September 10, 2018

#TIFF18: Borders and Boundaries

Capsule reviews and notes from day four of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Yesterday was mostly crime dramas. Today the whims of the programming gods decree a day about borders and the conflicts that spawn them. Not the film called Border, though—that’s coming later in the week.

The Sweet Requiem (India, Ritu Sarin & Tenzing Sonam, 3) The arrival of an activist refugee in Delhi’s Tibetan community awakens traumatic memories of a beautician’s childhood border crossing. Flashbacks of the frigid mountain journey land with greater force than the present day plot line, which waits until the third act to activate its protagonist.

Tel Aviv on Fire (Palestine/Israel, Sameh Zoabi, 4) Suddenly elevated to writer status on the titular Palestinian soap opera, erstwhile production assistant enters into an uncredited collaboration with the Israeli commander of the Ramallah checkpoint. Uses the backstage comedy genre, with writing jokes galore, to address the Occupation with neither despair nor false idealism.

Fig Tree (Ethiopia/Israel, Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian, 4) As conditions worsen in the 1989  civil war and soldiers start rounding up boys to fight, a hotheaded Ethiopian Jewish teen cares more about her boyfriend’s safety than her family’s impending emigration. Though the product of the Israeli film industry, this memoiristic drama hews in every aesthetic sense to the African cinema tradition.

The Crossing (China, Bai Xue, 4) To earn money for a trip to Japan with her rich friend, a go-getting teen who commutes from the mainland to school in Hong Kong involves herself in contraband phone smuggling. Naturalistic drama with crime in it, elevated by the director’s buoyant lightness of touch and exquisite color sense.

You can see the hand of some government minister somewhere in the end title card assuring the viewer that electronic surveillance has greatly reduced smuggling incidents at the border.

The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia (Cuba, Arturo Infante, 3.5) Kindly, long-suffering planetarium docent receives a special invitation from the aliens living secretly among the Cuban people to travel to their homeworld. Amiable, ramshackle comedy pokes fun at human foibles and  bureaucratic absurdity.

Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and DVD over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release.