This was my first year attending TIFF and despite having only seen seven films, it still feels like I’m mourning the end of an era. In a way, it feels like the end of a vacation. I was physically in Toronto this entire time and yet, I had gotten to escape to different time periods and different geographies. One day, I was an aspiring filmmaker in post-World War II Arizona, the next day I was a young Korean immigrant boy growing up in 1990s Canada. The seven films allowed me to become a different person, with different (always more interesting) problems compared to my own life. I have no clue how I’m supposed to log on for work tomorrow morning, and act as if I didn’t just live seven very different lives over the span of just a few days.
Because it was my first time attending the Festival, I didn’t have a great game plan going into it. I had purchased a six-pack package and made a list of my top choice films + showtimes. But, by the time it came to redeem the package, a lot of the films I wanted to see were sold out. So, I ended up with a bit of a mixed bag of six films. Some films I were excited about, others not so much. On my list: a documentary, an Italian film, a Korean film, a Syrian film, lots of coming-of-age with brand new directors and actors, and one with Jennifer Lawrence in the lead.
What I realized in screening #6 (I don’t know why it took me six films to realize this) is that though I had chosen to watch a random selection of movies with seemingly little in common, there were still shared threads throughout. This “mixed bag” of films shot in different countries, in different time periods, and in different languages had many similarities, though only revealed upon careful reflection. To me, this said a lot about the human condition – no matter who you are or where you are, you are likely struggling to belong, or to be seen in this world. All the stories and situations that play out in our day-to-day lives always seem to go back to this core theme. Love, loss, loneliness – isn’t one of those themes is always present in some shape or form? Don’t we always end up thinking about, or talking about, the same things, just in different contexts?
Empire of Light, for example, was about an older British woman (Olivia Colman) struggling with mental illness, who finds strange solace in a young twenty-something-year-old man. Amanda, on the other hand, was an angsty Italian coming-of-age movie about a twenty-five-year-old and how she reconnected with a friend from childhood. Both movies couldn’t have been more different on the surface – Empire of Light was set in the 1980s, Amanda was set in present day. Empire of Light was a very British film, while Amanda was Italian. At the same time, both movies couldn’t have been more similar, at their core. Both movies featured main characters who had mental illnesses and who struggled to fit into the mold of society. Both movies involved the lonely main character finding comfort in an unlikely person.
Causeway, the film starring Jennifer Lawrence, was also about loneliness + the necessity of genuine human connection in the form of friendship. The main character comes back from service in Afghanistan and is adjusting to life after a brain injury, which resulted from an accident during service. The entire movie shows us how she adjusts, and how much Brian Tyree Henry’s character helps her in that process. The movie literally ends with her character proclaiming that she could use a friend.
The more I sit here thinking about the seven films, the more I realize how many connections there were between films. Empire of Light and Steven Spielberg’s film, The Fabelmans, both touched on the magic of movies. The Swimmers (directed by Sally El Hosaini) and Maya and the Wave (the one documentary I saw during the Festival), though already bonded by the central topic of water sports, both also talked more broadly about dreaming big and achieving the impossible. Riceboy Sleeps, The Swimmers, and Causeway all paint a very real picture of what it’s like to feel “foreign” in a society, whether it’s because you’re an immigrant, a refugee, or military service remembering how to live normally.
What I guess I am realizing (and maybe what you can only realize after seeing such a diverse range of films in too short of a time period) is that we, as humans, like to tell a lot of stories that say a lot of things. But at the end of the day, we also remember that because we are humans, we laugh at the same things, and cry at the same things. And while we yearn for all sorts of big and marvelous stories, we, too, also just want to feel seen.