At this Toronto film festival, women are talking

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TORONTO — “TIFF is exploding with the power of women! »

Those are the words programming director Anita Lee used to introduce Hillary Clinton on Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Clinton represented not just one but two projects: the Netflix documentary “In Her Hands,” about one of the few women in Afghanistan to become mayor of her city, and “Gutsy,” an Apple TV Plus series that Clinton co-produced with her daughter, Chelsea.

As Lee noted, women’s power had already exploded before the Clintons came on the scene. The previous night, “The Woman King,” a rousing action-adventure starring Viola Davis as a fierce warrior in 19th-century Africa, had electrified a packed festival audience at the cavernous Roy Thomson Hall. Earlier Saturday, the more low-key but no less galvanizing “Women Talking” played to delight viewers. Adapted from the novel by Miriam Toews by Sarah Polley, the dialogue-driven drama stars Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley and Rooney Mara as members of a religious cult who come together to discuss how to respond to years of gender-based violence and oppression. (In the time it takes them to debate the terms of their release, Davis’ fierce General Agojie would undoubtedly have beheaded and disemboweled anyone foolish enough to underestimate them.)

Viola Davis reigns in “The Woman King”

Women Who Talk proved to be an apt description for this year’s edition of TIFF, the first to be held entirely in person since the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, which featured a notable number of films made by and centered on women. Five years on from #MeToo’s post-Weinstein toll, with Hollywood more attuned to giving women artists a voice, it turns out they have a lot to say — about the vagaries of men’s power and rights, about the fact to be heard and silenced and, above all, about what it feels like to be habitually ignored and enlightened. “They made us doubt ourselves,” a “Women Talking” character says of the generational abuse she and others have suffered. “It was worse.”

The filmmakers too really meant mothers – theirs, ours and everyone else’s. Joanna Hogg’s “The Eternal Daughter,” a sequel of sorts to her Souvenir films, stars Tilda Swinton in a shrewd double performance in a gothic tale of grief and artistic inspiration. Steven Spielberg’s self-fiction magnum opus “The Fabelmans” casts Michelle Williams as the anarchic presence in his life that allowed him to become a director. (Williams’ Mitzi Fabelman and Julianne Nicholson’s Mary Yankovic in “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” are portrayed as crucial bulwarks between their sons’ creative genius and fathers who didn’t understand them.) Motherhood takes a decidedly older turn. dark in Diop’s Alice “Saint Omer”, which arrived in Toronto after winning the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Diop’s absorbing but ultimately confusing film, about a novelist attending the trial of a woman accused of infanticide, features a riveting performance by Guslagie Malanga as the alleged killer.

Maternal instinct is not reserved for the nuclear family, as two of TIFF’s strongest films have proven: in “Other People’s Children” by Rebecca Zlotowski, Virginie Efira delivers the luminous portrait of a heroine of middle-aged taken aback by her affection for her divorced lover’s 4-year-old daughter. Florence Pugh is equally captivating in “The Wonder,” Sebastián Lelio’s elegant adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel, about an English nurse caring for a young religious ascetic in 19th-century Ireland.

In “The Wonder,” as in so many of the offerings at TIFF this year, to scratch out dramatic conflict was to find generational trauma, which is just as true for men as it is for women. The concept could be deployed opportunistically and with maximum manipulation, as in “The Son,” Florian Zeller’s underwhelming follow-up to 2020’s “The Father.” Or it could be tackled in a more artful (if not more subtle) way. , as in Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin,” a fable set in 1920s Ireland brimming with the writer-director’s elixir of acid, lyrical profanity and skeptical humanism.

As McDonagh noted during his brief introduction at the film’s North American premiere on Monday, it was at TIFF that his film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” began its march to the Oscars in 2017.” The Banshees of Inisherin” proved to be equally enthusiastically received this year, joining a batch of true crowd pleasers that included “The Woman King,” the raunchy gay romcom “Bros,” Brendan’s triumphant comeback vehicle. Fraser’s “The Whale” and “Glass Onion,” Rian Johnson’s cheeky all-star sequel to his 2019 living room mystery smash hit “Knives Out.”

The coveted TIFF People’s Choice Award won’t be announced until the end of the festival on Sunday, and most of these films will be released by Christmas. As the voting continued this week, pole position seemed to belong to Spielberg, who at Saturday’s premiere of ‘The Fabelmans’ reminded the cheering crowd that it was the first film he had ever pitched at TIFF. . Chances are he will be duly rewarded.

As a celebration of films through the lens of the man who makes them, “The Fabelmans” reinforces a familiar but increasingly dubious form of auteur worship. On Monday, “Empire of Light” gently put that trope on its head. Set in a faded but gloriously deco movie palace in an unnamed English seaside town, Sam Mendes’ cinematic valentine pays tender homage not just to the magic of the movies, but to the cinephiles who complete their alchemy circuit. The following day, news broke at TIFF that French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard had died aged 91. girl and a gun. The most emotional and memorable moments in Toronto this year proved that what you really need is an audience.

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