Hebrew-speaking moviegoers have plenty to look forward to at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), as nearly a dozen promising Israeli films will debut there this month, no doubt attracting international press, Israeli filmmakers and excited discussion. TIFF will also feature high-profile Jewish directors, rising stars and interesting geopolitical looks at the conflict in the Middle East.
Here are some of the most exciting movies to catch.
The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a defining historical moment, cleaving apart mainstream Israeli society from its far-right citizens. What made Rabin’s ultra-nationalist assassin do it? That’s the question director Yaron Zilberman asks in Incitement, which tells the story from the perspective of Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir. The psychological thriller blends archival media footage with a gripping narrative, critically analyzing the intentions behind every actor to help us understand one of the most pivotal moments in modern Israeli history.
Many Jews know that a deceased body must never be left alone, and it’s the role of a shomer to watch the corpse, until the body can be buried. It’s a terrific scenario for a horror film – and director Keith Thomas knows it. The Vigil, his first film, is a potentially star-making one-man show, starring Dave Davis as a despondent man who takes on the job for an Orthodox family, despite not being particularly religious. When a malevolent spirit makes itself known in the shadows, the film takes a dark and supernatural turn. Catch the festival’s midnight screening on Sept. 9, which will also be the movie’s world debut.
Taika Waititi is quickly rising to become one of Hollywood’s most bankable comedy directors, the new Edgar Wright, a fresh face with an eye for snappy editing, hilarious dialogue and wonderful musical choices. The New Zealand native, whose father is Maori and mother is Jewish, is following up his hit Thor: Ragnarok with Jojo Rabbit, which is about a young German boy in Nazi Germany who finds a Jewish girl hiding in his home. Bullied by his peers, the boy turns to his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler, played with absurdity and a terrible German accent by Waititi himself. This will be one of the hottest films of the festival, so don’t feel bad if you can’t get a ticket: it’s opening across Canada in October.
In 2017, writer-director Noah Baumbach brought out Adam Sandler’s best role in years in The Meyerowitz Stories, a thoroughly Jewish look at masculine family relationships. But it wasn’t a new theme for Baumbach, who’s long thrived with intensely written family dramas (The Squid and the Whale and Greenberg rank among his more popular ones), and Marriage Story proves no different. It follows the doe-eyed rise and painful divorce of a couple played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, who share a young son caught in the middle. Baumbach’s own parents divorced during his childhood and he’s explored similar themes before, so critics will be watching this one closely to see whether the writer’s eye has sharpened or dulled as he reviews familiar territory.
It Must Be Heaven
With intense surrealism and isolating visuals, It Must Be Heaven comes from veteran Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, who explores the meaning of exile in this series of artistic vignettes that take place in the West Bank, Paris and New York. Suleiman, resembling an unwitting silent-film hero, stars in the film himself, mostly featured in quiet, symmetrically framed moments of tension, comedy and suspense. The story isn’t the main concern here – rather, the film aims to define exclusion, belonging and home through the lens of a nomadic aging artist.
This isn’t a Jewish film, but it comes from a wonderful Jewish director, Lauren Greenfield, whose photography and documentary skills acutely highlighted wealth and class in The Queen of Versailles and Generation Wealth. She returns to the big screen with The Kingmaker, a portrait of former Filipino first lady Imelda Marcos. Despite her husband being ousted from office in 1986 after two decades in power and the unveiling of a career-ending financial scandal, the extravagant woman continues to uphold her family’s legacy and honour, even now, in her 80s. Greenfield’s made a name for herself capturing obscene opulence with a sharp, restrained eye, and this latest project appears to be just as infuriating for viewers – and just as mesmerizing.
Fans of modern musicals won’t want to miss this latest epic from award-winning Israeli director Keren Yedaya. Following a woman’s larger-than-life journey from small-town gas station, to difficult marriage, to the bright lights and promising future of Tel Aviv, Red Fields stacks up with La La Land and Moulin Rouge in the genre of modern, fantastical, unconventional musical cinema. Gravity-defying choreography and maximalist set pieces totally redefine what most moviegoers would expect of Israeli cinema.
Han van Meegeren is a confusing art legend in the Netherlands. After the young wannabe artist was criticized into defeat by his contemporaries, he began forging the masters, growing so talented that few could tell the difference between his works and the real things. This led to him swindling dozens of buyers, including his own government, out of millions of dollars worth of forgeries. Most famous among his victims, however, were the invading Nazis, who wanted to amass the largest possible collection of European art. Hermann Göring bought one of his Johannes Vermeer forgeries for the modern-day equivalent of C$9.3 million. In Lyrebird, directed by first-time director Dan Friedkin, Guy Pearce plays van Meegeren in a historically fascinating and emotionally complex biopic that will bring a refreshing Second World War story to the big screen, proving there is still plenty of original material to be mined from the worst tragedy of the 20th century.