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Xavierpop Previews #TIFF12 – MovieJay Takes On The Wonderful Vanguard Programme

You don’t go to a film in the Vanguard programme hoping that it’s going to be nice or charming, sweet or even entertaining. These films tend to be edgier, sexier, darker. When you walk out of a film in Vanguard, you want to talk about it and hash it over afterwards.

Some of these selections never find an easy path towards distribution. In recent years, movies in this programme that have found a way out of Toronto include Gareth Edwards‘ indie-sci-fi-romantic-horror-scare-story Monsters, the penetrating Japanese revenge thriller Confessions, the chilling Australian serial killer drama The Snowtown Murders, and Joachim Trier‘s addiction drama Oslo, August 31st.

Here’s a look at the 15 films showing in the Vanguard programme this year:

90 Minutes
Eva Sorhaug brings her second feature to TIFF, and I think its Norwegian title 90 Minutter sounds way cooler than the boring English translation. Her first feature, Cold Lunch, went unseen by me, but I look forward to this domestic drama starring Aksel Hennie (Max ManusHeadhunters) who sort of looks like the lovechild of Steve Buscemi and Jason Statham, if you can imagine that.

Beijing Flickers
Zhang Yuan came to TIFF in 1993 with his first feature, Beijing Bastards–unseen by me–a relationship drama about a rock musician and the pregnant girlfriend he let get away. The last time he was in Toronto was in 1997 with East Palace West Palace–saw it!–a fascinating study of homosexuality and how severely it is punished in China. Placed under house arrest because of his earlier, edgier films that confront his rigid society, Yuan deserves more attention in the west despite his more recent ventures into the mainstream with movies like the childhood drama Little Red Flowers. Hopefully his new one will be a huge success at TIFF, a drama following what the programme calls “the little people” in the underground of Beijing’s booming economy.

Berberian Sound Studio
Peter Strickland‘s first feature, the Romanian-Hungarian co-production titled Katalin Varga appeared to hit every major film festival in a two-year run from 2009 to late 2010, except for TIFF. Drats, from what I gather from the IMDB about the little revenge drama that never got a North American release is that it looks promising. His sophomore effort’s been picked up, however, and it stars Toby Jones–he played Capote in that movie best remembered as “the other Capote movie”–as a mild-mannered sound engineer from the UK who is brought to Italy in the mid 70′s to mix what Quiet Earth‘s Simon Read calls “a gruesome horror film in the mold of Dario Argento‘s Suspiria“. The film premiered to wicked and wild buzz at the Edinburgh Film Festival and makes its North American premiere at TIFF. The premise as well as its trailer has me hyped for this one. This goes straight to the “can’t wait” list.

Blondie
Swedish helmer Jesper Ganslandt‘s third trip to Toronto is a family drama following three estranged adult sisters after his coming-of-ager Falkenberg Farewell (2006) and the thriller The Ape (2009). He’s looking to finally break out in the North American market and graduate from the festival circuit with this Bergmanesque outing.

Here Comes the Devil
Spanish writer-director Adrian Garcia Bogliano has flown under the radar, becoming a midnight favorite on the horror fest circuit with previous titles such as Cold Sweat and The Accursed. His new Mexican-U.S. co-production sees him coming to Toronto for the first time with his thriller about two children that go missing in a set of caves around Tijuana, and the disquieting energy about them after they reappear.

I Declare War
The lone Canadian feature in this programme has a neat little trailer in a story of neighborhood boys and the little war games they play with each other. Toronto writer-director Jason Lapeyre is set to make a splash this year with this, his first feature to appear at TIFF, while he simultaneously tours two other features as well–a thriller titled Cold Blooded, which just took the audience prize at Fantasia; the other a doc filmed at Toronto General Hospital last year. There’s a good chance that by the end of TIFF he will have been one of its major discoveries; a new Canadian talent arriving on the scene with three aces up his sleeve already.

iLL Manors
Ben Drew–a.k.a. UK rap & hip-hop artist Plan B–makes his feature writing-directing debut with this hyperlink crime-drama set in the violent Forrest Gate hood of East London, where he grew up. The pic weaves together six different storylines, which is incidentally the same number of threads in that other hyperlink movie at the fest in Cloud Atlas. Small world. Opening over the summer to warm reviews in the UK, the pic’s soundtrack–also by Drew–has already hit #1 on the charts there. This follows a successful stint as an actor for him, appearing as one of the thugs in the Michael Caine Gran Torino-esque pic Harry Brown from three years ago. Lookin’ good.

Motorway
Director Soi Cheang brings his kinetic Hong Kong car chase actioner to Toronto, his second trip here after 2009′s assassin thriller AccidentJohnnie To is back as producer once more, and the movie should find itself with a specialized run outside of the festival circuit in North America over the coming year. Nice early reviews so far for the pic upon it’s Asian release this summer.

Painless
I like the premise of this thriller, which weaves together two stories: set in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War, a group of children who are insensitive to pain find themselves in an asylum attempting to be rehabilitated through torture. Meanwhile, in the present, a brilliant neurosurgeon who needs a bone marrow transplant ventures out to find his biological parents and, wouldn’t you know it, stumbles upon the dark story of the past. Painless represents the first feature by writer-director Juan Carlos Medina, who co-scripts here with Luiso Berdejo of [Rec] fame.

Peaches Does Herself
Canadian electro-post-punk-new-wavey musician and performance artist Peaches–bestie and former roommate of Feist; collaborator on Christina Aguilera‘s Bionic LP–directs her first feature, described by TIFF as a “wild, transsexual rock opera”, featuring songs from her catalogue like “Fuck the Pain Away” and “Lovertits”. Peaches will also be premiering a new installation as well as offering us a performance. This will be one of the more unique experiences we’ve ever seen at TIFF. Straight to the “can’t wait” list.

Pusher
Spanish-born writer-director Luis Prieto comes to TIFF for the first time with the English-language remake of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s (Drive) cult fave, with Refn aboard as executive producer. Richard Coyle (Tus in Prince of Persia) stars as a drug dealer whose life goes to hell over the course of one miserable week. Prieto is not a stranger to Toronto, having won the World Short Film Festival prize for best live-action short in 2002 with BambolehoPusher premiered earlier this summer at the Edinburgh Film Festival to very warm reviews.

Room 237
I learn from the reviews of this Sundance hit that the full title as it appears onscreen is Room 237: Being an Inquiry Into The Shining in 9 Parts. And that’s what you need to know about Rodney Ascher‘s feature doc debut, as 5 subjects in the field of music, playwriting, cinema, journalism and conspiracy theorizing break down the obsessive nature of fans to art in the abundant amount of information that may or may not exist in Stanley Kubrick‘s 1980 thriller, relating to numerology, the Holocaust, and the Moon landing. Yup, you know it, this one’s going straight to the “can’t wait”.

Sightseers
Ben Wheatley returns to TIFF after the authentic, blood-soaked Midnight Madness flick Kill List that premiered last year. Opening to strong reviews in the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes and with a very funny clip of this online, Sightseers follows a late thirtysomething couple on a dream RV holiday in this dark comedy that takes more than one turn into sudden violence.

Thale
Based on a creature called a “huldra” that belongs to Norwegian folklore, a strange and naked woman with a cow tail is found by two forensic clean-up men deep in a forest. Premiering at SXSW in Austin last March to very warm reviews, Aleksander Nordaas makes his first trip to Toronto with this most intriguing of premises, not to mention those amazing early images and a tagline that reads: “In a cellar, dark and deep, I lay my dearest down to sleep; A secret they would like to keep.”

The We and the I
And last but not least, Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) comes back to TIFF for the first time since his Dave Chapelle’s Block Party premiered as a Special Presentation in 2006. This mostly interior drama is set almost entirely on a bus featuring a group of teens on their last day of school before summer break. Sort of has an inner-cityBreakfast Club-on-public-transit kind of feel from the trailer.

The 37th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 6-16. Ticket packages are on sale now. Keep it tuned to Xavierpop for the sweet ‘n lowdown on all the films showing this year.

- MovieJay