15 movies for book lovers to see at TIFF 2023

It’s that time of year again —  the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is back with the best in Canadian and international cinema. This year’s festival runs from Sept. 7-17, 2023.

CBC Books combed through the program for notable bookish titles, so you don’t have to! If you love books and movies, this is the list for you!

Ru  

Based on: Kim Thúy’s 2009 novel Ru

Inspired by the story of Vietnamese Canadian author Kim Thúy, Ru follows the arduous journey of a wealthy family fleeing Vietnam in 1975 after the fall of Saigon, then spending time at a refugee camp in Malaysia before landing in Quebec. Canadian director Charles-Olivier Michaud tracks the events through the eyes of the family’s shy young daughter as she tries to make sense of her new French-speaking life and find the determination needed to adapt to her new reality. 

In 2015, Ru, championed by TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey, was the winning novel on Canada Reads. It also won the Governor General’s Literary Award for French-language fiction in 2010, and the Prix du Grand Public Salon du livre de Montréal.

LISTEN | Ru is now a film: 

Quebec AM14:07The novel Ru adapted into a French-language film

What’s it like for a writer to have her novel, that mirrors her life, adapted into a movie? We ask Kim Thuy, the author of the award-winning RU, that tells the story of a refugee coming to Quebec from Vietnam in the 1970’s.

Orlando, My Political Biography

Based on: Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando: A Biography

For almost a century, Virginia Woolf’s beloved eponymous character has inspired readers with their gender fluidity over the course of a 300-year lifetime. Taking Woolf’s novel as its starting point, Spanish-born writer and philosopher Paul B. Preciado presents his debut film, a documentary of sorts for which he cast 26 trans and non-binary actors of different generations to inhabit the role of Orlando — weaving their own stories of identity and transition into Woolf’s narrative. It took home four prizes at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival earlier this year.

Wildcat

Woman in long coat and short curly black hair stands on a dirt path beside her mailbox reading a letter.
Wildcat is a film by Ethan Hawke inspired by the life of writer Flannery O’Connor. (Submitted by TIFF)

Based on: The life and art of Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925 to an Irish Catholic family. She is best known for darkly funny stories featuring offbeat characters. Diagnosed with lupus in her mid-20s, her illness was often reflected in her writing, which explored themes of isolation, faith and mortality. There have been many adaptations of O’Connor’s work — but now her own life is being brought to the screen in a film by Ethan Hawke, starring his daughter Maya Hawke (Stranger Things) alongside Laura Linney. It focuses on a key period in O’Connor’s life, imagining the young writer as she commits to her unique and deeply personal fiction at the cost of her own comfort and contentment.

Woodland 

White woman with red hair in blue jacket and beanie stands in a dark forest. Only she is illuminated.
Woodland is a film based on the novel Wald by Doris Knecht. (Submitted by TIFF)

Based on: Doris Knecht’s 2015 novel Wald

Austrian writer-director Elisabeth Scharang draws inspiration from Austrian writer Doris Knecht’s novel Wald, as well as her own traumatic experience of witnessing the Nov. 2, 2020 mass shooting in Vienna — in which four people died and 23 were injured. Marian has a seemingly perfect life until she witnesses a deadly terrorist attack and flees to a country home where she lived as a child. Her return opens old wounds for two friends who still live in the village. Scharang’s film asks: when everything collapses, how do we grieve the past while learning to live in the present and looking toward the future?

All the Light We Cannot See

Based on: Anthony Doerr’s 2014 novel All the Light We Cannot See 

British showrunner Steven Knight and Canadian director Shawn Levy bring Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to the screen in this riveting miniseries, with an ensemble cast including Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie. Set in France during the Second World War, the story centres on a blind girl in hiding who spends her time broadcasting radio stories, and a Nazi soldier who becomes enamoured with them. Meanwhile a villainous gemologist believes the girl is hiding a valuable diamond. TIFF programmer Geoff MacNaughton has described the series as “one of the best onscreen adaptations in recent memory.” 

The Zone of Interest

A group of people sit on a field by a large body of eater with tree-filled mountains in the distance.
The Zone of Interest is an adaptation of the novel by Martin Amis. (Submitted by TIFF)

Based on: Martin Amis’s 2014 novel The Zone of Interest

British author Martin Amis, who died on May 19, 2023, was known for provoking readers and courting controversy with his work and his 2014 novel The Zone of Interest was no exception. Set in the Auschwitz death camp, the story revolves around a love triangle between a high-ranking Nazi official and the camp commandant’s wife. In this adaptation, British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer focuses on the domestic life of commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife, whose family home is nestled between the train tracks and gas chambers. Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, the film weds banal and overt acts of evil with unforgettable reminders of resistance.        

LISTEN | Martin Amis discusses The Zone of Interest on Writers & Company:

Writers and Company1:02:24“The Zone of Interest” with author Martin Amis

British novelist Martin Amis has been extremely controversial in his lifetime, and has been described as a master of “the new unpleasantness.” His most recent novel is called “The Zone of Interest.”

American Fiction

Actor Jeffrey Wright wearing a white-collared shirt stands in front of a beach house with a wrap-around porch and an American flag.
American Fiction is an adaptation of the novel Erasure by Percival Everett. (Submitted by TIFF)

Based on: Percival Everett’s 2001 novel Erasure

Jeffrey Wright (Westworld, The Batman) stars in this adaptation of Percival Everett’s Erasure — a wicked satire about the commodification of marginalized voices in the publishing industry. A frustrated writer struggling to attract publishers for his latest work pens a pseudonymous novel embodying every Black cliché he can imagine. When it becomes a hit, he must reckon with a monster of his own making. Known for his Emmy Award-winning television work, Cord Jefferson’s directorial debut has been described as “a wildly entertaining send-up of our hunger for authenticity,” and a timely reflection on the fictions we tell ourselves — about race, progress and community.

LISTEN | Percival Everett talks about The Trees with Eleanor Wachtel:

Writers and Company1:00:29Percival Everett’s The Trees imagines a world where the horrors of lynching are avenged

In 1955, the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi brought nationwide attention to racial violence and injustice. The perpetrators were never punished. But in Percival Everett’s powerful new novel, The Trees, that history comes back to haunt Money’s white townsfolk, in a wave of retribution for the brutal legacy of lynching in the American South.

Expats

Lulu Wang in a yellow top directs two actresses sitting at a table in a restaurant.
Expats is an miniseries based on the novel The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee. (Submitted by TIFF)

Based on: Janice Y.K. Lee’s 2016 novel The Expatriates

Starring Nicole Kidman and Brian Tee, Chinese American director Lulu Wang’s six-part series Expats portrays a close-knit community that’s fractured after a sudden family tragedy, set against the vibrant and tumultuous tapestry of 2014 Hong Kong. Recounting the tragic event from multiple perspectives, each episode jumps back and forth in time, allowing the audience to dive in at any point. TIFF is showcasing the feature-length penultimate episode, “Central,” which focuses on the lives of two Filipina domestic workers who support this expat community as a massive typhoon descends upon Hong Kong and a political movement reaches a point of no return.

A Normal Family

A young Korean woman in a white shirt holds her young baby.
A Normal Family is a Korean adaptation of the novel The Dinner by Herman Koch. (Submitted by TIFF)

Based on: Herman Koch’s 2009 novel The Dinner 

Herman Koch’s international hit novel The Dinner has sold more than a million copies, been published in 50 countries, and was adapted for the screen once before. In this new interpretation from Korean filmmaker Hur Jin-ho, tragedy strikes when two brothers with opposing beliefs accidentally discover a dreadful secret. Exploring the dichotomies between right and wrong, remorse and forgiveness and what is said and not said, A Normal Family is a drama about privilege, nepotism and moral decline, exploring the darker side of normalcy.   

Pain Hustlers

Based on: Evan Hughes’s 2022 book The Hard Sell: Crime and Punishment at an Opioid Startup

While the oxycontin story has been the basis for two hit television series, the fentanyl story and the company at its centre is the inspiration for British director David Yates’s new film, Pain Hustlers, adapted from Evan Hughes’s gripping 2022 book, The Hard Sell. Emily Blunt and Chris Evans star as pharmaceutical drug reps who unwittingly help kickstart the opioid epidemic in the pursuit of financial success. Featuring Catherine O’Hara in a supporting role, the film lures you into the glamour and excitement of success, in another sinister real-life story of drugs, greed and pain.

Stamped From the Beginning

A black and white movie still of a young Black woman with fog behind her and images of soldiers, graves and a burning cross.
Stamped From the Beginning is a film inspired by the book by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. (Submitted by TIFF)

Based on: Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s 2016 book Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

In his book Stamped From the Beginning, American author, professor and historian Dr. Ibram X. Kendi explores the history of anti-Black racist ideas and their impact on the United States. Now, Oscar-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams explores these themes with an array of powerful film techniques, including animation, music and visual sampling. Featuring the stories of historical figures — including poet Phyllis Wheatley, memoirist Harriet Jacobs and journalist Ida B. Wells — as well as commentary from Kendi and political activist Angela Davis, Stamped From the Beginning makes the past come alive in a way that helps us grapple with present-day racism. 

I Do Not Come To You By Chance

Two Black men stand facing each other. One is wearing a red hat, white-beaded necklace and a black and gold robe. The younger Black man is wearing a salmon collared shirt.
I Do Not Come To You By Chance is an adaptation of the novel by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. (Submitted by TIFF)

Based on: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s 2009 novel I Do Not Come to You by Chance

Nigerian writer-director Ishaya Bako returns to TIFF with his comedic adaptation of Nigerian writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s 2009 novel about a university graduate who gets involved in his uncle’s business: a fraudulent and lucrative email scam. Kingsley has worked hard for a different life, but faced with his father’s medical bills and unable to find work, he’s forced to turn to his rich uncle and what seems like the only path forward. Setting up a choice between ideal values and real-world options, I Do Not Come To You By Chance is a fresh dramatic comedy about the true price of poverty and the disappearing line between right and wrong.

Origin

Based on: The life and work of Isabel Wilkerson

Directed by Academy Award-nominated Ava DuVernay, Origin is an adaptation of acclaimed American journalist Isabel Wilkerson’s life leading up to the publication of her 2020 nonfiction book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. When asked to write about the death of Trayvon Martin, Wilkerson (played by Aunjanue Ellis) was emboldened to begin a research project about the frameworks and origins of racial injustice across the globe. In this cinematic version, DuVernay chronicles the personal struggles and journey Wilkerson confronted in the writing of this project.

The Critic

Film still Ian McKellen in a brown suit and tie with a black wide-brimmed top hat.
The Critic is an adaptation of Anthony Quinn’s novel Curtain Call. (Submitted by TIFF)

Based on: Anthony Quinn’s 2015 novel Curtain Call 

Gemma Arterton (Funny Woman, Prince of Persia) and Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings) star as adversaries forced to take desperate measures to save their careers in the latest film from London-based director Anand Tucker — a scintillating tale of ambition and deceit in the theatre world. Set in pre-war England in 1936, The Critic brims with intrigue as each of its central characters struggles within a web of blackmail and fraught desire to hang on to what they hold dear.

Music

Four young people sit in the front and back seats of a black car, all looking out the back window.
Music is a film inspired by Greek myth. (Submitted by TIFF)

Based on: the myth of Oedipus

German auteur Angela Schanelec’s latest film is described by TIFF programmer Andréa Picard as “sonorous and resonant,” an oblique take on the myth of Oedipus that progresses elliptically across years as it moves from the Greek Peloponnese to post-modern Berlin. Following the story of Jon, abandoned as a baby and adopted by a local family, then imprisoned as a young adult where he falls in love with one of his guards, Music is a moving portrait of existence in the face of sorrow — a reflection on the nature of fate, the ineffable realms of grief and our human capacity for persistence.