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Germany Sends Strong Lineup to Global Fests

Many new works from established filmmakers hit the circuit

A strong showcase of German cinema was on offer at the Toronto Film Festival with a slew of films tackling such timely issues as sexual violence, the plight of refugees, the end of the Soviet Union and Germany’s recent turbulent history.

This year’s selections included works from such prominent names as Werner Herzog, Margarethe von Trotta, Christian Petzold, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and Sven Taddicken.

In Herzog and André Singer’s doc “Meeting Gorbachev,” the prolific filmmakers offer a portrait of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, and his lasting impact on world politics.

In “Searching for Ingmar Bergman,” which also unspools in the TIFF Docs sidebar, von Trotta explores the Swedish director’s cinematic legacy.

Von Donnersmarck, who won the foreign-language film Oscar for 2006’s “The Lives of Others,” revisits East Germany in “Never Look Away,” which follows the life of an artist struggling to reconcile his personal aspirations with his country’s politics. The film screened in Special Presentations.

The topic of refugees is explored in two very different works. Wolfgang Fischer’s Contemporary World Cinema title “Styx” tells the story of a woman whose solo sailing trip is cut short when she comes across a boat in distress. Petzold’s “Transit,” which unspools in Masters, is a modern-day adaptation of Anna Seghers’ 1942-set novel about refugees in Nazi-occupied France trying to secure visas to sail overseas. Petzold has described the work as “a comment of the here and now about the past.”

Ulrich Koehler’s Wavelengths screener “In My Room,” meanwhile, follows a man who wakes up one morning to find that everyone has disappeared. In Taddicken’s “The Most Beautiful Couple,” which celebrated its world premiere in Contemporary World Cinema, a wife and husband struggle with the lingering trauma of sexual assault as she tries to heal and recover while he fights the urge for revenge.

The director describes the premise of the film, as “a worst-case-scenario for a loving couple. It was like a nightmare that was haunting my thoughts from time to time. … I asked myself: Are two victims of a terrible assault able to trust and love each other again?” The story focuses more on the relationship of the two victims than on the crime itself while dealing with the destructive impact of “toxic masculinity,” Taddicken adds.

The film stars Maximilian Brückner and Luise Heyer, who, Taddicken says, were very involved in the development of their characters. “I love actors who are willing to relate to their characters so much that they can even surprise me with the truth about my script.”

Germany’s active involvement in international co-productions is again on display in Toronto with a broad range of works from around the globe.

Unspooling in the Masters section were Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas’ relationship drama “Our Time,” about a couple whose open relationship begins to crumble when the husband can’t control his jealousy, and Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “The Wild Pear Tree,” about a young author forced to deal with family problems as he pursues his literary ambitions in a small village.

French filmmaker Claire Denis presented “High Life,” a sci-fi drama starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche about a group of criminals sent into deep space, in Gala Presentations.

Argentinean director Benjamin Naishtat’s 1970s-set drama “Rojo” and “The Innocent,” from Swiss helmer Simon Jaquemet, both screened in the Platform sidebar.

Contemporary World Cinema offered South African filmmaker Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s drama “Sew the Winter to My Skin”; Sergei Loznitsa’s “Donbass”; Romanian director Radu Jude’s “I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians”; Baldvin Zophoníasson’s Icelandic title “Let Me Fall”; and Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti’s Turkish-language “Sibel.”

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