Since 2000, the Toronto International Film Festival has selected the top 10 Canadian films of the year, touring them across the country and giving Canadians another chance to see our best cinematic offerings. These are the three best feature films that were showcased at this year’s festival.
Alan Zweig’s documentary about the infamous Steve Fonyo, a former national hero who has since been charged and convicted for various crimes, is a testament to the continual power of cinema vérité — the camera’s unique ability to document and engage with spur-of-the-moment reality.
Hurt is an empathetic portrait of Fonyo’s mundane routine, evoking complex and heartbreaking psychology in the process: his hunger for attention, complex feelings towards the Canadian public, and the cycle of dysfunction within which he appears trapped. This is a pure film. The camera looks without judgement, asking us to empathize with Fonyo before forcing us to engage with any of our own conflicted sentiments towards him.
Some parts of The Demons are so uncomfortably tense, so masterfully conceived to provoke unease, that they are nearly unwatchable. The fears of a paranoid young boy, the detached visual style, and the ominous narrative about child abductions in a suburb of Montreal, come to a quietly harrowing conclusion.
First-time director Philippe Lesage has crafted an assured and meticulous coming-of-age thriller where almost every formal choice is horrifyingly evocative: the slow zooms on kids playing in a swimming pool, the lengthy takes after a child has been abducted, and a masterful dolly shot at the end of the film, which teases a tragic event off-screen.
Similar to the great Michael Haneke, whose work profoundly influenced this film, Lesage is nearly flawless at deciding what to depict and what to leave to the imagination, what to linger on, engraving the ideas in our mind, and when to quickly cut away, transmitting only a shocking impression.
The Demons is a wrenching film you will immediately want to forget — it’s too disturbing, upsetting, and unnerving — but by the quiet and unresolved coda, it has slowly engraved itself into your long-term memory.
Our Loved Ones
A delicate portrait of a father’s shifting relationship with his daughter as she matures, and an epic narrative about depression in a family over decades, Our Loved Ones is at once small and colossal, a film so grounded in little moments of the present that also considers their impact over an extended period of time.
By observing milestones big and small, the film isn’t structured loosely like Boyhood or rigorously like The Place Beyond The Pines, striking a perfect balance between being a realistic slice of life and a timeless lamenting poem. In terms of experimental and empathetic storytelling, Our Loved Ones is the strongest Canadian film of the year.
This year’s Canada’s Top Ten film festivals provides insight on a diverse range of Canadian history: documentaries about the rise and fall of one of our national heroes (Hurt), a pivotal incident that changed the course of race relations in our country (Ninth Floor), and the recent scandal over Omar Khadr’s release from prison (Guantanamo’s Child).
Ironically, the weakest films in the festival come from acclaimed veterans: Guy Maddin’s tiresome The Forbidden Room, Philippe Falardeau’s repetitive My Internship In Canada, and Patricia Rozema’s contrived Into The Forest.
The most subversive films on the list — Sleeping Giant, Closet Monster, and The Demons — are all coming of age stories from first-time directors, who draw from a wide range of influences to express similar stories about the suppression of childhood and adolescence.
Fittingly, these films also hint at a coming of age for Canadian cinema, a group of spurting, young filmmakers that are quickly evolving into world-class talents.