Ah, the Toronto International Film Festival: Hollywood North's annual collision of celebrity-worship, FUBAR parties, occasionally awkward red carpets, and some pretty awesome movies. It's also a huge sausage-fest. Only 18 percent of the films programmed at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008 were directed by women, although TIFF says that it's up to 33 percent this year. Other recent reports conclude that women are vastly underrepresented in key creative roles within the media industry. Variety reported this year that while women film directors are at the lowest rates they've been at since 1998 (le sigh), women actually represent a larger percentage of the movie-going audience. And this movie-going woman right here enjoys films about bad-ass women who could totally Sharkeisha yo'ass (and so do you). GI Jane forever, Legally Blonde never.
Here's a non-exhaustive list of some of the films premiering at this year's TIFF featuring some beautiful bad-ass broads.
Directed by Sebastian Schipper, this German film about a bank heist is getting lots of attention for the fact it was filmed all in one take (no clever cuts or editing à la Birdman), and the dialogue was completely improvised. The filmmakers began shooting in Berlin at 4:30 AM and were done by 6:54 AM, just as the sun came up. If that's not reason enough, the eponymous protagonist, played by Catalan actress Laia Costa, is the most fearless, ballsy, brave, and bold character seen on screen since Mad Max: Fury Road. We meet Victoria dancing by herself in a strobe-lit underground club, then swiftly watch her proposition the bartender, join a group of drunk men in shoplifting a Späti shop, and tempt them to hang off the ledge of a high rooftop. She plays piano for them like her fingers are on fire, and then literally takes the wheel of their bank heist, driving them and the story to a tense, haunting, explosive climax. Coupled with Nils Frahm's ethereally beautiful score, Victoria's impending danger and menace unfolds in real time, and you won't be able to breathe throughout.
This Australian film about two intertwined families and the secrets therein is based on Henrik Ibsen's 1884 play The Wild Duck and features some big name actors like Geoffrey Rush and Sam Neill, but it's actress Odessa Young as the young daughter Hedvig who disturbs and devastates the calm surface of this quiet logging town. With outrageous pink hair and an ability to sniff out bullshit a mile away, Hedvig can wield a rifle just as dextrously as she can win her school's science fair. She is in charge of her sexuality and doesn't let any of the snot-nosed boys at her school take advantage. The Daughter, with its visceral imagery and lush cinematography, is steeped in metaphor, but it's Young's performance that will evoke several "holy shits" from you as the credits roll.
The five young actresses who make up the ensemble cast of Mustang burst with raw, unnerving talent. Fighting against small-town ideals of a remote Turkish village on the Black Sea and a culture that seeks to blame young girls for their own bodies, Mustang follows the oppression of five young sisters as their family first imprisons them at home—barring the windows, periodically checking their virginity—and then marries them off without their consent. The brave sisters, with indomitable spirits and the ability to scheme their way out of any circumstance, fight back. They sneak out to football games, they secretly learn how to drive, they sabotage marriage arrangements, they create diversions, and they rebel—sometimes with catastrophic results. Winning the Best European Film award in the Director's Fortnight at Cannes 2015, Mustang forces the audience and dominant culture to answer some tough questions: Why do we sexualize young girls? Why do we blame them for it? Why is female sexuality threatening? And when will we let young girls have a voice?
Who doesn't love a good mind-fuck? I promised myself years ago that I would never watch another Todd Solondz film because they just make me want to curl up in the fetal position under my desk and wait for the hot, merciful kiss of death. But nobody warned me about Solondz-esque director Yorgos Lanthimos! Jeeeeez. In Lanthimos' The Lobster, set in a psychotic dystopian future, singletons have 45 days to find a partner lest they be transformed into beasts. David (Colin Farrell), who is on the verge of being turned into a lobster, escapes into the woods and joins a women-led resistance known as The Loners, where he falls for a woman billed only as Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz). Problem is, Loners aren't allowed to fall in love, a rule enforced by Loner leader Léa Seydoux. The Lobster features a bevy of badass women, from the cold-blooded ruthless killer David initially marries to un-empathetic Seydoux who scars, maims, and kills to secure her rule. Thematically, I loved that David is surrounded at every turn by women in charge of society, and underscoring each interaction is the idea that being single is always, always, always preferable to being in a relationship. AMEN TO THAT.
I like Saoirse Ronan. I think she makes interesting film choices and her performances have always been inspired and sublime. The same is true of period-piece Brooklyn, as she's really the only reason to see this saccharine paint-by-numbers stinker. Ronan plays Eilis, who throws off the shackles of stifling 1950s County Wexford to join the hipsters in Brooklyn (Montreal stands in for Brooklyn in this Canadian co-production). At first, Eilis just kills you with her earnestness, and those hoping for a Mad Men jaunt will be disappointed, even though Jessica Paré co-stars. But Eilis is brave as fuck. She's the only woman in her bookkeeping course and men seemingly fall for her from just faraway glances. She goes from saying cringeworthy things like, "I'm talking too much, tell me more about plumbing," to, "My boyfriend is not as important as work or school." Damn straight. The film explores some interesting themes, like the oppression of gossip-mongering, shame vs. morality, and female burgeoning sexuality, and the period coifs, couture, and cosmetics are top-notch. However, the film is entirely too predictable and passes over opportunities for real conflict. Jessica Paré's character is wasted, as are Jim Sheridan's and Domhnall Gleeson's. And really, there's literally nothing interesting about her Marlon-Brando-clone boyfriend Tony (Emory Cohen), except that he likes her, which apparently is enough? Still, Brooklyn is worth the price of admission if only to see your grandmother's clothes on young people.
OUR LITTLE SISTER
Based on a graphic novel, this quiet Japanese film follows four independent sisters living together in their own house in the little town of Kanakura. Men are superfluous and a dime a dozen, and the sisters refuse to let anyone or anything disrupt their bond, even the death of their father, or the reappearance of their estranged mother. These women run their own businesses, outshine their male coworkers, and play on soccer teams alongside boys, kicking their asses in the process. It's important to note that this isn't a very plot-driven film. In fact, nothing much happens. But the film somehow holds your attention if only for the fact that the sisters are eating in every scene! It makes you so hungry! They love deep-fried foods and they make their own fried mackerel, fish curry, even plum wine. I ate sweet potato maki for two days following this film, it was that infectious. The town of Kanakura provides some stunning visuals, especially the blooming of the cherry blossoms, and the women-ensemble provide adequate performances. But this really is a film for foodies, and honestly, what woman isn't?
Firstly, any film featuring Charlotte "Resting-Bitch-Face" Rampling automatically makes the list because she is badass incarnate, full-stop. Her performance as Kate in 45 Years is no exception. Kate has been married to Jeff (Tom Courtney) for—you guessed it—45 years, but when Jeff receives a letter from Switzerland concerning a previous lover named Katia, Kate CAN'T EVEN. Katia died in 1962 but authorities have only just discovered her body, and Jeff, to Kate's surprise, is listed as her next of kin. Jeff tries to spin Kate some manufactured lies about his relationship with Katia, but Kate refuses to suffer fools gladly, and their big wedding anniversary shebang is thrown into flux. It's hard to believe this film is written by a dude (Andrew Haigh) because the care, attention, details, and partiality given to the female experience within a marital crisis is intricately nuanced and deeply satisfying. Additional badass points awarded to the off-screen character of Katia who manages to disrupt a long-standing happy marriage even though she's dead! Girl power.
Follow Christine Estima on Twitter.