It’s been a bumpy road for the TIFF Platform competition. However, the programme devoted to auteur cinema seemed to hit its stride in its sixth edition. While recent years made the Platform slate a grab bag of films that simply didn’t fit elsewhere, this year’s roster offered many rewards. The 2022 TIFF Platform line-up featured some of the best Canadian and intended national films at this year’s festival. Moreover, it offered a genuine sense of discovery with new, exciting voices.
Platform’s opening night selection set a good bar for the competition. Emily, the directorial debut of actor Frances O’Connor, offered an unexpectedly unconventional Brontë biopic. The film imagines the love story that inspired Brontë to pen her classic Wuthering Heights, but O’Connor doesn’t opt for the Gothic romance one might assume is behind the tale. Instead, this is the story of Emily Brontë told with a nod and a wink. O’Connor seems more indebted to Fleabag than to previous takes on the Brontë classic. Emma Mackay plays Brontë with a beguiling, mirthful charm. She’s very aware of the camera in the way Phoebe Waller-Bridge breaks the fourth wall with a knowing smirk. Emily is a delight that captures the essence of a book, an author, and a woman while reinventing all three anew. One hopes to see more from O’Connor behind the camera after this ravishing debut.
The Canadian crop of Platform, meanwhile, offered two of the best homegrown films at TIFF this year. The competition winner, Riceboy Sleeps, complemented O’Connor’s opener as actor Anthony Shim proved himself an assured voice behind the camera with his sophomore feature. Riceboy Sleeps is a touching portrait of a mother and son as the family establishes a new life in Vancouver after moving from Korea. Shim unfolds the drama like a fable, and shows a true cineaste’s eye. Shot in striking 16mm, Riceboy Sleeps is a period film that feels very of the moment. Shim’s family drama speaks to experiences that new Canadians continue to face in the national mosaic, but there’s a great sense of catharsis to the film as the family learns how to redefine its place in the world, holding strong to the love that binds them.
While the film admittedly was something of a surprise as a winner, it was a welcome upset. Shim proves his merit as a director by assembling a top-notch cast, particularly South Korean newcomer Choi Seung-yoon in one of the festival’s most deeply moving performances. She plays the mother, So-young, and deserves to bring further accolades to Riceboy Sleeps in the beginning of what one hopes is a long and promising acting career.
Similarly, the TIFF Platform comp found a winning ensemble in Viking. The droll film from Stéphane Lafleur marks the director’s best film yet with its sharp and observant study of life under quarantine. Quite frankly, Canada should have sent this film to the Oscars as our submission for Best International Feature. Its comedic touch is understated, but consistently appealing. Lafleur is one of this nation’s most unsung voices and his ability to put a smile on one’s face from first frame to last is unparalleled.
The TIFF Platform comp found another winning comedy in Hawa from director Maïmouna Doucouré. This upbeat coming of age film sees a young woman with coke-bottle glasses, a blond afro, and a quirky demeanour embark on a journey for an adopted family. Hawa (played by Sania Halifa) faces the impending prospect of being orphaned when her grandmother’s terminal illness implores her to think of the future. In a peculiar turn of events, Hawa decides that Michelle Obama, who is visiting Paris to promote her new book, is her ideal adoptive mother.
The young woman sets her scooter careening around the streets of Paris in search of Lady O. Hawa encounters pop star Yseult and astronaut Thomas Pesquet along the way, but Doucouré never lets her twee premise get the better of this young girl. Hawa has an irresistible spirit as the young woman refuses to accept defeat even in the face of a quest that obviously won’t have the outcome she desires. The film constantly surprises with its youthful energy and infectiously joyous spirit. It’s a refreshingly original coming of age story.
Also hailing from France and tickling viewers’ funny bones is The Gravity from Cédric Ido. This sci-fi/comedy puts a speculative twist on banlieue cinema with its story of a housing complex besieged by a planetary event that has the suburb saturated in red hues and enveloped in the mystical aura of a full moon. The Gravity follows three childhood friends as they navigate the violent clutches of an unruly young gang, and Ido boisterously mashes up genre conventions to create an action comedy that straddles all sorts of B-movie genre cinema. Some jaw-dropper moments had the TIFF audience cheering with glee. It’s impossible not to be won over by the film’s badass swagger.
Darkness and Desire
A much different take on speculative cinema comes in one of Platform’s best surprises, the Iranian doppelganger drama Subtraction. Directed by Mani Haghighi, Subtraction is a taut thriller in which pregnant driving instructor Farzaneh (Taraneh Alidoosti) spots her husband Jalal (Navid Mohammadzadeh) en route to a second home. She follows him and eventually learns that he is not being unfaithful. Rather, his double is married to a woman who looks exactly like her. Both parties of either couple yearn for the prospect of escaping their marriage when they learn of their doubles. What follows is a cautionary thriller about grass being perceived as greener on the other side.
Alidoosti and Mohammadzadeh excel in their dual roles. They play both couples with remarkable agility, conjuring unique personas so that one can often spot the differences despite minimal variations in make-up and dress, but the film toys with perception as allegiances shift and motives darken. Moreover, the film constantly defies expectations. Subtraction is a dark and twisty human drama that keeps one guessing until the final frame.
Alternatively, TIFF Platform heralds a sensuous and sinister family tale with Thunder. This debut feature from Carmen Jaquier boasts an exciting cinematic eye. Thunder whisks audiences to a Swiss village in the 1700s where novitiate Elisabeth undergoes a sexual awakening when her sister commits suicide following village gossip that she was an amoral woman. Jaquier and cinematographer Marine Atlan craft a sumptuous vision for Elisabeth’s journey through lust and grief as she explores the impulses long denied by her religious upbringing. The film is a remarkable sight, but also a shrewd study in gender dynamics and misogyny. One can expect good things from Jaquier following this thunderous debut.
Two other family dramas played the Platform competition, but were admittedly the programme’s misfires. Tora’s Husband, directed by Rima Das, has good intentions with its art-imitating-life story about a family coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it lethargically observes the daily struggles of a father, Jaan (Abhijit Das), who works tirelessly to keep his business afloat amid lockdowns. Tora’s Husband has an oddly ambivalent take on the safety measures of the lockdowns, focusing mostly on economic terms rather than human ones. Interestingly, the film’s anti-masking stance might irk viewers who, after two years, find themselves infuriated by people who continue business as usual while wearing their masks below their chins. Moreover, the film doesn’t have much new to say about the COVID years. Pandemic stories are simply too soon for audiences who might need a reprieve from COVIDfatigue. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, Tora’s Husband, like the pandemic, is needlessly overdrawn.
Similarly, the Brazilian drama Charcoal might take the booby prize for the stupidest film in competition. The film makes little sense as it observes a family in the countryside gamble with a peculiar scheme. They off their ailing patriarch and give his vacant room to a drug kingpin seeking shelter. Charcoal’s Weekend at Bernie’s premise simply strains credibility. There are few laughs to be found as the neighbours start snooping into the family’s erratic behaviour. While director Carolina Markowicz strives for social commentary about class and exploitation, the jokes simply don’t land. The fracas of illogical behaviour simply kills the satire. The film shows promise but the humour might be lost in translation.
Pipeline Blew Up Platform
Finally, the TIFF Platform competition delivered one of the breakout films of the festival with the thrilling environmental white-knuckler How to Blow Up a Pipeline. Director Daniel Goldhaber doesn’t waste a single frame in this perfectly crafted parable of radical protest. How to Blow Up a Pipeline adapts Andreas Malm’s political manifesto of the same name. It delivers a forceful and gripping call to action. The film features an ensemble of young activists, played by Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, and Jake Weary and it deftly weaves their journeys towards radical action within a propulsive mission to sabotage Texan oil infrastructure.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline smartly builds stories of hardship and loss amid the escalating tension. This is an invigorating portrait of necessity. When there’s no longer any civil recourse to address the immediate concerns of climate change, the actions like those of the young activists/radicals/eco-terrorists speak directly to the restlessness of a generation that’s hungry for change.
A pulse-pounding score and precise editing ratchet up the tension as the film builds to an explosive climax. The cast, similarly, is uniformly excellent. Goldhaber’s ensemble taps into the hunger of Millennials to defy the status quo and blow shit up. The film doesn’t downplay the consequences of radical action. Rather, as the comrades in arms build homemade bombs and plot anarchy, they address the likely fallout of their actions. The film illustrates how a culture that remains reliant on fossil fuels is killing itself with a slow death. Instead, the explosive jolt one sees here should inspire one to leave the theatre energized and awakened. How to Blow Up a Pipeline simply blew the competition out of the water in a very strong year.