A special mention goes to Khyentse Norbu’s Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait, “for a film that is a metaphor for our time. In an age of technology, this film uses masks to reconnect its characters with human instinct and emotion.”
“As the world’s only Buddhist lama who also makes movies that screen at major international festivals and have received commercial releases, Khyentse Norbu is quite the operator,” writes Robert Koehler for Cinema Scope. “Under his Buddhist name Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, he conducts sessions in India and his native Bhutan and, as he is thought to be the incarnation of 19th-century Buddhist saint Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, he supervises Tibet’s Dzongsar monastery. At the same time, he’s a partner with producer Jeremy Thomas and, no doubt with Thomas’s help, has enough pull in the international film world to get Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in his cast and Tian Zhuangzhuang to be his editor.”
“In a throbbing, neon swaddled prelude, a bar hostess in Hong Kong delivers drinks and considers herself in the mirror, counting the cash kept in her fishnet stockings,” writes Daniel Kasman in the Notebook. :A jump cut sweeps us away to find a silent, anonymous man pushing through resplendent Bhutanese hills. Upon spying a marked cross hidden in the foliage, he dons a blank wooden mask, pulls out a flute, and calls out a gang of masked tribesmen who take him to their village. From here, Hema Hema reveals itself as a greatly (and pleasingly) simplified, fantastical telling of a man tested by anonymity…. The lessons we know but are nonetheless pleasurable for their (re-)telling.”
The Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award goes to Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire. Again, the title.
The second runner up is Fisher Stevens’s Before the Flood. Leonardo DiCaprio stars, but “how much effect can celebrity have on the world’s fossil-fuel addiction?” wonders John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter, adding that the “filmmakers are intelligent in their use of the biggest asset they have: Not only do they keep their movie star onscreen, they work hard to tie viewers’ concern for the environment up with his biography.” For Screen‘s Allan Hunter, this is “a sober, thoughtful documentary that combines a lament for a lost Eden with a rousing call to action.”
The FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) prize for Special Presentations: Feng Xiaogang for I Am Not Madame Bovary, an “ambitious rendering of a woman’s Kafkaesque struggle as she takes on the Chinese legal system, and sophisticated play of both form and content,” as the jury puts it. “This one is different,” adds Shelly Kraicer in Cinema Scope: “a) there’s acid dripping from every line and shot, although Feng clearly wants to make a popular success. And b) Feng uses a circular ‘telescope’ screen shape for much of his movie. This is weird.” It’s also “a surprising and daring (in more ways than one) work from China’s best popular filmmaker.”
Fan Bingbing, who plays the lead, is a “Chinese megastar,” notes Michael Nordine in the Voice, “likely most familiar to American audiences for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but she’s front and center in I Am Not Madame Bovary—a movie too offbeat to brighten her star much over here, but one worthy of attention for the same reason.” It “isn’t an adaptation of Flaubert‘s novel so much as an invocation of its spirit.” More from David D’Arcy (Screen), Dennis Harvey (Variety) and Deborah Young (Hollywood Reporter). And Screen‘s Jeremy Kay reports that Well Go USA Entertainment has picked up North American rights.
The FIPRESCI prize for the Discovery program: Mbithi Masya for Kati Kati. The jury notes its “generous and poetic tone, not without a degree of anger at personal and political injustice.” It’s “a film that draws on tradition (Nollywood, Senegalese counter-cinema, faith-based films) without falling into the stylistic or genre traps of any of those approaches,” writes Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope. “For the work of a first-time helmer, Kati Kati has a highly professional sheen, which is no doubt the result of the support Masya is receiving from producer Tom Tykwer and ‘director mentor’ Pia Marais. If this is part of some sort of cultural initiative, I hope it continues, because Kati Kati is ample evidence that it’s bearing fruit.”
The NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Pacific Cinema) Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere goes to Maysaloun Hamoud’s In Between, the jury calling it a “confident debut about three contemporary Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv whose strong bond of sisterhood supports an exploration and shift in relationships, careers, and sexuality.” Alissa Simon for Variety: “What makes this spiky dramedy so compelling are the Palestinian-Israeli protagonists, whose split lives have rarely been depicted on screen. These strong, modern, sexually active women, living independently in the center of Tel Aviv, away from their families and the weight of tradition, struggle to be true to themselves when confronting the expectations of others.” More from Matt Fagerholm (RogerEbert.com) and Sarah Ward (Screen).
The Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film: Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie for Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves. The jury nods to “its uncompromising, electrifying portrait of youthful idealism and democratic exhaustion in contemporary Canada, and for its capacity to stir both heart and mind.”
The City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film: Johnny Ma’s Old Stone. The jury’s made note of “its remarkably mature, powerfully rendered portrait of an innocent taxi driver caught in a proto-capitalist China.” Ethan Vestby for Cinema Scope: “If one is not already tipped off by the brisk 78-minute runtime…, Ma further delineates his noir intentions by way of glossy aesthetics that diverge from the initial social-realist thrust.” More from Matt Fagerholm (RogerEbert.com).
The Short Cuts Award for Best Short Film: Raymund Ribay Gutierrez’s Imago.
The Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film: Alexandre Dostie’s Mutants.
The Dropbox Discovery Program Filmmakers Award goes to Yanillys Perez for Jeffrey.