TIFF 2018

The Land of Steady Habits (Nicole Holofcener, US) — Special Presentations

By Steve Macfarlane Every day is a film festival on Netflix, and so Nicole Holofcener’s unfortunately-titled The Land of Steady Habits (I guess it’s a slang phrase for Connecticut) touches down as the lights adorning #TIFF18 are finally unplugged. Even if Steady Habits weren’t, as trade critics like to say, “better than it has any…
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The Vice of Hope (Edoardo de Angelis, Italy) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski The Vice of Hope gets its title from a rather sanitized version of a phrase spoken several times during the course of the film. What the characters are actually referring to is “the bullshit of hope,” and although Edoardo de Angelis’ film does end on a somewhat upbeat note, there is no…
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Roads in February (Katherine Jerkovic, Canada/Uruguay) — Contemporary World Cinema

  By Josh Cabrita When Sarah (Arlen Aguayo Stewart) arrives in South America during the month of February there is a natural contrast between her original location and eventual destination—for just as her home in Montreal is being lambasted by the flurries of Quebec winter, her grandmother’s village in Uruguay is enjoying the blistering heat…
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The Wind (Emma Tammi, US) — Midnight Madness

By Madeleine Wall Not unlike its South-shall-rise-again predecessor from 90 years ago, Emma Tammi’s The Wind pits woman against landscape, and when confronted with what little remains of Western civilization, things begin to unravel. Tough to the point of being worn down, Elizabeth Macklin (Caitlin Gerard) first appears in the doorway of her home, covered…
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The Stone Speakers (Igor Drljaca, Canada/Bosnia & Herzegovina) — Wavelengths

By Pedro Segura As in Krivina and The Waiting Room, Igor Drljaca explores identity concerns and still-dormant wounds inherited from the Yugoslavian Civil War in The Stone Speakers, his first documentary feature, in which the observational analysis of tourism allows him to explore nationalism by its manipulative fictional bases. With a clinical and distant approach…
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Summer Survivors (Marija Kavtaradze, Lithuania) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski Welcome to Lithium-uania. This downcast, unassuming road movie is a small peak into the lives of ordinary young people who are losing the best years of their lives to mental illness, constantly wavering between a desire to accept help and a countervailing impulse they can’t necessarily trust. Are they actually better? Is…
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The Good Girls (Alejandra Márquez Abella, Mexico) — Platform

By Pedro Segura In 1983, a year after the most shocking economic crisis in Mexico’s recent history, the writer and journalist Guadalupe Loaeza published in a now-defunct national newspaper an article that enunciated, with clinical description, a compendium of young, unconscious, and shallow bourgeois women of that time that could be categorized, ironically, under the…
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The Man Who Feels No Pain (Vasan Balan, India) — Midnight Madness

By Michael Sicinski It’s a clever enough premise for an action-comedy. Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani) is born with a rare condition that doesn’t allow him to experience pain. And though this makes his childhood something of a minefield, short-circuiting the usual learning curve by which the rest of us humans learn to survive, it eventually leads…
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Reason (Anand Patwardhan, India) — TIFF Docs

By Steve Macfarlane Every TIFF features at least one epic-length historical documentary whose subject matter is way too depressing to penetrate the fog of cinephile and awards-season discussions encircling the neighbouring Town Crier, but kicks around in the back of the mind as probably advisable viewing anyway. Once I realized it was on the lineup,…
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Her Job (Nikos Labôt, France/Greece/Serbia) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski It’s certainly not news to anyone that the economic downturn of recent years has been particularly hard on the Greeks. But Her Job presumes that we won’t get the severity of the situation unless we watch a virtual simpleton get kicked like a dog by family and employer alike. This is a…
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Mouthpiece (Patricia Rozema, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Girish Shambu One idea has persisted in film culture for nearly 75 years: that of the “auteur” as a lone genius who not only directs his [sic] films, but also conceives of and writes them himself. The results on the ground of this notion have been, shall we say, mixed. Take, for example, Olivier…
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Ulysses & Mona (Sébastien Betbeder, France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Joseph Pomp A young art student develops a morbid fixation on a washed-up artist and offers her apprentice services in an effort to lure him back out into the world—how in the world could this premise fall flat? In a few ways that Ulysses & Mona indeed sees through, such as by wallowing in…
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Orange Days (Arash Lahooti, Iran) — Discovery

By Robert Koehler For the first several minutes of Orange Days, the script by director Arash Lahooti and writer Jamileh Darolshafaie tries to be mysterious about the livelihood of a woman named Aban (veteran Iranian star Hedieh Tehrani, whose name the TIFF program notes consistently misspell). The big reveal is that she supervises an orange grove…
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Angels Are Made of Light (James Longley, US/Afghanistan) — TIFF Docs

By Steve Macfarlane James Longley’s unfortunately titled Afghanistan documentary Angels Are Made of Light spans three years in the lives of a handful of schoolchildren (all boys) in Kabul. It’s a significant achievement in the gathering of footage, shot by the filmmaker himself, who manages to give ordinary day-to-day moments a sheen that’s elegant to the point…
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Saf (Ali Vatansever, Turkey/Germany/Romania) — Discovery

By Angelo Muredda Ali Vatansever takes a stab at an Asghar Farhadi-style overdetermined drama about tired people in impossible situations with his second feature Saf. The film tells the two-part story of Kamil (Erol Afsin) and Remziye (Saadet Isil Aksoy), a working-class Turkish couple who struggle to live with dignity in the shadow of an…
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Fig Tree (Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian, Germany/Ethiopia/France/Israel) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski Sometimes debut films are actually frustrating because of the promise they show: I find myself wishing I could skip ahead to the next film, which is almost certain to be richer and more fully realized. But anyone who has ever worked in the creative arts in any capacity knows that this isn’t…
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Driven (Nick Hamm, Puerto Rico/UK/US) — Special Presentations

By Jennifer Lynde Barker Driven announces itself as a biopic of John DeLorean, but we don’t learn much about the auto exec and innovator in the film; instead, director Nick Hamm and screenwriter Colin Bateman focus on the 1982 FBI investigation into DeLorean’s possible drug trafficking. The real protagonist of the film is DeLorean’s friend…
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Our Body (Han Ka-ram, South Korea) — Discovery

By Madeleine Wall Adrift in a South Korea where professional advancement appears to be the only option, lonely, 31-year-old Ja-young (Moon Choi) has a chance encounter one evening with the beautiful and enigmatic runner Hyun-joo (Ahn Ji-hye), who inspires Ja-young to ditch the civil service exam she’s spent years studying for and move out. But…
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The Truth About Killer Robots (Maxim Pozdorovkin, US) — TIFF Docs

By Robert Koehler In the span of eight months, nonfiction filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin has produced two features on what are, on paper, vital topics: Our New President, which premiered at Sundance, addresses his native Russia’s gullible openness to the Putin propaganda machine’s relentless promotion of Donald Trump before and after his US election; now, with…
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Before the Frost (Michael Noer, Denmark) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski The latest from Michael Noer (Papillon) exists just on the right side of the dividing line between stodgy and well-appointed; in fact, it is so classically constructed in terms of plot and character organization that I was surprised to learn that it is based on an original screenplay (by Noer and Jesper…
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The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (Xavier Dolan, Canada/UK) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman It’s a bittersweet symphony, this life: that’s the thesis (and arguably the most expensive-to-license hook, assuming friend-of-the-director Adele offered hers for free) in Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. A famously troubled production that fired one of its two biggest stars via Instagram and betrays scars of that…
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Redemption (Boaz Yehonatan Yacov & Joseph Madmony, Israel) — Contemporary Word Cinema)

By Michael Sicinski Or, Hey, I Know I’m Hassidic Now But Let’s Get the Band Back Together! A charming film that operates quite modestly despite the life-and-death stakes it depicts, Redemption is cinematic comfort food, reasonably predictable in its arc but acted and written well enough to prevent familiarity from lapsing into contempt. Menachem (Moshe…
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The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (Henry Dunham, US) — Midnight Madness

By Elena Lazic Set almost entirely in a single warehouse and focused on a group of criminals and undercover cops quickly undone by suspicion, Henry Dunham’s debut feature is undeniably inspired by Reservoir Dogs. Yet far being from a simple homage or a poor copy, The Standoff at Sparrow Creek only takes Tarantino’s film as…
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Vision (Naomi Kawase, Japan/France) — Special Presentations

By Michael Sicinski Despite the presence of an international superstar (Juliette Binoche) for the first time in Naomi Kawase’s filmography, Vision will not convert anyone to the Kawase cause. That’s because this new film doubles down on all the elements that so many critics find off-putting about Kawase’s cinema, especially a spiritual sensibility that, in…
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Maya (Mia Hansen-Løve, France) — Special Presentations

By Lawrence Garcia In bald description, Mia Hansen-Løve’s follow-up to L’Avenir (2016) might seem a rather distasteful (or at least misguided) affair: Gabriel (Roman Kolinka), a French war correspondent recently released from Syrian captivity, returns to his childhood home in India, where he falls in love with the title character (Aarshi Banerjee), his godfather’s young…
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Sew the Winter to My Skin (Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, South Africa/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler If 2018 may be remembered as the year when the movies finally realized that Afro-futurism was a viable genre, it may also be remembered as the year when the African Western finally got some mojo. It’s been a long, long time since Moustapha Alassane’s The Return of an Adventurer (1966), and on…
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What is Democracy? (Astra Taylor, Canada) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski The latest philosophical documentary by Astra Taylor (Examined Life, Zizek!) takes on a very timely question, one she can’t be faulted for failing to answer in just under two hours. However, What is Democracy? does suffer from a rather scattershot approach, as though the sheer monumentality of the problem undermined the clear…
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Baby (Liu Jie, China) — Special Presentations

By Shelly Kraicer Social melodramas are a mainstream genre in Chinese cinema, in both state-approved and indie flavours, but they are not usually realized as adeptly and creatively as Liu Jie manages with his seventh feature Baby. Liu is no stranger to this kind of socially aware, ethically engaged filmmaking that follows in the tradition…
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The Most Beautiful Couple (Sven Taddicken, Germany/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By James Lattimer Without the joys of coincidence and bad decision-making, The Most Beautiful Couple would barely have a plot, even if the film fails to commit to them sufficiently to go all-out trashy. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Sven Taddicken’s perversely entertaining drama surrenders to silliness, although an ill-advised third-act cover of Radiohead’s…
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Rafiki (Wanuri Kahiu, Kenya/South Africa/France/Lebanon/Norway/ Netherlands/Germany) — Discovery

By Sarah-Tai Black Firsts are almost always in some measure definitive. To be the first Kenyan film to ever premiere at Cannes, as Wanuri Kahiu’s newest feature film Rafiki was, is to be placed under an incredible weight of expectation. To be banned in your home country due to a supposed “intent to promote lesbianism”…
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Hidden Man (Jiang Wen, China) — Gala Presentations

By Shelly Kraicer Jiang Wen’s Hidden Man poses challenges for viewers (Chinese as well as foreign), but careful watching has its rewards. The third installment in Jiang’s informal trilogy about an idiosyncratically spectacularized fictional history of Republican China—which started with Let the Bullets Fly (2010) and continued with Gone With the Bullets (2014)—Hidden Man is the least flamboyant, visually: it’s an…
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Freedom Fields (Naziha Arebi, Libya) — Platform

By Madeleine Wall Taking place over the four long years after the Arab Spring, Naziha Arebi’s documentary Freedom Fields tracks the changes, and the lack thereof, after revolutionary fervour calms down. The film focuses on a group of young women attempting to become Libya’s first all-female soccer team and who, despite their best intentions, end…
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Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany/Italy) — Special Presentations

By Stefan Grissemann The childhood and early career of German superstar painter Gerhard Richter is given a very free rendering in this three-hour-plus drama that tries to short-circuit Nazi euthanasia programs with a crash course on postwar avant-garde art. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director of the Oscar-winning GDR retaliation The Lives of Others (2006), now…
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Meeting Gorbachev (Werner Herzog & André Singer, Germany/UK/US) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski While Errol Morris is busy sitting down with unrepentant fascists, Werner Herzog is making time with one of the key figures of the 20th century, a leader so visionary that he essentially reformed himself right out of a job. This is not to say that Meeting Gorbachev is a free meeting of…
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If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, USA) — Special Presentations

By Sarah-Tai Black There is perhaps no contemporary filmmaker better suited to adapting the work of James Baldwin than Barry Jenkins. Much like Jenkins, Baldwin’s work is less expository than it is a feeling made concrete: a translation of black consciousness, space, and time into words that are as generous as they are unambiguous. His…
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The Chambermaid (Lila Avilés, Mexico) — Discovery

By Steve Macfarlane So-called “world cinema” is a dicey game. Lab-incubated dramas addressing capital-I Important issues can betray the subject matter in a direct plea for festival-land relevance (or, worse, culminate in an Iñárritu-style call to arms), and often land squarely in the middle: ungalvanizing as agitprop, pedantic as cinema. It’s rare to sit through…
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Halloween (David Gordon Green, US) — Midnight Madness

By Mallory Andrews The story goes that director David Gordon Green approached Jamie Lee Curtis with an idea for a Halloween sequel she apparently deemed too good to pass up: toss out the 40 years’ worth of sequels, and make Laurie Strode’s return to the screen a direct continuation of John Carpenter’s 1978 original. Green’s…
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Beautiful Boy (Felix van Groeningen, US) — Gala Presentations

By Robert Koehler Beautiful Boy plays it safe with the details of the true story of meth addict Nic Sheff and his father, freelance writer David Sheff. At the same time, the movie risks danger with a time-jumping, memory-driven editing scheme that overlaps sound and image in ways that have generally been all but forgotten…
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The Factory (Yury Bykov, Armenia/France/Russia) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski A slice of social criticism so direct that it’s hard to believe it could be made inside Putin’s Russia, The Factory is also a cracking actioner of the first order. Young auteur Yury Bykov (The Major, The Fool) has imbibed lessons from both his black-hearted Russian compatriots (the late Aleksei Balabanov, especially)…
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Tito and the Birds (Gustavo Steinberg, Gabriel Bitar & André Catoto, Brazil) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski Here’s a film that’s virtually guaranteed to snag one of those fourth or fifth slots in the Oscar race for Best Animated Feature: those films that almost nobody has heard of even by the time of the broadcast and that are put in place to serve as also-rans against that year’s big-budget…
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22 July (Paul Greengrass, Norway/Iceland/USA) — Special Presentations

By Stefan Grissemann The only mild surprise that 22 July has in store is its narrative emphasis. After 32 minutes, the horrific acts (the bomb in Oslo, the massacre on Utøya Island) are all done, the teenage corpses have piled up, and Norway has plunged into a deep political and moral crisis—leaving 101 more minutes…
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Complicity (Kei Chikaura, Japan/China) — Discovery

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr Shot in a coldly minimal documentary style, complete with shaky camera, Complicity opens with a group of Chinese illegal immigrants in Japan stealing machinery at night to buy ID cards. The look of the film connotes a certain energy: distant, cerebral, utilitarian. Despite its aesthetic, Kei Chikaura’s debut feature is anything but.…
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Clara (Akash Sherman, Canada) — Discovery

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr Crumbling under the grief of a lost child and subsequent divorce, astronomer Isaac (Patrick J. Adams) throws himself into searching for extraterrestrial life, with research assistant Clara (the actor’s real-life wife Troian Bellisario) slowly opening him up to new possibilities. Characters question what could be more important than finding alien life, while…
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Shadow (Zhang Yimou, China) — Gala Presentations

By Shelly Kraicer After essaying several genres (period history, period comedy, historical melodrama, international epic) in the last 15 years, Zhang Yimou has returned to something like Hero’s (2002) combination of imperial court and wuxia spectacle. Shadow tones down that earlier film’s concentration on the morality of loyalty to state power in favour of a…
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Divine Wind (Merzak Allouache, Algeria/France/Lebanon/Qatar) — Masters

By Michael Sicinski The latest film from veteran Algerian director Merzak Allouache is tonally strange. Quiet and stilted, it exhibits an overall seriousness that’s firmly in keeping with its subject: suicide bombers and the warped ideologies that drive them on. At the same time, there is such an exaggeratedly fraught relationship between the two main…
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EXT. Night (Ahmad Abdalla, Egypt/U.A.E.) — Contemporary World Cinema)

  By Michael Sicinski Although EXT. Night is not a particularly enjoyable film, credit is certainly due. Few movies are as successful in communicating the protagonist’s point of view to the spectator through structure and form. As you watch, you’ll wonder how Abdalla got you from the opening scenes, which so clearly promise an affable…
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High Life (Claire Denis, Germany/ France/US/UK/Poland) — Gala Presentations

By Adam Nayman There is a shot of an infant being carried by its father in Claire Denis’ L’intrus that may be the most rapt and tender image of its kind I’ve ever seen in a film. The first ten minutes of High Life are an extension and an elaboration of that shot, observing Monte…
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Screwdriver (Bassam Jarbawi, Palestine/US/Qatar) — Discovery

By James Lattimer Screwdriver burns through so much narrative in its first 20 minutes that the various steps in how Ziad (Ziad Bakri) goes from being an innocent child to a world-weary adult feel more like a blur than a necessary psychological foundation. Yet even when the pace lets up to focus on his attempts…
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Twin Flower (Laura Luchetti, Italy) — Discovery

By Josh Slater-Williams The meaning of Twin Flower’s title is revealed roughly 40 minutes in: preventing teenage trainee Anna (Anastasyia Bogach) from splitting a double-stemmed flower, a florist insists the plant’s parts are a rare thing that must stay together. As a unit, Anna and the film’s other teenage protagonist, Ivory Coast refugee Basim (Kalill…
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Our Time (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Germany/Denmark/ Sweden) — Masters

By Dominik Kamalzadeh In his Cannes-awarded Post Tenebras Lux, Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas already dealt with personal matters, reflecting on his role as lover, father and husband in a semi-autobiographical film with a metaphysical bias. Our Time goes even further in his Knausgårdian self-observation as he himself takes the central part as rancher/award-winning poet Juan,…
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Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier & Edward Burtynsky, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Steve Macfarlane Coined by scientist Paul Crutzen in the early 2000s but popularized by the Iraq War veteran cum essayist Roy Scranton’s 2015 book Learning to Live and Die in the Anthropocene, the phrase “anthropocene” (wildly popular among totebag-wielding anarchists, autonomists and accelerationists in New York City) refers to the era of Earth’s history…
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Through Black Spruce (Don McKellar, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Angelo Muredda You almost have to admire the chutzpah of Through Black Spruce, which hits TIFF with an inscrutable mix of sheepishness and self-confidence. Don McKellar’s adaptation of Joseph Boyden’s Giller Prize-winning novel couldn’t be arriving at a worse time, a cultural moment where writers like Jen Sookfong Lee and Alicia Elliott have proclaimed…
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The Black Book (Valeria Sarmiento, Portugal/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By James Lattimer From Amour Fou to The Death of Louis XIV to Zama, revisionism has been applied so successfully to the costume drama of late that it almost feels like something is missing when a director plays it straight. Veteran Chilean director Valeria Sarmiento’s The Black Book is a case in point here, a…
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Freaks (Zach Lipovsky & Adam Stein, Canada) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman Too grim for a straight-up YA audience and too goofy to be taken too seriously, Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein’s Freaks at leads owns its curious at-oddsness: it’s a weird, scrappy, palpably Canadian mutant that’s actually more likeable for not quite passing as mainstream fare. That earnest-misfit ethos begins with its seven-year-old…
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Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry, US) — Platform

By Jason Anderson Published in Cinema Scope 76 (Fall 2018)   The phony magazine cover glimpsed in the early moments of Her Smell may not have the same heady metatextual allure as that of so many journals invented out of whole cloth and newsprint for narrative purposes, like the must-read issues of Dorgon and Kill…
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The Front Runner (Jason Reitman, US) —Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman The second movie in as many award-season cycles to feature scenes depicting the inner workings of The Washington Post, The Front Runner stakes out its distance from Steven Spielberg by painting even charter members of the fourth estate as carrion-scarfing jackals; (insanely) cast as Ben Bradlee, Alfred Molina cynically justifies his newspaper’s…
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The Mercy of the Jungle (Joël Karekezi, Belgium, France) — Discovery

By Sarah-Tai Black Joël Karekezi’s second feature, The Mercy of the Jungle, is a propulsive film that uses the visual and dramatic potential of hermetic environments to create a story that is both broad in scope and direct in vision. Taking place at the outset of the Second Congo War in 1998, the Mercy of…
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Manta Ray (Phuttiphong Aroonpheng, Thailand/France) — Discovery

By Jennifer Lynde Barker Manta Ray is a film about the Other and all that this philosophical, social, and ethical concept implies. The film strikes a graceful balance between the details of lived experience and a deeper symbolic scope, building the story quietly towards an encounter with the irreducible reality of Others and our responsibility…
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Mademoiselle de Joncquières (Emmanuel Mouret, France) — Platform

By Madeleine Wall Loosely based upon a Denis Diderot story, Emmanuel Mouret’s Mademoiselle de Joncquières is a vengeance tale, dry and brightly lit to the point of wash-out. Taking place predominantly in estates in the French countryside, this period piece is about the repressed fury of a woman scorned, and the double standards of the…
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Touch Me Not (Adina Pintilie, Romania/Germany/Czech Republic/Bulgaria/France) — Discovery

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr Somewhere between fiction and documentary, director Adina Pintilie and her characters explore everything that “intimacy” entails in the Golden Bear-winning Touch Me Not. The film centers around Laura (Laura Benson), a woman struggling with intimacy who turns to the personal sexual experiences of a number of marginalized people to learn more about…
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The Accused (Gonzalo Tobal, Argentina/Mexico) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Diego Brodersen Gonzalo Tobal’s second feature after a long hiatus (his debut film Villegas was released in Argentina in 2012) marks a clear step into the world of popular cinema. The Accused tries very hard to appeal to a broad audience with its tale of Dolores (Argentinian pop star and actress Lali Espósito, definitely…
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Heartbound (Janus Metz & Sine Plambech, Denmark/Netherlands/ Sweden) — TIFF Docs

By Kelley Dong Hidden in the grassy seaside of northwestern Jutland, the matronly Sommai has arranged for hundreds of marriages between Thai women and Danish men for more than 30 years. Between 2007 and 2018, documentarian Janus Metz (Borg vs McEnroe) and anthropologist Sine Plambech (Trafficking) closely followed Sommai and her construction of a migration…
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In Fabric (Peter Strickland, UK) — Midnight Madness

By Robert Koehler I’ve remarked elsewhere in Cinema Scope’s TIFF coverage (specifically regarding Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro) that one of the manifestations of our current state of Late Auteurism is filmmakers who believe their own press and think that they’re actually “authors” will copy earlier and greater masters. In art, imitation is essential: true originality is…
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“I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” (Radu Jude, Romania/Czech Republic/France/Bulgaria/ Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski It’s never a pleasant sight to see a film trying to punch above its intellectual weight class. “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” (the quotation marks are an official part of the title) is certainly a film with a lot on its mind. Specifically, director Radu…
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Cities of Last Things (Ho Wi Ding, Taiwan/China/US/France) — Platform

By Shelly Kraicer Ho Wi Ding’s fifth feature film is his most ambitious and most interesting. After a couple of beautifully shot conceptual narrative shorts (Respire [2005]; Summer Afternoon [2008]), Ho made several commercial movies (including the sharp cross-cultural comedy Pinoy Sunday [2010]) before Cities of Last Things, which resumes his narrative experiments. The story…
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Let Me Fall (Baldvin Z, Iceland/Finland/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Ethan Vestby Turns out the kids aren’t all right—that’s the primary takeaway from the feels-every-second-of-it 136 minutes of Let Me Fall, a new piece of Scandinavian miseryporn that one hopes could be the corrective to this year’s addiction drama  (and fellow TIFF selection) Beautiful Boy, or at least that Chalamet Oscar vehicle’s trailer. Epic…
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Crises of Perfection: Wavelengths Shorts

By Leo Goldsmith A rediscovered film by Japanese experimental filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto, 1986 Summer (1986), unleashes a torrent of images over three silent minutes. The film seems to comprise a single, double-exposed reel with two layers of imagery set against each other: one layer, a scattering of thousands of single frames of green leaves framed…
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Aniara (Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja, Sweden) — Discovery

By Manuela Lazic (ELON MUSK… DON’T READ THIS.) In this Swedish sci-fi film from first-time feature directors Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, getting our ass to Mars doesn’t turn out to be a great idea. The journey on the spaceship Aniara is projected to last three weeks, an unbearable amount of time were there not…
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Peterloo (Mike Leigh, UK) — Masters

By Robert Koehler Make no mistake about it: Peterloo, the new movie directed by Mike Leigh, is one weird piece of work. Seemingly created outside of time and space, with no relation to either anything else Leigh has directed nor anything else in contemporary cinema (except for Dick Pope’s ultra HD digital cinematography, which often…
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Phoenix (Camilla Strøm Henriksen, Norway/Sweden) — Discovery

By Madeleine Wall The amount of skill that goes into taking care of someone is on full display in Phoenix, which begins with its protagonist, 13-year-old Jill (Ylva Thedin Bjørkaas), entering the apartment she shares with her family. Having taken responsibility for the well-being of her depressed and alcoholic mother Astrid (Maria Bonnevie) and her…
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Monrovia, Indiana (Frederick Wiseman, US) — TIFF Docs

By Lorenzo Esposito At the end of the screening of Monrovia, Indiana in Venice, a young man approached Fred Wiseman and told him, “Maestro, your films will be understood in 20 years.” Wiseman, laughing, replied: “I wanna be there!” It is not a joke, but maybe the closest thing to Wiseman’s idea of ​​cinema that…
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The Third Wife (Ash Mayfair, Vietnam) — Discovery

By Mallory Andrews Writer-director Ash Mayfair’s debut feature—about a 14-year-old girl, May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My), who is married off to much older rich man in 19th-century Vietnam—is a work of quiet empathy that skillfully depicts the harsh limits of the title character’s existence without ever reveling in her despair. The Third Wife is a…
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Duelles (Olivier Masset-Depasse, Belgium/France) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Or, Bad Mamans. There’s a genuinely intriguing idea at the centre of Duelles, in which a pair of suburban mothers as well-manicured as their respective lawns engage in an escalating game of psychological warfare (and worse) in the wake of a tragedy that, in the eyes of the suffering party, could not…
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The Crossing (Bai Xue, China) — Discovery

By Shelly Kraicer Once in while a film will transcend its generic limitations and manage to make something new and fresh out of elements that seem overly familiar. The young Chinese director-screenwriter Bai Xue manages this with her first film The Crossing. Young high-school student Peipei (impressive newcomer Huang Yao) comes from a split home:…
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Killing (Tsukamoto Shinya, Japan) — Masters

By Steve Macfarlane Tsukamoto Shinya’s Killing is the kind of movie that lives to be pull-quoted as “masterful”: a revisionist drama about a masterless samurai roaming late-feudal Japan (a subgenre known as chanbara) shot on crisp high-definition video, with an insanely sick sword battle at its centre. Tsukamoto stars as a cool-and-collected ronin named Sawamura…
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Edge of the Knife (Gwaii Edenshaw & Helen Haig-Brown, Canada) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski The first feature film produced in the Haida language, currently spoken by upwards of 20 individuals, Edge of the Knife is notable simply as a cultural survivance project. If there should come a time when Haida is no longer a living language, the film may serve as a kind of Rosetta Stone…
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Graves Without a Name (Rithy Panh, France/Cambodia) — TIFF Docs

By Angelo Muredda Late in Rithy Panh’s elegant successor to The Missing Picture, which more squarely faces his own family losses in the Cambodian genocide of the late ’70s, the filmmaker’s longtime surrogate narrator Randal Douc wonders if he has shot so many images of death in order to forget that he himself is dead.…
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Belmonte (Federico Veiroj, Uruguay/Spain/Mexico) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski If there’s a film this year that merits the label “Big Dick Energy” more than Belmonte, it’s going to have to be in Cinerama. This is the story of Javi Belmonte (Gonzalo Delgado), a leading contemporary artist in Uruguay whose large canvases exhibit a hint of Italian Transavantgarde style (especially Francesco Clemente)…
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The Wild Pear Tree (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/France/Germany/ Bulgaria) — Masters

By Ian Barr It wasn’t too far into his filmography that Nuri Bilge Ceylan began to express a sense of petulance (albeit in the form of waggish self-reflexivity) regarding his own growing reputation as one of the major heirs apparent to an older tradition of modernist cinema. In his breakthrough Distant, the film’s protag played…
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What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? (Roberto Minervini, Italy/US/France) — Wavelengths

By Mark Peranson Judging from the early reviews of What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?, which spurred me to write these fast and loose impressions, Roberto Minervini seems to have painted himself into multiple monochrome corners—a white Italian man (albeit one who lives in Texas) making a film named after a spiritual…
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Vox Lux (Brady Corbet, US) — Special Presentations

By Jennifer Lynde Barker Brady Corbet’s new film is divisive: in its structure and vision, and in the way it elicits audience response. At the Venice press screening, it sparked immediate bravos and boos—spontaneous cries of love and hate. Neither does the film lend itself to discourse. Like its main character, pop singer Celeste (Natalie…
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That Time of Year (Paprika Steen, Denmark) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Guess what? Families act like assholes at Christmastime. And for some reason, they keep making the same movie about it, over and over, in multiple languages. This one’s in Danish. When one considers the depth and intelligence that Paprika Steen has brought to the cinema over the last quarter-century, it’s truly galling that she…
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The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery, US) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler Some break the law—it’s their nature. Some go after the lawbreakers—it’s their nature. To capture two characters in these natural states is the aim of The Old Man & the Gun, a free and easy account of the real-life exploits of a gang of elderly bank robbers in the early ’80s led…
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Angelo (Markus Schleinzer, Austria/Luxembourg) — Platform

By Angelo Muredda It’s funny in an Austrian sort of way that Markus Schleinzer should take seven years to follow his 2011 Cannes debut Michael with a movie called Angelo. That kind of contextual anti-joke would be at home in his latest, a self-reflexive 18th-century period piece, pitched at the edge of irony, about the…
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American Dharma (Errol Morris, US) — TIFF Docs

By Clara Miranda Scherffig Many viewers “only” know Steve Bannon as the bad-skinned evil plotter behind Donald Trump: a racist, a fascist, an occasional movie producer, a failed media mogul—in other words, not exactly a cinephile. Errol Morris’ documentary about Bannon, American Dharma, includes excerpts of classic American films picked by Bannon to illustrate his…
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Splinters (Thom Fitzgerald, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski From its lingering focus on silent theatrical gestures that are ill-suited to the screen, to its narrative that’s structured entirely around an elevator pitch, to its irksome reliance on sub-coffee house white-boy folk music that’s woven right into the diegesis, Splinters could very well serve as Exhibit A for why English Canadian…
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Core of the World (Natalia Meshchaninova, Russia/Lithuania) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Joseph Pomp The notion that work is rarely depicted with seriousness in the cinema has at this point become a truism, but few narrative films make it their bread and butter as much as Core of the World does. An affecting character study of a lone-wolf veterinarian at a kennel for hunting dogs in…
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The River (Emir Baigazin, Kazakhstan/Norway/Poland) — Platform

By Michael Sicinski An austere tone poem of parental oppression, The River is unusual in its application of the rigid principles of “festival cinema.” Rather than employing formalism for its own sake, director Emir Baigazin opts instead to orchestrate controlled rituals that are at odds with the youthful energies that are simmering just below the…
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Loro (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy/France) — Masters

By Robert Koehler Because of the various creative ways that capital funds cinema, decadence and corruption are never too far away from eating away at its heart. So, beware of movies about decadence: these are movies that tempt fate, walk right up to the line of becoming the very thing they’re observing or satirizing, and…
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The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland/France) — Masters

By Andréa Picard Published in Cinema Scope 75 (Summer 2018)   “There is a real contrast between the violence of the act of representation and the internal calm of representation itself.”—Le livre d’image Last summer, the Institut Lumière in Lyon run by Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux announced a full Godard retrospective for its annual restoration…
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The Trial (Sergei Loznitsa, Netherlands) — Wavelengths

By Lawrence Garcia Following the conflicted reportage of Victory Day and the fictional portmanteau of Donbass, Sergei Loznitsa delivers a third 2018 premiere with The Trial, an in-the-gallery documentary account of one of Stalin’s infamous Moscow Trials. Returning to primarily found-footage materials for the first time since The Event (2015), Loznitsa linearly condenses an 11-day…
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Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi, Spain/France/Italy) — Gala Presentations

By Azadeh Jafari In Asghar Farhadi’s family dramas, there is always a crucial piece of narrative information that  is kept from the viewers and also from some of the characters, and which serves kicks off the director’s stories of secrets and lies. Then, through the meticulously well-written scripts, all the events, actions, and reactions are engineered…
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Kingsway (Bruce Sweeney, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Mallory Andrews Are there citizens of any other nation who have as strained a relationship with their national cinema than Canadians? This may well be one of the only countries in the world to call its own cinematic output by name: they’re not just movies, they’re Canadian movies, an unofficial shorthand to denote a…
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Destroyer (Karyn Kusama, US) — Platform

By Adam Nayman Playing a weathered LAPD lifer in Destroyer, Nicole Kidman looks like she’s been Dragged Across Concrete; her Erin Bell is the kind of hard-driving, harder-drinking detective who sleeps in her clothes in her car and flips off superiors at the scene of the crime. In other words, she’s a cliché, and if…
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Jirga (Benjamin Gilmour, Australia) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski An MFA-level piece of short fiction with decidedly honourable intent, Jirga seems blinkered by its Western point of view despite its dogged efforts to leave said perspective behind. Mike (Sam Smith) has returned to Afghanistan where, three years prior, he accidentally killed a civilian during an anti-Taliban raid. He wants to make…
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Sunset (László Nemes, Hungary/France) — Special Presentations

By Dominik Kamalzadeh With Son of Saul, his immersive Holocaust drama about a member of the Sonderkommando, Hungarian director László Nemes made a lightning start with a topic few directors dare to face up to at all. His unusual—and, in this context, especially debatable—approach was the product of an aesthetic that claimed to convey the…
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The Great Darkened Days (Maxime Giroux, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Elena Lazic It’s a testament to French-Canadian director Maxime Giroux’s control over his material that, as seemingly random or absurd as the events and imagery in The Great Darkened Days may appear, they all feel ruled by a genuine and moving emotion at their core. Giroux’s film centres on Philippe (Martin Dubreuil), a Québécois…
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One Last Deal (Klaus Härö, Finland) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Mallory Andrews The most dreaded of festival films are not the unwatchable dregs (and it’s certainly not the cream of the crop), but the perfunctory middle-of-the-road selections. What to do when a movie doesn’t inspire much more than a “meh”? How does one expand that out to a couple hundred words? One solid strategy…
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The Day I Lost My Shadow (Soudade Kaadan, Syria/France/ Qatar/Lebanon) — Discovery

By Ethan Vestby Beginning and ending in darkness lit by candlelight—including a rather abrupt, cruel capper that seems to recall nothing so much as the iconic fade to black that concluded The Sopranos—The Day I Lost My Shadow is a rather arch experience. Yet looking upon it in retrospect, if anything one wishes for a…
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