TIFF 2020: Short reviews of 10 most popular films

Asha Bajaj
8 min readSep 25, 2020

Toronto, Sep 24: The worldwide health hazards and deaths caused due to COVID-19 pandemic had forced the 45th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2020 to cull the number of TIFF titles from over 330 in 2019 to roughly 50 this year.

TIFF Bell Lightbox. Image credit: Video grab

Out of the 50 films premiered at the TIFF 2020, which took place in Toronto, Canada, Canadian-Media’s editor, and director, Asha Bajaj selects 10 films for short reviews.


Directed, edited, produced, and screen played by Chloé Zhao, ‘Nomadland’, winner of TIFF 2020 People’s Choice Award is an adapted version of Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book and celebrates humanity and community as she portrays the intimate life of widowed Fern (Frances McDormand) as a modern-day nomad.

Image: Nomadland. Image credit: TIFF

The third feature film from Chloé Zhao, Nomadland features real nomads Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West.

Fern’s strong character, evident by an early image of the only vehicle, driven by Fern on a road surrounded by vast, empty space portrays not only her loneliness and isolation but also her individualism and resilience.

Chloe seeks out characters living in the margins of society, such as Fern to portray to the audience why these seeming outcasts define America, and movies, more than the big-screen protagonists.


​Directed and screen-played by England-based Francis Lee’s Gala Presentation, ‘Ammonite,’ starring Kate Winslet, recipient of the TIFF 2020 Tribute Actor Award, and Saoirse Ronan is a love story between a solitary British paleontologist Mary Anning, played by Winslet, and a wealthy, grieving wife Charlotte Murchison, played by Ronan in the 19th century Dorset.

Image: Ammonite. Image credit: TIFF

Unaccepted by any scientific society, which considered in the early 19th century that being a paleontologist is not a woman’s work, Mary was left alone to work by herself.

When she finds herself entrusted with the care of a grieving woman Ronan, the two women forge a bond and their relationship turns physical with incredible chemistry both emotionally and physically.

Lee by his unique talent was able to surface the same-sex romantic intimate relationship in a setting without hiding, and not having to avoid society.

David Byrne’s American Utopia

HBO, Spike Lee-directed filmed version of the Broadway-acclaimed David Byrne’s American Utopia documents the brilliant theatrical concert American Utopia, which had lit up Broadway last year based on his recent album and tour of the same name.

Image: American Utopia. Image credit: Twitter handle of TIFF

Leader of Talking Heads through the 1970s and Eighties, Byrne followed his own universal path as a solo artist since then with his mission to try to help people find happiness, tactfully transforms the social and political issues raised in the show in the revelation of how audiences can come together during challenging times through the power of entertainment.

I Am Greta

Directed and filmed by Nathan Grossman documentary film, ‘I Am Greta’ offers a unique view of Greta’s personal journey by filming her since she was 15-year-old and was sitting alone outside of Sweden’s parliament with a protest sign: “School Strike for Climate” all the way through to her two-week sea voyage across the Atlantic to attend the United Nations Climate Summit in Sept. 2019.

I Am Greta. Image credit: TIFF

By revealing the effect of trying moments of Greta’s depression for several years after watching a film about climate change at school, and with his best efforts to respect and protect the mental health of Greta, who suffers from autism, Grossman successfully crafts Greta as stronger and more heroic than before, in a film that covers only the first stage of the ongoing story.

A Suitable Boy

Directed by Mira Nair, based on Vikram Seth’s six-part drama series adaptation, ‘A Suitable Boy’, presents an adaptation of a young Indian woman Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala)’s struggles to balance her family duties with personal independence in post-partition India of the 1950s.

Image: A Suitable Boy. Image credit: TIFF

Through the character of 19-year-old, Lata being forced by her parents to marry against her will, abandoning her love for a Muslim boy, Mira shows that family, society, and duty play a much bigger role in one’s decisions than personal choice.

Lata’s search of her identity reflects the country’s effort to step into its own identity, making A Suitable Boy not just the story of one woman’s choice but an entire country’s future and features an entirely South Asian cast.

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America

Directed and screen-played by ​Michelle Latimer and adapted from Thomas King’s award-winning book and his 2012 study, ‘The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America’ explores the colonial narratives of North America exposing falsehoods of white supremacy to reveal what has been extracted from the land, culture, and people of Turtle Island.

King uses his storytelling talent in weaving narratives and truths into a work that feels like a very personalized and honest long-form essay.

The Inconvenient Indian. Image credit: Facebook page

Through captivating assembling of techniques, including a voiceover by King, movie and archival footage, interviews, dance, visual arts, and traditional customs of plantation, tattooing, and hunting, Latimer brings to the fore Native Americans’ history of early colonization, traditions, language, and religion that had been suppressed by state institutions, which obstructs current generations’ pursuit of their history.

Apart from rejuvenating the cultural memory and awareness of North America’s native people, the film also takes direct aim at North America’s damaging and harmful notions of history and truth.

180° Rule

Directed and screen-played by Farnoosh Samadi, and filmed in Iran, ‘180° Rule’, is a family drama providing a glimpse into the customary Iranian family structure with universal notions of remorse and penance.

180°Rule. Image credit: TIFF

When a school teacher from Tehran, Sara (Sahar Dolatshahi)’s plans to attend a wedding in Iran with her family are jeopardized she proceeds with her daughter on her own defying her husband Hamed’s authority, and leaves home with her daughter. But an unforeseeable event changes the family’s fortune and leaves the pair in grave conflict and threatens every minute of Sara’s future.

With the late realization that stealth and calculated choices are no longer possible, Sara finds herself on a painful path to atonement.

​Focusing her lens on the plight of Sara, Samadi makes the audience aware of the trials of being born a woman in a country where desire and rituals are often poles apart. But being unwilling to stop playing by society’s rules, Samadi portrays Sara as a completely believable character that represents the reality of millions of women and speaks for countless women whose only language is silence.

Night of the Kings

Written and directed by Côte d’Ivoire-based West African filmmaker, Philippe Lacôte’s film ‘Night of the Kings,’ presents a young man (Koné Bakary)’s incarceration in a prison in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s largest prison, La MACA, led by the legendry Blackbeard and finds himself entering a world complex world of danger.

Image: Night of the Kings. Image credit: TIFF

When on the night of a red moon, Bakary designated by Blackbeard as “Roman”, is forced to recount a story of his choosing or invention until sunrise if he wants to stay alive, Roman tells a story about Zama King, a notorious gang leader whose life spanned from ancient times to the fall of Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo.

Pitched against the realism of the scenes inside the prison, Roman’s story filled with intrigue and magic introduces an element of fantasy in the film. The incorporation of song and dance (and a cameo by icon Denis Lavant), incorporate mesmerizing choreography that helps tell Zama King’s story as well as renders a meditating feature on the art of storytelling.

76 Days

Directed by U.S.-based Chinese-American screenwriter-editor, Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and Anonymous, the Chinese documentary film 76 Day capture the struggles of patients and frontline medical professionals battling the COVID-19 pandemic inside Wuhan’s hospitals at the onset of the pandemic, where 11 million people went into a lockdown that lasted 76 days.

76 Days. Image credit: TIFF

In the opening sequences, the spectators feel like they are watching science-fiction or zombie horror, as hospital workers covered in PPE race from one patient to another. But this a reality of 2020. Wu portrays perseverance and humor when medical workers use magic markers to decorate their plastic outfits.

With no time to talking-head interviews or long-view commentary, 76 Days is a work of true direct cinema capturing the moving camaraderie of the medical, the gratitude of their patients, is the collective acknowledgment of loss.

Pieces of a Woman

Directed by Kornél Mundruczó, ‘Pieces of Woman,’ is a moving story of a couple, Martha (Kirby), an executive, and Shawn (LaBeouf), a construction worker, experiencing the deepest loss of their first-born daughter due to complications with a midwife (Molly Parker) during their planned home birth.

Pieces of a Woman. Image credit: Internet wallpaper

Martha and Shawn have taken Molly to court and the presence of the media is all over the story questioning the entire practice of home birth. But instead of focusing on the trial, Hungarian director Mundruczó directs the attention of the audience on the grief-stricken couple, especially Martha, who has not only to rebuild her relationship with Shawn but her very identity is at stake

As Martha attempts to cope up with the loss, a clashing environment from her community makes her realize that to survive, she would have to forge her own path.

​Mundruczó does not try to hold back the affecting audiences as they watch the story two young grief-stricken parents so that the viewers are on the same pace with everything Martha and Sean are going through.



Asha Bajaj

I write on national and international Health, Politics, Business, Education, Environment, Biodiversity, Science, First Nations, Humanitarian, gender, women