Six stellar films that flew under the radar at the Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO — With the torrential buzz that dominates the biggest movies of the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s a given that several gems often get missed by the masses.

But while these stellar features might not be loaded with marquee names, flashy story lines, or colossal marketing budgets, they all deserve a spot on your must-see list, if you’re looking for a cinematic adventure.

Here are six movies that stunned us, rocked us and left us crying out for an encore.

From David Friend:

“Bacurau”

Class inequity and social uprising were major themes in many of this year’s TIFF films, but few carried the simmering urgency of this one from Brazillian directors Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles. Pulling threads from Italian westerns and hunter-prey thrillers, the film begins as a truck rumbles down the road to Bacurau, a fictional village that’s stocking a suspiciously large number of empty caskets. It soon becomes clear that its residents have been sold by a corrupt political leader to a group of foreign gunmen looking to catch a bloodthirsty thrill while on vacation. What seems like a hazy story of powerless citizens left to die quickly shifts gears to a palm-sweating showdown against a scowling Udo Kier in one of his best villainous roles.

“The Twentieth Century”

Matthew Rankin doubles down on the bizarre history of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King with his wildly inaccurate biopic of the man, which imagines his life as a youthful politician. Drawing inspiration from wartime news reels, German expressionist film sets, and even fellow Winnipeg director Guy Maddin, Rankin completely subverts the mystique around politicians by mocking patriotism, propaganda and Canadian identity. Daniel Beirne, of “Workin’ Moms,” plays the future prime minister as a timid goof with a fetish for women’s footwear, while frequent Maddin collaborator Louis Negin dons a dress to play his bedridden mother. It’s all very silly, but Rankin makes toying with stilted dialogue, old Hollywood gender cliches and familiar political tropes more fun than it should be. And despite its pointed jabs, “The Twentieth Century” comes out feeling like a loving tribute to everything about Canada’s identity that’s a tad ridiculous.

“Ema”

From its opening shot of a traffic light set ablaze by the title character’s personal flame thrower, director Pablo Larrain is relentless as he picks at the scab of a young woman’s anarchistic tendencies. After her adopted son is taken away by social workers concerned by his pyromaniac tendencies, professional dancer Ema lashes out with her friends on the streets, moving to the beat of reggaeton music and literally setting the world on fire. But her older choreographer husband, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, resents his wife’s unpredictable moves, and how she’s pushing against the walls of a society that’s forcing her in a box. “Ema” is beautiful in its chaos, unsettling in its sexual unpredictability, and an experience that’s only fully realized in its final scene.

From Cassandra Szklarski:

“Antigone”

Newcomer and TIFF rising star Nahema Ricci seethes with raw emotion as the heroine in this modern-day adaptation of Sophocles’ Greek tragedy. Here, the teenage Antigone sacrifices all for her immigrant family when her brother is gunned down by police and another is arrested, even as her steadfast moral code clashes with the law and so-called justice. Writer-director Sophie Deraspe mixes cellphone video and images of viral social media with shattering scenes of a young woman bewildered by a heartless political and legal system that bear its full weight on her principles.

“The Platform”

The horrors laid bare in this high-concept Spanish-language allegory go far deeper than the flagrant violence, bestial indignities and WTF moments on display — and there are several. Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia sets the mayhem in a concrete prison comprised of possibly hundreds of stacked cells, each occupied by two people forced to wait daily for a feast to descend from the top floors. All but those on the first level eat leftovers discarded by prisoners above, who each gorge themselves knowing that leaves less for the increasingly ravenous and desperate who wait beneath them. Smart, unnerving, and unforgettable.

“Collective”

A Romanian sports reporter asks questions about the burn patients who survived a deadly nightclub fire and the disquieting facts that emerge just cascade from one alarming revelation to another in this gripping documentary from Alexander Nanau. “Collective” is far more than a bombshell expose of health-care rot that extends from venal hospital managers to the criminal underworld to the upper echelons of government; this is an urgent wakeup call to the fragility of society when greed takes hold.

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