised the film before COVID to meet the existing constraints of Canadian film funding.
Below, you’ll find a list of the best films I saw at TIFF 2022. I had initially planned to also make a list of the Best Acquisition Titles at the 2022 festival. But aside from The Eternal Daughter and Eo, the lists were pretty much one and the same. Like most years recently, the majority of films were directed by women. Two short films made the cut. Five Canadian films are on the list. The films, disappointingly, came largely from the Northern Hemisphere, ranging from France to Japan to Norway. There is only one Indigenous film and one LGBTQ+ film (two if you count a minor LGBTQ+ character in one of the films). But the festival only programmed eight Indigenous-made features (all but one of which I saw) and twenty-one LGBTQ+ features, by TIFF’s definition (I saw five, some of which could only dubiously be classified as LGBTQ+, and their list doesn’t even include the ‘one minor character’ film I saw).
Rather than rushing to publish this list after the festival, I wanted to let the films marinate. In the last month, I’ve forgotten some of the films I was enthusiastic about during the festival, and it’s been impossible to shake others that wouldn’t have made the cut in September, like Sick. These are all films I hope you seek out, and importantly, I hope they get the distribution deals they deserve so that they can be seen by more people. They’re all essential viewing.
1. Other People’s Children (Rebecca Zlotowski, France)
Premiered at the Venice Film Festival in Competition.
Here’s an excerpt from my review:
“Set over the course of a particularly important year, Rebecca Zlotowski’s Other People’s Children follows Rachel (a never better Virginie Efira), a teacher approaching forty. We watch as she navigates her many roles as a carer for children, all while fertility window approaches its end. Rachel suddenly has the strong desire to be a mother, and jumps head-first into a romantic relationship with Ali (Roschdy Zem), possibly because she falls for his daughter, Leïla (Callie Ferreira-Goncalves).
There are warning signs from the beginning. She wants to meet his daughter before they’ve decided to be exclusive. They have sex without a condom even though she’s not on the pill and nobody over sixteen really believes the ‘pulling out method’ works — but Rachel might actually be after his sperm. And Ali regularly pushes the emotional labour of parenting onto Rachel without offering her the partnership of a co-parent: he’s right that it’s too soon, but it often feels like he’s using Rachel for free childcare. Zlotowoski regularly lets us know that Rachel is aware of this dynamic, but blithely ignores it because she wants so desperately to be a mother.
Other People’s Children is the latest film — in the vein of Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come (2016), Justine Triet’s In Bed with Victoria (2016) and Sibyl (2019), Andrea Dorfman’s Spinster (2019), and Radha Blank’s The Forty-Year-Old Version — to tell a story of a middle-aged woman with lots of things going on in her life. All of these films share a similar grammar: lots of short scenes, packing the film dense with information, and unfolding at the speed at which the characters are experiencing their lives. In addition to her romantic life, Rachel is juggling her role as a teacher and mentor to a troubled teenage student, and her sister’s pregnancy and newfound role as an aunt. At every turn, there seems to be an opportunity for her to have a role as a parental figure — but not the parent of her own child.”
Other’s People Children is an acquisition title, meaning it is still seeking distribution in North America and the UK.
2. Plan 75 (Chie Hayakawa, Japan)
Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in Un certain regard, where it received special mention for the Caméra d’Or. Plan 75 was an acquisition title at TIFF but has since been picked up by KimStim in North America.
Here’s an excerpt from my Cannes review:
“Tender and devastatingly unsentimental, Chie Hayakawa’s feature debut, Plan 75, is a plea for empathy and a damning indictment of a world that more and more sees people as disposable. Set in a dystopian Japan where the government has made assisted dying accessible to anyone who is at least seventy-five years old through “Plan 75” — regardless of their medical conditions — the world of Plan 75 is depressingly close to the euthanasia programs already happening in the world. In Canada, MAID means that if you can no longer afford to manage your chronic illness, the government will help you die rather than help you live; in 2023, that will include mental illnesses. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweden decided which elderly people with COVID would receive oxygen versus life-ending morphine based on whether or not they were non-disabled enough to live independently.
Hayakawa follows three protagonists — and a few people they encounter — to represent the different sides of the Plan 75 scheme. Our perspective character is Michi (an exquisite Chieko Baisho), a 78-year-old woman who gets beaten down bit by bit until Plan 75 seems like the only solution. She meets twentysomething Hiromu (Hayato Isomura) as her case officer, who helps her fill out the paperwork. We follow him through his job as he slowly realises it’s predatory — starting with making park benches uncomfortable to sleep on (a widely used strategy around the world to make homelessness more inconvenient), to preying on the most vulnerable to persuade them to end their lives, and thus end their burden on society. Finally, there’s Filipino migrant worker, Maria (Stefanie Arianne), who discovers there’s better pay in disposing of the euthanised elderly’s belongings of Plan 75 than in caring for the elderly at a nursing home.”
Plan 75 was recently picked up by KimStim in North America. It is still seeking UK distribution. Plan 75 is Japan’s entry for the Best International Film Oscar.
3. The Eternal Daughter (Joanna Hogg, UK)
Premiered at the Venice Film Festival in Competition. The Eternal Daughter was produced by A24 and will be distributed by them in the US.
Here’s an excerpt from my Quick Thoughts review:
“In Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter, a now middle-aged Julie Hart (Tilda Swinton, taking on the role her daughter played in The Souvenir, which was a lightly fictionalised version of Hogg herself) and her mother, Rosalind (also Tilda Swinton, reprising her own Souvenir role with old age makeup), arrive at a remote, gargoyle-covered manor, in the dead of night, through a leafless December forest, surrounded by fog. Formerly a family home belonging to Rosalind’s aunt, the building is now a hotel. Julie spends her days and nights listening to its unsettling creaks, howls, and bangs as she vacations with her mother. For Rosalind, though, who is ageing and needs constant care from Julie, coming back is an experience of old memories flooding back of the previous time she spent there as a girl and a young woman.”
Read the full The Eternal Daughter Quick Thoughts review here.
Get the book about The Souvenir
Snag a copy of the first ever book to be written about British filmmaker Joanna Hogg and her process.
As a chronicle of the making of Hogg’s first Souvenir film, Tour of memories is a perfect companion to The Souvenir Part II, a film about the making of The Souvenir.
4. Paris Memories (Alice Winocour, France)
Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Director’s Fortnight sidebar. Paris Memories is still an acquisition title, meaning it is still seeking North American distribution.
With Paris Memories, Alice Winocour continues her exploration of traumatised bodies and PTSD that has defined all of her films to date: Augustine (2012), Disorder (2015), and Proxima (2019). Loosely based on Winocour’s brother’s experience with surviving a mass shooting, Paris Memories is the story of Mia’s (Virginie Efira) recovery from such an event. The trauma and the survivor’s guilt hollows Mia out, pushing her to flee her life with her somewhat indifferent partner, Vincent (Grégoire Colin), who can’t understand what she’s going through. Instead, she finds herself drawn back to the restaurant where the shooting happened, where she meets with her fellow survivors to try to piece back together her memories so she can cope with them. The film follows Mia through all the stages of grief, and then widens the scope to her fellow survivors to paint a portrait of an unexpected and traumatised community.
Paris Memories feels most closely connected to Winocour’s Disorder, a thriller about a soldier with PTSD who struggles to differentiate between reality and fantasy. Like Matthias Schoenaerts in Disorder, Efira gives a physical performance unlike anything I’ve ever seen from her before. While Winocour has elicited great if more animalistic performances before, especially from Soko in Augustine and Schoenaerts in Disorder, Efira’s performance is full of restraint. Mia feels like someone who has been hemmed in by her trauma, losing not just her identity but her ability to move confidently in the world and find joy or interest in anything. Because Winocour doesn’t externalise Mia’s trauma in the way she did with her first two films, Efira’s more cerebral performance feels more akin to Eva Green’s career best work in Proxima. Like Disorder, Paris Memories also has a touch of gothic horror to it. Mia obsessively retraces her path inside the restaurant before the shooting to try to trigger memories, and the space seems to hold these memories. Likewise, Paris Memories and Disorder very effectively use sound design to get us inside the traumatised headspace of their protagonists.
Winocour is particularly gifted at writing male characters who are neither perfect nor romantic heroes, but realistic in their male privilege. This was especially true in Proxima of the protagonist’s ex-husband (Lars Eidinger) and fellow astronaut (Matt Dillon). In Paris Memories, we see that in Benoît Magimel’s Thomas, a fellow survivor with whom Mia forms a bond because he’s the only one who can remember everything. There’s a gentle flirtation, but he’s married, she is not looking, and the relationship never goes beyond the platonic. In this time and this place, and only for a short time, they are what the other person needs to survive, and they help each other through the trauma. Similarly, Mia spends much of the film searching for the cook, Assane (Amadou Mbow), whom she hid with during the shooting. She doesn’t have unrealistic expectations of becoming best friends; she just needs to know he’s okay for closure.
5. Eo (Jerzy Skolimowski, Poland)
Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in Competition. Janus Films will release Eo in November 2022.
Here’s an excerpt from my Quick Thoughts TIFF 2022 review:
“In Jerzy Skolimowski’s sharp, inventive, and heartbreaking film Eo, the eponymous donkey is almost never not aware of human cruelty. There’s a brief moment in the beginning when he knows happiness working in a circus. The woman he performs with, under dazzling red lights, adores him, and when she lovingly pets him, Skolimowski ensures we hear the tender touch, like it’s crawling under our skin. But the other circus members beat and abuse Eo, which leads Eo to be rounded up by the animal protection authorities, forcing him to embark on a journey across Europe.
At each turn, Eo encounters new, cruel, and unusual ways in which injustice and the class system get enforced — even among animals. Lowlier animals get euthanized or murdered for meat while his betters in the animal hierarchy, horses, get pampered, given treats, and never forced into the tortuous hard labour that makes up most of Eo’s daily existence. The kicks and whips of the circus folk begin to seem like more tolerable abuse when at least that was a place where he was also loved.”
Subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss our forthcoming episode on Eo.
6. Stellar (Darlene Naponse, Canada)
World Premiere. Level Films will release Stellar in Canada in 2023, but the film is still seeking international distribution.
Here’s an excerpt from my Quick Thoughts TIFF 2022 review:
“In Darlene Naponse’s (Falls Around Her) new film, Stellar, an Indigenous woman (Elle-MáijaTailfeathers of Night Raiders, The Body Remembers When the World Broken Open) meets a handsome young Indigenous man (Braeden Clarke, Run Woman Run) at a bar, and they decide to chill there for the evening. It might be the end of the world as we know it, considering the storm brewing outside. The settlers are losing their minds, glimpsed only when they pop their head into the establishment with terror and warnings. Our protagonists, though, seem unfazed. To paraphrase Mi’kmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby when talking about his film Blood Quantum, Indigenous people have already survived the apocalypse. Or as Cree Métis filmmaker Loretta Todd put it, “You can’t have survived colonialism and not be epic. I want you to feel our epicness.”
For Naponse’s characters, it’s less that their daily lives feel like the apocalypse. They still speak their language. They live in the city and dress well enough to suggest they aren’t living in poverty. But they also feel like they’ve already lost what’s most important: the ability to be on the land. Naponse regularly cuts between the characters talking or reminiscing to exquisite images of their homes, the land on the reserve. There’s the rushing water in the stream, the sounds of leaves rustling, the wildlife bringing it to life. For them, spending the night at a bar when the world is ending, doesn’t feel like a particularly uncommon night. They may have moved to the city to fight for their people and their land. But they’re not on their land so they feel like they could be anywhere.”
Read the full review of Stellar
Discover more great Canadian films
The last year was one of the best for Canadian cinema in history. Discover these great films through conversations with the filmmakers, guided by the Seventh Row editors in our inaugural annual book, The 2019 Canadian Cinema Yearbook.
7. Bigger on the Inside (Angelo Madsen Minax, US)
World Premiere. Minax has no plans to distribute the film so it may only be available at future film festivals.
Here’s my review of Bigger on the Inside:
“North by Current director Angelo Madsen Minax’s Bigger on the Inside is exactly the kind of film for which we need the term ‘creative nonfiction’. It joyfully plays with the form of documentary, and challenges you to question the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction — both in this film and more generally. It’s a travelogue into the psyche of Minax — or perhaps the character of Minax, as the film is fully scripted — as well as a direct dialogue with the audience. The film is part photographic montage, youtube video montage, text message exchanges, animation, text typed to the audience, and flights of fancy.
It’s a film about loneliness, searching for identity, discomfort in identity, spending time in nature, going down rabbit holes on the internet, looking to connect with others but being afraid or unsure to do so. You might call it an essay film, but you feel like you’ve jumped into his head, John Malkovich style. Bigger on the Inside is densely packed with ideas, has some of the greatest laugh-out-loud moments — both of ‘dialogue’ (in text form) and images. It’s also, at turns, sad, contemplative, and searching. And you’ll want to watch it back immediately.”
Read my interview with Angelo Madsen Minax on Bigger on the Inside
Download the first two ebook chapters FREE!
Explore the spectrum between fiction and nonfiction in documentary filmmaking through films and filmmakers pushing the boundaries of nonfiction film.
8. backflip (Nikita Diakur, Germany)
Premiered at the Annecy Animation Film Festival.
Here’s an excerpt of my review of backflip from my feature on the Best Shorts at TIFF 2022:
“In backflip, director Nikita Diakur speeds us through thousands of hours of computer simulations using machine learning to teach his avatar how to do a backflip. Along the way, he has to learn to walk, stand, turn, get up, and eventually do a backflip. “Attempting a backflip is not exactly safe,” Nikita tells us in a voice created through voice-mimicking software. “You can break your neck, or land on your head, or land badly on your wrists. None of that is nice. But it is nice to have an avatar for that. He can do a backflip for you, just like that, at any time, everywhere. How cool is that?” As it turns out, it’s very cool.
Part animated feature, part computer simulation, part screen life film, and part documentary, backflip defies expectations — including in the ways the body can contort, when it’s computer simulated. Rather than simply running us through the simulations, Diakur places his avatar in specific settings and through sound and light, shows us the passage of time. His avatar begins with trying to walk and do cartwheels in the park in the morning. As the repetitions wear on, it gets darker, and the city sounds change. He decides it’s too dangerous to try to do a backflip outside, so he moves his avatar to his apartment where he can land on a mattress. That helps, but there’s a lot of humour in how the avatar keeps bumping into the desk, computer, lamp — pretty much everything hard, sharp, or fragile.”
Coming soon: an interview with Nikita Diakur on the making of the film.
Download the first two ebook chapters FREE!
Explore the spectrum between fiction and nonfiction in documentary filmmaking through films and filmmakers pushing the boundaries of nonfiction film.
9. Viking (Stéphane Lafleur, Canada)
World Premiere. Viking has a Canadian distributor but is still seeking international distribution (an acquisition title).
Here’s an excerpt from the intro to my career interview with Lafleur, in which I introduce the film Viking:
“There’s a great sequence in Apollo 13 where a part on the rocket breaks, so a team of engineers on the ground uses an identical part, plus all of the objects available to the astronauts in space, to troubleshoot a solution. The astronauts in space don’t have the time or energy to do this work since they’re losing oxygen by the minute, and it takes a team, not three guys barely surviving, to fix it.
Stéphane Lafleur’s fourth feature, Viking, is a feature-length rendition of this kind of troubleshooting that asks, what if we could do the same thing for interpersonal problems as we could do for a broken rocket part? After all, if there’s discord in the team up in space, they probably can’t solve any problems at all. As Lafleur put it, ‘It’s a reality show in space, but not in space. It’s just people doing, not boring stuff, but ordinary stuff, like being roommates.’”
Read the full interview with Stéphane Lafleur on Viking
10. Pray for Our Sinners (Sinéad O’Shea, Ireland)
World Premiere. Pray for Our Sinners is an acquisition title still seeking distribution in Canada, US, and UK.
Here’s an excerpt from my TIFF 2022 review of Pray for Our Sinners:
“Sinéad O’Shea’s Pray for Our Sinners is a heart-wrenching and important documentary about the abusive Catholic rule in Ireland. In the wake of independence, the Catholic Church took over every institution. Then, it used that pervasive power to torture children and women. O’Shea focuses on her hometown, Navan, where a small, quiet, but important resistance was happening. It was so quiet she hadn’t heard about it before, despite growing up in the town. O’Shea reveals the lives broken and just barely saved amidst the widespread Catholic Rule.
At the centre of this story are a married couple of doctors, the Randles. They did everything they could to help fight for the rights of children and women. Often, it was at great personal cost. Along the way, O’Shea documents how the Catholic brainwashing of the country begins in childhood. It’s in schools, at church, and in the home. She then explains how organised religion has contributed to the ongoing abuse of marginalised people. As she repeatedly reminds us, if you live in a small town and don’t have friends to support you, you’re a target.”
Read the full review of Pray for Our Sinners
11. Coyote (Katherine Jerkovic, Canada)
World Premiere. Coyote has a Canadian distributor and is planning a 2023 release. The film is still seeking international distribution (an acquisition title).
Here’s an excerpt from my piece on Canadian immigration stories, in which I discuss Coyote:
“Coyote opens with an interview sequence, but it’s in French, and the protagonist has no translator. Mexican immigrant Camilo (Jorge Martinez Colorado) has been living in Montreal for years. The opening is a job interview for a position at a restaurant. The camera stays on him, centre frame, looking into the lens; we never see the interviewer. It’s not until later that we learn why this job interview matters so much to him, how much he’s lost of himself due to the very family — his daughter — he likely moved to Canada for. He speaks Spanish-accented French. But as a middle-aged man without even a suit, we feel he might be doomed from the start.”
Read the full article on Canadian immigrations stories, including Riceboy Sleeps and So Much Tenderness
12. The Swearing Jar (Lindsay MacKay, Canada)
World premiere. The Swearing Jar is already available on VOD in the US, and will be released in Canadian cinemas in November. It is still seeking distribution outside of North America.
Here’s an excerpt from my review of The Swearing Jar:
“There’s a scene in Patricia Rozema’s Mouthpiece (2018), in which Nora Sadava’s Cassandra explains to her divorced and depressed mother that the end of a marriage doesn’t have to mean the end of her romantic life. “People have lots of relationships,” she says. It’s something I thought about a lot during Lindsay Mackay’s funny, heartbreaking, beautiful new film, The Swearing Jar. It’s a film about love, grief, and second chances.The Swearing Jar is technically a film with two romance stories told in two interwoven timelines. But it’s much more about how the protagonist, Carey (a wonderful Adelaide Clemens), navigates her own pain and insecurities. That feels radically different from how these stories are usually told. But it’s in line with the recent trend towards stories about women coming of age in their thirties and forties.
Like Mouthpiece (and 2020’s Sugar Daddy), The Swearing Jar is a stealth musical. Carey is a disappointed singer-songwriter and current music teacher. Almost all of the music in the film is written and sung by the character, like Sugar Daddy. It offers insight into her inner emotional turmoil which she otherwise struggles to articulate. The film begins and ends with a concert Carey is performing for her husband, Simon’s (Patrick J. Adams), fortieth birthday. Kate Hewlett’s excellent script, based on her play, keeps the exact details of what happened to him vague, if easily guessable. For much of the film though, something has upended Carey’s life. We surmise from the start that the concert is a way for her to process her feelings through song. She’s accompanied on guitar by a handsome man, Owen (Douglas Smith), who at the very least seems to have a tendre for her.”
Read the full review of The Swearing Jar
13. My Imaginary Country (Patricio Guzmán, Chile/France)
Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. My Imaginary Country was released in Canada and the US by Icarus Films shortly after the festival.
Fifty years after documenting the rise of the Chilean coup in his landmark political filmmaking trilogy The Battle of Chile, the long exiled Patricio Guzmán returns to his home country once again to document the new movement on the left. In 2021, people once again took to the streets to protest the lack of governmental social support and the legacy of Pinochet, which has yet to be removed from the government and the country’s constitution.
Unlike The Battle of Chile, Guzmán isn’t there from the start nor is he the only one documenting the uprisings. The film’s grammar shifts to fit the shift in the movement: it’s made more collectively. Guzmán interviews a diverse group of autonomous activist leaders, each leading their own grassroots movements, and he often uses their footage of events.
Guzmán chooses to exclusively spotlight women in the film, in deference to one of his interviewees who says that part of what’s changed is that the women are leading the movement. My Imaginary Country also benefits from digital technology and drones, which allow Guzmán to film more footage — The Battle of Chile was pulled together from about 10 hours of film — and provide birds’ eye views of the events that allow for a bigger picture perspective.
Like The Battle of Chile, My Imaginary Country is a politically urgent film. If The Battle of Chile was about the importance of rising up against oppression even if the resistance might fail; My Imaginary Country offers a more optimistic path forward. The film ends with the first meeting of civilians to rewrite the constitution. Sadly, by the time the film premiered at TIFF, the constitution had been rejected by the government, but the struggle continues.
14. Falcon Lake (Charlotte Le Bon, Canada)
Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Director’s Fortnight Sidebar. First Feature. Falcon Lake was released in Canadian cinemas in October. The film was recently acquired (after the festival) in the US by Yellow Veil Picture. It is still seeking international distribution.
Here’s an excerpt from my Cannes 2022 review:
“Writer-director (and sometimes actor) Charlotte Lebon’s feature debut, Falcon Lake, opens like a horror movie. An eerie score overlays a family’s quiet journey into the dark green woods, and then we follow them into a pitch black, empty cottage. The family hail from Paris and are visiting friends in cottage country Quebec for a couple of weeks. Over the course of their trip, Parisian fourteen-year-old Bastien (Joseph Engel) and the sixteen-year-old daughter of their host, Chloé (an excellent Sara Montpetit, last seen in Maria Chapdelaine), form a tentative and fleeting romantic relationship. The film isn’t actually a horror movie, except inasmuch as being an adolescent, and an adolescent experiencing sexual desire, is a constant horror show. But Lebon plays with genre conventions. Bastien is constantly getting jump scares, every time Chloé suddenly invades his space or leaves it. Chloé often thinks about the recent death of a girl on the lake and the idea of ghosts, often even donning a ghost costume herself.”
Read the full review of Falcon Lake
15. Sick (John Hyams, US)
World Premiere. Sick is still seeking a distributor in North America and the UK.
As we talked about on our COVID at the movies podcast six months ago, very few films have been willing to engage with life during the pandemic. Accordingly, any film that offers a time capsule into a part of the pandemic feels urgent and necessary. Set in April 2020, Hyams’s Sick is an effective thriller that works as a fantastic time capsule of a period it’s already hard to remember. The premise is both cheeky and cathartic: a slasher is on the rampage, but going after anti-maskers. It’s hard not to feel gleeful, especially in a post-mask-mandate but not post-pandemic world, when anti-maskers get their comeuppance through bloody murder. In one grocery store scene, a group of people angrily stare down someone coughing unmasked, as if they’re trying to spread the plague. It made me long for the days when that was a social faux pas instead of just what we now have to expect.
As the film progresses, it hews more and more to a huis clos thriller with all the predictable beats. But it really excels in the small details: a woman who dons her mask before going out to face her slasher; a mandatory rapid antigen test in a tense moment; and a man who rips off his mask so violently that you know his days are numbered. Though Sick wasn’t the most inventive or innovative film at TIFF, it’s one that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. And I suspect it’s going to be one we will be revisiting for years as we try to piece together what it was like to live through this unprecedented global pandemic.
Listen to our podcast on COVID at the movies
We discuss how films have (or have not) incorporated the COVID pandemic on screen.
16. War Sailor (Gunnar Vikene, Norway)
International Premiere. War Sailor is still seeking North American and UK distribution.
Here’s an excerpt from my TIFF 2022 review:
“Writer-director Gunnar Vikene’s War Sailor is the best kind of war movie: a character drama that happens amidst war, focusing most on how the characters are changed by the atrocities over the years. It’s not about battle scenes but the uncertainty and terror that comes from knowing you could very well be going to your death. Set mainly from 1939 to 1947, the film follows two Norwegian best friends and sailors: married stalwart Alfred (Kristoffer Joner) and free spirit Sigbjørn (Pål Sverre Hagen) who sign up for merchant marine work in 1939. It’s a few months before the Nazis would occupy Norway, and though they know the sea could be dangerous, they don’t expect to be caught up in the fight.
If you’ve watched 1800s British sea-faring films, you may know that commercial ships would often get forced into becoming military ones during war. You may not know, as I did not, that this was still happening during WWII. Only months into their work aboard a commercial ship, Alfred and Sibjørn find themself in the service of the Allied Forces, transporting explosives across the ocean.”
Read the full review of War Sailor
17. Unruly (Malou Reymann, Denmark)
World Premiere. First Feature. Unruly is still seeking North American and UK distribution.
Here’s an excerpt from my TIFF 2022 review:
“Set in 1930s Denmark, mostly on Sprøgo island, which housed an institution for “troubled” and “immoral women,” the film Unruly never uses the term “eugenics”. But that’s very much its subject. The film’s second half pivots around Denmark’s newly introduced forced sterilisation laws, which the head of the Sprøgo institution devised. Though technically not a prison, Sprøgo was an institution where women’s behaviour was policed by other women. The goal was to enforce patriarchal feminine ideals of subservience and domesticity. Many women were raped, fell pregnant, and had their children ripped away from them. The film takes place around the time when forced sterilisation became “an option” for “troubled women”. It essentially became the only way out of the hell that was this island.
Malou Reymann’s feature film debut Unruly has likely taken inspiration from recent scholarly research into the Sprøgo archives. For example, the characters all share names with the few women mentioned. Malou Reymann and co-writer Sara Isabella Jønsson introduce us to most of these horrors. They also thoughtfully connect the eugenics movement to hetero-partriarchy — and the women who enforced it. For the women of Sprøgo, forced sterilisation was just the last indignity. It was not the only indignity nor perhaps even central part of their oppression.”
Read the full review of Unruly
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