TIFF 2014: What a Wonderful World

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It felt like the planet was spinning a bit faster in the past 24 hours as I took in four foreign films, all debuting during the opening weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival. If you love foreign films, do I have some good news for you: Each of these is a winner, so here they are in alphabetical order

Force Majeure
, a co-production from Sweden, Norway and Denmark caught me by total surprise ... almost like the avalanche that becomes the centerpiece of this wickedly funny adult comedy. A family of four is vacationing in the Alps when what appears to be an avalanche is heading their way. I won't give too much away here, but I couldn't help but think about that famous Seinfeld episode, "The Fire," when George Costanza .... well, if you've seen it, you've got a pretty good idea of where we're heading with Force Majeure. Do not miss the chance to see this.


Haemoo is Korean for "sea fog," one of the endless perils threatening the crew of a fishing trawler, drowning in debt when they aren't nearly drowning in angry waters. When the ship's captain agrees to smuggle an illegal shipment to save his financial neck, he learns that his contraband cargo are Chino-Korean immigrants. This dark, modern thriller is filled with amazing high-seas rescues, taut political conflict and even romance. Korean director Bong Joon-ho, who had great success with Snowpiercer, is co-author and executive producer of Haemoo. The real news is, the man who sat in Haemoo's director chair is newcomer Shim Sung-bo—it's stunning that a movie of this caliber is his first feature-length effort.


In Leviathan, the skeletal carcasses of giant sea creatures (leviathans) line the shore of a desolate seaside town in North Russia, just down the rocky beach a few hundred meters from the old remains of shipwrecks—but those relics are mere seashells compared to the countless souls that have crashed up against the rocks of Russian corruption and despotism. Leviathan is a modern epic that folds in themes of politics, religion, fidelity and the spoils of 21st century Russia. There are moments in Leviathan that genuinely resemble a masterwork from Arthur Miller or Henrik Ibsen. It's a stunning piece of screenwriting.


The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a gorgeous water-colored lullaby from Japan's Studio Ghibli, based on the folktale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Princess Kaguya washes its audience with beauty and innocence throughout, and it instantly feels like a classic bedtime story— an early memory, yet something new for Western audiences. It's absolutely lovely, with plenty of laughs and more than a few tears.


Of the hundreds of films that are screened each year at TIFF, more than 60 nations are represented in a prolific sampling of international cinema. It's just another reason why Boise Weekly is here.