TIFF 2021

TIFF 2021 | The Other Tom (Rodrigo Plá, Laura Santullo, Mexico/USA)

By Angelo Muredda / September 15, 2021

By Angelo Muredda Single mom Elena (Julia Chavez) tries to do right by her scampish ten-year-old son Tom (Israel Rodríguez Bertorelli) despite the interventions of the byzantine Texas school system in Rodrigo Plá and Laura Santullo’s minor-key drama The Other Tom, based on Santullo’s novel. The filmmakers do well to balance their kitchen-sink realism and…

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TIFF 2021 | One Second (Zhang Yimou, China)

By Shelly Kraicer / September 15, 2021

By Shelly Kraicer Published in Cinema Scope #87 (Summer 2021) Zhang Yimou has released 22 features to date, in addition to a couple of shorts, two more features shot and ready to go (censors permitting), his grandiose made-for-TV pageants for the Beijing Olympics, opera stagings like Turandot at the Forbidden City, and, if we’re being…

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TIFF 2021 | Murina (Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović, Croatia)

By Madeleine Wall / September 15, 2021

By Madeleine Wall Winner of this year’s Caméra d’Or at Cannes, Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s Murina is a competent but slight combo of thriller and coming-of-age film basking in the sun of the Adriatic sea. Armed with a speargun and clad in a white bathing suit, 16-year-old Julija (Gracija Filipovic) cuts a striking figure in the…

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TIFF 2021 | The Devil’s Drivers (Mohammed Abugeth & Daniel Carsenty, Qatar/France/Lebanon/Germany)

By Katherine Connell / September 15, 2021

By Katherine Connell Car chases, the customary crescendo of the action genre, are a tense everyday reality for the subjects of The Devil’s Drivers, Mohammed Abugeth and Daniel Carsenty’s documentary that follows Palestinian drivers who smuggle workers living in the West Bank into Israel. Plumes of orange dirt trail behind vehicles navigating desert roads at…

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TIFF 2021 | Dashcam (Rob Savage, UK)

By Corey Atad / September 15, 2021

By Corey Atad  As livestream horror has become a recognizable subgenre in its own right, director Rob Savage has deliberately thrown all caution to the wind, diving head first into absolute chaos with Dashcam, his follow-up to the more sparse, Zoom-set pandemic hit Host. The chaos begins well before the horror with our introduction to…

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TIFF 2021 | Bergman Island (Mia Hansen-Løve, France)

By Jay Kuehner / September 15, 2021

By Jay Kuehner The concept of a Bergman Safari on the island of Fårö is something that not even a Roy Andersson would have conceived of, but it’s a tour bus that many cinephiles have been riding for years, like it or not. The punchline afforded in Mia Hansen-Løve’s faintly brackish, irreverent homage is that…

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TIFF 2021 | France (Bruno Dumont, France)

By Lawrence Garcia / September 14, 2021

By Lawrence Garcia Published in Cinema Scope #88 (Fall 2021) “Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.” —Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus In the seven years since P’tit Quinquin, it has become impossible to continue tagging Bruno Dumont with the longstanding clichés of Bresson criticism. Epithets like “ascetic,” “severe,” “punishing”—already limited descriptors…

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TIFF 2021 | Spencer (Pablo Larraín, UK/Germany)

By Jay Kuehner / September 14, 2021

By Jay Kuehner Come for the Di, but stay for the Pablo. Having followed the moves of the Chilean autor far more than that of any royal family member, I thought the strategy was sound enough to suffer the eternal hors d’oeuvre of crustless sandwiches and acrid tea that is monarchy-watching. If Larraín, in Tony…

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TIFF 2021 | A Hero (Asghar Farhadi, Iran)

By Jay Kuehner / September 14, 2021

By Jay Kuehner An unexpected insight is proffered in Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero by the maligned creditor Bahram, who speculates whether good deeds have become so scarce in society that they warrant congratulation. Much of Farhadi’s moral tale revolves around the appearance of virtue and all of its attendant deceptions, conjuring a very modern anxiety…

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TIFF 2021 | Sundown (Michel Franco, Mexico)

By Adam Nayman / September 14, 2021

By Adam Nayman The indefatigable Michel Franco is back on his grind with Sundown, a companion piece to last year’s accomplished or objectionable (depending on who you ask) New Order. Both films—one a thriller, the other a character study, both set in the director’s native Mexico—could  broadly be said to be about “wealth inequality.” Careful…

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TIFF 2021 | Zalava (Arsalan Amiri, Iran)

By Madeleine Wall / September 14, 2021

By Madeleine Wall It is easy to be certain in the daylight. For gendarmerie sergeant Masoud (Navid Pourfaraj), maintaining order in the small Kurdish village of Zalava is a balancing act between accommodating the superstitions of the villagers and the rapidly changing modern world. These beliefs are foundational to the villagers, part of their genetics,…

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TIFF 2021 | Three Minutes – A Lengthening (Bianca Stigter, Netherlands/UK)

By Jay Kuehner / September 14, 2021

By Jay Kuehner Perhaps not since José Luis Guerin’s Tren des Sombres (1997) has a film so exactingly interrogated its source—in the case of Bianca Stigter’s documentary, a short 16mm reel discovered in a Florida attic in 2008 by the maker’s grandson, Glenn Kurtz. The eponymous three minutes of holiday footage (shot in the Polish…

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TIFF 2021 | Farha (Darin J. Sallam, Jordan/Sweden/Saudi Arabia)

By Gabrielle Marceau / September 14, 2021

By Gabrielle Marceau Farha opens with a familiar story: a young Palestinian girl, nearing womanhood, who is trying to determine the course of her life beyond the confines of tradition. Farha (Karam Taher) wants to go to school, but her father wants her to marry and stay in their village. This family conflict is interrupted…

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TIFF 2021 | The Wheel (Steve Pink, USA)

By Adam Nayman / September 13, 2021

By Adam Nayman From the director of both Hot Tub Time Machine movies (there was a sequel, remember) comes a probing, emotional relationship drama. “What if it doesn’t work?” asks Albee (Amber Midthunder) about the step-by-step, relationship-saving experiment proposed by her husband Walker (Taylor Gray), and the only thing really pressurizing the 83 more or…

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TIFF 2021 | Drunken Birds (Ivan Grbovic, Canada)

By Angelo Muredda / September 13, 2021

By Angelo Muredda With Jean-Marc Vallée tied up in American television and Denis Villeneuve bound for Arrakis, Canada’s response to the tangled international melodramas of Alejandro González Iñárritu seemingly falls to Ivan Grbovic. Grbovic follows up his understated character study Roméo Onze with the curiously schematic Drunken Birds, which marks a step up in scale…

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TIFF 2021 | Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Denmark)

By Robert Koehler / September 13, 2021

By Robert Koehler Jonas Poher Rasmussen, the Danish co-writer and director of Flee, met an Afghan refugee in high school. He’s maintained a friendship with him ever since, but realized at some point that he didn’t really know him. Rasmussen’s heartfelt yet gimmicky attempt at understanding him better isn’t as failed as the 20-year US…

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TIFF 2021 | Dune (Denis Villeneuve, US/Hungary)

By Meg Shields / September 13, 2021

By Meg Shields In retrospect, Denis Villeneuve’s career has always been hurtling toward Dune, given its fateful melange of unadaptable sci-fi (Arrival), closely guarded cult objects (Blade Runner 2049), and morally fraught political sandstorms (Sicario). Adapting the first half of Frank Herbert’s monumental sci-fi novel, Dune begins with an uneasy exchange of power: the transfer…

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TIFF 2021 | Earwig (Lucile Hadžihalilović, UK/France/Belgium)

By Madeleine Wall / September 13, 2021

By Madeleine Wall In a large, gloomy house somewhere in Europe, sometime after a war, Albert (a brittle Paul Hilton) lives in isolation with his charge, ten-year-old Mia (Romane Hemelaers). Mia does not speak, and Albert’s main communication with the outside world is from sporadic telephone calls, asking about the state of his ward. Mia…

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TIFF 2021 | Lingui, the Sacred Bonds (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad/France/Germany/Belgium)

By Jordan Cronk / September 13, 2021

By Jordan Cronk Another fine if unremarkable film in a career defined by them, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Lingui, the Sacred Bonds features all the hallmarks that have made the Chadian director a mainstay of the modern festival circuit: competent craftsmanship, topical subject matter, and geographic backdrops just unique enough to lend an air of urgency to…

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TIFF 2021 | Whether the Weather is Fine (Carlo Francisco Manatad, Philippines/France/Singapore/ Indonesia/Germany/Qatar)

By Robert Koehler / September 13, 2021

By Robert Koehler In early November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan hit the eastern Filipino island of Leyte with wind speeds as high as 195mph—the second-highest ever recorded in the Western Pacific. Haiyan killed over 6,300 and flattened most of Tacloban City, the hometown of filmmaker Carlo Francisco Manatad. In his feature debut, Manatad has reconceived the…

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TIFF 2021 | To Kill the Beast (Agustina San Martín, Argentina/Brazil/Chile)

By Katherine Connell / September 13, 2021

By Katherine Connell The moon floats against a sky so overcast that it’s impossible to determine whether the hour is night or day—a suitably disorienting opener for Agustina San Martín’s surreal To Kill the Beast. In an area surrounded by rainforest bordering Brazil and Argentina, 17-year-old Emilia (Tamara Rocca) shows up at a hostel owned…

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TIFF 2021 | Mlungu Wam (Jenna Cato Bass, South Africa)

By Angelo Muredda / September 13, 2021

By Angleo Muredda “I think she’s been working for too long now,” a man deadpans about his bone-tired mother Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe) late in Jenna Cato Bass’s absorbing thriller Mlungu Wam, an allegory about how the white supremacist violence of apartheid-era South Africa reverberates into the future as demons for the children and grandchildren of…

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TIFF 2021 | Ahed’s Knee (Nadav Lapid, France/Israel/Germany)

By James Lattimer / September 12, 2021

By James Lattimer Published in Cinema Scope #88 (Fall 2021) Nadav Lapid continues to take a scalpel to contemporary Israel in Ahed’s Knee, although this particular dissection might leave a bigger scar. The Kindergarten Teacher (2014) and Synonyms (2019) already flirted with autobiography, but his fourth feature pushes forward into full autofiction, sending a director…

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TIFF 2021 | Ste. Anne (Rhayne Vermette, Canada)

By James Lattimer / September 12, 2021

By James Lattimer Published in Cinema Scope #86 (Spring 2021) When navigating the as-yet-unknown films of a festival program, nationality still provides a persuasive point of reference for some, a feeling underlined by the proud declarations issued by national funding organizations, promotional bodies, or particularly partisan members of the press once titles have been announced.…

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TIFF 2021 | The Middle Man (Bent Hamer, Norway/Germany/ Denmark/Canada)

By Adam Nayman / September 12, 2021

By Adam Nayman Tapped for a spectacularly thankless civil service gig in a dilapidated Ontario backwater, Frank (Sverre Hagen) interviews for the job in front of a panel that includes Don McKellar and Paul Gross. The Canadiana couldn’t be thicker, but as writer-director Bent Hamer actually hails from historic Sandefjord, Norway—a one-time Viking stronghold and…

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TIFF 2021 | Unclenching the Fists (Kira Kovalenko, Russia)

By Robert Koehler / September 12, 2021

By Robert Koehler A suffocating, claustrophobic box canyon, lousy with industrial waste, is the dominant landscape of Kira Kovalenko’s second feature, Unclenching the Fists. Kovalenko, who workshopped with Alexander Sokurov but is firmly her own filmmaker, uses this place—Mizur, in the Caucasus highlands of North Ossetia-Alania—as a metonym for the awful, hopeless lives of her…

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TIFF 2021 | Quickening (Haya Waseem, Canada)

By Katherine Connell / September 12, 2021

By Katherine Connell Writer-director Haya Waseem’s formally striking first feature is a melodrama executed with considerable restraint. After an opening title defines the term “pseudocyesis”—a form of psychosomatic but hormonally convincing pregnancy—we are taken to a dance studio, where bodies writhe on the floor and smash into walls. In front of the class, Pakistani Canadian…

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TIFF 2021 | Small Body (Laura Samani, Italy/France/Slovenia)

By Angelo Muredda / September 12, 2021

By Angelo Muredda A young mother’s desire to give her stillborn child a name prompts a perilous trip to a mountain sanctuary in Laura Samani’s assured if familiar Small Body. Celeste Cescutti is appropriately severe as Agata, a pure-hearted stoic who risks life and limb to carry her limbo-bound child to a remote church where…

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TIFF 2021 | Are You Lonesome Tonight? (Wen Shipei, China)

By Shelly Kraicer / September 11, 2021

By Shelly Kraicer Increasingly strict censorship limits the kind of films Chinese directors can make and still get approved for either domestic screenings or export. But film noir remains a viable option for filmmakers to play with violence and ambiguity, within limits. Are You Lonesome Tonight? is first-time director Wen Shipei’s entry into a tough…

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TIFF 2021 | The Tsugua Diaries (Maureen Fazendeiro & Miguel Gomes, Portugal)

By Robert Koehler / September 11, 2021

By Robert Koehler 2020 may go down as The Year From Hell, but at least it gave us The Tsugua Diaries. Rudely interrupted by the COVID pandemic in proceeding with not one, but two productions—Savagery and Grand Tour—Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes opted to do exactly the opposite of what everyone, including undoubtedly the Portuguese…

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TIFF 2021 | The Falls (Chung Mong-hong, Taiwan)

By Shelly Kraicer / September 11, 2021

By Shelly Kraicer Many recent films take COVID-era quarantining as a premise to examine lonely humans and their difficulties connecting, but Chung Mong-hong’s The Falls does something quite special. This story of a cloistered family allows the Taiwanese director—who has heretofore specialized in blackly comic portraits of men under intense stress—to open up his world…

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TIFF 2021 | Lo Invisible (Javier Andrade, Ecuador/France)

By Angelo Muredda / September 11, 2021

By Angelo Muredda Anahi Hoeneisen is inscrutable as a woman on the verge of either a breakdown or a breakthrough in Javier Andrade’s chamber drama Lo Invisible. Co-written by Hoeneisen and Andrade, the film unfolds, enigmatically at first and then tediously, as a series of opaque tableaux of protagonist Luisa’s tentative reintegration into family life…

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TIFF 2021 | The Mad Women’s Ball (Mélanie Laurent, France)

By Katherine Connell / September 11, 2021

By Katherine Connell Despite its interest in shedding light on the patriarchal, abusive history of medicine, Mélanie Laurent’s The Mad Women’s Ball can’t help but indulge tropes that both romanticize and exploit its subject matter. An adaptation of the novel by Victoria Mas, the film follows Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge), whose privileged class status…

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TIFF 2021 | Train Again (Peter Tscherkassky, Austria)

By Christoph Huber / September 10, 2021

By Christoph Huber Published in Cinema Scope #88 (Fall 2021) I Peter Tscherkassky’s 20-minute film Train Again unearths some new materialist marvels while expanding on those typically Tscherkasskian sensations the Austrian filmmaker achieves through the technique of contact printing, in which found footage is copied by hand, frame by frame, onto unexposed film stock. His…

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TIFF 2021 | The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier, Norway/France/Sweden/Denmark)

By Jordan Cronk / September 10, 2021

By Jordan Cronk One of the year’s more pleasantly unexpected returns to form, Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World finds the Norwegian director back on firmer ground following the underwhelming international co-production Louder Than Bombs (2015) and the ill-fitting supernatural thriller Thelma (2017). Though billed as the final film in a trilogy that…

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TIFF 2021 | Terrorizers (Ho Di Wing, Taiwan)

By Shelly Kraicer / September 10, 2021

By Shelly Kraicer Starting from a seemingly unmotivated samurai-style sword attack in present-day Taipei’s main train station, Terrorizers circles back and around again and again through a complex network of characters—a student, an aspiring actress, a cosplayer, a masseuse—spawning threads and mysteries that it eventually knits back together into a disturbing portrait of today’s Taiwanese…

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TIFF 2021 | Maria Chapdelaine (Sébastien Pilote, Canada)

By Gabrielle Marceau / September 10, 2021

By Gabrielle Marceau Maria (Sara Montpetit) is the eldest daughter of a settler family living in rural Québec after the turn of the century, and like many literary heroines, she is trying to determine what kind of life she wants to lead— which, in the strictures of the era, means which suitor to marry. She…

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TIFF 2021 | Kicking Blood (Blaine Thurier, Canada)

By Gabrielle Marceau / September 10, 2021

By Gabrielle Marceau Early in Blaine Thurier’s existential vampire drama, the beautiful, bloodsucking Anna (Alanna Bale) takes home the hapless drunk Robbie. He asks for a drink, and Anna replies: “I don’t drink alcohol.” It’s a clear reference to Bela Lugosi’s iconic line in Dracula (1931), where he lingers deliciously over the pause between, “I…

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TIFF 2021 | The Girl and the Spider (Ramon & Silvan Zürcher, Switzerland)

By Blake Williams / September 9, 2021

By Blake Williams Published in Cinema Scope #87 (Summer 2021) I will never know how you see red, and you will never know how I see it; but this separation of consciousnesses is recognized only after a failure of communication, and our first movement is to believe in an undivided being between us.—Maurice Merleau-Ponty Near…

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TIFF 2021 | Jockey (Clint Bentley & Greg Kwedar, US)

By Robert Koehler / September 9, 2021

By Robert Koehler The sun is setting on the career of Phoenix-based jockey Jackson Silva, literally, in Jockey, an old-fashioned sports movie that has inexplicably become one of the hits of this year’s North American festival circuit. It was one of the few acquisitions by Sony Pictures Classics at Sundance, a testimony to either how…

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TIFF 2021 | Night Raiders (Danis Goulet, Canada/New Zealand)

By Katherine Connell / September 9, 2021

By Katherine Connell Published in Cinema Scope #88 (Fall 2021) The appeal of dystopian narratives hangs on their capacity to hold up a funhouse mirror to the corruption and exploitation of our already extant social realities. Indigenous artists and filmmakers have long underscored the dystopic reality of colonial nation states in their work, and the…

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TIFF 2021 | Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (Edwin, Indonesia/Singapore/Germany)

By Robert Koehler / September 9, 2021

By Robert Koehler One of the dirty little secrets of art cinema is that most directors who make such films can’t do action. (I adore Zama [2017] as much as anybody, but, oh my, those action scenes…) So it is with Edwin and his well-intentioned but bumbling Indonesian martial-arts tribute movie based on Eka Kurniawan’s…

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TIFF 2021 | Titane (Julie Ducournau, France/Belgium)

By Phil Coldiron / September 9, 2021

By Phil Coldiron Published in Cinema Scope #88 (Fall 2021) The erotic history of the car in cinema extends back nearly to the dawn of the medium: there’s Chaplin, in 1914, asserting in his first film that he’s a more enticing view than the soapbox derbies at the Kid Auto Races (no engines yet). Though…

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TIFF 2021 | Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Colombia/Thailand/ UK/France/Germany/Mexico)

By Jordan Cronk / September 8, 2021

By Jordan Cronk Published in Cinema Scope #88 (Fall 2021) “When he came to, the present was almost intolerable in its richness and sharpness, as were his most distant and trivial memories…Now his perception and his memory were infallible.”—Jorge Luis Borges, “Funes the Memorious” Amongst the research materials, set photographs, email correspondence, and treatment excerpts…

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TIFF 2021 | The Odd-Job Men (Neus Ballús, Spain)

By Robert Koehler / September 8, 2021

By Robert Koehler It is advisable to ignore most festival program notes. It is especially advisable to ignore the TIFF program note accompanying The Odd-Job Men, which would set up the viewer to expect a feminist parable on machismo. Catalan filmmaker Neus Ballús and the screenwriting team of Montse Ganges and Ana Sanz-Magallón (under their…

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TIFF 2021 | Drive My Car (Hamaguchi Ryusuke, Japan)

By Mark Peranson / September 8, 2021

By Mark Peranson Published in Cinema Scope #88 (Fall 2021) Throughout his filmography, tracing back to Happy Hour (2015), Ryusuke Hamaguchi has been intrigued by the place of women in Japanese society: their awareness of how they are supposed to behave and how they either choose to live by the rules or break out on…

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TIFF 2021 | Petite maman (Céline Sciamma, France)

By Courtney Duckworth / September 8, 2021

By Courtney Duckworth  Published in Cinema Scope #87 (Summer 2021) Fairy tales routinely kill or banish parents to clear a path for the roaming imaginations of children. Recall that Hansel and Gretel must plumb the forest alone, assaying their own mettle, and the stranded Goose Girl cannot speak her secret self to another soul. Céline…

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