‘Journal’ staffer goes to TIFF, reviews dramas and animations

Both Canadian and international films shine in varied selection

Image by: Herbert Wang
TIFF showcased a variety of interesting films this year.

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Amid writer’s and actors’ strikes, the 48th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) rolled out its red carpet on Sept. 7.

TIFF provided a comprehensive look at the current film landscape and the rising stars worth following. Here are a few notable films that premiered at the festival, both Canadian and international.

Days of Happiness

In a long-anticipated return to TIFF after Sophie Prefers to Run in 2013, Montréal-based writer and director Chloé Robichaud and actor Sophie Desmarais deliver a captivating performance.

Days of Happiness follows Emma, played by Sophie Demarais, a gifted classical music conductor, as she struggles with her controlling father who works as her agent. As her orchestra residency nears its end, she is faced with dilemmas in her career and personal lifewhile preparing for an especially challenging performance.

Days of Happiness excels at being a focused and engaging film that’s emotionally honest with its characters. The film is propelled by a grounded script, thoughtful direction, and compelling performances by Sophie Demarais, Sylvain Marcel, and Nour Belkhiria.

The film features multiple orchestra performance sequences featuring real-life members of the Orchestre Métropolitain, a major symphony orchestra in Montréal. Not only are these sequences impressive, they root the film in Emma’s perspective, consistently reflecting her inner worldr. The result is a film that feels simultaneously intimate and grand.

The Boy and The Heron

For months leading up to its premiere, The Boy and The Heron was marketed as director Hayao Miyazaki’s 12th and final film.

The film follows youngMahito Maki, played by Soma Santoki, as he’s forced to move from Tokyo to the Japanese countryside in the wake of a family tragedy. In his new home, Mahito encounters strange creatures, including a talking heron.

The talented animators at Studio Ghibli make the fantasy world feel detailed and full of wonder. The Boy and The Heron features an imaginative story, breathtaking visuals, and a powerful score by Joe Hisaishi, bringing the fantasy elements to life. Combined with distinct characters and charming visual gags, Studio Ghibli fans everywhere are in for a feast.

Building off his past films, Miyazaki’s best characteristic as a director is his ability to make audience members empathize with everyone—protagonists and antagonists alike. Creatures go from menacing to lovable in an instant, any conflict is nuanced and sensitive, and there’s an immense appreciation for life and the natural world.

While the film seems like a fitting farewell to Miyazaki’s fantasy worlds, theres a chance it may not be his last.  Miyazaki made similar announcements in 1997, 2001, and 2013. If he ismaking another film, The Boy and The Heron makes it clear that Miyazaki is still brimming with ideas.

I Don’t Know Who You Are

Toronto-based director M.H. Murray’s feature debut I Don’t Know Who You Are follows Benjamin, a gay man in Toronto, played by Mark Clennon. Benjamintries to afford expensive medication in the aftermath of a sexual assault, and as his situation gets increasingly desperate, Benjamin is forced to put on a brave face for his loved ones.

The film is a tense experience, but Clennon’s gentle performance provides the film with hope. In the Q&A after the film, Murray explained hewas inspired by his own experiences, but allowed Clennonspace and agency to add to the character.

The film delicately balances a wide range of emotions. The performances are believable, and the score is serene at times and tenseat others. I Don’t Know Who You Are shows promise for those involved with its production.

Wicked Little Letters

In the seaside town of Littlehampton in 1920s England, free-spirited Rose Gooding, played by Jessie Buckley, is accused of sending vulgar and demeaning letters to her well-respected neighbour, Edith Swan, played by Olivia Colman. Gooding’s arrest and subsequent jail sentence divide the town in two. What ensues is a crowd-pleasing mystery and comedy where the explicit language clashes with the quiet and traditional setting.

As absurd as the story seems, it’s a dramatization of a true story. The film opens with a text statement reading the following story is “more true than you’d think.” In the Q&A after the film, director Thea Sharrock confirmed the letters featured in the film are the same as the letters in the real story.

Sharrock noted Swan’s role was written with Colman in mind, and it shows onscreen. Both leads deliver memorable and ranged performances, taking advantage of their comedic skills. Beneath the comedy is a message about rigid societal expectations and the consequences of standing out.


This year’s TIFF selection was varied and exciting. In an industry largely dominated by franchise films, these titles reaffirmed that creative, impactful, and human films are as prevalent as ever.


Canadian, Film Festival, International, TIFF 2023

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