Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Film Festival’

Driving Madeleine (2022)

Dir/Wri; Christian Carion | Cast | Dany Boon, Line Renaud, Julie Delarme | French, Drama

Lacking the emotional punch of the Bruce Beresford’s 1989 hit Driving Miss Daisy this romanticised French version sees an elderly woman reflect on her checkered life to a down-on-his-luck taxi driver.

On the face of it, life has dealt Madeleine (Renaud) and Charles (Boon) a pretty bad hand. But the difference is their perception of things, according to the spry but cantankerous 92-year old. Time and the wisdom of age has softened Madeleine’s outlook lending a philosophical spin on her twilight years in a care home. Dany Boon’s Charles, on the other hand, is still in his prime but with money worries putting a strain on his marriage to Carine (Julie Delarme).

After an upbeat sortie in down-town Paris the film goes for darker territory without really creating a relatable backstory for Madeleine’s turbulent relationship with ex-husband Ray (Laheurte). Christin Carion and his writer Cyril Rely plunge us headlong into vivid flashbacks of her troubled postwar love life opting for sensationalism in graphic scenes of sexual and emotional abuse that fail to generate our sympathy. We feel nothing for these two or their little boy Mathieu (Hardriel Roure) despite the grim picture of a marriage that goes from bad to worse, with Ray ending up in prison and ruining Madeleine’s life. And now sixty years later all she has to look forward to is a grim nursing home. 

A rousing almost epic score accompanies the melodramatic revelations as Carion attempts to imbue the film with a dramatic weight that should really have come from the writing rather than the musical prompts, and this leaves the audience disaffected despite Renaud and Boon’s best efforts to move us.

Hearing Madeleine pour out her woes has a therapeutic affect on the gruff but soft-hearted Charles who realises he hasn’t done so badly so far compared to his long-suffering ‘fare’. Suitably chastened by listening to Madeleine’s problems he makes a furtive phone call to his wife to try and patch up their differences. Ray then offers Madeleine lunch which leads to a taxi trip round Paris and this joyride is the only highlight in a rather glib affair with its predictable crowd-pleasing ending. MT . 



Riceboy Sleeps (2022)

Dir.: Anthony Shim; Cast: Choi Seung-yoon, Ethan Hwang, Anthony Shim, Dohyun Noel Hwang, Hunter Dillon, Kang in-Sung, Han Wok Shik; Canada 2022, 117 min.

Riceboy Sleeps is an intimate and deeply affecting look at loss and the nature of identity from Canadian writer/director/editor Anthony Shim who also stars in his sophomore feature. Set in the 1990s in Canada and Korea, the melancholy film reflects Shim’s own experiences as a small boy emigrating from South Korea to Canada.

Young Korean widow So Young (an impressive Choi Seung-yoon) has left her home in Korea for a modest factory job after her husband committed suicide in a psychiatric ward. But her six-year-old son Dong-Hyun (Dohyun Noel Hwang) cannot settle down in his new home and the Canadian primary school where he is teased and bullied by the other children who steal his Korean packed lunch. And although their Canadian food is far less healthy-looking, Dong-Huyn wants it just to be like the others. So Young encourages her son to be strong and fight back when attacked, but the result is a week-long detention for Dong-Hyun even although his assailants go unpunished. Dong-Hyun opts to change his name to Michael Jordan, but has to settle for David.

Nine years later, and 16-year old Dong-Hyun (now played by Ethan Hwang) has become a stroppy teenager hanging out with his friend Harry (Dillon) and experimenting – not very successfully – with drugs. Meanwhile his mother has become romantically involved with fellow Korean Simon (Shim) who proposes to her on the same day she is diagnosed with cancer. Simon wants her to try complimentary medicine, but So Young decides to take her son back to Korea to meet her family.

Avoiding sentimentality at all times Shim opts for a poetic approach to dealing with death. The clash between the two cultures is made obvious in often ironic terms, but this is not just another story of a suffering immigrant: Far from being a victim So Young is a pragmatic and proactive woman. In a sad reflection of today’s culture, Dong-Hyun’s integration comes about via drugs and violence resulting from the use of narcotics.

Riceboy Sleeps offers some spectacular widescreen landscapes of Gangwon-do, South Korea shot by DoP Christopher Lew whose agile camerawork also captures the domestic conflict in Canada with moving close-ups of mother and son. This is an emotional rollercoaster, a passionate epic on the vagaries of life with So Young as a modern day heroine, refusing to accept defeat. AS


Trenque Lauguen (2022) Part I

Dir: Laura Citarella | Cast: Laura Paredes, Ezequiel Pierri, Rafael Spregelburd, Elisa Carricajo, Veronica Llinas, Juliana Muras, Argentina, Drama | 2 x 120′

Taking its name from a sparsely populated town in a region to the West of Buenos Aires Laura Citarella’s compelling feature debut often feels like an Argentine version of Twin Peaks, unfolding in two parts, each two hours long.

The mystery is there and the smalltime isolation – in this remote landlocked province larger than Austria – is palpable, and time-wise it feels like a throw-back to the 1950s although the story unfolds in the present day. Trenque Lauquen is all about the road less travelled, and, like the layers of an onion or a Russian doll, that sense of enigma edges the narrative forward; although some may find the pace slower than watching paint dry.  Subtle but powerhouse performances save the day, Laura, Ezekiel and Raphael feel like real people we might even have met; we certainly get to know them inside out in this small-town backwater. A particular standout is Cecilia Rainero as Normita, but Laura Paredes is also notable in the lead.

The film opens as two men are discussing a woman. Ezequiel (Pierri) is her colleague, Raphael (Spregelburd) her boyfriend. Laura (Paredes, who also co-wrote the script) is a radio presenter and botanist. She has vanished, apparently without trace, after discovering a cache of hidden love letters.

The men want to find Laura for their own different reasons, and this provides them with their own search for the truth. Although Raphael calls himself her boyfriend, as the story unfolds Ezequiel will get far closer to Laura when she reappears. She is on an entirely different journey her male friends. And as they all embark of this existential odyssey, a sense of betrayal of his friend Raphael haunts Ezeguiel’s every expression. Meanwhile the meandering story takes us deeper and deeper into the mystery that haunts and obsesses Laura: the covert love story between a gaucho and an educated woman in an exploration probing the complexity of the female condition.

Divided into a series of chapters this soulful South American drama provides an immersive often surreal tale if we surrender to its lyrical   languor in the sultry landscapes of the Argentine Pampas. @MeredithTaylor



Victim | Obet (2022) Toronto Film Festival 2022

Dir. Michal Blasko; Cast: Elizaveta Maximova, Vita Smachelyuk, Gleb Kuchuk, Igor Chmela, Victor Zavadil, Inna Zhulina, Alena Mihulova, Veronica Weinhold; Slovakia/Czech Republic/Germany 2022, 92 min.

This feature debut for Slovakian director Michal Blasko is a tightly-wound political thriller asking the question: How far would you go for a better life? Written by Jakub Medvecky, it takes place in a Czech border town where Roma are used as scapegoats for Neo-Nazis.

Ukranian hairstylist Irina (Smachelyuk) dreams of a better life in the Czech Republic where she wants to open a hairdressing salon. On re-applying for citizenship – having failed on a technicality – she finds out her teenage son Igor (Kuchuk), a talented gymnast, has been ‘purportedly’ set upon by three “non-white” assailants in their building, and has been hospitalised after losing a kidney in the attack.

Inspector Novotny (Chmela) orders the arrest of the eldest son of a Roma family living in the same building as Irina and Igor. The media gets hold of the story, and agitator Michal Selsky (Zavadil) organises “A March for Igor”, and the mayor tries to score  political points with the incident. Meanwhile, Igor admits to his mother that he fell over while trying to impress girl friend Lenka, and no assault actually took place.

The focus is firmly on Irina who becomes an overnight celebrity, winning a reward of  around £2000 sterling, and taking out a lease on a Hairdressing salon. Life is sweet. And the Czech Republic is now her oyster. But the lie plays on Irina’s conscience and she sinks deeper and deeper into a moral morass when Igor insists on sticking to the racist lie.

DoP Adam Mach uses handheld cameras tracking the action as Irina desperately looks for a way out of her dilemma. But being to be a good citizen and a supportive mother has its conflicts. Selsky is a mini-monster who, even when wrong-footed by Irina, still keeps the racism pot on the boil. Although schematic at times, Victim is a thorny morality play with no easy answers. AS


The Whale (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Darren Aronofsky, Cast: Brendan Fraser, Hong Chan, Ty Simkins, Samantha Morton, Sadie Sink; USA 2022, 117 min.

The Whale never breaks free from its claustrophobic stage origins, adapted for the screen by Samual D Hunter and based on his 2012 play. In contrast to his usual fare Darren Aronofsky’s direction is restrained, by his own admission, in a feature that deals with the ‘elephant in the room’ of the 21st century: Obesity. Brendan Fraser beefs up for a gargantuan performance as the fated fatty Charlie, traumatised by his partner’s suicide and wallowing towards an early grave in a dour Idaho backwater where he teaches creative writing via Zoom.

Charlie has no desire to be hospitalised and his ample finances provide for nurse Liz (Chau) to look after him, his estranged wife Mary (Morton) and daughter Ellie (Sink) putting in appearances for obvious reasons. Christian cult member Elder Thomas (Simkins) brings a twist to the plot, completing the quarter of depressive truth-seekers.


Winter Boy – Le Lyceen (2022) Toronto Film Festival 2022

Dir/wri: Christophe Honore | Cast: Juliette Binoche, Christophe Honore, Xavier Giannoli, Vincent Lacoste, Paul Kircher | France, Drama 122′

Juliette Binoche stars alongside Christophe Honore, who writes, directs and appears briefly in this tender stream of consciousness confessional that explores their teenage son’s tentative sexual awakening in a wintery Chambery on the foothills of Mont Blanc.

Told from the perspective of Lucas (Kircher) a breezy, upbeat opening scene sees father (Honore) and son motoring along a country road only to find themselves careening into the middle of a field, narrowly involved in a collision with another vehicle. And this near accident sets the febrile tone for the tragedy that will follow as the whole family implodes into anguish in facing a very different future to the one they all had in mind.

Always wearing its heart on its stylish sleeve in a beautifully nuanced way Honore’s emotionally honest film is at times difficult to watch as the heartbroken Lucas suffers an extreme reaction to his loss. But this also seems to crystallise his decision to start a sexual relationship with his friend Oscar, and a night of passionate lovemaking follows before Lucas leaves for a week in Paris with his artist brother Quentin (Lacoste), who shares a swanky flat with Lilio.

Paris is a new and radical world for the provincial teenager and Lucas is caught up in the excitement of discovery, but is also very much in awe of his brother who is busy preparing for his first exhibition. Using the city as a playground to flex his muscles in newfound sexual freedom, Lucas is also surprised to discover his puppyish unbridled appeal is much in demand with older and more sophisticated men. And this naivety does not always go down well with Lilio and certainly not with Quentin who sends him packing back to his mother after he oversteps the mark, complaining Lucas’ unbridled behaviour is disrespectful at a time of family grief. Everything comes together in a graceful denouement that sees Isabelle and her family finally seeing a light at the end of their tunnel of grief. MT


Valeria is Getting Married (2022)

Dir: Michal Vinik | 78′

Michal Vinik’s gripping and artfully filmed sophomore feature sees two Ukrainian sisters trying to make the best of things in Israel. It reflects a reality for many women who have been conditioned to suppress their real desires in order to meet traditional societal values when their own security is threatened. But they soon discover that Israeli men are tough but fair in a situation that is far more complex than it initially appears.

Valeria (Dasha Tvoronovich) is met at the airport by her sister Christina (Lena Fraifeld) where a marriage has already been arranged, but life in Bat Yam seems super stressful even by comparison with the turmoil she has left behind.

Christina (Fraifeld) is newly married to an attractive Israeli man Michael (Yacov Zada Daniel) but already the pressure to get everything right is felt through a series of panicky telephone calls from Michael to his mother, Christina trying to smooth over her sister’s nervousness with broad smiles and reassurances.

After a treatment at the local beauty salon, Valeria (Dasha Tvoronovich) go back to the flat where she is introduced to her intended, a likeable but rather goofy vegetarian called Eitan (Avraham Shalom Levi). The guy is clearly strung out and starts blabbering about his nervousness and her need learn Hebrew at the Ulpan, presenting her with a brand new mobile phone loaded up with apps. You immediately get the impression that Valeria is less than keen about her future husband, and as the dinner proceeds the conversation is stilted and Eitan makes a series of social faux pas as a palpable tension descends on this cosy dinner for four.

It soon emerges that Christina and her husband are going to need to access state fertility treatment which can only start when she becomes a legal Israeli citizen. But clearly she is playing this down so as not to emasculate her husband. Valeria listens patiently and then asks her sister a simple question that speaks volumes: “Do you love him?”. Christina responds “it’s not like in the movies, but I have everything I need”. The couple live in a spacious modern flat in the seaside city just south of Tel Aviv.

Unfortunately Valeria behaves rather childishly refusing to come out of the bathroom to discuss her feelings like an adult with the others who are sympathetic and open to suggestions including having her own separate bedroom in Eitan’s place. After all he has paid 5,000 dollars to find a suitable bride. But it gradually descends into farce as they two sisters giggle behind the bathroom door, throwing the key out of the window. So they all go back to drawing room of this brilliantly acted and compulsive domestic drama that gradually descends into farce as the various plot strands coalesce to a satisfying conclusion. MT





Luxembourg, Luxembourg (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022 | Horizons

Dir.: Antonio Lukich; Cast: Amil Nasirov, Ramil Nasirov, Natalia Cnitii, Lyudmila Sachenko, Karina Chechevych; Ukraine 2022, 106 min.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was still a ‘future shock’ when Luxembourg, Luxembourg was chosen for this year’s Venice Film Festival Horizon sidebar.

The film’s director and writer Antonio Lukich – best known for the award-winning My Thoughts are Silent – was forced to abandon post-production work. But his team persevered, and what would have been just another Ukrainian film premiere abroad, now offers a salutary reminded: Ukraine is alive and flourishing in spite of Russian tanks.

Naturally Kolya and Vasili hate school much preferring to spend their time taking train rides in the small town of Lubny where their father, boss of a gang of small time hoodlums, is ‘King’ – he can even stop the moving vehicles when the brothers fail to jump off in time for classes.

But reality bites, and twenty years later, Vasili (A. Nasirow), now married with one child, has joined the police force, and Kolya (R. Nasirov) is a bus driver for the local council. Vasili has never forgiven their father for abandoning the family but Kolya is still living with his mother and stepfather and grown fond of his biological father, believing that he truly loves his mother: “He followed her to Lubny, I mean, not Paris or Prague”.

When hot-tempered Kolya attacks an old man after a traffic accident, he loses a lucrative bus route and has to redeem himself driving a much less profitable one. Meanwhile, Vasili is at war with his much wealthier Masha (Cherchevych). So when Kolya messes up again, injuring an old woman in the automatic doors, Vasili’s promotion is put on hold. In a hilarious scene, the brothers’ families get together for “Forgiveness Sunday”, which turns out to be anything but.

Kolya is forced to look after the old women he injured, and even buys a goat to keep her happy. Then the Ukrainian consulate (in Luxembourg) calls to let the brothers know their dad is dying. Kolya dusts down his passport, but Vasili is not keen on the idea of going all that way. Eventually, they set off together on a mission which ends in tears in a surprising turn of events that changes off-kilter comedy into something more tragic.

Kolya is very much a victim of arrested development but he is still more likeable than his opportunistic brother in this small-time backwater brought to life by Misha Lubarsky’s striking camerawork. There’s nothing to do but hang around, and idle hands are the devil’s workshop – as the old saying goes – in this town where the nouveau riche are almost worse than the poor when it comes to bad behaviour in a society gradually spinning out of control. Sadly, war has united these hapless countryman, but certainly not for reasons they’d hoped for, or expected. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | Horizons strand 2022

Autobiography (2022) Venice Film Festival | Horizons

Dir.: Makbul Mubarak; Cast: Kevin Ardilova, Arswendy Benning Swara, Yusuf Mahardika; Indonesia/France/Poland/Singapore/Philippines /Jemen/Qatar 2022, 116 min.

Best known in the industry for his award-winning short films, Indonesian director writer Makbul Mubarak seals his reputation as a rising talent with a mature and cleverly-crafted feature, the steamy turmoil of its tropical backwater coming to life in Wojciech Staron’s nuanced dreamlike images.

Deep in the Indonesian jungle, sixteen-year old Rakip (Ardilova) is looking after the family villa after his father has gone to prison for taking a violent stand against the building of a hydraulic dam, forcing landowners to sell up for less than the market value of their property.

But Rakib’s days are far from idle, he soon finds himself working as a cook and general factotum for an elderly local dignitary General Bernama Purna (Swara), past his prime but still in control of his faculties, and standing as a candidate in the forthcoming local elections. In truth the two go back a long way, Purna’s family considering the boy as the son they never had. Rakip is under strict instructions from the general, not to tell his wife and three daughters that he is still smoking.

Purna’s election posters start to crop up all over the place, his associations with the dam-building company are undeniable, yet his rhetoric suggests otherwise, and when Purna visits Rakip’s father in prison, he voices his support for the local farmers. The relationship between the young, naive man and the power-hungry old lion seem mutually beneficial until Purna asks Rakip to bring a certain Agus (Mahardika) into the villa. Rakip and Agus are about the same age, but the dynamic between the three soon changes, and not in a good way.

The crux of the narrative is this power play between Purna and Rakip who starts off as the grateful assistant, proud to drive the general’s huge SUV around like a status symbol. But gradually something changes, Rakip discovering Purna not to be as independent as he first makes out. In a bar, the Chef of Police, installed by Purna a long time ago, makes clear to Purna where the power really lies. Shifting slowly, the relationship between old and young, past power and resistance, needs an outlet.

DoP Staron follows Rakip in long tracking shots, always showing him behind glass, windows or doors –  a prisoner in his father’s house. Even in the SUV we see him from the outside, trapped whereever he goes. The villa itself is a claustrophobic prison with its secrets from the past: a time when Rakip and his family were on equal terms with the general. Filming on the widescreen and in intimate close-ups, Staron uses eerie overhead panorama shots, showing a wild landscape of overgrown trees and undergrowth, remnants of former glory. There is a hint of the homo-erotic in the central relationship, Rakip never showing any interest in the opposite sex, and nature helping to re-dress the balance in a shift that will be as dramatic and  overwhelming as the whole of this unique feature premiering at the Horizons sidebar at this year’s Venice Film Festival AS


Holy Spider (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Ali Abassi | Cast: Zar Amir-Ebrahimi, Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Hedi Bejastani, Arash Ashtiani | Thriller 114′

Border was a surreal gender bender fantasy set in Sweden. This time around Ali Abassi returns to his native Iran blending true crime and salient social comment with a scuzzy serial killer thriller that unfolds in the Islamic pilgrimage town of Mashhad, where millions come to worship at the shrine of Imam Reza .

This is where middle-aged Saeed Hanaei (Bajestani), a dedicated family man and construction worker, murdered sex workers at the turn of this century before being trapped by a tenacious female journalist who nearly lost her own life in the process as she wades through the mire of a chauvinistic society fighting off advances from an incredulous policeman to convince an unscrupulous judge.

Holy Spider sets off in the sordid backstreets of the city (filmed in Amman) where it follows ex Iran-Iraq war veteran Saeed as he picks off his victims on a motorcycle, riding them back to a squalid basement where he strangles the women with their own hijabs, earning him the name of ‘Spider Killer’.

Tehran-based journalist Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), arrives in town determined to track Saeed down, and will stop at nothing, not least the misogyny of the police and local authorities, who undervalue women and particularly ‘loose’ women, to bring him to justice. And her ongoing investigation exposes the wider implications of these murders in a society that holds men and marriage in high regard. And Saeed truly believes he is doing a service to Islam in ridding his community of these ‘low life’ women who are seen as no more than vermin on the streets of the city.

Border was mesmerising in its zinging Nordic setting but Holy Spider is an exotic neon nightmare, Nadim Carlsen’s intimate close-ups gripping us by the throat in experiencing the strangulations for ourselves: the twisted purple lips, the bloodshot eyes, and bruised bodies, the sordid salaciousness of it all. A droning electronic soundscape from Lajos Wienkamp-Marques escalates the tension, feeding every fear engendered by the wickedness of this anti-female annihilation.

As Rahimi pursues the murderer she is beset on every side by negative forces aiming to discredit her in a narrative that persuades us that this task is a not just about exposing the truth but managing the lies and the wide-held belief amongst Saeed’s family and supporters that he is righteous in his crusade to wipe out junkies and prostitutes. And the suspense needles on until the final horrifying moments. MT




Plan 75 (2022)

Dir: Chie Hayakawa | Japan, drama 115′

In a world rapidly filling up with an ageing population, have the young any right to ask them to politely move on?

That’s the premise of this first feature from Japanese filmmaker Chie Hayakawa, whose old people look more in their nineties than their seventies but conceal a latent anger with the usual Japanese decorum as they share food in a clinical looking care home, forced smiles painted on their wrinkly faces.

The Plan 75 in question is a state initiative to offer a financial incentive to prompt mid-septuagenarians plus to shuffle off their mortal coil. And there’s a lot to be said about it. Why waste time financing your life while friends die around you, bodily functions start to fail and aches and pains only get worse. Particularly if family has ceased to become a concern. As the director points out: there’s always been an honour in death the Japanese way (Hari Kari anyone?).

A slow-burning and thought-provoking contemplation that proceeds with measured dignity. The veteran actress Chieko Baisho is Michi, a woman with no next of kin who opts for the plan, but then there’s a plot twist as two interweaving narrative strands come into play involving a Plan 75 salesman (Hayato Isomura) and a Filipino worker, contrasting the various pro cons. A well thought out and chewy debut to mull over but no great surprises on the mise en scene front. MT



Corsage (2022) Winner Best Film BFI LFF

Dir: Marie Kreutzer | Drama, Austria 115′

In her fifth feature Austrian auteuse Marie Kreutzer plays fast and loose with the memory of Empress Elisabeth of Austria in an entertaining and sumptuously realised film about the curse of beauty for a woman no longer in the flush of youth who still wants to be valued for her other talents.

Corsage blends tradition with contemporary touches, very much along the lines of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, and lightly underpinned here by political references to the newly created Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Elisabeth, a fantastically theatrical creature – according to records – is played by a gracefully spunky Vicki Krieps. In modern terms she only just reached her prime, but back in the 1870s being forty was deemed ‘over the hill’. Kreutzer points at a regal middle age crisis for a woman who has been worshipped for her beauty and now feels distinctly undervalued and redundant with only her charity work, dogs and horses to keep her entertained. During a winter sojourn in Northamptonshire – an inspired choice – she flirts with a stable boy but returns minus her favourite black steed who is  killed in an accident. Elisabeth takes to her bed, unconsolable.

In the dilapidated grandeur of the palace a rigid diet of finely sliced oranges and black tea keeps her in impeccable shape, further assisted by waist-nipping corsetry. But she is hungry for love and affection and regularly visits the local mental asylum to commiserate with the deranged women chained to their beds. And when her husband the Emperor Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister) offers ‘anything her heart desires’, she requests a bengal tiger or an extension to the asylum facilities. A stunningly realised drama with flashes of wit and modern music choices and another tour de force from the lovely Luxembourgeoise actor Vicki Krieps. MT





The Blue Caftan (2022)

Dir/Wri: Maryam Touzani | Cast: Saleh Bakri, Lubna Azabal, Ayoub Messioui | Drama 118′

The ancient craft of caftan styling is at the heart of Maryam Touzani’s sophomore feature, a slow-burning sensuous Magrebi menage a trois competing in the this year’s Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes Film Festival. 

Halim (Bakri) and Mina (Azabal) run a traditional caftan atelier in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas. Fashions are constantly changing and the married couple are aware of a need to cater for a more demanding clientele. But their decision to take on a new apprentice (Messioui) will have intriguing consequences for the business and their own relationship. Saleh Bakri and Lubna Azabal have a mesmerising chemistry as the couple at the centre of the story, but Messioui is also captivating in his feature debut performance as the gifted but impetuous young apprentice very much in tune with modern sensibilities.

The Blue Caftan is a drama as indulgent and intricately woven as the silky garments themselves. Touzani’s first feature Adam focused on love in a Casablanca bakery and this is another domestic tale of local craftsman that speaks to tradition while keeping pace with the modern world. Esentially a three-handed chamber piece the film occasionally ventures out into the sunbaked streets and hazy hammams of its coastal location, Touzani delicately teasing out her layered character study that will reveal a subtle love story that works both as a gay awakening piece and a testament to enduring marital love. And apart from the meticulous lensing the clever premise is why this sumptuous drama is so enjoyable, albeit a little over-wrought – like the old-fashioned caftans themselves – in the final heart-rending scenes. MT


Return to Seoul (2022) Un Certain Regard

Wri/Dir: Davy Chou | Drama, 115′

French Cambodian director Davy Chou has made a name for himself with his unique cinematic gaze on Cambodia and its people. His graceful prize-winning feature debut Golden Slumbers reminisced on Cambodian cinema from the 1960s to the mid 1970s.

But his latest, a drama with the apt title Return to Seoul is an obtuse look at cultural identity seen through the eyes of its main character, a twenty five year old French woman who returns to her native South Korea to track down her birth mother.

From the start you are not going to like Freddie (Ji-Min Park). Flouncing into a bar in downtown Seoul she flirts outrageously with a Korean guy who then makes romantic overtures, only to be told, point blank, that she already has boyfriend ‘back home’ in Paris. Arrogant and extremely pleased with herself, on the face of it, she then tells another lover who has selflessly accompanied her back to Seoul for one of her business meetings, later in the film, that “she could erase him from her life at any minute”.

Of course all this hides a deep emotional wound at her core: inflicted by a biological mother who first abandons her as a baby in a Seoul orphanage, and then declines to meet her when she painstakingly tracks her down via the Seoul orphanage where she was given up.

Told in a series of off-kilter episodes tracking her life from that first meeting in the bar, until her early thirties, the film is full of awkward characters that are neither appealing nor relatable, the exception being a French businessman (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) who turns from lover to employer, All the People is a brave but not always successful attempt to explore the complexities of forging ahead with meaningful personal and romantic relationships when your heart has been shattered at birth. MT


La Jauria | The Pack (2022) Semaine de la Critique

Dir/Wri: Andres Ramirez Pulido | Cast: Jhojan Estiven Jimenez, Maicol Andres Jimenez, Miguel Viera | Drama, Colombia France | 86′

Latin American directors continue to mine their turbulent history – past and present – in this thundering thriller that takes place deep in the Colombian tropical forest.

Premiering in Semaine de la Critique La Jauria is a confident debut from first time filmmaker Andres Ramirez Pulido who has fleshed out the ideas from his Palme d’Or nominated short film Damiana (2017) into a story crime story with a subtly redemptive twist.

Eliu (E.Jimenez) is serving time in an experimental hacienda-style young offenders institution for crimes he committed with his friend El Mono (M Jimenez), a recovering drug addict. The petty criminals are supervised by para-military forces under the control of Godoy (Rincon), an elderly ex-offender who practises obscure breathing exercises, believing the therapy will cure the men of the evil spirits possessing them.

The arrival of El Mono changes the dynamic in the camp and Eliu, who has always hated his father for physically abusing his mother, decides under the influence of drugs and alcohol, to murder him – only to learn later that he and El Mono have killed the wrong person. Worse still, they cannot find the place where they dumped the body in the caves. Meanwhile the police are growing tired of Godoy’s slow and avant-garde methods, and when another inmate Calate ((Vasquez), raises concerns about Godoy’s style of therapy, the punishment meted out to him spins out of control.

DoP Balthazar creates a haunting atmosphere of surreal horror which works particularly well in the night scenes. Working with a cast of mostly non-pros, Pulido ramps up the tension, his poetic realism worthy of the great Fernando Birri. The Pack is a great example of the signature cinematographic language of the South American continent, with the director overcoming the limits of his budget with vision and inspiration. AS




The Middle Man (2021) Toronto Film Festival 2021

Dir: Bent Hamer | Cast: Don McKellar, Kenneth Welsh, Nina Andresen, Nicolas Bro | Drama 95′

A middle man is a concept that many will be unfamiliar with but it provides the backbone to Ben Hamer’s dead-pan drama about small-town America, inspired by Lars Saabye Christensen’s novel Sluk. The strange thing about this absurd Hal Hartley style feature, directed by a Norwegian, is the cast of lowkey European and Canadian actors that only adds to its impassive charm.

Frank Farelli (Pål Sverre Hagen) is just the sort of person you might run into in this moribund backwater where days go by uneventfully for its small-minded inhabitants. Yet there’s a dark humour about a place that used to attract visitors by the score to a hotel that’s now been closed for many years, along with the local cinema.

The place in now run by a motley crew of po-faced citizens laughably called the “Commission”: a sheriff in the shape of Paul Gross’, a man of God (Nicolas Bro) and the local doctor (Don McKellar), supported by their able secretary (Tuva Novotny). They are the self-appointed Civic guardians who keep the civic wheels running smoothly despite a dwindling council budget. Strangely the taxpayers that still live here seem beset by a string of tragic events requiring the appointment of a ‘middleman’ – in this case Frank – to be the bearer of bad news, a job that requires him to take an oath of secrecy, seemingly ludicrous in a place where everyone is either related or ‘in the know.’

Mild-mannered to the point of obsequiousness, Frank ironically lost in father some time ago in one of these tragic episode and now lives with his mother, played by the attractive, long-suffering Nina Andresen who despairs at her son’s naivity. The lowkey narrative meanders on spiked by moments of of dry humour. One scene sees Frank ‘celebrating’ his new job as the town’s middleman, with half a tee-bone steak (he couldn’t afford the other half). But once installed in his new office office, Frank’s workload grinds to a halt, the previous spike of accidents levelling out to a virtually nothing, leaving the now sharp-suited middleman twiddling his thumbs with the bored Brenda. This all changes when catastrophe suddenly rears its head, and Frank is not only in the thick of it, but implicated in the crime that shakes up the feature’s weirdly ambiguous finale. MT


Whether the Weather Is Fine (2021) Toronto Film Festival

Dir: Carlo Francisco Manatad | Cast: Charo Santos-Concio, Daniel Padilla, Rans Rifol | Thriller, 105′

For his debut feature, a post apocalyptic fantasy thriller, Filippino director Carlo Francisco Manatad explores how the aftermath of catastrophe changes life for three individuals in his native city of Tacloban.

Hayan is not the first typhoon to devastate his hometown in the coastal region of Eastern Visayas and it won’t be the last. A young man wakes up one morning to discover that two close friends have disappeared in the utter chaos – his mother Norma (Santos), and Andrea (Rifol) the woman with whom he was a planning a new life.

But worst of all, the authorities impose strict regulations on the region leaving Miguel (Padilla) in a state of emotional turmoil that swings between cynicism and obdurance in a bid to survive food shortages and lack of shelter.  In their hour of need many of the religious villagers seeks recourse to their faith, even folklore. Others desperately clamber onto ships offering to take them to the nearby capital of Manila.

Spiked with flashes of dark humour, and the occasional foray into fantasy as a way of evoking the climate of loss, fear and confusion, Manatad directs with confidence in this follow-up to his short film The Imminent Immanent (2018). Whether the Weather is Fine serves as a rousing tribute to the people of Tacloban whose stoicism and resourcefulness is another example of the human will to survive in times of adversity. MT




Terrorizers (2021) Toronto Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Wi Ding Ho; Cast: JC Lin, Moon Lee, Po Hung Lin, Jie-Fei Huang, Pipi Jao, Cheng Ko, Annie Chen; Taiwan 2021, 127 min.

Taiwanese director/co-writer Wi Ding Ho is clearly disturbed by the youth of modern day Taipei judging by his nihilistic thriller Terrorizers playing at this year’s Toronto Film Festival.

Not to be confused with Edward Yang’s Taiwanese masterpiece The Terrorizers from 1986, there are clearly parallels to be drawn in the melancholy bleakness of the settings. But Wi Ding’s version deals with the VR world, now infringing what is called reality.

After six gruelling years in the kitchens washing dishes Xiao Zhang (Lin) returns to Taipeh, now a qualified chef on an ocean cruiser, hopes to open his own luxury restaurant with an uncle. Then up pops his old flame Yu Fang (Lee), now an actress in rehearsal for The Seagull, and soon they’re talking about moving in together. Yu has some doubts, she’s had a trail of doomed relationships that started when her mother left when she was a little girl, and an affair with a porn star called Monica (Chen), leaving her in the lurch. Family-wise her political father has just married his pregnant secretary and is on the verge of moving to another city, so Yu, once again, is alone.

In downtown Taipei Yu shares her apartment with Ming Liang (Hung Lin), the son of a politician, and her father’s financial backer. Liang and Yu are not on speaking terms but the psychotic Ming is somehow convinced that they’re an item. But worse is to follow: Ming has filmed Monica making love to her, and now wants to kill Yu for “deserting” him.

In spiteful act of revenge, Ming attacks Yu with a machete, Xiao narrowly saving her life. And Ming’s nasty side surfaces again when he gives the police the video showing the two women in bed together, claiming his attack was motivated by Yu’s betrayal of him.

All this dystopian darkness reveals Taipei to be a toxic male environment that seems to be particularly down on women: Yu’s father now forcing her to leave town, afraid that her staying in Taipei will harm his career. It’s ironic that a monster like Ming can sway public opinion to be on his side, denouncing the two women as perpetrators, and getting away with it, when we are all made aware of his monstrous nature, possibly inculcated by his abusive alcoholic mother, a ‘masseuse’ who regularly  gives her son a ‘full service’ – fortunately off screen.  But Ming is not the only villain of the piece: teenagers Kiki and Billy also prey upon randomly chosen strangers to get their kicks.

DoP Jean Louis Vialand shows the VR world for what it is: a fake construct where humans create substitutes of themselves and, in the process, become dependent on the media circus generated. Ming is the ultimate voyeur and ‘director’ of his sick universe. Chopin’s mournful Nocturne in e-flat accompanies this soulless descent into Hell.AS


Anatolian Leopard (2021) Toronto Film Festival

Dir.: Emre Kayis; Cast: Ugur Polat, Ipek Türktan, Tansu Bicer, Ege Aydan, Nuri Gökasan, Osman Alkas, Seyithan Ozdemir, Hatice Aslan, Ezgi Gör; Germany/Turkey/Poland/Denmark 2021, 117 min.

The sombre city of Ankara is the setting for this melancholic portrait of a middle-aged man, still struggling with himself and his past. In his first feature Emre Kayis pulls off a wistful character study steeped in irony and crowned by a charismatic Ugur Polat, that may bring to mind Musil’s Man Without Attributes,

Of course we never see the leopard that sets the cat among the pigeons when it disappears from the zoo while the manager Fikret (Polat) is fighting a losing battle to preserve the national treasure from privatisation. The city Mayor (Alkas) is negotiating with an Arab consortium hellbent on replacing the animals’ home with an amusement park full of thrilling rides, and just a few plastic animals – already in place in the entrance – as a solemn valedictory. The only obstacle is the titular Anatolian leopard, an endangered species, and unless a new home can be found the Arabs will pull out of the deal.

Of course other zoos are keen to take the leopard, but Fikret keeps this quietly under his belt. In an amusing montage we see him trudging from the muddy carpark to a side entrance, a reserved parking space now occupied by a fleet of flash cars belonging to the minister and his staff. His assistant Gamze (Türktan) arrives on the bus, starring enviously at some flight attendants boarding a coach on their way to the airport. Gamze and Fikret will play a secret game, unknown to each other, after the leopard’s fate is revealed.

Suspect number one in the case of the missing leopard is his faithful warden Ibrahim (Ozdemir), who is vehemently against being relegated to look after the hippos. But then the police chief (Gökasan) is shot dead in the countryside where the leopard is supposedly lurking. At a fateful high-school reunion, Fikret’s old bête noire Tezer (Aslan) falls for Gamze. And while the prosecutor tells Fikret that his confession is now redundant, the zoo manager must act to change the course of his moribund life.

This is a feature of nuances: the subtle slings and arrows Fikret and Gamze endure in their loneliness slowly accumulate forcing them to make some radical decisions. It gradually emerges that Fikret’s state of misery is a kind of happiness. And it will need a big step forward to make him climb the mountain ahead of him.

DoP Nick Cooke’s strengths are the sophisticated interiors, and the panoramic widescreen shots of Turkey’s sprawling capital city. Ugur Polat is very much at home as the man observing the unfolding drama with a wry sense of ‘deja vu’ while Tansu Bicer’s prosecutor tells him absurd allegorical stories, toying with his victim Fikret. AS




Nobody Has to Know (2021)

Dir: Bouli Lanners | Cast: Bouli Lanners, Michelle Fairley | Drama, 99′

Memories define us and connected the present with the past. In his latest drama – a first in English – Belgian writer and director Bouli Lanners plays a man whose romantic history is rewritten when he suffers a stroke.

Atmospherically shot on the windswept Isle of Lewis in Scotland, this is a sober and reflective psychological drama made all the more dour by its subject matter and the morose-looking locals, although its hard to imagine that the thoughtful Phil (Lanners) is a Belgian farmhand – he behaves more like a sophisticated film director (!) with his raffish good looks, swept back hair and well-trimmed beard. And when his carer Millie arrives (Fairley), after a stroke leaves him with amnesia, she takes an instant liking to her vulnerable patient persuading him they were lovers before his illness.

Despite his memory loss there is nothing wrong with Phil’s sex drive: he makes romantic overtures which Millie instantly rejects causing Phil to be even more confused. It soon dawn on Millie that she’s crossing professional boundaries and must draw a line, not only for lying to her charge, but also for abusing a mentally ill patient – particularly as Phil is now completely disarmed – but the two end up in bed.

Millie continues to tease him with ‘memories’ of their past relationship and how it came about, and can now be rekindled. She is clearly having a field day after a fallow patch in her love life on the barren island.

Despite its flawed premise Nobody Has to Know looks gorgeous, Lanners and Fairley making for convincing lovers as they wander along vast castor sugar beaches, storm clouds scudding by and melting into the distance. A religious subplot that sees the local vicar vehemently preaching the Christian gospel from a pulpit doesn’t quite work, although clearly it represents the wagging finger of God. A dog called Nigel is the focus of another rather unsubstantial narrative strand in this watchable feature that explores identity, false memory and the nature of romantic desire. MT




Inexorable (2021) Toronto Film Festival 2021

Dir: Fabrice du Welz | Cast: Benoit Poelvoorde, Jackie Berroyer Alba Gaia Bellugi, Melanie Doutey | Thriller, 98′

Looking for inspiration a writer takes up residence in an echoing chateau deep in the countryside, his past triumphs retuning to haunt him with self doubt: will he ever be creatively successful again.

Inexorable is another erotic psychodrama from the Belgian cult director, and although similar in tone and location to his previous outings Calvaire and Adoration  this latest is not quite on a par with Alleluia 

A voyeuristic camera lingers on dislocated characters in the foreboding stillness of the bosky backwater setting the scene for an intriguing horror story, made all the more sinister by its brooding soundscape. Inexorable is possibly the most personal film Fabrice du Welz has made to date. It ponders the ephemeral nature of creativity, particularly when early success paves the way to future doubts and insecurities – not something du Welz has had to worry about with his filmic string of hits.

Known for his comedy roles Benoît Poelvoorde plays Bellmer with a sense of vulnerability despite his proven talent and fierce determination. The old mansion becomes home to his wife and publisher Jeanne (Mélanie Doutey), whose family no longer lives there. The hope is that this new setting will somehow stimulate Bellmer’s creative juices after months of writer’s block.

But he soon becomes fascinated with one of his daughter’s teenage friends, a troubled orphan named Gloria (Alba Gaïa Bellugi), with the welcome affect of spicing up his sex life with wife. But the febrile Gloria soon makes a pass at Benoit and although the violent, illicit sex that follows seem to re-awaken his imagination, the inevitable fallout threatens to consume the entire family.

Written by Joséphine Darcy Hopkins, Aurélien Molas, and Du Welz, Inexorable explores  nepotism, sexual chemistry, and the nature of creativity in a thriller fraught with shocking psychological insights and devastating revelations. MT




Silent Land (2021)

Dir: Aga Woszczyńska | Poland, Drama 112′

In Aga Woszczyńska’s impressive first feature, a Polish couple’s relationship exposes serious fault-lines during a stressful Italian vacation where everything goes wrong.

Polish filmmakers certainly know how to be provocative and push the boundaries where love and sex are concerned and Silent Land excels in ramping up the tension in this subversive and acutely piquant two hander.

A cleverly written script and choice visuals keep us engaged with an all too familiar holiday scenario primped with surprising twists and turns enough to derail the most loved-up up romantic break. And what initially feels like an ideal marriage soon shows cracks that run deeper than those in the dirty and disused swimming pool that awaits this couple in their dream villa.

Confronted by builders who can’t speak English – or Polish for that matter – Adam and Anna head for the idyllic beach for some rest and relaxation. On their return the pool has been repainted but still lacks the requisite water, and a serious accident poolside involving the immigrant builder then deep-sixes any chance of a late afternoon swim. Soon the owner and the paramedics arrive and as the two holidaymakers give evidence in the ensuing police investigation, a dark vein of humour creeps into the narrative ‘lost in translation style’ when the carabinieri also turn up, and clearly don’t speak much English either. But why should they?.

The compliant Poles are only too delighted to accompany the police to the station to help with inquiries, their holiday clearly heading into a disaster zone for no fault of their own. A Kafkaesque scenario develops when the detective leading the inquiry picks apart their statement and asks them to return for further questioning. The tables are gradually turned as the justifiably disgruntled clients soon become unwitting suspects in an accidental death inquiry.

There are certainly touches of Michael Haneke’s observational storytelling in the precise framing as the voyeuristic camerawork tracks the couple in silent contemplation or sharing a private joke. The Colombo style police procedural has a understandably unsettling and de-stabilising affect on the couples’ sense of integrity and tranquility as they start to question their own response to the tragedy as foreigners in a unfamiliar environment increasingly coming under the xenophobic spotlight of a tightly knit community far away from home. Tense and highly intelligent filmmaking. MT




Violation (2020) *** Toronto Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Dusty Mancinelli; Cast: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Anna Maguire, Jesse LaVercombe, Obi Abili; Canada 2020, 107. min

A rape and revenge thriller that goes all the way, yet we never lose empathy for victim in this collaborative first feature from Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer, who also stars in the main role as Miriam.

Miriam and her husband Caleb (Abili) have come all the way from their London home to visit Miriam’s sister Greta (Maguire) and her husband Dylan (LaVercombe) in the Canadian wilderness. As their solitary car motors along the winding forest roads, we are reminded of the opening scenes of the The Shining; a wolf and his dead prey plus a mournful score by Andrea Boccadoro makes up the ominous picture.

Miriam and Caleb hardly talk to each, and are clearly heading for an existential marriage crisis. In contrast, Greta and Dylan frolic around in nature, happy killing animals and eating them for dinner. Greta considers her rabbit slaughtering skills  as a big achievement: “I have learned not to rely on others to do things for me”. Hmm. Miriam and her husband obviously have a much more sophisticated life in London, and Miriam tries in vain to talk her sister into joining her in the capital. There is obviously a long history between the two, symbolised by Miriam’s dream about her sister hanging herself in the next room. But the real secret is Dylan’s rape of his sister-in-law: when Miriam is courageous enough to tell her sister, Greta takes the side of her husband, blaming Miriam, who – left alone by everybody – plans her revenge which forms the main part of this grisly but innovative drama.

DoP Adam Crosby’s camera follows the emotional ups and down with brutal close-ups and long bird-eye shots. There are parallels to Jennifer Kent’s Nightingale, as the shaming of the victim looms large until total obliteration is the only way out. But the images avoid female exploitation, which so often is mistaken as empowerment. A non-linear narrative is sometimes bewildering, but in the end helps to enforce the sheer hell of its main protagonist. Violation is often vicious in its rough hewn depiction of abuse which so often relies on melodrama to deliver its gruesome message. AS




A Good Man (2020) *** Toronto Film Festival

Dir.: Marie-Castielle Mention-Schaar; Cast: Noémie Merlant, Soko, Vincent Dedienne, Anne Loiret; France 2020, 108 min.

This trans fertility threesome is not as good as it could have been despite an impressive second performance from Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Noémie Merlant who here plays a cis woman in the throes of becoming a trans man .  

Marie-Castielle Mention-Schaar produces, writes and directs her follow up to Le ciel attendra (Heaven Will Wait) reuniting her with Merlant who as  Benjamin agrees to interrupt his sex reassignment surgery in order to carry and birth the child his partner Aude wants so badly but cannot carry to full term.

Aude (Soko) lives with the community nurse in the village of Groix on an island off the Brittany coast. They have moved here from Aix-en-Provence, where Aude was a successful ballet dancer. One of the many flashback scenes pictures the couple on their first date when Benjamin was still Sarah. They have now been together for six years and want to cement their relationship with a child. In other flashbacks, Benjamin’s mother Eve (Loiret) complains about not having a real daughter “I could not even talk to her”. His brother Antoine (Dedienne) is married with a child and also has a poor relationship with Benjamin.

Ben is not secure in his changing physical status, and does not allow Aude to see him in the bath. He claims his old self, Sarah, could never had a child due to body dysmorphia. And while Benjamin gradually adjusts to his status as a pregnant mother, Aude feels, rightfully, left out: she has given up a great career, and now the mother role she craved so much is also taken away from her – albeit by a caring Benjamin.

This creates a double-bind, but instead of evaluating her misery the director simply writes her out of the script only to bring her back at the very end of the feature as an afterthought. She is not the only under-explored character: many of Benjamin’s patients find his pregnancy rather odd, but in the end they all come around to it – as if by magic. Benjamin himself always occupies the centre stage but is only fragmentarily explored: we see more reaction from the outside than from his own point of view; apart from one outburst against Aude when he gets his revised birth certificate. This makes A Good Man difficult to engage with – surprising for a feature stuffed with such explosive emotions.

DoP Myriam Vinocour’s claustrophobic camerawork fails to reflect the wild beauty of the island setting that added so much allure to Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Life for the couple seems so restrictive, even though Benjamin gets around a lot visiting his patients. But the main downside to this complex drama is its fractured narrative: few features succeed in integrating so many flashbacks – and A Good Man is no exception. This is still a worthwhile experience that makes a brave effort to explore complex gender roles in today’s every-changing world.  AS

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2020                                                  


Beans (2020) *** Toronto Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Tracey Deer; Cast: Kiawentiio Tarbell, Violah Beauvais, Rainbow Dickerson. Joel Montgrand, Pauline Alexis, D’Pharaoh Mc Kay Woon; Canada 2020, 91 min.

This feature film debut of Canadian director/co-writer Tracey Deer is both a coming-of-age story and an autobiographical take on the Oka crisis of July 1990. Then a conflict broke out between the Mohawk and the city of Oka, Quebec in Canada, the latter wanting to enlarge a golf course, which would have infringed on holy burial sides of the native Canadians. After 78 days of blockades and strife between Mohawks and the Canadian Army, supported by local police and a ‘White Power’ mob local police, the dispute was settled with the loss of only one life. This was the first of many conflicts between indigenous groups and authorities in Canada.  

We meet the titular Beans, brilliant debutant Tarbell when she is still the “good” girl, going for an interview at the posh Queens Height High School. Mother Lilly (Dickerson) is pregnant and over-protective. When the conflict breaks out everything changes for the twelve-year old and she gravitates towards the slightly older and certainly tougher neighbouring children April (Alexis) and Hank (Woon). They have a lot of freedom at home because their father is permanently drunk. When Beans’ father (Joel Montgrand) and his friends decide the women and children should be evacuated Lily, Beans and little sister Ruby (Beauvais) are pelted by rocks, the latter ending up covered in shattered glass. Having finally reached the hotel, Beans goes to a party with April and her friends where she kisses Hank as a ‘dare’ in the closet. Later she has a fight with another girl, trying to show how tough she is to April and Hank. Lily, exhausted and close to giving birth, takes all four children back home, but they are again attacked by white residents. Whilst her mother is giving birth to a baby boy, Beans has a sordid encounter with Hank who wants a blow job – a term Beans had never heard off. This sets up a rather predictable finale.

Archive films show a white mob, not very different from the current Trump supporters. There is sheer hatred in their eyes. In the feature, the scenes at the shop are particularly disturbing because the white women, having shopped a life time with their Mohawk friends, suddenly turn nasty, and shove them violently out of the shop premises.

DoP Marie Davignon’s images are impressive, particularly the Mohawk convoy of women and children being pelted by rocks by screaming white men show a frightening intensity. Whilst the ensemble acting is admirable, director Deer is let down by a rather formulaic narrative, which leans very towards mainstream features. Nevertheless, one does now look at the “clean” image propagates by Canadians with a different eye – racism does not stop at the longest international border between states.




The County (2019) ***

Dir: Grímur Hákonarson | Iceland Drama 95′

Grímur Hákonarson’s Cannes UCR award-winning debut Rams (2015) was a dour and delightful tale on sibling rivalry set in the Icelandic farming community. The director returns to this sombre milieu for his second more serious drama that sees a farmer take on the corrupt and outdated co-op in her local community.

The co-op system in Iceland arose in the early 20th century as a response to Denmark’s centuries-old monopoly on trade; however, sometimes they are as exploitative as the system that preceded them.  in many instances, these supposed mutual-aid societies grew to be as exploitative as the system that preceded them.

Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) is a single-minded independent farmer who works tirelessly with her devoted husband Reynir (Hinrik Ólafsson) to make ends meet in the harsh but spectacular landscape of Iceland. Although the couple are wedded to their local co-op system, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to remain competitive with their rivals. After an unforeseen tragedy Inga is forced to reassess her life and bravely decides to take the co-op on by using the help of social media rather than her less than supportive neighbours who are an unadventurous and conservative lot, even when life is stacked up against them.

Icelandic women are well known for their business acumen and Egilsdóttir supports this with a remarkable performance as the indomitable farmer in an engrossing drama that reunites the director with Sigurður Sigurjónsson who plays the co-op’s cunningly cocky director. Although this is a less entertaining film than Rams, Hákonarson once again emerges as an assured and confident voice and one of the country’s finest filmmakers. MT

NOW ON CURZON WORLD from Friday 22 May 2020

Toronto Film Festival 2019 | Award Winners

The curtain fell on TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 with an comedy about Hitler winning the biggest award. The People’s Choice Award went to JOJO RABBIT which is set during the Second World War and directed and performed by New Zealand born Taika Waititi who plays an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler. The film divided critics and no doubt audiences to come. It also stars Scarlett Johansson who plays the mother of the titular German boy Jojo (Roman Griffin Davies) who is an ardent follower of the Hitler Youth and so keen on his hero he actually has imaginary conversations with him. But his attitude changes when he discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin Mackenzie) in the family attic.

Other winners at the Canadian Festival were Noah Baumbach’s A MARRIAGE STORY and Cannes Palme d’Or winner PARASITE



Antigone (2019) *** TIFF 2019

Wri/Dir: Sophie Deraspe | Drama Canada 109′
Sophie Deraspe’s provocative social realist re-imagining of the Sophocles’ Greek tragedy of the same name explores universal themes of sacrifice and responsibility through the story an immigrant woman and her desperate bid for justice in contemporary Montreal.

Nahema Ricci plays Antigone, the highly intelligent woman in question, with a powerful sense of her own identity but also a vulnerability that is touching and deeply affecting in this compassionate family drama that offers another snapshot of the refugee crisis, this time in Canada. Following the murder of their parents, Antigone, her sister Ismène (Nour Belkiria), and her brothers Étéocle and Polynice, find themselves taking refuge in a cramped apartment in the working class area,  joined by their grandmother Ménécée.

But another tragedy soon follows when Étéocle gets involved in the arrest of a petty criminal and drug dealer and takes a police bullet and ends up in prison. This sense of family responsibility is also one that lies at the heart of Martin Scorsese’s New York thrillers. Made on a considerably tighter budget this less ambitious film is also set on a smaller scale, although the ideas are just as relevant: the responsible family member feeling duty bound to rescue a relative in order to secure the future for everyone else. As a woman, Antigone is also forced to deal with a male-dominated judicial and penal system which she must appose with her own set of values.

Acting as her own cinematographer and ably assisted by a female led crew, Deraspe conjures up a palpable sense of Montreal and its immigrant community in this moving piece of indie cinema. MT


Wasp Network (2019) *** TIFF 2019

Dir: Olivier Assayas | France, Thriller

Olivier Assayas always surprises us in style, theme and genre. This Cuban-set thriller has the same energetic ambition as his other Caribbean set outing Carlos the Jackal (2010) but from then on Wasp Network buzzes in another direction altogether.

A professional pilot René González says goodbye to his wife and child as he jets off in a yellow biplane. We later discovered he has defected to the US fleeing the communist regime’s lack of opportunity and grinding poverty to live in a modern Art Deco apartments in Miami and hopes his family will join him in due course.

Not without a fight. This politically aware film sheds light on the exiles who targeted communist Cuba in the 1990s. These men are in actual fact funded spies engaged in infiltrating US-based groups opposed to Fidel Castro and sending their intelligence back home.

Saturday Fiction | Lan Xin Da Ju Yuan (2019) *** TIFF 2019

Dir: Lou Ye | Cast: Gong Li, Mark Chao, Joe Odagiri, Pascal Greggory, Tom Wlaschiha, Huang Xiangli, Ayumu Nakajima, Wang Chuanjun, Zhang Songwen | Drama, China 126′

Saturday Fiction is not as cool as it thinks in portraying the enigmatic life of a famous actress in 1941 Shanghai. Filmed in crisp black and white over the course of a week in December it sashays all over town in telling a shady tale of love and espionage in the Japanese-occupied Paris of the East where the legendary Jean You – played by Chinese actress Gong Li – has returned to star in her ex-lover’s titular play at the Lyceum Theatre in the French Consession. Rumours have it that Yu is back to free her ex-husband from the clutches of Japanese authorities but she soon becomes caught up with paternalistic French man whose intentions are ambiguous, as is everything else in this smokes and mirrors affair.

Lou Ye establishes the plush milieu from the rain-soaked opening scenes where the graceful and elegantly coutured Yu is speedily ushered into a palatial suite in the Cathay Hotel run by Saul Speyer (Tom Wlaschiha). Her ex-lover (Zhang Songwen) is excited to see her again and has cast her as a foxy Western vamp in a play about Japanese expats in 1920s China, inspired by Yokomitsu Riichi’s 1928 Shanghai,

Sumptuously dressed characters flit in and out of the picture, and it seems they all have various guises and motives up their silken sleeves: Bai Yunshang (Huang Xiangli), for example, is straight out of All About Eve but nobody seems to know her true identity. The play’s producer Mo Zhiyin (Wang Chuanjun) is dressed up to the nines in his round glasses and fedora – all he needs is a big cigar to channel Cecil B de Mille.

Yingli Ma’s script itself is based on female author Hong Ying’s 2005 bestseller Death in Shanghai. In the 1940s this is a place where only the lucky and plucky will survive and tell their tales of intrigue but there’s a flitting, episodic feel to the way Saturday Fiction plays out. Clearly intending to beguile us with intrigue and revelation Saturday Fiction eventually starts to drift away in a puff of style over substance, always retaining a demure coyness that lacks the torrid chaleur and dramatic heft of Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, which was set in Shanghai just a few months after this story. Gong is nevertheless magnificent is a bewitching performance of charm and subtlety, he facial expressions conveying all we need to know. MT

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 5 -15 September 2019


Nobadi (2019) *** Toronto Film Festival 2019

Dir: Kark Markovics | Drama, Austria 83’

This darkly amusing social satire premiering at this year’s TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL is the third outing for actor turned director Karl Markovics who is also turning out to quite a talent behind the camera winning awards at Cannes, Sarajevo and Zurich for his features Breathing (2011) and Superwelt (2015).

Stunningly captured on the wide screen and in crisply shot close-up his latest NOBADI has quite a few surprises up its sleeve in a story that seems at first like a less ambitious version of The Interpreter – two characters come up against each other from across the divide – but this moral fable soon takes a much darker direction plumbing the depths of the immigrant crisis for one young man from Afghanistan.

A pithy and sardonic script and a steely central performance from veteran Austrian actor Heinz Trixner make this a winner. He plays a curmudgeonly old buffer Robert Senft who grudgingly employs a desperate manual labourer down on his luck to help him dig a hole in his back yard to bury his dead dog. After beating him down on his hourly rate, he agrees to pay a measley three euros to the well-mannered Adib (gamely played by newcomer Borhanulddin Hassan Zadeh). But as works starts the old man’s character is revealed in all its complexity. Meanwhile Adib comes across as decent and biddable. But what happens next is both unexpected and tragic allowing Markovics to make some subtle but light-hearted digs at the sad state of affairs in his native Austria. MT




Float like a Butterfly (2018) ***

Dir: Carmel Winters | Drama | Ireland | 104′

Carmel Winters second feature is a poetic and gorgeously redolent coming of age drama set in the Emerald Isle of the 1960s where a young Irish Traveller has to contend with the death of her mother and an abusive father as she follows her dream of becoming a boxer like her idol Muhammad Ali.

Hazel Doupe gives a stunning performance as tomboy Hazel whose daily life in a wooden caravan with her younger brother and wayfarer father Michael (Dara Devaney) is fraught with altercations not only with the local Garda but also members of this feisty family and their old-fashioned attitudes towards gender roles that hamper her own natural pugilist talents.

With its universal themes Float Like A Butterfly has the rare quality of being utterly relevant today and yet quaintly traditional, its placid pacing capturing the slow-burning essence of a bygone era. Auteuse Carmel Winters’ writing and directing has a distinct lightness of touch which brings both gentleness and integrity to her storytelling. This is a drama that glows with the lush beauty of its verdant Irish setting untrammelled by time and enlivened by stirring folk music, suddenly catching fire in its final denouement. MT


The Good Girls | Las Ninas Bien (2018)** Toronto Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Alejandra Marquez Abella; Cast: Ilse Salas, Flavio Medina, Paulina Gaitan; Mexico 2018, 93 min.

Alejandra Marquez Abella structurally flawed sophomore feature is an anthropologist’s dream: based on characters by Guadelupe Loaeza, a group of bitchy, upper-middle class Mexican wives who fight over the best caterer at the crowning of their entire existence: having Julio Iglesias for dinner. Led on by lead Sofia, the rest are mere cyphers and the episodic structure doesn’t help in keeping viewers engaged for the ninety minutes.

Sofia (Salas), loathes her South-American heritage: and sending her three children off to summer camp, she warns them “don’t hang out with Mexicans”. A European background is really all she and her competitors crave for. Sofia’s parties are real productions, and she seems to have married her husband Fernando (Medina) largely  because of his family’s Spanish heritage. Everything is a competition for Sofia, the smallest detail could lead to a loss of face amid her rivals. But we are in the early Eighties and the Mexican Peso suddenly bottoms out. As Sofia and her circle rely on imported goods, this is a major catastrophe. So when credit cards get refused politely and the servants don’t get paid, doom is imminent. To make matters worse, Sofia’s only real competitor, noveau-riche Ana Paula (Gaitan), is still quids in. Her default-position is resigned acceptance, but with the Peso tumbling further, even this seems to be too much.

Salas is always brilliant, cool and contained, she carries the film as much as she is able to. DoP Daniela Ludlow succeeds in conjuring up this lush environment of petty mini-me’s in meltdown, always keeps everything close and personal, despite the widescreen format. As a chickflick study of vanity and self-deceit this would be brilliant – as a feature it lacks emotional depth and an absorbing dramatic arc. AS


The Fixer | Fixeur (2016) | TIFF 2016

Director: Adrian Sitaru   Writers: Adrian Silsteanu, Claudia Silisteanu

Cast: Sorin Cocis, Tudor Istodor, Mehdi Nebbou, Diana Spatarescu, Adrian Titeni

110min | Drama | Romania

Romanian New Wave drama The Fixer asks a simple question: how far are we prepared to go to get ahead in our increasingly competitive world? A young Romanian father and hungry trainee journalist at a French network uses a topical sex scandal as an opportunity to make his mark in Adrian Sitaru’s sombre and intense fifth feature, whose non-judgemental stance leaves us to find our own way in the moral maze.

The translator and general ‘fixer’ Radu Patru (Tudor Istodor) pricks up his ears when a breaking news story involving two underage Romanian prostitutes creates an  international scandal. Doing his best to get an interview with the girl involved, without compromising his own moral scruples, Radu soon realises that there is a thin line between professional journalism and dishing the dirt.

Themes of fatherhood, misogyny, and the class divisions of contemporary Europe percolate through  Claudia Silisteanu’s clever script but sadly none of the performances really stand out, making it difficult to engage or empathise with any of the characters, although Tudor Istodor is probably gives the most appealing turn. Shooting in Bucharest and Transylvania, co-writer Adrian Silisteanu dark and desaturated hand-held photographs do their best to capture the dark days of Communism linking the contemporary world with the past in an intriguing but sometimes intractable piece of filmmaking that requires intense concentration to follow the storyline. MT


Toronto Film Festival 2016 | Autumn World premieres

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL runs from 8 September until 18 September and follows in the wake of VENICE (31 August – 10 September) with a new crop of world premieres and a chance to catch up on the latest films from Cannes and Venice earlier in the Summer.

snowden copyAll the gala titles are world premieres, except for Denis Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL, a sci-fi drama starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, and Jeff Nichols’ interracial drama LOVING, which has Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, and prems at Venice.

The festival opens with Antoine Fugua’s version of the bounty hunting epic adventure THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, and the closing film is Kelly Fremon’s directorial debut THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, a comedy drama exploring teenage awkwardness and angst.

World premiers include Oliver Stone’s long-awaited biopic SNOWDEN (left) with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the NSA whistleblower and Rob Reiner’s LBJ, a drama that shines light on the life  former president Lyndon Johnson played by Woody Harrelsen. It also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bill Pullman and Richard Jenkins.

Music lovers will be delighted by the inclusion of OLÉ OLÉ OLÉ, Paul Dugdale’s biopic that follows The Rolling Stones’ Latin American and Jonathan Demme’s latest: a concert film about Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience World Tour, Las Vegas concert, entitled JT + THE TENNESSEE KIDS.

Katherine Dieckmann’s STRANGE WEATHER, a drama set in the Deep South stars Holly Hunter and Rooney Mara is cast in the leading role as a mental patient in Jim Sheridan’s THE SECRET SCRIPTURE. She also stars alongside Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel in Garth Davis’ LION which is based on Saroo Brierley’s autobiographical novel A Long Way Home that follows a 5-year-old Indian boy through the streets of Kolkata, eventually ending up in Australia.

Two British film will premiere this year at TIFF. THEIR FINEST directed by Lone Scherfig, has Sam Clafin and Gemma Arterton and A UNITED KINGDOM, Amma Asante’s drama starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. The French will be represented by Grand Central helmer Rebecca Zlotowski whose PLANETARIUM again stars Lea Seydoux in a story about two sisters (Lily Rose Depp) with supernatural ability.

There will finally be a chance to see Werner Herzog’s latest, hot from Shanghai, SALT AND FIRE is a disaster film that stars Michael Shannon and Gael Garcia Bernal, and Mick Jackson’s Holocaust-themed drama DENIAL which stars Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall.


CITY OF TINY LIGHTS | Peter Travis | Billie Piper


SING | Garth Jennings | Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson

THE JOURNEY | Nick Hamm | Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall

TRESPASS AGAINST US | Adam Smith | Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson

THE WASTED TIMES | Zhang Ziyi, Ge You


ORPHAN | Arnaud des Pallieres |  Gemma Arterton and Adele Haenel

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM | Juan Carlos Medina | Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke.

The Toronto International Film Festival | 8-18 SEPTEMBER 2016

Bolshoi Babylon (2015) | DVD release

Director: Nick Read | Documentary | UK | 86min

Internecine politics fail to dampen the ardour of Russia’s finest export and barometer of the superpower’s national health in BOLSHOI BABYLON

British director Nick Read (The Condemned) explores the bizarre case surrounding the acid attack that nearly blinded Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director Sergei Filin in this tight and well-paced documentary whose unprecendented access to the inner workings of the ballet and enticing clips from recent productions (Swan Lake, Boris Godunov, Traviata etc), are sure to entice balletomanes and cineasts alike.

But this is not the only salacious aspect of a film that grows more intriguing by the minute with its revelations about the Bolshoi and its attempts to overcome a never ending battle to survive both in and out of the theatre confines. Interviews with its new company director Vladimir Urin, principles such Maria Allash and Maria Alexandra and ballet masters Boris Akin and Nicolai Tsiskaridze paint a bloody portrait of the physical and emotional rigour required to stay the course by all involved with Moscow’s hallowed cultural edifice.

It gradually emerges that the acid attack, in 2013, was ordered by dancer in defence of his girlfriend’s lack of promotion due to favouritism by the powers that be, headed by Filin and that left him with extensive third degree burns to his face and partially blind in one eye. Not only does this confirm rumours of violence and corruption in contemporary Russian society but it also upholds long-held beliefs and stereotyping in the West. Pavel Dmitrichenko, a soloist, admitted to hiring his neighbour to attack Filin due to jealousy and resentment. Vladimir Urin, polishing up his own profile courtesy of the filmmakers, reveals that many are interested in influencing the future of the national treasure, not least President Vladimir Putin and Prime Dmitri Medvedev, who appears in a startling interview where he claims the Bolshoi is a sort of guided propaganda missile of national heritage that is sent abroad to influence and profit the mother country.

This is a commercial film but also one that will make you jump on  the nearest plane to Moscow to experience the Bolshoi for yourselves. What emerges it that the arguing, bitterness and jealousy is the ‘raison d’être’ of the Bolshoi, defining them firing up the enthusiasm, professionalism and creative brilliance of these highly emotional artists. The only criticism is the brevity of the beguiling ballet footage of the troupe performing seen both backstage and from the Bolshoi Theatre presidential boxes. MT



Toronto 2012

The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival often helps to raise the profile of small independent films and gives wider exposure to higher-profile projects that may be in the running to compete for Oscars.

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This year the Indies did well winning some critical acclaim in the festival’s main prize sections:

  • Blackberry Peoples’ Award:
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • First runner-up: Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’
  • Second runner-up: Eran Riklis’ ‘Zaytoun’
  • Documentary: Bartholomew Cubbins’ ‘Artifact’
  • Second runner-up: Rob Stewart’s ‘Revolution’
  • Midnight Madness: Martin McDonagh’s ‘Seven Psychopaths’
  • First runner-up: Barry Levinson’s ‘The Bay’
  • The prize of the international critics (Fipresci prize)
  • Francois Ozon for ‘Dans la maison’ in the Special Presentations category
  • Mikael Marcimain for ‘Call Girl’ in the Discovery Program, which spotlights feature films by new and emerging directors
  • The city of Toronto and Canada goose award for best Canadian feature film
  • Xavier Dolan’s ‘Laurence Anyways’
  • The Skyy Vodka Award for best Canadian first feature film
  • A tie between Brandon Cronenberg’s ‘Antiviral’ and Jason Buxton’s ‘Blackbird’

We looked at a selection of films that seemed to be creating buzz at this year’s festival, read our reviews:

La Sirga (The Towrope) 2012  William Vega’s second feature, from Colombia

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7 Cajas (7 Boxes) 2012  Paraguayan directors Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori’s first feature

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Satellite Boy (2012 Australian director Catriona McKenzie’s fourth feature.

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