TIFF 2019

Three Summers (Sandra Kogut, Brazil/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Caitlin Quinlan / September 13, 2019

By Caitlin Quinlan  Celebrated Brazilian actor Regina Casé shines as Madá, the industrious, enterprising housekeeper for a wealthy Rio family in Sandra Kogut’s warmly affecting Three Summers. Each December from 2015 to2017, Kogut’s film checks in on Madá and her co-workers at a condominium owned by Mr. Edgar and Ms. Marta, the disengaged, too-rich-for-their-own-good married…

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Knives Out (Rian Johnson, US) — Special Presentations

By Meg Shields / September 13, 2019

By Meg Shields Knives Out is a massively fun, if blissfully unsubtle, old-school whodunnit from Star Wars helmer Rian Johnson. The film takes place in a manor presumably built by the same contractor behind Laurence Olivier’s mansion in Sleuth, and revolves around the mysterious death of the Thrombrey family’s patriarch, Harlan (Christopher Plummer). The writing…

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Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman / September 13, 2019

By Adam Nayman With five minutes to go in Jojo Rabbit, I laughed out loud. One of the actors (not one of the famous ones) got off a good line reading, and my response, fully audible and totally involuntary, filled me with shame. (I actually apologized to my seatmate, who will remain nameless but successfully…

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Hope (Maria Sødahl, Norway/Sweden) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2019

By Michael Sicinski This third feature film by Maria Sødahl is less a comeback than a new beginning. As the opening title card announces, Hope is based on a true story, although the director refrains from telling the viewer that the story is in fact her own. This knowledge certainly isn’t necessary, but it only…

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The Laundromat (Steven Soderbergh, US) — Special Presentations

By Mark Asch / September 13, 2019

By Mark Asch “Follow the money” is the imperative of every Steven Soderbergh movie: since Traffic helped inaugurate the “everything is connected” genre, he’s tracked the flow of circulating commodities from viruses to athletes, and his heist films invert the find-the-lady deceptiveness of global finance to redistributive ends. The Laudromat, his Panama Papers movie, aims…

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Wasp Network (Olivier Assayas, France/Brazil/Spain/Belgium) — Special Presentations

By Clara Miranda / September 13, 2019

By Clara Miranda Scherffig There is certainly fertile ground for a film in the spy-riddled landscape between Cuba and Miami during the early ’90s. Think of the Pulitzer-winning photograph of six-year-old Elián González being forcibly seized by armed soldiers, and you have the setting for Olivier Assayas’ new film. Wasp Network narrates the heyday of…

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Uncut Gems (Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie, US) — Special Presentations

By Ella Kemp / September 12, 2019

By Ella Kemp Josh and Benny Safdie chip away at the diamond-hard veneer of greed with Uncut Gems, their newest New York thriller that offers up a nightmare vision of a business transaction gone awry. Adam Sandler is at once ferocious and utterly numb-skulled as Howard Ratner, a Jewish jeweller with no self-awareness but an…

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The Song of Names (François Girard, Canada) — Gala Presentations

By Josh Cabrita / September 12, 2019

By Josh Cabrita  Though the designation of a “late work” is usually reserved for revered masters who in their twilight years distil their style down to its supposedly purified essence, I see no reason why that term couldn’t also apply to a decidedly mediocre (and rarely brilliant) filmmaker like François Girard. Adapted from a book…

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The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers & Kathleen Hepburn, Canada/Norway) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Josh Cabrita / September 12, 2019

By Josh Cabrita The sad, slow, melancholy words of Joni Mithcell’s “Little Green” feature prominently in a mournful scene from the latest by Vancouver filmmakers Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers. While East Vancouver hipster Áila (Tailfeathers) speaks over the phone with a female crisis centre, the “extremely pregnant” Rosie (Violet Nelson)—whom the former happened upon…

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Resin (Daniel Joseph Borgman, Denmark) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2019

By Michael Sicinski  Something sticky this way comes: Resin is not a very good film judged on its own merits, but it also has the additional misfortune of demanding a side-by-side comparison. The story of Jens (Peter Plaugborg), a delusional “naturalist” who has moved his family to the outskirts of town after faking the drowning…

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Henry Glassie: Field Work (Pat Collins, Ireland) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Phoebe Chen / September 12, 2019

By Phoebe Chen Pat Collins’ Henry Glassie: Field Work follows the folkloric practices of its title subject, an emeritus professor at Indiana University who has spent the past 50 years in decade-long sojourns with folk artists across various continents. That a white, American ethnographer should be the ideal interlocutor for communities of craftspeople in rural…

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August (Armando Capó, Cuba/Costa Rica/France) — Discovery

By Caitlin Quinlan / September 12, 2019

By Caitlin Quinlan In August, director Armando Capó makes beautiful use of a Cuban colour palette: lush, leafy greens, rich sea blues, with accents of yellows and oranges. Even the subtitles appear in a soft shade of pink. This debut feature is indicative of a director with a skillful eye for composition and framing, and…

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The Twentieth Century (Matthew Rankin, Canada) — Midnight Madness

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2019

By Michael Sicinski  Hats off to Midnight Madness programmer Peter Kuplowsky for selecting this singular, albeit somewhat counterintuitive, homegrown oddity. Certainly a cult item in the making, The Twentieth Century represents the sort of Freudian-perverse take on national mythmaking that one finds in the work of Jim Finn, combined with the stark Futurist abstraction of…

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Proxima ( Alice Winocour, Germany/France) — Platform

By Mark Asch / September 11, 2019

By Mark Asch A feature-length version of the scene in Robert Zemeckis’ Contact (1997) in which an astronaut’s teary-eyed daughter begs her daddy not to go into space, Alice Winocour’s Proxima follows Eva Green as she juggles parenting an eight-year-old and preparations for a year aboard the International Space Station. Sarah (Green) shares custody of…

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, France) — Special Presentations

By Anna Swanson / September 11, 2019

By Anna Swanson Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, the first thing that stands out about Portrait of a Lady on Fire is its framing device. The film begins with artist and instructor Marianne (Noémie Merlant) posing for her students; when one inquires about a striking painting on the wall of her studio, the film transports to…

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The Antenna (Orçun Behram, Turkey) — Discovery

By Madeleine Wall / September 11, 2019

By Madeleine Wall Hiding from the world behind solitary, mindless work, Mehmet (Ihsan Önal) serves as the superintendent of an anonymous apartment complex. The residents mainly keep to themselves, but as Mehmet settles in for a day where the only thing of note on the agenda is the installation of a new antenna, things rapidly…

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Un film dramatique (Éric Baudelaire, France) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2019

By Michael Sicinski  Despite the fact that it is both preposterous and technologically untenable, a widespread ideology tends to enshroud childhood, proclaiming it a space to be protected from politics and social concerns, a zone of “innocence.” This is perhaps why, in the United States—a nation where a young person entering a school building doesn’t…

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Easy Land (Sanja Zivkovic, Canada) — Discovery

By Anna Swanson / September 11, 2019

By Anna Swanson For the mother-daughter pair of Sanja Zivkovic’s directorial debut Easy Land, the old sentiment that the grass is always greener on the other side resolutely rings true. Jasna (Mirjana Jokovic) is a Serbian immigrant committed to her dream of giving the teenage Nina (Nina Kiri) a better life in Canada. She’s an…

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Collective (Alexander Nanau, Romania) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Scoular / September 10, 2019

By Michael Scoular There’s nothing that can do justice to the terror of the footage that plays near the start of Alexander Nanau’s Colectiv: a fire, breaking out in the middle of a packed album-release show for metal-core band Goodbye to Gravity, destroys a venue with no sprinklers or fire exits, and what we see…

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Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, US) — Gala Presentations

By Daniel Reynolds / September 10, 2019

By Daniel Reynolds Maybe this is my male gaze talking, but if Hustlers was made purely to satisfy Jennifer Lopez’s desire to show she’s still got it at 50, well, fine, I accept that. The film, written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, has other things it wants to say about financial crime, our cruel capitalistic…

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Clemency (Chinonye Chukwu, US) — Gala Presentations

By Meg Shields / September 10, 2019

By Meg Shields Clemency was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance festival, and maybe it’s time we accept that the altitude is having some pernicious effect on Utah audiences. The film follows Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard), a beleaguered Death Row warden who takes her job very seriously, but is starting to feel…

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Color Out of Space (Richard Stanley, US) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman / September 10, 2019

By Adam Nayman The stories of H.P. Lovecraft teem and crawl with terrifyingly malleable creations, yet paradoxically resist cinematic adaptation; more than most weird tales, they exist to be beheld in the mind’s eye. Richard Stanley’s go at Lovecraft’s 1927 chestnut “The Color Out of Space” eschews the original’s turn-of-the-century setting and repertorial framing device…

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The County (Grímur Hákonarson, Iceland/Denmark/Germany/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Mark Asch / September 10, 2019

By Mark Asch At Cannes 2015, an Un Certain Regard jury headed by Isabella Rossellini awarded its top prize to Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams, a film about the congenital stubbornness of Iceland’s aging rural population which, with its agricultural wit and final shot of feuding twin brothers in a symbolic return to the womb, reached for…

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Ema (Pablo Larraín, Chile) — Special Presentations

By Clara Miranda / September 10, 2019

By Clara Miranda Scherffig In his first film set in contemporary Chile, Pablo Larraìn relays a story of wicked energy within a system that doesn’t recognize itself as such anymore. In contrast with the director’s previous films, Chilean society in Ema is not a character per se, but a platform upon which one can exercise…

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Entwined (Minos Nikolakakis, Greece) — Discovery

By Madeleine Wall / September 10, 2019

By Madeleine Wall It is much harder to make a film like a fairy tale than one expects. When we look back at half- remembered stories from our childhood, they seem simple; we often forget the horrors and complexities that come from sparse storytelling. Minos Nikolakakis’ Entwined takes the form of such a tale, but…

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Paris Stalingrad (Hind Meddeb, France) — TIFF Docs

By Madeleine Wall / September 10, 2019

By Madeleine Wall The only static aspect  of Hind Meddeb’s documentary Paris Stalingrad is the area from which the film takes its name. Beginning with this eponymous space, Meddeb expands to the treatment of the refugees who must stay there, focusing as much on the newcomers  as the Parisians and their varying levels of aid.…

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Sole (Carlo Sironi, Italy/Poland) — Discovery

By Clara Miranda / September 10, 2019

By Clara Miranda Scherffig It is always surprising how many filmmakers deploy the narrative device of a pregnancy in order to explore the emotional and social depths of male characters. This is the case in Sole, the first feature by Italian Carlo Sironi. Ermanno (Claudio Segaluscio) is a young man who spends his time engaged…

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Clifton Hill (Albert Shin, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman / September 10, 2019

By Adam Nayman Good thrillers live or die by their specifics, and Clifton Hill is nothing if not precise about its tourist-trap environment (the Canadian side of Niagara Falls) and its inhabitants, including trashy gambling addicts, possibly psychopathic land developers, French-Canadian husband-and-wife tiger-trainers, and—if you hadn’t already heard—David Cronenberg emerging like Ursula Andress (except fully…

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Coppers (Alan Zweig, Canada) — TIFF Docs

By Angelo Muredda / September 9, 2019

By Angelo Muredda “Cops are by far the biggest liars,” a subject admits early in Alan Zweig’s Coppers, which brings the filmmaker’s signature conversational style to bear on a profile of retired Toronto police officers, about a dozen of whom are interviewed at rest and in ride-alongs to the scenes of past arrests and disaster…

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This is Not a Movie (Yung Chang, Canada/Germany) — TIFF Docs

By Steve Macfarlane / September 9, 2019

By Steve Macfarlane “The person who denies the genocide in Armenia will deny the Jewish holocaust in Europe, and will deny any other kind of massacre that comes to hand.” That’s Robert Fisk, among the most celebrated war correspondents of the last quarter-century, getting the bio-doc treatment in Yung Chang’s documentary This is Not a…

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The Audition (Ina Weisse, Germany/France) — Discovery

By Anna Swanson / September 9, 2019

By Anna Swanson You could throw a dart and hit an apt musical metaphor for Ina Weisse’s The Audition: it’s a symphonic study of human behaviour, a film with an unrelenting rhythm that crescendos with an act both shocking and, on reflection, inevitable. Nina Hoss is absolutely magnificent as Anna, a violin teacher who takes…

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Tammy’s Always Dying (Amy Jo Johnson, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman / September 9, 2019

By Adam Nayman Tammy’s also always yelling—and cursing, and drinking, and threatening suicide, and making a messy spectacle of herself in public and private. That’s just who Tammy is, and it’s also just the sort of movie that Tammy’s Always Dying is trying to be: a smile-through-tears comedy-drama about the need to hold our loved…

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The Australian Dream (Daniel Gordon, Australia/UK) — TIFF Docs

By Beatrice Loayza / September 9, 2019

By Beatrice Loayza It’s no coincidence that the title of Daniel Gordon’s documentary portrait of Australian footballer Adam Goodes echoes the concept of the “American Dream”: after all, the history of Australia, like that of the United States, is a story of colonization and of the violence and racism that both fuelled it and still…

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1982 (Oualid Mouaness, US/Lebanon/Norway/Qatar) — Discovery

By Mark Asch / September 9, 2019

By Mark Asch Surely autobiographical, fortysomething Lebanese writer-director Oualid Mouaness’ debut fiction feature 1982 views the Israeli invasion into the then civil-warring nation from the unlikely, ultimately unpropitious vantage of an English-language private school in East Beirut at the end of the school year. Fifth-grader Wassim (Mohamad Dalli) scrambles to finish his exams and muster…

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Joker (Todd Phillips, US) — Gala Presentations

By Barbara Wurm / September 8, 2019

By Barbara Wurm Ed. note — even Cinema Scope, in the face of potential online wrath, must needs post a SPOILER warning before reviews of films such as this. The joker is not one, but three. A film, consisting of three, is usually a nuisance. Joker, splendidly directed by Todd Phillips and ingeniously performed by…

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My English Cousin (Karim Sayad, Switzerland/Qatar) — TIFF Docs

By Meg Shields / September 8, 2019

By Meg Shields My English Cousin is probably what it would actually feel like to be a fly on the wall: people scratch their asses, bicker harmlessly with loved ones, and pack and repack their bags. It’s a hard truth: most people just aren’t that interesting. The documentary follows director Karim Sayad’s cousin Fahed, who…

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Son-Mother (Mahnaz Mohammadi, Iran/Czech Republic) — Discovery

By Michael Scoular / September 8, 2019

By Michael Scoular Hours before leaving for Evin Prison to begin a five-year sentence, filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi shot a three-minute video. “I’ve got great anger in me,” she said, calling prison “a place where you are sentenced to go, even if you don’t deserve it.” Though there were petitions and a statement from Cannes, nothing…

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Guest of Honour (Atom Egoyan, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman / September 8, 2019

By Adam Nayman The subtext of Atom Egoyan’s latest mid-late-career work is that you shouldn’t be mean to people online—a plaint that looks retrospectively prophetic in light of the film’s Venice reception, which included an attempted murder in the pages of Variety. Suffice it to say that Guest of Honour is not nearly so bad…

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Mariam (Sharipa Urazbayeva, Kazakhstan) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 8, 2019

By Robert Koehler  Shot in a stark, rural patch of Kazakhstan and contained inside the frame of a short story—quite often the best model for a feature screenplay to follow—Mariam tells the tale of a woman, wife, and mother who doesn’t realize that she must change her life until outside forces tell her so. Then,…

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Devil Between the Legs (Arturo Ripstein, Mexico/Spain) — Masters

By Michael Sicinski / September 8, 2019

By Michael Sicinski Well folks, it’s September 2019, and here we have a late-breaking entry for Worst Film of the Decade. I’m not kidding, and I’m not levelling empty hyperbole. I have been a major supporter of director Arturo Ripstein and screenwriter Paz Alicia Garciadiego in the past: The Beginning and the End (1993) and…

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Made in Bangladesh (Rubaiyat Hossain, France/Bangladesh/Denmark/Portugal) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Dana Reinoos / September 8, 2019

By Dana Reinoos Shimu, the 23-year-old protagonist of director Rubaiyat Hossain’s Made in Bangladesh, could be the face of global capitalism: a young woman who works punishing shifts at a textile factory for paltry wages on which she cannot even afford rice for herself and her unemployed husband. When a fire takes the life of…

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Incitement (Yaron Zilberman, Israel) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Angelo Muredda / September 8, 2019

By Angelo Muredda Israeli filmmaker Yaron Zilberman follows up A Late Quartet with Incitement, an unnerving recreation of the days leading up to Orthodox Jewish law student Yigal Amir’s assassination of then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for his integral role in the Oslo peace process. Offering another look into the social customs by which…

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I Am Not Alone (Garin Hovannisian, Armenia/US) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 8, 2019

By Michael Sicinski  An up-close, day-by-day chronicle of the 2018 Armenian revolution that deposed autocrat Serzh Sargsyan and brought reform-minded activist Niko Pashinyan to power, I Am Not Alone is a fascinating look at the contemporary structure of power and protest. While unabashedly pro-Pashinyan, the film reveals a bit more than it probably intends to…

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Waves (Trey Edward Shults, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman / September 7, 2019

By Adam Nayman With Waves, Trey Edward Shults goes for broke; another way to put it is that he’s writing cheques that his filmmaking can’t cash. Even leaving aside the question (which I’m assuming will be asked at some point by somebody not otherwise participating in a standing ovation) about a white filmmaker aggressively melodramatizing…

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The Lost Okoroshi (Abba Makama, Nigeria) — Discovery

By Brendan Boyle / September 7, 2019

By Brendan Boyle Director Abba Makama displays an array of tones in his Lagos odyssey The Lost Okoroshi, which follows Raymond Obinwa (Seun Ajayi), a shiftless security worker who commutes to the city and, one morning, finds himself transformed in his bed into the voiceless purple spirit of his dreams. Stricken mute by his transformation,…

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American Woman (Semi Chellas, Canada) — Gala Presentations

By Angelo Muredda / September 7, 2019

By Angelo Muredda  TV-to-feature transitions are always a fraught jump for writers of sparkling, monologue-heavy prose, and Mad Men writer Semi Chellas’ American Woman is no exception. Faring a bit better than Chellas’ former boss Matthew Weiner’s dispiriting Are You Here but falling well short of the intimacy and idiosyncrasy of David Chase’s Not Fade…

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ZANA (Antoneta Kastrati, Albania/Kosovo) — Discovery

By Dana Reinoos / September 7, 2019

By Dana Reinoos Twenty years after the end of the Kosovo war, Kosovar filmmaker Antoneta Kastrati makes her narrative debut with ZANA, a fictionalized treatment of the deeply ingrained trauma still acutely felt by survivors. Lume (Adriana Matoshi, whose placid face explodes into rage and grief at unexpected moments) is married to Ilir (Astrit Kabashi);…

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Nobadi (Karl Markovics, Austria) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Courtney Duckworth / September 7, 2019

By Courtney Duckworth Karl Makovics’ Nobadi gestures toward revelations that never resonate. Ostensibly a culture-clash tale about a cantankerous (read: bigoted) old German man named Robert (Heinz Trixner) and an Afghani migrant (Borhanulddin Hassan Zadeh, embodying a gesture at politics more than a human being) who he contracts to bury his late companion, a fluffy…

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My Life as a Comedian (Rojda Sekersöz, Sweden/Belgium) — Discovery

By Meg Shields / September 7, 2019

By Meg Shields Within the first several minutes of My Life as a Comedian, it becomes readily apparent that something terrible is going to happen: the kind of inevitable third-act tragedy that leaves now-grown protagonists with weighty shoulders and instant recoil at the mention of hometowns. This is certainly the case with Juha, a now…

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Sea Fever (Neasa Hardiman, Ireland/Sweden/Belgium/UK) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman / September 7, 2019

By Adam Nayman You learn something new every day: for instance, I didn’t know that redheads were considered bad luck on the open seas, hence the chilly reception for bookish ginger Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) aboard the trawler that’s hosting her solo marine-biological expedition. (“You need to get your hands dirty,” says a supervisor, foreshadowing plenty…

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Instinct (Halina Reijn, Netherlands) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 6, 2019

By Robert Koehler  Viewed strictly as a vehicle for Carice van Houten, who had a fine European film career for herself before all the world began to know her as Game of Thrones’ Red Queen, Instinct is a serviceable entry on the actor’s resume, but, as a credible psychodrama that pits a therapist against her…

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Maria’s Paradise (Zaida Bergroth, Finland/Estonia) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Anna Swanson / September 6, 2019

By Anna Swanson Director Zaida Bergroth’s film about a clairvoyant cult leader is unable to see that its strongest aspects are woefully underserved. The eponymous Maria (Pihla Viitala) is the leader of a religious sect who presents herself as having been visited by an angel that bestowed her with second sight. One of her most…

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Castle in the Ground (Joey Klein, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman / September 6, 2019

By Adam Nayman The swift, ruinous descent from normalcy into substance abuse is hardly a subject lacking for cinematic treatment, and Joey Klein’s Castle in the Ground offers one more. In terms of casting, this Sudbury-set feature is above reproach, juxtaposing sad-eyed Henry (Alex Wolff, already an old hand at being put through the physical…

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The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão (Karim Aïnouz, Brazil/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Jaclyn Bruneau / September 6, 2019

By Jaclyn Bruneau Karim Aïnouz has created a decadently frustrating, and thus accurate, study of longing, which begins as what seems like a coming-of-age story about two sisters in 1950s Brazil. One evening, Guida (Julia Stockler) asks Euridice (Carol Duarte) to cover for her so that she can slip through the back door to meet…

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State Funeral (Sergei Loznitsa, Netherlands/Lithuania) — Wavelengths

By Bob Kotyk / September 6, 2019

By Bob Kotyk The death of Joseph Stalin seems to have been so unthinkable that numbness and shock are almost all that can be gleaned from the faces of the dozens of mourners as they gather in plazas, pause from their work at job sites, or offer up bouquets in State Funeral, expert exhumer Sergei’s…

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Anne at 13,000 ft (Kazik Radwanski, Canada/US) — Platform

By Josh Cabrita / September 6, 2019

By Josh Cabrita Published in Cinema Scope #80 (Fall 2019) With his first two features, Tower (2012) and How Heavy This Hammer (2015), Toronto-based director and MDFF co-founder Kazik Radwanski established something of a recurring archetype: sad, lonely, and horny men whose unpleasant or uninteresting qualities are accentuated by the director’s unrelenting approach of shooting…

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Murmur (Heather Young, Canada) — Discovery

By Mallory Andrews / September 6, 2019

By Mallory Andrews Almost any movie featuring an animal doubles as a documentary about an animal that doesn’t know it’s in a movie—that is perhaps not the intended animating conflict of Murmur, but it’s the thought that most entered my mind most when watching the canine star of Heather Young’s docufiction first feature. Donna (Shan…

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Antigone (Sophie Deraspe, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Jaclyn Bruneau / September 6, 2019

By Jaclyn Bruneau  Sophie Deraspe has picked up Sophocles’ eponymous tragedy and hurled it headlong into the present. Our orphaned heroine (Nahéma Ricci) immigrated to Montréal (from a home country never stated, in what is, I suppose, an attempt to level all Canadian immigrant experiences) as a child, along with her grandmother Ménécée, sister Ismène,…

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Billy (Zachary Epcar, US) — Wavelengths

By Phil Coldiron / September 6, 2019

By Phil Coldiron If one were to enumerate the major trends in sophisticated American filmmaking in the last decade, it seems to me that Zachary Epcar’s films would provide an adequate summary of such a list. In their wit, their formal restlessness, their sharp conception of certain stickier corners of the American psyche, they continue…

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2minutes40seconds (Han Ok-hee, South Korea) — Wavelengths

By Jesse Cumming / September 6, 2019

By Jesse Cumming Published in Cinema Scope #80 (Fall 2019) “There are two prejudices in pre-existing cinema: filmmaking is a male job and the movie should be fun. We, as outsiders, will break these biases.”—Han Ok-hee, 1974 In 1974, a group of students from the prestigious Ewha Womans University in Seoul formed South Korea’s first…

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Knuckle City (Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, South Africa) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Mallory Andrews / September 6, 2019

By Mallory Andrews South African director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s muscular sports/crime drama centres on aging, womanizing boxer Dudu Nyakama (Bongile Mantsai) and his criminal brother Duke (Thembekile Komani). Dudu, desperate for one last shot at fame and glory in the ring before retirement, enlists Duke’s help in finally becoming a contender—even if it means being…

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The Fever (Maya Da-Rin, Brazil/France/Germany) — Wavelengths

By Beatrice Loayza / September 5, 2019

By Beatrice Loayza In Brazilian documentarian Maya Da-Rin’s first feature film, an indigenous man, Justino (Regis Myrupu, weathered but warm) must reckon with his daughter’s impending departure to med school. A recent widower, Justino works as a cargo port watchman while his daughter, Vanessa (Rosa Peixoto), juggles several jobs at local clinics. Their lives are…

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Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello, France) — Masters

By Jordan Cronk / September 5, 2019

By Jordan Cronk Published in Cinema Scope #79 (Summer 2019) Bertrand Bonello’s eighth feature, among his best and most daring, furthers his recent interest in the youth of contemporary France and the imprint of the country’s political history on the modern world. Set alternately in 1962 Haiti and present-day Paris, Zombi Child moves nimbly between…

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Comets (Tamar Shavgulidze, Georgia) — Discovery

By Madeleine Wall / September 5, 2019

By Madeleine Wall It is inevitable that any reunion will always be more than the sum of its parts. Tamar Shavgulidze‘s Comets is a slight drama where two childhood friends, Irina (Nino Kasradze) and Nana (Ketevan Gegeshidze), have their own Janus-faced meeting. The film begins in the domestic realm of Nana, who spends a morning…

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White Lie (Calvin Thomas & Yonah Lewis, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Madeleine Wall / September 5, 2019

By Madeleine Wall Taking place during a barren Hamilton winter, Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis’ White Lie is as intimate as it is claustrophobic. Katie (Kacey Rohl) is a cancer poster child, a star of local fundraisers and surrounded by supporters. But Katie begins her day shaving her head, her chemo appointments involve getting empty…

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Varda by Agnès (Agnès Varda, France) — Special Events

By Jaclyn Bruneau / September 5, 2019

By Jaclyn Bruneau “I enjoyed setting up an enigma for which only I knew the secret,” says Agnès Varda from her throne-like seat atop a dolly, pushed along a track in a wide-open field by a technician, in an allusion to the landscapes of her Vagabond (1985). The tender-hearted irony of this utterance is that…

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The Platform (Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, Spain) — Midnight Madness

By Angelo Muredda / September 5, 2019

By Angelo Muredda A pitch in search of a movie to ground it, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s The Platform never amounts to more than the sum of its parts, but fans of high-concept science fiction such as Cube and Snowpiercer may nevertheless appreciate the sheer number of those parts in a film that teems with ideas, but…

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A Girl Missing (Koji Fukada, Japan/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Elena Lazic / September 5, 2019

By Elena Lazic A Girl Missing opens on Ichiko (Mariko Tsutsui), a mysterious middle-aged woman whose strange actions are progressively explained in long flashbacks to her former life. In the present, she is a seductive femme fatale living alone in an empty flat, who only ever smiles in the most polite and artifical way and…

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Africa (Oren Gerner, Israel) — Discovery

By Beatrice Loayza / September 5, 2019

By Beatrice Loayza The halcyon days of a recent vacation to Namibia linger in the mind of retiree and former engineer Meir (Meir Gerner), the grumbling 68-year-old father of the filmmaker whose depressingly impotent mad scramble to regain purpose in life is the subject of this debut feature. Working in the space between fiction and…

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It Must Be Heaven (Elia Suleiman, France/Qatar/Germany/Canada/Palestine/Turkey) — Masters

By Richard Porton / September 5, 2019

By Richard Porton Published in Cinema Scope #79 (Summer 2019) In conversations addressing the plight of what was once known as the “Third World,” one of the central debates still involves the inevitable tension between nationalism—as well as the quest for national identity—and the rather amorphous concept known as “cosmopolitanism.” In the Palestinian intellectual milieu,…

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Liberté (Albert Serra, France/Spain/Portugal/Germany) — Wavelengths

By Phil Coldiron / September 5, 2019

  By Phil Coldiron Published in Cinema Scope #79 (Summer 2019) —I feel like prey. —Perhaps soon you won’t anymore. If there is a dialectical movement to be found in Albert Serra’s decidedly non-dialectical films, it is in the relationship they figure between movement and stasis. Firm in the belief, or delusion, that “chivalry is…

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The Traitor (Marco Bellocchio, Italy) — Masters

By Celluloid Liberation Front / September 5, 2019

By Celluloid Liberation Front Published in Cinema Scope #80 (Fall 2019) “The most beautiful film is our own history,” confessed Marco Bellocchio to a journalist following the release of The Traitor, after it surpassed Godzilla: King of the Monsters at the Italian box office, proving yet again that the Mafia movie is still a commodity…

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Black Conflux (Nicole Dorsey, Canada) — Discovery

By Mallory Andrews / September 4, 2019

By Mallory Andrews A “conflux” or confluence is the juncture where two rivers meet, seamlessly connecting into a single body. This convergence becomes a recurring visual motif in Nicole Dorsey’s small-town coming-of-age story set in 1980s Newfoundland, a portent of the coming collision between its two main characters, teenage Jackie (Ella Ballentine) and intense loner…

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Blow the Man Down (Danielle Krudy & Bridget Savage Cole, US) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman / September 4, 2019
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Les Misérables (Ladj Ly, France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Manuela Lazic / September 4, 2019

By Manuela Lazic  The extreme tension between residents and police in the French banlieues seems to push the boldest filmmakers to go beyond the gritty realism that typical “urban” stories often cling to. Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine not only adopted black-and-white photography and a propulsive editing style, but also primitive drone shooting: a camera placed…

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Deerskin (Quentin Dupieux, France) — Special Presentations

By Elena Lazic / September 4, 2019

By Elena Lazic  We all remember Flat Eric, the creepily expressionless yellow puppet turned music-video star, sitting at a huge office desk and bopping along to Quentin Dupieux’s international hit “Flat Beat” while signing contracts, taking phone calls, and doing all the things a businessman does. Twenty years and seven feature films later, the French…

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143 Sahara Street (Hassen Ferhani, Algeria) — Wavelengths

By James Lattimer / September 4, 2019

By James Lattimer Published in Cinema Scope #80 (Fall 2019) Hassen Ferhani’s crowd-pleasing second feature is an example of a familiar format being executed with such intelligence and clarity that you wonder why it happens so rarely. The entire film is built around a woman almost as formidable as Vitalina Varela, and just as much…

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SaF05 (Charlotte Prodger, UK) — Wavelengths

By Erika Balsom / September 4, 2019

By Erika Balsom  Published in Cinema Scope #79 (Summer 2019) For Scotland’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Charlotte Prodger delivered the final installment in a trilogy of films begun with Stoneymollan Trail (2015) and her Turner Prize-winning BRIDGIT (2016). SaF05 is named after a maned lioness, a rare creature in Botswana that adopts typically male…

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I Was At Home, But… (Angela Schanelec, Germany/Serbia) — Masters

By Giovanni Marchini Camia / September 4, 2019

By Giovanni Marchini Camia Published in Cinema Scope #78 (Spring 2019) It’s outrageous that it should have taken until 2019 for Angela Schanelec to make it into the Berlinale Competition—and ironic, given that it was a review of her film Passing Summer (2001), published in Die Zeit, that originated the term “Berliner Schule.” That film…

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Fire Will Come (Oliver Laxe, Spain/France/Luxembourg) — Wavelengths

By Azadeh Jafari / September 4, 2019

By Azadeh Jafari Published in Cinema Scope # 80 (Fall 2019) After two films set in Morocco—You Are All Captains (2010) and the Cannes Critics Week winner Mimosas (2016)—French-born Spanish filmmaker Oliver Laxe returns to his parents’ homeland of Galicia for his third feature, Fire Will Come, which the director has called a “dry melodrama.”…

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Synonyms (Nadav Lapid, France/Israel/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 4, 2019

By Robert Koehler Published in Cinema Scope #80 (Fall 2019) Like an alien dropping out of the sky, Yoav, the hero of Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms, is introduced as a being without a home, a purpose, or even clothes. As he scrambles naked around a vacant Parisian apartment, his strong, lean, athletic body mitigates his desperate…

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The Wild Goose Lake (Diao Yinan, China/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Azadeh Jafari / September 3, 2019

By Azadeh Jafari In his new crime thriller, Diao Yinan returns to the noir tropes and bleak atmosphere of his 2014 Golden Bear winner Black Coal, Thin Ice to tell the story of on-the-run cop-killer gangster Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge), who gets involved with a mysterious prostitute, Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun-Mei). The film begins with…

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The Father (Petar Valchanov & Kristina Grozeva, Bulgaria/Greece/Italy) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 3, 2019

By Michael Sicinski  In essence, The Father is a Bulgarian Alexander Payne film, and so you should adjust your expectations accordingly. Directors Petar Valchanov and Kristina Grozeva (whose film The Lesson played TIFF back in 2014) combine melancholic family shenanigans with the kinds of broad comic gestures you can see coming a mile away. The…

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Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa, Poland/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Beatrice Loayza / September 3, 2019

By Beatrice Loayza Jan Komasa does redemption à la Paul Schrader in this tale of the sacred and the profane, which follows a 20-year-old ex-con, Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), who poses as a priest in a small Polish town. While some presumably symbolic moments (a burning pyre, a climactic disrobing) register as self-administered profundity, Corpus Christi…

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The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman / September 3, 2019

By Adam Nayman That Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe mutually lose their shit over the duration of The Lighthouse is not a spoiler: sequestered together off the coast of Nova Scotia in a lighthouse (also not a spoiler) with little more than a pot to piss in (and there is a lot of pissing in…

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Sibyl (Justine Triet, France/Belgium) — Special Presentations

By Manuela Lazic / September 3, 2019

By Manuela Lazic  After her terrific 2016 feature Victoria, Justine Triet continues her exploration of the female psyche and body with Sibyl, once again casting the great Virginie Efira as her heroine. Sybil is a psychiatrist who retires early to focus on her original dream of being a writer. But aren’t the personal histories of…

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A White, White Day (Hlynur Pálmason, Iceland/Denmark/Sweden) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Dana Reinoos / September 3, 2019

By Dana Reinoos When the Icelandic fog is particularly thick and obscures the landscape, the dead can speak to the living—so says the eerie epigraph that opens Hlynur Pálmason’s A White, White Day, which unfolds as a meditation on grief and violence. It’s this kind of dense fog that can cause a car to slide…

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Endless Night (Eloy Enciso, Spain) — Wavelengths

By James Lattimer / September 3, 2019

By James Lattimer Eloy Enciso’s third feature unfolds as a series of conversations conducted at various locations within an unnamed city, most of which are public: outside a church, in a bus, at the bus station, in the bar, in the office of the prospective mayor. These conversations revolve around the current state of life,…

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The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania/France/Germany) — Masters

By Mark Peranson / September 3, 2019

By Mark Peranson An entertaining film-festival outlier, Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Whistlers seemed to have been punished at Cannes for being a change of form for Porumboiu: it’s a rollicking film that, on its surface, doesn’t appear to fit into any dominant narrative, whether we are talking the historical development of the Romanian New Wave or…

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Atlantics (Mati Diop, France/Senegal/Belgium) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Jesse Cumming / September 3, 2019

By Jesse Cumming Published in Cinema Scope #79 (Summer 2019) In 2012, when French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop pitched her anticipated debut feature Atlantics as part of Locarno’s Open Doors initiative, the film went by the title Fire Next Time. While much in the film has changed in the time between its initial conception and its…

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Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles, Brazil) — Contemporary World Cinema

By James Lattimer / September 3, 2019

By James Lattimer Published in Cinema Scope #79 (Summer 2019) Kleber Mendonça Filho’s ongoing quest to sound out the tensions of contemporary Brazil takes a turn at once more strident and more oblique in Bacurau, an exhilaratingly jittery mash-up of genres and moods co-directed with Juliano Dornelles, the production designer for his two previous features.…

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Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello, Italy/France) — Platform

By Jordan Cronk / September 3, 2019

By Jordan Cronk Published in Cinema Scope #80 (Fall 2019) Pietro Marcello’s decade-long evolution from idiosyncratic film essayist to grand narrative storyteller represents one of the most significant artistic flowerings in contemporary cinema. Recently unveiled in competition at Venice, the Italian filmmaker’s fifth feature, Martin Eden, is momentous in ways that many Marcello enthusiasts may…

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This Action Lies (James N. Kienitz Wilkins, US/Switzlerand) — Wavelengths

By Dan Sullivan / September 2, 2019

By Dan Sullivan Published in Cinema Scope #78 (Spring 2019) “The way I see it, movies move,” James N. Kienitz Wilkins declares in his monologue film This Action Lies (2018), made for Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève’s Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement. A styrofoam cup of coffee is viewed several times, with fluctuations in gradient distinguishing…

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Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain) — Special Presentations

By Angelo Muredda / September 2, 2019

By Angelo Muredda  In Pain and Glory, Pedro Almódovar burrows further into his late-style period with all the “intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction” Edward Said promised, with an equally frank and flattering self-portrait of the artist as an aging Antonio Banderas. Though a decade younger and a good deal handsomer than the auteur behind the…

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Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, US) — Special Presentations

By Clara Miranda / September 2, 2019

By Clara Miranda Scherffig Marriage Story opens with a close up of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) with her neck wrapped in a black turtleneck and her blond hair cut short. She is on a stage, being directed by Charlie (Adam Driver), her close collaborator, as well as her husband. Like the overlap between the protagonists’ professional…

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The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson, US) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman / September 2, 2019

By Adam Nayman The more things change, the more they stay the same, and the conspiracy-minded 1950s resonate in a zeitgeist in which everything feels accessible and occluded at the same time. Between the suspicious suicide of Jeffrey Epstein and its ostensible connections to the making of Eyes Wide Shut (and the death of Stanley…

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Krabi 2562 (Anocha Suwichakornpong & Ben Rivers, Thailand/UK) — Wavelengths

By Robert Koehler / September 2, 2019

By Robert Koehler Since Ben Rivers is credited as co-director of Krabi 2562, there could be the assumption that this is another “Ben Rivers film.” The many instances in this project where assumptions are wrong start here, because Rivers has completely given himself over to his collaborator, the gifted Anocha Suwichakornpong, who is absolutely the…

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La belle époque (Nicolas Bedos, France) — Special Presentations

By Daniel Reynolds / September 2, 2019

By Daniel Reynolds Nicolas Bedos’ second feature intends to evoke the feel of a classic screwball comedy, albeit one with a modern twist in both production and subject matter. The film’s rapid-fire dialogue is a throwback, yet the quick-cutting, handheld camerawork and light commentary on our technologically mediated relationships pushes it somewhere new. While nostalgia…

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Love Me Tender (Klaudia Reynicke, Switzerland) — Discovery

By Michael Scoular / September 2, 2019

By Michael Scoular At the level of plot, Klaudia Reynicke’s second feature never deviates from its empowerment narrative. After putting on a comfortable one-piece tracksuit and putting away hope her family will safeguard her every move, an agoraphobic millennial steps outside and overcomes obstacles, all while retaining her abstract annoyance at the world. But with…

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Pelican Blood (Katrin Gebbe, Germany/Bulgaria) — Special Presentations

By Brendan Boyle / September 2, 2019

By Brendan Boyle  Early in Katrin Gebbe’s Pelican Blood, an abrupt edit takes the viewer to the scene of a clash between police and rioters. Smoke hangs in the air and the mounted police struggle to control their horses. After a moment it becomes clear that the scene is being staged: the rioters are only…

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Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another (Jessica Sarah Rinland, UK/Argentina/Spain) — Wavelengths

By Darren Hughes / September 2, 2019

By Darren Hughes Published in Cinema Scope #80 (Fall 2019) A key to Jessica Sarah Rinland’s newest film, Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another, can be found in the closing credits: along with cinematography, editing, and foley, Rinland is credited as “Voice” and “Pink-Nailed Ceramicist” (the nail designer is also credited). When we first…

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Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) — Special Presentations

By Adam Cook / September 2, 2019

By Adam Cook Published in Cinema Scope #79 (Summer 2019) Precisely a decade after his last film shot and produced in South Korea, Bong Joon Ho returns to a place that feels both familiar and unfamiliar with his Palme d’Or-crowned Parasite. Moving beyond the ambitious, overly conceptual, and uneven international co-productions Snowpiercer and Okja, Parasite…

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Heimat Is a Space in Time (Thomas Heise, Germany/Austria) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 2, 2019

By Michael Sicinski Published in Cinema Scope #79 (Summer 2019) “Archaeology is about Digging” is the title of an essay by Thomas Heise, included in the DVD booklet for several of his films, including the 2009 film Material, a key film in terms of raising Heise’s profile outside of Europe. In the essay, the filmmaker…

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Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, Portugal) — Wavelengths

By Haden Guest / September 2, 2019

By Haden Guest Published in Cinema Scope #80 (Fall 2019) A moving study of mourning and memory, Pedro Costa’s revelatory new film offers an indelible portrait of Vitalina Taveres Varela, a fragile yet indomitable woman who makes the long voyage from Cape Verde to Lisbon to attend her estranged husband’s funeral, but misses the event…

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