TIFF 2020: Violation (Madeleine Sims-Fewer & Dusty Mancinelli, Canada)

By Adam Nayman

If you believe that the worst thing a movie can do is pass unnoticed, then Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s Violation might be for you. Deliberately taking its formal and tonal cues from certain filmmakers occupying the endurance-test wing of the art/grindhouse—specifically the cabin-in-the-woods incarnations of Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier—Violation is a well-made, full-frontal provocation pivoting on a literally tortuous act of vengeance. The time-shifting editing scheme centres Miriam (Sims-Fewer) in various archetypal guises as victim, complicit actor, and avenging angel, the latter a persona that the tall, angular co-director inhabits with total, abject commitment. The question here is whether the punishment meted out from character to character (and from filmmaker to audience) exceeds the crime, and while Violation’sdirectors deserve credit for both staging and complicating their funny games with aplomb, there’s a difference between an unflinching treatment of difficult subject matter and ostentatiously po-faced exploitation. If you believe that the worst thing a movie can do is confuse the two, then proceed with caution.