Quebec filmmakers outshine English-speaking counterparts at TIFF

Will Perkins

What was supposed to be the year of Canadian filmmakers at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag.

With movies from some of the Great White North’s best and brightest filmmakers (including Jason Reitman, Denis Villeneuve, Paul Haggis, Atom Egoyan, Jean-Marc Vallee, Don McKellar, Bruce MacDonald and more) dotting the schedule, it seemed that TIFF 2013 would be a celebration of all things Canuck. Unfortunately, the fest proved to be more of a showcase for Canada’s French Canadian directors and kind of a bust for English-language Canadian cinema.

Quebec filmmakers Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners,” “Enemy”) and Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”) largely outshone their English-speaking Canadian counterparts at every turn this year. Villeneuve’s intense Hollywood thriller “Prisoners” left audiences buzzing with award-worthy performances from Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano, while the director’s Canadian film, the weird and troubling thriller “Enemy,” managed to impress critics across the board.

Vallée’s 1980s AIDS drama “Dallas Buyers Club” impressed reviewers and festivalgoers alike, with many pointing to Matthew McConaughey's cadaverous turn as an HIV-positive good ol' boy as a likely Oscar contender.

And what’s the buzz from movies like Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day,” Atom Egoyan’s “Devil’s Knot,” and Paul Haggis’ “Third Person”? Reviews for all three films have been so-so at best. Sure, Josh Brolin is earning some Oscar talk for his performance in “Labor Day,” but the Reitman film itself has been called “dopey” and “melodramatic.” Egoyan’s U.S. debut “Devil’s Knot” has been similarly disparaged, having words like “serviceable,” “dull,” and “uninspired” thrown around. Meanwhile, Haggis's “Third Person” has fared worst of all, getting widely panned by reviewers and being called everything from “trash" to just plain “atrocious.”

Whether in English or French, it seems Quebecois filmmakers will continue to produce movies that are well-regarded in Hollywood and around the world.

There is a silver lining at TIFF 2013 for English-language Canadian cinema, though. While our English-speaking filmmaking talent may not have exactly succeeded abroad, two high-profile Canuck comedies both seemed to go over well with festival audiences and critics: Michael Dowse's "The F Word" (starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan) and Don McKellar's "The Grand Seduction" (starring Taylor Kitsch and Brendan Gleeson). The former was even picked up for distribution by the U.S.-based CBS Films. Should "stick to comedy" be the lesson for next year's Toronto film fest?

The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival runs until Sept. 15.

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