Our head of Cinema Programming David O’Mahony reports from the Toronto International Film Festival 2017 with a second look at the films he’s seen so far.

Read Part 1 here.

Further TIFF updates… 

The wide open spaces of the American mid-west in Lean on Pete offer a striking change of pace for Andrew Haigh following the intimacy of his previous films, Weekend and 45 Years. Disaffected fifteen-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer) falls in with itinerant horse trainers, Del and his jockey partner Bonnie (played by Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny) and hitches a ride on their precarious tour of the small time racing circuit. Charley grows attached to a failing racehorse called Lean on Pete, a bond that grows more urgent and poignant when he learns that Pete has become superfluous to Del’s needs. 

The House by The Sea, the latest classically composed family drama from Robert Guediguian, boasts much of this director’s trademark humanism and empathy for working class lives. When their elderly father falls ill, a group of adult siblings reunite in the idyllic fishing town of their youth to consider the next steps. Once bustling, the town has become a relic, populated only by the elderly or out of town holidaymakers. An elegiac, moving study on growing older and the passing of a traditional way of life. 

Xavier Legrand’s Custody begins as an effective if low-key delineation on the complexities of a bitter custody battle between the divorced parents of a preteen boy before gradually morphing into an almost unbearably tense study of domestic abuse. With excellent performances and a nail-biting last act, Custody was one of the most surprising and memorable films I saw at TIFF. 

A year rarely passes without another warm, empathetic, finely observed domestic drama from the reliable Hirokazu Kore-eda – his recent films Still Walking, Like Father Like Son, Our Little Sister and After the Storm have all been well received at the IFI. The Third Murder is something altogether different; a courtroom drama cum police murder procedural, it’s as close to a genre offering as we have seen from this director. However, this being Kore-eda, shoot outs and grandstanding courtroom theatrics are noticeably absent, and his familiar contemplative, melancholy tone is in evidence throughout. 

Greta Gerwig effortlessly transitions to the role of director for  her debut feature, Lady Bird, a semi-autographical account of coming-of-age in Sacramento in 2002. Working from her own script, Gerwig manages the not-inconsiderable feat of breathing fresh life into the rites of passage subgenre, approaching many familiar moments- first love, prom night, airport farewells – with great flair and imagination. Witty and wise, with wonderful performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird is an unalloyed pleasure. 

Reminiscent of vintage Scorsese, the wildly entertaining Molly’s Game is a showcase for the talents of lead actor Jessica Chastain and writer Aaron Sorkin, replete as it is with all of the thrilling verbal gymnastics we have come to relish from his scripts for films such as The Social Network and Steve Jobs, the difference here being that Sorkin is not only writing but directing too. Chastain gives a superlative performance as Molly Bloom, proprietor of Hollywood’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for over a decade before being shut down by the FBI. Sorkin brings thrilling energy and dynamism to what in other hands could have staid. 

Paul Schrader revisits his pet themes of faith, sin and redemption in First Reformed which strays into Taxi Driver territory in its depiction of another of ‘God’s lonely men’. Ethan Hawke is an ailing whiskey priest railing against the iniquities of modern society while wrestling with existential angst and alcohol addiction. A last act gear change doesn’t quite work but Hawke, as ever, is compelling in the lead role. 

Stay tuned for release date details for 2017 and beyond.  

The IFI is supported
by The Arts Council

Arts Council of Ireland