[by Rob Edelman]
We now are entering the annual fall film festival season, and an array of Oscar-hopeful features are screening at festivals in anticipation of their theatrical play. This year at the Toronto International Film Festival, the hype involved a host of high profile films and red-carpet-strolling movie stars. Two, for example, star Amy Adams. Nocturnal Animals may feature a potentially intriguing storyline and an eye-opening opening sequence. But dramatically, it fell apart for me. On the other hand, Arrival is a sci-fi tale that oozes intelligence and should be a well-deserved Oscar contender.
However, not all the films screened in Toronto are high profile. What interests me are the films that are not overhyped because of their subjects, because they do not feature big-name actors, because their actors deliver their dialogue in a foreign language, or because they offer peeks into the lives and lifestyles of individuals from different cultures, from across the globe.
Here are a couple of examples. The first is Little Wing, a Finnish film that made its world premiere in Toronto. Little Wing is a sincere coming-of-age drama centering on Varpu, an 11-going-on-12-year-old girl. Varpu is dealing with family issues that are universal. Her parents, like all parents, are supposed to be mentors and role models; while they may not be superficially malicious, they are indeed flawed. Her mother is loving, but she also is lonely, insecure, overburdened. And her father, well, he is something else altogether.
Little Wing is so nicely done that I really came to care for Varpu and her plight. And unlike so many similar characters in so many Hollywood films, she is no stereotypical poster child for tweener alienation. (As many foreign language titles that play at film festivals, Little Wing as yet has no U.S. distributor.)
However, a second film, this one titled Sand Storm, will be opening at New York’s Film Forum at the end of September and also has a Los Angeles play-date in October. Sand Storm is a thoughtful, absorbing drama that deals with a range of family issues. Among them are a failed marriage, clashing generations and traditions and lifestyles, a mother-daughter conflict, a father-daughter relationship, the role of women within an established male-dominated culture, and the impact of a rapidly changing culture on all those involved.
There are complicated domestic dynamics at work here, and its undercurrents are universal. The scenario easily might be set within a household in Ohio or California or New York— but Sand Storm is an Israeli film! Its characters are Bedouins and, at one point, the mother is complaining that her daughter just may have become involved with “some boy from another tribe.”
Granted, the language spoken in Sand Storm is Arabic. The setting is neither urban-American nor suburban-American nor rural American, but rather a Bedouin village. Still, the basic emotions at work here are universal. And the point here is that the only films that came out of Toronto are not just the hyped, high-profile Academy Award contenders. There are documentaries, short films, and foreign films. There are films that are well-worth seeing and contemplating: films like Little Wing and Sand Storm.