TIFF Books on Film Returns March 2 to June 22


Remains of the Day | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

TIFF’s Books on Film series returns for its fifth season on March 2nd with an exciting line up of great cinema that began as outstanding literature. This seems especially timely after a year that’s been fantastic for film adaptations of books — recent box office hits (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Fifty Shades of Grey, any number of superhero movies) also began as books, as did at least half a dozen of the top contenders this awards season. The TIFF series celebrates the translation of the page to screen, with film screenings followed by CBC host Eleanor Wachtel (Writers & Company) interviewing filmmakers, authors and experts about the art of adapting a book for the screen.

TIFF Books on Film 2015 Schedule:

Monday, March 2, 7 pm
James Shapiro (Professor of English at Columbia University) on Coriolanus

Coriolanus. Credit: Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library.

Coriolanus | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library.


Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler and Shakespeare — need I say more? Fiennes also directs this modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, about an exiled Roman general who allies with his sworn enemy to take revenge on the city that spurned him. 

Esteemed Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro will discuss the perennial challenges of bringing the Bard to the screen.

Monday, March 16, 7 pm
Kazuo Ishiguro on The Remains of the Day

This is the one I’m seriously geeking out over. Kazuo Ishiguro is an amazing writer, and The Remains of the Day is, bar none, my favourite among all of his works. He will be at TIFF Bell Lightbox (in person!) to talk to Eleanor Wachtel about the film adaptation. The film itself stars Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, so really, how can it be anything but spectacular?
Monday, April 13, 7 pm
Lynn Barber on An Education
An Education | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

An Education | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library


I’ve heard a lot of great things about this film starring Carey Mulligan and adapted from a memoir by English journalist Lynn Barber about her teenage love affair with a dashing con man. It will be great to see how it plays out on screen, and then to hear from Barber herself on the adaptation of her life.

Monday, May 11, 7 pm
Allan Scott on Don’t Look Now

Don't Look Now | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

Don’t Look Now | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library


Daphne du Maurier had a gift for atmosphere in her writing, and this film, adapted from one of her short stories, sounds decidedly creepy. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play a married couple who is haunted by a series of mysterious occurrences after the death of their daughter. Best part? Screenwriter Allan Scott, who will be discussing his adaptation with Eleanor Wachtel, is also known for creating the stage musical adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which just makes him more awesome to my inner theatre geek.

Monday, June 1, 7 pm
Irvine Welsh on Trainspotting

Trainspotting | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

Trainspotting | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library


To be honest, I’ve never watched this classic based on a book (also a classic!) by Irvine Welsh. The film stars Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller though, so I’ll definitely have to give it a try. The author himself will be speaking with Eleanor Wachtel after the screening of this film.

Monday, June 22, 7 pm
Phillip Lopate on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie | Courtesy of Photofest

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie | Courtesy of Photofest

Essayist, poet, novelist and film critic Phillip Lopate speaks with Eleanor Wachtel about this classic 1969 adaptation of Muriel Spark’s world-famous novel. The film adaptation stars Maggie Smith — Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series, the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey, among many other legendary roles, with Jean Brodie being among her most famous. I also loved Muriel Spark’s book, and look forward to hearing it discussed at TIFF.

How to subscribe:

Series subscriptions to Books on Film include all six events and are on sale now. Subscription pricing as follows (regular price subscribers save $30 off the cost of single tickets): adult member $153, adult non-member $180, student/senior member $122.40, students/senior non-member $144.

Single tickets available starting on Wednesday, February 25: adult member $28, adult nonmember $35, student/senior member $24, student/senior non-member $29.75, groups of 20+ $31.50.

Purchase tickets online at tiff.net/books, by phone from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET daily at 416.599.TIFF or 1.888.599.8433, or visit the Steve and Rashmi Gupta Box Office in person from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET daily at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square, 350 King Street West.

Film Review | Listen Up Philip, Opens Today at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto

Listen_Up_Philip_posterListen Up Philip is a hilarious sendup of the pretentious capital-W Writer type. Jason Schwartzman plays Philip, a literary novelist awaiting the publication of his second book, and an utterly miserable human being.

In the opening scene, he meets up with an ex-girlfriend and, after she (rightly) calls him out on keeping the conversation all about him, declares that he will no longer give her a galley of his new book, even though he’d even written a personalized note on her copy. The next scene shows him accusing a college friend on giving up on his dream to be a writer too easily and tossing the writer’s pledge they’d written into his glass of beer. “It’s harder for some people,” his friend retorts, before exiting the bar and revealing his wheelchair. None of this fazes Philip’s air of superiority and he fishes out the crumpled, beer-soaked pledge.

Writer and director Alex Ross Perry plays it straight, imbuing the film with the mock gravitas fitting to a character of Philip’s ilk. Perry even includes a narrator, a portentous voice detailing characters’ inner thoughts. In a later scene with Philip’s girlfriend Ashley (Elizabeth Moss), upon Philip hearing good news about Ashley’s career, the narrator intones that it was hard for Philip, being reminded how proud he could feel for Ashley. Schwartzman then delivers Philip’s spoken response with such perfect dickishness that you wonder just how reliable the narrator really is.

Fortunately for Philip, he meets Ike (Jonathan Pryce), a Philip Roth-type writer he idolizes, and who is essentially an older, grizzled version of Philip. Ike’s latest novel is called “Audit,” he confesses having been unable to write another page since his move to New York, and he invites Philip to his country house, where the quiet will allow him to write. The quiet does indeed provide Philip with some inspiration, though as Ike’s daughter (Krysten Ritter) rightly points out, her father has simply provided a substitute to take over his moping duties.

Listen Up Philip is sharp, witty and brilliant. Parts of the middle dragged a bit for me, particularly Philip’s stint as a creative writing teacher, possibly because just as with pretentious, narcissistic bores at parties, there is only so much I can take of Philip at one time. Despite insight into Philip’s inner thoughts, there is little redemption to the character, and deliberately so. The ending was pitch perfect.


Listen Up Philip opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox today, October 24. Schedule and tickets here.


Thank you to TIFF for a screener of this film in exchange for an honest review.

Shakespeare on Film | TIFF Cinematheque | Divertimentos: The Films of Matias Piñeiro

Among the many, many reasons I’m a huge Shakespeare nerd is that I love the way he subverts gender conventions. His plays are well aware of the limitations imposed upon women in his society, yet, writing for one of the most powerful female monarchs in history, he subverts these expectations. While it’s too simplistic to say his plays are empowering for women, some of them certainly play with the fluidity of gender roles, and particularly in his comedies, explore the freedom of disguise.

One of my favourite Shakespeare comedies precisely because of this play on gender roles is Twelfth Night. A pair of twins (one male, one female) are shipwrecked and separated on an island and somehow end up in an absolutely ridiculous love quadrangle, which is complicated by the fact that one of the twins, Viola, is in disguise as a man. How much of gender is determined by external signifiers such as clothing? How topsy turvy will the world really turn if we reject social conventions on these signifiers? The play itself is hilarious farce, lighthearted entertainment, yet a closer read reveals multiple points of potential discussion.

It comes as no surprise therefore that Shakespeare’s work can be interpreted time and again, and still appear fresh each time. For Argentinean filmmaker Matias Piñeiro, Shakespeare is not so much a basis of his works, as a springboard from which his films can take off and create something wholly new. This weekend, TIFF Cinematheque presents a retrospective of Piñeiro’s work, introducing Toronto audiences to his films as well as featuring Piñeiro’s Carte Blanche selection, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution (1964), which is loosely based on Stendahl’s 1838 novel The Charterhouse of Parma.

Film still from Viola. Courtesy of Matías Piñeiro

Film still from Viola. Courtesy of Matías Piñeiro

On Sunday, April 6 at 5:30 pm, TIFF Cinematheque presents PIñeiro’s Viola, the director’s riff on Twelfth Night and named after the heroine of Shakespeare’s play. Far from a direct presentation of the Bard’s work, however, the filmmaker creates a completely separate experience. Brad Deane, programmer of the PIñeiro retrospective, states that “while Piñeiro’s films are immensely pleasurable experiences, they can also be difficult to define,” and that is certainly my experience with Viola and its accompanying piece Rosalinda (inspired by Shakespeare’s As You Like It). Both films feature actors as actors reciting Shakespeare lines. Ostensibly rehearsing for a production, their repetition of particular phrases and scenes propel the plot forward, and advance the story of these actors as characters. This play within the play motif is a clear nod to Shakespeare, who used it in such a range of plays as Hamlet and Midsummer Night’s Dream, often using the multiple layers of disguise (actors on stage disguised as characters who are actors disguised as other characters) to reveal some truth.

The actual Shakespearean source narrative is not present in any coherent, recognizable form — Piñeiro’s films are indeed best described as “riffs” on Shakespeare rather than interpretations thereof. Shakespearean influence threads through the work, and possibly to a much more impressive degree than I was able to catch myself. Similar to Shakespearean comedies, Piñeiro’s films are rife with romantic entanglements — couples breaking up, getting back together, simmering with repressed passion — all expressed obliquely, at times only through a certain look between two characters as they recite lines from a Shakespeare play.

Film still from Rosalinda. Courtesy of Matías Piñeiro.

Film still from Rosalinda. Courtesy of Matías Piñeiro.

Rosalinda, the work that began Piñeiro’s fascination with Shakespeare is a short film that TIFF Cinematheque will air immediately before Viola. Featuring a group of actors rehearsing As You Like It in a country house, this feels like a director playing with form and testing the waters somewhat. It’s a vignette of a film, and not a bad one, though the film is so self-consciously obvious in its play with form that the characters don’t really emerge fully as individuals and their story beyond the play never really takes root.

In contrast, Viola feels like a much more confident, much tighter film. The film follows an all female ensemble that mashes up Shakespeare plays to create a completely new plot, and a bike courier who delivers her boyfriend’s pirated DVDs and who eventually crosses paths with the actors. Here is Piñeiro letting loose with his riff on Shakespeare, and it’s a stronger, more compelling film as a result. I love the idea of an all female cast, which completely overturns the all male cast Shakespeare had to work with. Just as Shakespeare used the cross-dressing aspect of male actors playing female parts to explore nuances of disguise and gender roles, Piñeiro presents his own interpretation of this, with female actors taking on the male roles.

I also love that the Shakespearean lines were mashed up from a variety of sources, and Piñeiro takes this a step further in the repetition of rehearsed scenes, where sections of dialogue are alternately selected and repeated, then lines are dropped and other sections of dialogue begin at various points. Each repetition sounds new, and even though we can recognize certain phrases as having been said before, there are varying levels of urgency and emotion in the delivery, such that it seems to mean something different each time.

In one particularly compelling scene, a pair of actresses are rehearsing a scene where one (playing a man’s role) conveys a message of love to the other on behalf of another man, yet soon finds himself captivated by the woman’s beauty. In this particular iteration of the scene, the actress playing the woman’s role is awaiting a call from her boyfriend, about whom she isn’t completely sure. As the actresses rehearse the same scene over and over, the sexual tension between them intensifies, such that it soon becomes unclear how much of the attraction between them is part of the rehearsal, and how much of it is real. Just as in Shakespeare, the line between disguise and reality is blurred.

Divertimentos: The Films of Matias Piñeiro will be at TIFF Bell Lightbox March 3 – 6, and the filmmaker will be present at all the screenings. Along with Viola and Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution, TIFF Cinematheque will also present Piñeiro’s films The Stolen Man and They All Lie, which are derived from writings by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, a nineteenth-century intellectual, activist and former president of Argentina. The full schedule for the weekend is available on the TIFF website.

Trailer for Viola: