Friday, September 16, 2016

TIFF 2016: Burn Your Maps and Lion

I don't choose my films for TIFF with any themes in mind, but often I see common threads among them. On Thursday, for the second time this week I saw two films back to back that had a theme in common: boys who felt out of place and were drawn to search another continent to figure out where they were from. Both were fabulous films.

In Burn Your Maps, Canada's Jacob Tremblay plays Wes, a loner who becomes obsessed with the idea that he is really a nomad goat herder from Mongolia. He starts wearing Mongolian/style clothing that he makes himself, and carrying crude goat dolls made from toilet paper. This is not well-received by the nuns at his school, and his behaviour becomes another point of disagreement for his bickering parents (Marton Csokas as Connor and Vera Farmiga as Alise) who are struggling to keep their relationship intact after a crisis tore them apart.

Wes meets aspiring film maker Ishmael (Suraj Sharma), a student in the ESL class that Alise teaches, and after Ishmael launches a crowdfunding campaign using video of Wes longing to find his Mongolian roots, we're off to the mountains of Mongolia. There is beautiful scenery, encounters with the locals who help the family sort out some issues, and of course goats. It's a delightful and heart-warming story about being lost and getting found, and Tremblay is excellent in the lead role.

I had not realized that our screening was the world premiere for the film, but figured it out after seeing some red carpet action out front, and much larger than usual area of reserved seating, and a cameraman in the audience. There was a Q&A after the film with the director and several of the cast members, including Jacob Tremblay. When the director was asked if the scenes set in Mongolia were really shot there, he declined to answer, at which point Jacob piped up with "It was Calgary!". Later, when asked about his greatest challenge in preparing for this role, in which he had to ride a horse and learn to speak some Mongolian, Jacob paused to think. Someone said "hard question, eh?", and he immediately responded with "I've had harder". He switched back & forth between being a cute little kid and being wise beyond his years.

Following the Q & A I dashed from the Ryerson Theatre to the Princess of Wales to join my cousins for Lion, the story of a young Indian boy who gets separated from his family, winds up in a Calcutta orphanage and gets adopted by an Australian couple. Years later as an adult he starts to wonder where he is really from, and using Google Earth, searches for familiar sights from his home town. Dev Patel plays the grown up Saroo in Australia, and Sunny Pawar is adorable and impressive as the young street smart Saroo in India. The opening act in India is the more gripping and emotionally engaging, but the ending got the waterworks going pretty effectively.

These were two of the best films of the week, and it was neat to see them back to back.

TIFF 2016 Overview

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