What follows Sunday Sunday?

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TIFF is in full swing this Monday, after a torrid weekend of films, parties, premieres and schmoozing. Terrific new features are receiving their first or second North American public screenings throughout the day.

Among the top films being seen today are: Hunger(Scotia Bank 2, 9 am), which chronicles the tough final days of IRA activist Bobby Sands; Blindness (Elgin, 11 am), the searing account of what might happen if most of the world turned blind; Religulous, (WinterGarden, 1 pm), Bill Maher’s anti-religious diatribe; Heaven On Earth (AMC 7, 3 pm), Deepa Mehta’s provocative look at spousal abuse; L’heure d’ete (WinterGarden, 4:15 pm), Olivier Assayas’ philosophical look at the disintegration of a traditional French family’s home and art objects; Adoration (Elgin, 6 pm), Atom Egoyan’s unique take on Middle Eastern politics and its impact on Canada and Happy-Go-Lucky (Bader, 7 pm), Mike Leigh’s portrait of a daring British woman’s life in contemporary London.

Two of the fascinating films worth discussing are Teza and Un conte de Noel.

The new film by acclaimed Ethiopian director Haile Gerima, Teza, is a visually arresting work. It tells the story of Anberber, a doctor who finds his return to the native village of his youth to be fraught with pain and sorrow. Years spent in Germany have alienated Anberber from modern Ethiopia, a country suffering under a harsh Marxist dictatorship. A peaceful intellectual, he finds himself trapped by repressive forces and threatened with violence. His only escape comes in his dreams and memories of a more beautiful past.

Gerima is one of the greatest African filmmakers, acclaimed for such films as Harvest: 3000 Years and Sankofa. His films move between narrative, experimental and documentary but all are rooted in the oral tradition native to his homeland. Teza is his first major work in a decade. Though the film has narrative flaws, the power of the imagery and sweep of the storytelling make this an important work. Teza is exactly the kind of cinema—difficult, artistic, fascinating—that people should see at festivals like TIFF.

Un conte de Noel will get a commercial release, which is unlikely in the case of Teza. It, too, is an important film, and true festival material. It’s Christmas season in France, a time for families to get together—even dysfunctional ones, like the Vuillards. The death of a son decades earlier has deeply affected the parents, turning husband Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) into an ineffectual “pleaser,” and wife Junon (Catherine Deneuve) into a cold, precise individual.

The matriarchal family dynamic has been passed on to their children. Elizabeth (Anne Consigny), a playwright, who married into wealth, has effectively banished her brother Henri (Mathieu Amalric), a self-loathing alcoholic from the family by paying his debts—and telling him to stay out of her sight. The youngest son Ivan (Melvil Poupaud) tries to absent himself from the family dynamic but he finds himself enmeshed in a drama involving his wife and their best friend.

The melodrama gets cranked up when Junon is diagnosed with a deadly disease, which can only be cured by a bone-marrow donor, whose body shares her genetic makeup. Of course, Henri turns out to be the only one of the trio of siblings to be capable of saving their mother, forcing his formal reconciliation into the family. And then, the sparks begin to fly…

Un conte de Noel is very well acted and the film is a triumph for director Arnaud Desplechin. You should see it—if not at TIFF, then certainly when it is released later this fall.

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