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TIFF 2014 Kickoff: From Girlhood to Mommy

The excitement of opening day was tempered by the news of Joan Rivers’ death. I, like many festival-goers, emerged from the a darkened cinema to discover that the 81-year old comedian and actress had died. The news came a week after she suffered cardiac arrest and had been in a serious condition in hospital in New York.

As word spread through the festival, so too were memories shared of her acerbic wit and sharp tongue. May her feisty soul rest in peace.

I consider Day 1 to be a success, as I managed to make it to all four of the films I had planned to see, as well as fit in two interviews and a drink at the TIFF Opening Night party. Three out of four of the films were ones I had missed at Cannes earlier this year, and even as I settled into my seat for the 9:30pm screening of the last one, exhausted and hungry, I was so glad to have seen them all because each one was thoroughly worthy of the the praise I’d heard.

My day started with Mommy, 25-year-old celebrated Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s feature that won the Jury Prize at Cannes. From the music (Sarah Mclachlan, Celine Dion, Lana Del Rey) to the suffocating framing, the fantasy sequences and the cast (especially the actress who plays the lead Mommy, Anne Dorval), it’s not hard to see why the film has had so many people gushing over it. I appreciated it for what it showed about the bond between mother and child, and also the one between hope and hopelessness.

Straight from Mommy, I went to see Timbuktu, a film that is such a powerful example of the value cinema holds for helping us learn more about the world around us, and elicit empathy for people in other countries. Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako from Mauritania, it looks at the occupation of the Malian city by militant Islamic rebels. We read about the stories of musicians being punished and persecuted for their love of song during the occupation, but seeing this film, especially in a place like Toronto that celebrates the arts so vibrantly, was shell-shocking.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I went to The Judge premiere, the festival’s opening film. I love Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr as actors, and they are a powerhouse together, playing off their familiar roles as mean-but-wise-cracking son versus mean-but-upstanding dad, but I did feel like I was being told how to feel at every point in the film, which also felt quite long too.

The final screening of the day, Girlhood, ended my Day 1 superbly. With Boyhood opening in South Africa today – a movie that is an acute study of a young man growing up filmed over 12 years, my hope is that this one reaches a wide audience too. The film is a full-bodied look at all the complexities of being a young woman growing up – trying to fit in and stand out at the same time, as seen through the experience of a French teenager. Truly superbly done.

Now, for Bill Murray Day!

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