When I attended the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time this year, I really wanted to prioritize watching films by female filmmakers, of which the festival seemed to have a great slate this year. Out of the 31 movies I saw at the festival, 11 of them were by female directors—a decent number, although I would have liked to have hit up some more in between screenings of some of the fest’s buzzier premieres (rest assured, I’ve added a great many films to my watchlist in the aftermath). I wanted to collect all the films by women I watched at TIFF in one place, so below you’ll find links to my previously published reviews by established filmmakers like Mary Harron and Catherine Hardwicke, and auspicious debuts by first time filmmakers like Martika Ramirez Escobar and Sophie Kargman. Then, you can read my capsule reviews of four additional films I saw at the fest: “Women Talking,” “The Eternal Daughter,” “One Fine Morning,” and “Aristotle and Dante Discover Secrets of the Universe.”
“Leonor Will Never Die” dir. Martika Ramirez Escobar
“Corsage” dir. Marie Kreutzer
“El Agua” dir. Elena Lopez Riera
“Coyote” dir. Katherine Jerkovic
“Prisoner’s Daughter” dir. Catherine Hardwicke
“Daliland” dir. Mary Harron
“Susie Searches” dir. Sophie Kargman
“THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER” dir. Joanna Hogg
When Julie, a filmmaker, takes her elderly mother (both played by Tilda Swinton) to a hotel in the English countryside where her mom spent time in her youth and where Julie hopes to learn more about her to begin writing a movie based on her life, she’s expecting a quiet, comfortable stay. But from the moment she checks in, everything feels a little off. The receptionist (played with just the right humorous touch by Carly-Sophia Davies) is less than accommodating, refusing to give her the nice room she reserved because there isn’t any vacancy—even though Julie and her mom (and her dog, turning in what will surely go down as one of the all-time great canine screen performances) appear to be the only guests in sight. The cramped hallways and stairs of the once grand building meander in confusing, labyrinthine fashion. Things and people appear and disappear. Hogg imbues the setting with all the hallmarks of a great Gothic story, from the fog-shrouded grounds surrounding the estate, to the ever-present feeling of unease that oozes out of every door, is reflected back in every mirror. But the only ghosts haunted this place are those of the past, as Hogg uses the eerie backdrop to prove the troubled mother/daughter relationship at its heart. As with her most recent two films, “The Souvenir Parts I and II,” Hogg’s “The Eternal Daughter” is semi-autobiographical, and the sincerity of both the warm and heart-breaking revelations Julie and her mother share transcend any confusion regarding what exactly is going on in this movie. It’s also just such a treat to watch Tilda Swinton spar with herself for an hour and a half, delivering convincing and utterly different performances that allow the audience to view the pair separately and as one unit. It’s possibly her greatest acting challenge to date, and she’s more than up for it.
North American premiere. Runtime: 96 minutes.
“ONE FINE MORNING” dir. Mia Hansen-Løve
Compared to her previous film, 2021’s “Bergman Island,” Mia Hansen-Løve’s next feature film, which she wrote and directed, seems like a rather light character study. But despite some repetitious beats that cause it to wear out its welcome somewhat before it ends, “One Fine Morning” packs an emotional wallop. In Hansen-Løve’s hands, the ordinary life of one woman feels like a momentous event. In this case, that woman is Sandra (Léa Seydoux), a single mother to her eight-year-old daughter (Camille Leban Martins) who divides her time between her job as a translator and caring for her father (Pascal Gregory), a former professor whose intelligent spark is fast dimming thanks to the neurodegenerative disease that has caused him to lose his memory. And then, Sandra reconnects with Clément (Melvil Poupaud), and old friend who is married with a son, although as he puts it, the marriage is losing its spark. There is, however, an immediate spark between Clément and Sandra, and they soon embark on an intense affair. I’m not sure any filmmaker working at the moment portrays romance as effectively as Hansen-Løve, who follows her leads from heightened throes of passion to small and tender moments to the inevitable hardships that come when reality crashes down around them. It helps to that Seydoux and Poupaud are so well-matched, possessing a tangible chemistry every time they appear together. Seydoux in particular gives one of her richest performances to date, effectively moving between the happy glow of being in love to the sadness at seeing her father gradually deteriorate (the scene that sticks out in my mind: when she states that she sees her father more in his collection of books now than in himself). She makes every moment, big and small, feel important. Hansen-Løve, meanwhile, reflects the messiness of life with an ending that simultaneously dwells on joy and heartbreak. It’s her delicate and assured handle on the rigors of life and love that elevates what could have been a slight slice of life into a profoundly moving experience.
Canadian premiere. Runtime: 112 minutes.
“WOMEN TALKING” dir. Sarah Polley
Based on Miriam Toew’s novel of the same name, “Women Talking” writer and director Sarah Polley’s drama set in a isolated religious community circa 2010 may place its themes of patriarchal oppression front and center, but it’s never preachy or predictable thanks to the manner in which it thoughtfully weighs every opinion on and every solution to a complicated situation. The women in this community have been waking up to find their bodies bruised and their beds bloody, the men having drugged them and crept into their homes to rape them in their sleep. Bail was posted after the police came and took the perpetrators away, leaving the women with 24 hours until they return to make a decision: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. A small group of three generations of women gather in a hayloft to debate, their different personalities and viewpoints showing through their debate, raising questions about the practical and spiritual consequences of their decision. Polley’s polished script carefully considers every character’s feelings and the ramifications that the abuse has had on their lives and their faith, while reflecting current conversations about women’s rights. While the bulk of the film centers around the discussions held in the barn, Polley widens the scope to encompass the grandeur and uncertainty of the outside world as well—a world that the women may be entering if they choose to leave. In one of the most effective scenes, a census taker drives through their community in a pickup truck, blasting “Daydream Believer,” a reminder of the outside world that’s so different from their own. And Polley wisely doesn’t explicitly portray the abuse, only the aftermath in quick, hellish flashbacks, and that’s horrific enough, while the ticking clock counting down to the men’s return amplifies the pressure on them. And the cast is excellent across the board with the possible exception of Ben Whishaw who, as the sole male member of the ensemble— tasked with taking the minutes of the meeting as the women can’t read or write—lays on the emotions a bit too thick in the film’s climax. But there are few things in movies more powerful right now than the combined might of Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Frances McDormand (who also serves as producer), and the rest of the cast, who, whether with gentleness or simmering rage, leave it all on the table and play off each other naturally and beautifully.
“Women Talking” will be released in theaters on December 2. Runtime: 104 minutes. Rated PG-13. International premiere.
“ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE” dir. Aitch Alberto
In her feature directorial debut, Aitch Alberto pulls off the Herculean task of adapting a beloved novel with an assured hand. Based on the 2012 book by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Alberto (who also adapted the screenplay) brings to life the story of Aristotle, or Ari (Max Pelayo) and Dante (Reese Gonzales), two teens in 1987 El Paso who strike up a quick friendship after a chance encounter at a swimming pool. Dante exudes confidence and isn’t shy about his queerness, but in a society and time period where the majority are less accepting of those perceived as existing outside the status quo, Ari struggles with figuring out who he is. Bringing sorely needed trans and Latinx perspectives to this coming-of-age story, Alberto avoids getting too cutesy with the narrative, opting for realism and conveying the violence directed at members of the LGBTQ+ community without explicitly engaging with it. Newcomers Pelayo and Gonzales appear at home in their roles, while a supporting cast that includes Eugenio Derbez and Eva Longoria fill out their community. If there’s a gripe I have about “Aristotle and Dante,” it’s that the leads don’t share enough screen time to allow those first sparks of romantic longing that they may have for each other specifically to kindle. But as someone who has no familiarity with or attachment to the novel it’s based on, I was struck by the film’s clear-eyed perspective that extends “Aristotle and Dante” to something much richer and deeper than another coming out story.
World Premiere. Runtime: 96 minutes.