The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which ran from September 8 to 18, is like the Fall Fashion Preview for cinema. Many of the year’s biggest films — and several likely Oscar hopefuls — made their North American debuts at the festival. The crop of new films included many LGBTQ films, from Billy Eichner’s comedy ‘Bros’ (out September 30) to Elegance Bratton’s ‘The Inspection’, which was selected as the Festival’s closing film. of the New York film on October 14.
Here’s a look at some of the queer films that screened at TIFF this year.
“Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe”
“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” is trans writer/director Aitch Alberto’s stunning adaptation of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s award-winning YA novel. The main characters are two Mexican American teenagers in 1987 El Paso – needle drops of 80s music – who meet for the first time in a swimming pool. Introverted Aristotle aka Ari (magnetic newcomer Max Pelayo) learns to swim with the help of outgoing Dante (Reese Gonzales). The two teenagers develop a close friendship that becomes a kind of bromance. However, Dante, a lover of art and poetry, throws a bombshell when his family moves to Chicago for a year, then another when he comes out as gay. Will the teenage relationship be the same when Dante returns? Alberto’s sensitivity is in every frame as the film traces the emotional ups and downs of these teenagers in a poignant without being sickening way. The framing of Ari reading one of Dante’s letters against a wall, or the boys hanging out in Ari’s 1957 Chevy pickup, are painfully beautiful, straight out of an Edward painting. Hopper. While the film delivers all the thrills in its conclusion, it’s hard not to cry tears of joy.
Gay writer/director Christophe Honoré’s most autobiographical film to date is an intimate character study about Lucas (Paul Kircher), a gay teenager in France. Her life changes when her father (played by Honoré) dies in a car accident. He, along with his mother, Isabelle (Juliette Binoche, excellent), and his brother, Quentin (Vincent Lacoste), deal with tragedy in different ways. Lucas is going to stay in Paris with Quentin and has a series of experiences: a conversation in a church; date a stranger (or two); and a crush on Quentin’s roommate, Lilio (Erwan Kepoa Falé) – as he searches for the truth and vows to live his life as he pleases. However, he becomes emotionally overwhelmed and has episodes of acting out. Kircher gives a remarkably oblivious performance, which captures his fragility, despair, gloom, hope and courage. Honoré’s deeply moving film is unbearably sad but also life-affirming.
“Land of Joy”
In “Joyland,” Pakistani director/co-screenwriter Saim Sadiq’s extraordinary debut feature, which won the Palme Queer and the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes, Haider (Ali Junejo) meets transgender exotic dancer Biba (Alina Khan ), when he takes a job as one of his reserve dancers. He also helps her with a poster she needs and comes to her rescue when she is shamed on the subway. Haider wants to spend time with Biba because he is attracted to her; a scene of them in her apartment is brimming with sexual tension and is filmed dazzlingly with lights dancing across their faces. However, Haider is married to Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), and although he looks after his wife, he struggles with her desires. “Joyland” shows how Haider, Biba, and Mumtaz, along with several other characters, flout gender roles as they experience both empowerment and setbacks. The film also presents trans life without condescension. Watching the main characters go against social convention – or bend under them – is affecting as they reveal themselves in their most vulnerable moments. “Joyland” features crisp cinematography and clever framing — the film is gorgeous — but it’s the trio of strong performances that is most illuminating and incandescent.
“The blue caftan”
“The Blue Caftan” is an exquisite, slow-burn romantic drama from Morocco, a country where homosexuality is illegal. Halim (Saleh Bakri) is a maalem, a tailor who works meticulously by hand. He sews beautiful caftans which are sold in the shop he owns with his wife, Mina (Lubna Azabal). But they are behind in their work and she is in poor health, which is why Halim trains Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), a handsome apprentice, to learn this dying trade. The looks Halim and Youssef exchange are full of smoldering lust, and when they touch — like when Halim trains Youssef to cut a necklace or guide a needle — it’s downright erotic. “The Blue Caftan” subtly depicts the love that develops between Halim and Youssef, as well as Halim’s deep affection for Mina. The way Halim struggles with his sexuality and his conflicting thoughts and feelings – he is seen periodically having anonymous sexual dates with men at the local hammam – forms the heart of this harrowing character study. Bakri makes Halim’s internalized guilt and shame palpable and Azabal and Missioui deliver steely and sensitive performances respectively.
“Will-o’-the-Wisp” (“Fogo-Fátuo”) is the latest provocation – dubbed a “musical fantasy” – by Portuguese gay filmmaker João Pedro Rodrigues. A lengthy prologue introduces Prince Alfredo (Mauro Costa), whose parents are shocked by his decision to be a firefighter. As Alfredo pursues his interest in earnest, he is greeted with derision, but he persists. In one hilarious episode, several naked, muscled firefighters pose and ask art history student Alfredo to “name the painting” they depict. When Alfredo also meets fellow firefighter Afonso (André Cabral), who trains him, the two begin a relationship that begins with a seduction lesson in ventilating a victim and continues with a fabulously choreographed dance sequence. A later sex scene between the men has to be seen to be believed. “Will-o’-the-Wisp” jumps across time and genres as this queer romance unfolds, but there are some serious undercurrents when themes of race, class, colonialism and privileges are raised. Rodrigues’ film, which will soon screen at the New York Film Festival, is a naughty delight.
“Casa Susanna” is a poignant and loving documentary about a Catskills home for cross-dressing and transgender straight men in the 1950s and 1960s, when dressing genderless was illegal. Director Sebastian Lifshitz uses fabulous photographs, archival footage and interviews featuring two women who frequented the house, Katherine Cummings and Diana Merry-Shapiro, as well as two descendants, Betsy Woldheim, whose father was a guest , and Gregory Bagarozy, whose grandmother Marie, married Tito, who was “Susanna”. The trans subjects tell anecdotes about “How I needed to be,” ranging from remembering Katherine loving the feeling of being in a dress as a child to young Diana praying he’d wake up in as a girl. Additionally, Betsy recounts the hours her father took to get dressed and find her father’s favorite negligee, while Gregory recalls checking out Club Wigwam during female impersonator shows when he was a child. But the interviewees also describe the courage of these men to reveal their “secret” lives to their wives – who largely agreed – as well as the risks of the men being discovered or blackmailed. This is a talkative yet compelling documentary about a largely hidden queer story.
“Something you said last night”
This is an auspicious debut from trans woman filmmaker Luis De Filippis about Ren (Carmen Madonia), an unemployed young trans woman on vacation with her younger sister Sienna (Paige Evans) and their parents, Mona ( Ramona Milano) and Guido (Joe Parro). De Filippis captures family dynamics through artful, claustrophobic framing and scenes that feature the characters in moments that are both intimate and intense.
The dialogue also reveals how the ties that unite are sometimes strangled. Ren easily fights with Sienna over her vape, hat, or phone, but she also protects her sister. Mona is critical of – and disappointed in – everyone, but despite being bossy, she also engenders sympathy. The film immerses viewers in the lives of these characters and their mini-dramas, which include Ren’s encounters with Guy (Augustus Oicle) who may be attracted to her. “Something You Said Last Night” features strong, lived-in performances from the entire cast as the characters all work through their pain and struggles, but it’s the subtlety of the storytelling that makes this film so quiet and powerful.
“Rosie” is Queer Cree director Gail Maurice’s feature debut, based on her short film of the same name. It’s precisely the kind of first-time effort that will charm or annoy viewers. Rosie (Kreis Hope Hill) is a six-year-old Aboriginal orphan in 1984 Montreal who is sent to live with her aunt Fred (Melanie Bray), an artist. It is indicative of the film’s preciousness that the discount takes place in a sex shop, where Fred works. However, she quickly gets fired from her job. Today unemployed, Fred also risks being evicted from her apartment. She obviously can’t handle herself, let alone a child, and her efforts to “get back” Rosie lead to abandonment issues for the young girl. But with the help of her cross-dressing best friends, Flo (Constant Bernard) and Mo (star Alex Trahan), they form a “found family” and Rosie improves everyone’s lives. Maurice’s low-budget film is rambling and well-meaning – it touches briefly on how Indigenous people are treated – but its uneven tone, contrived situations and overall performance make this hour strictly amateurish.