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Rob Edelman: Toronto Overview, Part 1

After months of mostly dismal movie-going, the fall film season is upon us and, as is the case every year, so many new films are invading the film festivals. Some are heavy hitters with Oscar dreams. Others are less-high-profile titles that are jockeying for attention. And this year, happily, so many of them are outstanding. In fact, for every disappointing film I saw at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, there were quite a few that were exceptional.

If they were to be rated using the system employed in Leonard Maltin’s annual MOVIE GUIDE, which I worked on for years and which finally has ceased publication, plenty would earn three-out-of-four stars. Some would merit three-and-a-half. And a couple would win four-stars, which would place them in CASABLANCA country.

Briefly, the three-star titles only begin with ANOMALISA, yet another idiosyncratic work from Charlie Kaufman, which reflects on the monotony of modern life; LAND OF MINE, a Dutch film set right after the end of World War II, in which high school-aged German prisoners-of-war are conscripted to clear land mines; THE PARADISE SUITE, from the Netherlands, spotlighting a number of characters and how their lives connect; and GIRLS LOST, from Sweden, which involves what happens when a trio of bullied teen girls find themselves magically transformed into boys.

The first of two three-and-a-half star titles is BROOKLYN, directed by John Crowley and scripted by Nick Hornby, a sweet film about a young Irish woman, played by Saoirse Ronan, who leaves her small town and comes to America. The time is the early 1950s, and she settles in the title New York borough. I loved this film for its simple eloquence, and not because one of its characters is, unsurprisingly, a die-hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan.

Then there is the ironically-titled YOUTH, directed and scripted by Paolo Sorrentino: a moving meditation on old age whose cast includes Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Paul Dano. And not to forget Jane Fonda, who appears in one scene-- and who just may walk off with a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. YOUTH is a fitting follow-up to Sorrentino’s similarly-themed THE GREAT BEAUTY, which earned the Best Foreign Film Oscar a couple years back.

Finally, the first of the two four-star titles is the explosive, politically-loaded JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI. Panahi has managed to keep making movies even though, five years ago, he was arrested, jailed temporarily, and banned from working in his native Iran. But he still has been managing to do so, and he has been making films that explore the political repression that exists in his homeland.

The second four-star title is SON OF SAUL, a Hungarian film that is the first feature directed and co-written by László Nemes. SON OF SAUL is a tough film, to be sure, but it still should not be missed. The time is World War II, the place is Auschwitz, and the scenario follows what happens when a prisoner comes upon a startling discovery as he is forced to burn the dead bodies of his fellow Jews. Unlike such revisionist films as LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and DOWNFALL, which soften Adolph Hitler and the Holocaust, SON OF SAUL depicts Auschwitz in all its horror. Across the decades, plenty of films have explored the Holocaust and life and death in the camps. But in my experience, there never has been one quite like SON OF SAUL.

Rob Edelman has written several books on film, television, and baseball, and was a longtime Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s annual Movie Guide. He teaches film history at the University at Albany.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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