As the calendar turns from summer to fall, in the film world, summer blockbusters turn into Oscar-bait prestige, and with that comes a fresh crop of films under festival lights. The Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals have long been considered the starting guns for award season contenders and this year was no different.
Both festivals saw stirring performances and striking efforts by Asian filmmakers from Asia and across the diaspora, and their talents were heavily awarded; including, Evil Does Not Exist winning the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize at Venice and Dear Jassi being awarded the Platform Prize in Toronto.
Of course, the big (Asian) news out of Toronto was the presentation of a TIFF Special Tribute Award to Hong Kong screen and music legend, Andy Lau. From icons to first-time filmmakers, Lee Hong-Chi (Ai Shi Yi Ba Qiang / Love Is A Gun), Meredith Hama-Brown (Seagrass), and Jayant Digambar Somalkar (Sthal) all received well-deserved plaudits, as well.
After an exhilarating (and exhausting) three weeks, The Asian Cut has compiled our festival favourites. Have a read and be sure to tell us what your favourites were from Venice and Toronto (and Telluride if you were so lucky!).
Evil Does Not Exist
A mesmerising look at a small rural village and its intrusion by corporate outsiders, Ryusuke Hamaguchi captures the beautiful depths of nature alongside quietly captivating observations on everyday human interactions, unravelling both harmony and discord into an unforgettable finale.
— Calvin Law
Ryuichi Sakamoto: Opus
A breathtaking farewell to the work of legendary composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, the camera capturing and absorbing every chord to perfection. Creating a vivid sense of this private performance, Opus finds poignancy in the silences and pauses just as it does in the beauty of the music.
— Calvin Law
It’s hard to believe that A Match is a feature debut for both the director and lead actor. Written and directed by Jayant Digambar Somalkar, who shot the film in his home village of Dongargaon in India, the film stars Nandini Chikte playing Savita, a young woman in the final year of her undergraduate studies. Stylistically rich and containing romantic shades of Wong Kar-wai, A Match looks at what marriage means for households in certain parts of India. In one delicate sweep, the film examines not only the marital traditions that have been followed by the people of Dongargaon for years — all the social minutiae involved in securing a match — but also warmly observes a young woman’s desires and aspirations rumbling beneath customary expectations, threatening to extinguish in their powerful undertow. Savita’s major is sociology, which tends to clinically look at the origins and ways of particular societies; with A Match, Somalkar offers a sociologist’s acumen filtered through the tender empathy of an insider. A Match doesn’t judge, rather it immerses itself in Savita’s world, watching with the intimacy and care of a friend as Chikte reveals Savita’s complex and roiling feelings, and for this reason this film is a triumph.
— Alisha Mughal
In Flames has been presented as a horror film, and while there are definite horror elements, the feature film debut from Zarrar Kahn evades the classic horror tropes and simply becomes haunting. The Canadian-Pakistani production has a lot to say about Pakistan and a woman’s existence within the country and expresses these themes with great poetry and pathos.
— Rachel Ho
Wim Wenders goes out of his way to make a film that's voraciously quiet and ends up creating one of the loudest statements on the devastating beauty of loneliness. With a revelatory performance from Koji Yakusho that utilizes minimal dialogue, and being a Japanese film coming from a German director, Perfect Days is perhaps the perfect example of how cinema is truly a universal language of artistic expression.
— Wilson Kwong
The Queen of My Dreams
I saw The Queen of My Dreams on the second day of the festival, and even after seeing almost two dozen films since, it still lives in my mind. The journey we take with Fawzia Mirza’s film, across space, time, and even genre, is unforgettable. An exceptional debut!
— Jericho Tadeo
I was looking forward to seeing this adaptation of Kim Thúy’s Governor General’s Award-winning novel, and it did not disappoint. Ru is a delicately presented story of a refugee family settling in snowy Montreal after the militaristic terrors brought on by the end of the Vietnam War. There is a balance of beauty and ugliness that exists in the world, yet there is an irresistible current of optimism that permeates Thúy’s worldview and comes out in Ru.
— Rose Ho
What do you think of when you think of strength? In Noora Niasari’s fictional, semi-autobiographical feature debut, strength emerges as the small but mighty ability to put name to domestic abuse, the mere act of smiling, passing on cultural stories and traditions, and dancing. Starring the spellbinding Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Shayda tells the story of a woman striving to secure a divorce from an abusive husband who refuses to play fair. Ebrahimi in this film is graceful as a ballerina, as Choi Seung-yoon in Riceboy Sleeps. And while certain scenes of abuse in the film and their retelling (Niasari’s lens and Ebrahimi’s portrayal are so incredibly brave) terrified me to the core, I would say Shayda is just as much, perhaps more, a celebration of strength and happiness as it is a depiction of what it looks like to survive. Shayda is unforgettable.
— Alisha Mughal