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

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…

TIFF 2021 | One Second (Zhang Yimou, China)

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…

TIFF 2021 | Murina (Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović, Croatia)

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…

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

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…

TIFF 2021 | Dashcam (Rob Savage, UK)

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…

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

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…

TIFF 2021 | France (Bruno Dumont, France)

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…

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

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…

TIFF 2021 | A Hero (Asghar Farhadi, Iran)

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…

TIFF 2021 | Sundown (Michel Franco, Mexico)

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…

TIFF 2021 | Zalava (Arsalan Amiri, Iran)

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,…

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

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…

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

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…

TIFF 2021 | The Wheel (Steve Pink, USA)

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…

TIFF 2021 | Drunken Birds (Ivan Grbovic, Canada)

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…

TIFF 2021 | Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Denmark)

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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.…

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

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…

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

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…

TIFF 2021 | Quickening (Haya Waseem, Canada)

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

TIFF 2021 | Train Again (Peter Tscherkassky, Austria)

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…

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

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…

TIFF 2021 | Terrorizers (Ho Di Wing, Taiwan)

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…

TIFF 2021 | Maria Chapdelaine (Sébastien Pilote, Canada)

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…

TIFF 2021 | Kicking Blood (Blaine Thurier, Canada)

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

TIFF 2021 | Petite maman (Céline Sciamma, France)

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…

TIFF 2020: Point and Line to Plane (Sofia Bohdanowicz, Canada)

By Adam Nayman The sterile, corkscrew expanse of the Guggenheim is a concrete geometric presence in Point and Line to Plane, which takes its title from a 1947 book of art theory by Wassily Kandinsky and is punctuated by images of his abstract canvases, as well as those of his lesser-known predecessor Hilma af Klint.…

TIFF 2020: Rules for Werewolves (Jeremy Schaulin-Roux, Canada)

By Adam Nayman Having not read Kirk Lynn’s 2015 novel about a feral cult of squatters, I can’t say if Rules for Werewolves qualifies as a proper adaptation or a literary riff in miniature: the snaky long take narrating the desecration of a sprawling but sterile suburban mansion unfolds in sync to the author’s ramblingly…

TIFF 2020: Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman, US/Canada)

By Adam Nayman The title character of Canadian director Emma Seligman’s feature debut is technically the 18-month-old blonde moppet sired by affluent nebbish Max (Danny Deferrari) and his shiksa-goddess wife Kim (Dianna Agron), a miniature avatar of assimilation yelping up a storm amidst a company of black-clad mourners. Symbolically, though, the title refers to tousled,…

TIFF 2020: Still Processing (Sophy Romvari, Canada)

By Adam Nayman “A moment stopped would burn like a frame of film, blocked before the furnace of the projector,” intones Alexandra Stewart in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983), testifying to the essential fluidity of time versus the fixity of photography. Marker’s point seems to be that to disproportionately privilege still images, in cinema as…

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…

TIFF 2020: Inconvenient Indian (Michelle Latimer, Canada)

By Adam Nayman Toronto’s Fox Theatre plays itself in Inconvenient Indian, which opens by sending Thomas King—author of the 2012 critical study that give the film its title and rhetorical spine—to the cinema. Sitting in the dark before clips from Nanook of the North, a man watches a movie, and the critic must acknowledge that…

TIFF 2020: Every Day’s Like This (Lev Lewis, Canada)

By Adam Nayman The one direct allusion to assisted suicide in Every Day’s Like This is filtered through movie madness: discussing a potential date for the euthanasia of their terminally ill matriarch, a father and his two young-adult children agree that it would be best not to do it before the Oscars. Lev Lewis’ mournful…

TIFF 2020: Beans (Tracey Deer, Canada)

By Adam Nayman “Fuck you,” whispers 12-year old Beans (Kiawentiio) to her reflection in the mirror, a playful gesture of self-deprecation that’s also a rehearsal for external clashes. It’s July 1990 in Oka, and if a preteen Mohawk girl is going to get through a summer of standoffs in one piece—or fit in with the…

TIFF 2020: As Spring Comes (Marie-Ève Juste, Canada)

By Adam Nayman Metaphor blooms in As Spring Comes, which reconfigures a frosbitten ice-fishing shack into a literal hothouse. Sheltered inside with her lover in what seems to be a mutually understood ritual, a young woman photogenically mutates—evolves? reverts?—from fauna to flora. Typically, a little magic realism goes a long way, and thankfully, French-Canadian director…

TIFF 2020: The Archivists (Igor Drljaca, Canada)

By Adam Nayman A significant change of pace for Bosnian-Canadian filmmaker Igor Drljaca after a run of Balkan-themed hybrid fictions and docs, the sci-fi-inflected The Archivists concerns a trio of future-shocked musicologists trying to reconstruct an I-Love-the-’80s hit, using improvised instruments in an abandoned country home. The theme is the durability and necessity of art…

TIFF 2020: Akilla’s Escape (Charles Officer, Canada)

By Adam Nayman A weary, wary weed dealer with decades on his odometer, Akilla (Saul Williams) operates self-effacingly under cover of the Toronto night; staring down the barrel of a gun aimed by Jamaican gangbanger Sheppard (Thamela Mpumlwana), he decides to try to save a wayward boy who could be his mirror. The structural gimmick…

TIFF 2020: The Inheritance (Ephraim Asili, US)

By James Lattimer Published in Cinema Scope #84 (Fall 2020) The role of past insights in (still) present-day struggles is at the heart of The Inheritance, a playful, erudite, and boundary-blurring examination of what performing Black theory, literature, music, and testimony in a contemporary Philadelphia commune might set in motion. Given even greater topicality by…

TIFF 2020: Fauna (Nicolás Pereda, Mexico/Canada)

By Jordan Cronk Published in Cinema Scope #84 (Fall 2020) There’s a point in nearly every Nicolás Pereda film when the narrative is either reoriented or upended in some way. In the past this has occurred through bifurcations in story structure or via ruptures along a given film’s docufiction fault line. Pereda’s ninth feature, Fauna,…

TIFF 2020: Notturno (Gianfranco Rosi, Italy/France/Germany)

By Mark Peranson Published in Cinema Scope #84 (Fall 2020)  “The night scares me so much,” confesses a courageous Yazidi pre-teen girl to a therapist, remembering the period when she and her younger sister were captured by ISIS. Anyone who was seen crying would be killed, they were told; it turned out to be a…

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

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…

Knives Out (Rian Johnson, US) — Special Presentations

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…

Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, US) — Special Presentations

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…

Hope (Maria Sødahl, Norway/Sweden) — Discovery

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…

The Laundromat (Steven Soderbergh, US) — Special Presentations

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Proxima ( Alice Winocour, Germany/France) — Platform

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…

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

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…

The Antenna (Orçun Behram, Turkey) — Discovery

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…

Un film dramatique (Éric Baudelaire, France) — Wavelengths

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…

Easy Land (Sanja Zivkovic, Canada) — Discovery

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…

Collective (Alexander Nanau, Romania) — TIFF Docs

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…

Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, US) — Gala Presentations

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…

Clemency (Chinonye Chukwu, US) — Gala Presentations

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Ema (Pablo Larraín, Chile) — Special Presentations

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…

Entwined (Minos Nikolakakis, Greece) — Discovery

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…

Paris Stalingrad (Hind Meddeb, France) — TIFF Docs

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.…

Sole (Carlo Sironi, Italy/Poland) — Discovery

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…

Clifton Hill (Albert Shin, Canada) — Special Presentations

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…

Coppers (Alan Zweig, Canada) — TIFF Docs

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Joker (Todd Phillips, US) — Gala Presentations

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Mariam (Sharipa Urazbayeva, Kazakhstan) — Contemporary World Cinema

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,…

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

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…

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

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…

Incitement (Yaron Zilberman, Israel) — Contemporary World Cinema

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…

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

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…

Waves (Trey Edward Shults, US) — Special Presentations

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…

The Lost Okoroshi (Abba Makama, Nigeria) — Discovery

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,…

American Woman (Semi Chellas, Canada) — Gala Presentations

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…

ZANA (Antoneta Kastrati, Albania/Kosovo) — Discovery

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);…

Nobadi (Karl Markovics, Austria) — Contemporary World Cinema

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Instinct (Halina Reijn, Netherlands) — Contemporary World Cinema

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Murmur (Heather Young, Canada) — Discovery

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…

Antigone (Sophie Deraspe, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

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,…

Billy (Zachary Epcar, US) — Wavelengths

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello, France) — Masters

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…

Comets (Tamar Shavgulidze, Georgia) — Discovery

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Africa (Oren Gerner, Israel) — Discovery

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…

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

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,…

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

  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…

The Traitor (Marco Bellocchio, Italy) — Masters

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…

Black Conflux (Nicole Dorsey, Canada) — Discovery

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…

Les Misérables (Ladj Ly, France) — Contemporary World Cinema

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…

Deerskin (Quentin Dupieux, France) — Special Presentations

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…

143 Sahara Street (Hassen Ferhani, Algeria) — Wavelengths

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…

SaF05 (Charlotte Prodger, UK) — Wavelengths

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…

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

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…

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

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.”…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, US) — Special Presentations

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Endless Night (Eloy Enciso, Spain) — Wavelengths

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,…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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.…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, US) — Special Presentations

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Love Me Tender (Klaudia Reynicke, Switzerland) — Discovery

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, Portugal) — Wavelengths

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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,…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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”…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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)…

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…

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…

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.…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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,…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

“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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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:…

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…

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…

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.…

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)…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

The Load (Ognjen Glavonic, Serbia/France/Croatia/Iran/Qatar) — Discovery

By Azadeh Jafari Published in Cinema Scope 76 (Fall 2018)   The debut fiction feature by Ognjen Glavonic is the second time that the Serbian writer-director, who lived through the Yugoslav wars as a child, has explored the same shocking incident from the time of the Kosovo conflict. In his feature-length documentary Depth Two (2016),…

Dead Souls (Wang Bing, France/Switzerland) — Wavelengths

By Jesse Cumming Published in Cinema Scope 75 (Summer 2018)   Watching Wang Bing’s Dead Souls at Cannes a few days apart from a restored screening of Safi Faye’s Fad Jal (1979), the citation by Hampâté Bâ that opened the latter felt particularly resonant, with its declaration that “In Africa, when an old man dies,…

Giant Little Ones (Keith Behrman, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Angelo Muredda From its YA market-friendly nonsense title to its insistent poptimist score and tired elevator pitch—it’s about that One Moment Everything Changes for a sensitive, good-looking teen who has the whole world on his plate—Giant Little Ones has a lot of strikes against it. It’s a bit of a surprise, then, that Keith…

Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra, Colombia/ Denmark/Mexico/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Elena Lazic In Embrace of the Serpent, director Ciro Guerra and producer Cristina Gallego demonstrated an all-too-rare talent for finding an original visual language that fit and enhanced their subject matter. The black-and-white cinematography, while beguiling, stripped their representation of the Amazon jungle of the exoticism that is so often associated with it, depriving…

Working Woman (Michael Aviad, Israel) — Contemporary World Cinema

By James Lattimer Much like its protagonist, Michal Aviad’s Working Woman appears to be in control until things get more complicated. Although Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) takes to real estate like a duck to water, her confidence is progressively undermined by her manipulative, lecherous boss Benny (Menashe Noy), just as the film’s own sense of…

Dogman (Matteo Garrone, Italy/France) — Special Presentations

By Diana Dabrowska As Italo Calvino wrote, “The hell of the living is not something that will be, the hell of living is already here—it is a hell in which we live every day, which we create, being together.” In a laconic way, this quote captures the essence of the newest film by Matteo Garrone,…

Ghost Fleet (Shannon Service & Jeffrey Waldron, US) — TIFF Docs

By Jay Kuehner Apparently they aren’t watching much Errol Morris over at Paul Allen’s Vulcan (the woke producers here), or else The Thin Blue Line has become neglected in documentary programs, lest a telejournalistic “exposé” such as Ghost Fleet, unwittingly indulging its own spurious methodology while attempting to uncover another, be mistaken as meta. Fulminating…

Retrospekt (Esther Rots, Netherlands, Belgium) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Mallory Andrews A fractured story structure mirroring the fractured memories of its main character is the gimmick in Dutch director Esther Rots’ second feature, arriving almost ten years after her feature debut Can Go Through Skin (2009). The film follows Mette (Circé Lethem), a social worker who specializes in supporting battered women, who gets…

The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard, US/France/Romania/ Spain) — Special Presentations

By Clara Miranda Scherffig Film festivals provide an opportunity to rethink the way we exercise critical power, for sometimes we are incapable of deciphering how we truly feel about a film while still sitting in the theatre. Upon initial viewing, the first English-language feature by French director Jacques Audiard—a Western of European provenance (it was…

Colette (Wash Westmoreland, UK) — Special Presentations

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr The unrefined Gabrielle Sidonie becomes the controversial author Colette (Keira Knightley) in Still Alice director Wash Westmoreland’s latest melodrama. The biopic, based on the writer’s early years, tonally and visually manages to balance the feverish luxury of belle époque Paris with a sophisticated gravity and absurdly frenzied emotions with beautifully subdued sensuality.…

Jinpa (Pema Tseden, China) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Shelly Kraicer Two Tibetan men, both named Jinpa, meet on a deserted road in the remote Kekexili highlands of Qinghai province. One (Jinpa, the name of the actor who plays him) drives a truck; he’s just run over a sheep. The other (Genden Phuntsok) is a hitchhiker, and explains he is on a ten-year…

Burning (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea) — Special Presentations

By Jordan Cronk Published in Cinema Scope 75 (Summer 2018)   In the eight years since Poetry premiered at Cannes, narrative cinema of the sort that director Lee Chang-dong specializes in has hit a fallow period unseen in decades. Coincidence, perhaps, but one need not look much further than the festival’s interceding Competition line-ups, traditionally…

An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo, China) — Discovery

By Celluloid Liberation Front Published in Cinema Scope 76 (Fall 2018)   China’s growing economic clout and rising prominence in world affairs can help illuminate some essential if unflattering traits of the business we call show. Not even a decade ago, any mention of China was usually made in relation to the draconian censorship filmmakers…

Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt, Portugal/France/ Brazil) — Midnight Madness

By Josh Cabrita “The story, all names, characters, and incidents seen here are fictitious. No identifications with actual persons (living or deceased), places, products, genetic procedures or giant puppies is intended or should be inferred. No animals were harmed in the making of this film.” Thus reads the seemingly obligatory, hilariously backhanded legalese that opens…

Hotel by the River (Hong Sangsoo, South Korea) — Masters

By Jordan Cronk Decidedly melancholy, at times even downright dark, Hong Sangsoo’s 23rd feature, Hotel by the River, continues the South Korean maverick’s recent turn toward unguarded vulnerability and introspection. One of Hong’s winter pictures (c.f. The Day He Arrives, 2011; Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, 2000), the film deals with family dysfunction, creative…

Winter Flies (Olmo Omerzu, Czech Republic/Slovenia/ Poland/Slovakia) — Contemporary World Cinema

By James Lattimer The only truly pressing question that comes to mind when watching Olmo Omerzu’s Winter Flies is who exactly such a film is supposed to be targeting, as its competent, strangely listless blend of genres fails to extract much urgency or specificity from any of them. Does making yet another coming-of-age road-movie comedy…

Angel (Koen Mortier, Belgium/Netherlands/Senegal) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Ethan Vestby A film that’s initially mysterious enough in its jagged rhythms, shifting perspectives, and bold colours to stir feelings of possibly unearthing a hidden cinematic sibling to Claire Denis or Bertrand Bonello, it’s highly unfortunate that by the end of Koen Mortier’s Angel one only gets the sense of a work that doesn’t…

The Quietude (Pablo Trapero, Argentina) — Special Presentations

By Diego Brodersen In the ample rooms and corridors of the countryside house whose name provides the title for Argentine filmmaker Pablo Trapero’s latest film, a few things are being hidden away, consciously or not. To begin with, there are a tall stack of secrets from the past (family stuff, but also of a very…

The Dig (Andy and Ryan Tohill, UK) — Discovery

By Manuela Lazic From the dark and wild lands of Northern Ireland comes this thriller with a morbid, horror-exploitation premise that melds the rural with the brutal. Thirtysomething Ronan Callahan (Moe Dunford, also at TIFF in Black 47 and Rosie) returns home after spending 15 years in prison for a murder he doesn’t recall committing.…

Firecrackers (Jasmin Mozzafari, Canada) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman It’s a town full of losers and they’re pulling out of there to win: that’s the premise of Jasmin Mozzafari’s Firecrackers, which expands the director’s 2013 short of the same name into a conspicuously stylish, intermittently impressive debut that feels very much of the moment in young Canadian cinema, like a faster,…

Float Like a Butterfly (Carmel Winters, Ireland) — Discovery

By Kelley Dong In Carmel Winters’ Float Like a Butterfly, a police altercation on the grounds of an Irish Traveller encampment culminates in the death of a young mother and the arrest of her husband. This tragedy inspires their daughter Frances’ (Hazel Doupe) dream to become a great fighter like Muhammad Ali. But unlike Ali,…

Carmine Street Guitars (Ron Mann, Canada) — TIFF Docs

By Shelly Kraicer Electric craft becomes a stand-in for analogue’s humanity in Ron Mann’s elegiac Carmine Street Guitars. Rick Kelly is the master guitar maker of the beloved, eponymous Greenwich Village guitar shop. He’s been scavenging wood from historic, mostly demolished 19th-century NYC buildings and turning them into lovingly handcrafted electric musical instruments for decades.…

Asako I & II (Hamaguchi Ryusuke, Japan/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Josh Cabrita Published in Cinema Scope 75 (Summer 2018)   By far the most surprising and satisfying selection of this year’s Cannes Competition, Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s Asako I & II sets up and throws out stylistic paradigms faster than you can grab hold of them. As if to maximize the frustration of viewers who prefer…

The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack, US) — Wavelengths

By Blake Williams Published in Cinema Scope 76 (Fall 2018)   “For the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel…

Emu Runner (Imogen Thomas, Australia) — Discovery

By Sarah-Tai Black The result of a 15-year-long collaboration between first-time director Imogen Thomas and members of the remote New South Wales community of Brewarrina, Emu Runner struggles to strike the right balance between collective art-making and authorial command. In spite of this, 11-year-old Rhae Kae Waites commands the screen with a soft yet precocious…

ENDZEIT – EVER AFTER (Carolina Hellsgård, Germany) — Discovery

By Madeleine Wall As each era’s monster reflects its larger cultural identity, the turn to the eco-zombie, in both last year’s The Girl With All the Gifts and now in Carolina Hellsgård’s ENDZEIT – EVER AFTER, presents us with an undead horror directly responding to humanity’s transgressions against nature. After this particular zombie plague, only…

3 Faces (Jafar Panahi, Iran) — Masters

By Azadeh Jafari Of all the films that Jafar Panahi has made after being officially banned from filmmaking, 3 Faces is the one most visibly influenced by Abbas Kiarostami. After watching a video phone message in which a young girl, an aspiring actress named Marzieh, attempts suicide, Panahi and actress Behnaz Jafari take a road…

First Man (Damien Chazelle, US) — Gala Presentations

By Diana Dabrowska The expedition of Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 crew is one of the central myths in American history and global pop culture. The moon landing was perceived as a symbol of the victory of democracy—the American Dream as one giant leap for mankind (and going where no Russian had gone before…

Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico) — Special Presentations

By Jennifer Barker Roma opens and closes with the image of an airplane: at the beginning, it is reflected in the water being used to wash away dogshit from a driveway; in the end, it is simply observed crossing the sky. This image aptly bookends the film’s trajectory: at first the past is murkily reflected,…

El Angel (Luis Ortega, Argentina/Spain) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Manuela Lazic For the young Carlitos (played by talented newcomer Lorenzo Ferro), crime is a way of life, and a means of expression: against a conservative society, against adults, and for love. He didn’t always want to be a gangster, and he’s not after recognition: he craves the thrill of the extremes and of…

Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, US) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman The red, white and blue split-screen that showcases the horny, house-partying girls of Assassination Nation is the first—and maybe best—bit of neo-Godardian gamesmanship in Sam (son of Barry) Levinson’s state-of-the-union horror comedy. Suffice it to say that there are more plausible candidates to make satire great again than the guy who directed…

Blind Spot (Tuva Novotny, Norway) — Discovery

By Mallory Andrews Swedish actor Tuva Novotny (known to English-speaking audiences from recent turns in Borg/McEnroe and Annihilation) makes her debut behind the camera with Blind Spot, about a young couple who are thrown into crisis mode over the course of a single night when their eldest daughter seems to have attempted suicide by jumping…

In My Room (Ulrich Köhler, Germany/Italy) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski Published in Cinema Scope 75 (Summer 2018)   I. In the opening minutes of Ulrich Köhler’s new film In My Room, things don’t seem right. In fact, it’s all a bit glitchy, and the unsuspecting viewer might very well wonder whether the DCP is malfunctioning. The scene appears to be the aftermath…

Ash Is Purest White (Jia Zhangke, China/France/Japan) — Masters

By James Lattimer Published in Cinema Scope 75 (Summer 2018) It speaks to the richness of Jia Zhangke’s oeuvre that Ash Is Purest White already feels like a career summation, even though the Chinese director has yet to turn 50. Transition has always been at the heart of Jia’s work, but this, his twelfth feature-length…

Stupid Young Heart (Selma Vilhunen, Finland/ Netherlands/Sweden) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Kelley Dong In Selma Vilhunen’s sophomore feature Stupid Young Heart, white nationalism exists as a necessary evil during a young boy’s rite of passage. Routinely bullied for his small stature, Finnish teenager Lenni (Jere Ristseppä) oscillates between reticence and bouts of anger. Kiira (Rosa Honkonen), Lenni’s hip-hop dancing classmate, is pregnant with his child.…

Sibel (Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, France/Germany/Luxembourg/ Turkey) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler A movie like Sibel brings out all the worst instincts in programmers working for festivals striving to present a wide range of contemporary international cinema, and, in the bargain, attract buyers. Sibel ticks off so many currently hot-button-category boxes that it’s a kind of a festival porn piece: Girl Power, physical disability,…

Florianópolis Dream (Ana Katz, Argentina/Brazil/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Diego Brodersen Since her debut feature El juego de la silla (2002), Argentine actor-turned-filmmaker Ana Katz has defined a personal style of comedy: a peculiar derivative of the costumbrismo, a cinematic form that she further elaborated in A Wandering Bride (2007), and which reached its limit within the confines of the mainstream in The…

Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas, France) — Special Presentations

By Jennifer Barker Non-Fiction is an elegantly crafted exploration of society on the cusp: looking towards a virtual future, longing for a material past. Even the film’s production manifests its philosophical aims: the grainy, predominantly Super 16mm images insist on a material vision of the world that glows with specificity. Delightfully and unapologetically intellectual, Olivier…

A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper, US) — Gala Presentations

By Clara Miranda Scherffig In the era of the self and the ubiquity of digital images, the print billboard has been perhaps replaced by the multiscreen. Both types of visual support make brief appearances in Bradley’s Cooper remake of A Star is Born, and yet—just like the film—both elements stay on the surface instead of…

Putin’s Witnesses (Vitaly Mansky, Latvia/Switerland/ Czech Republic) — TIFF Docs

By Celluloid Liberation Front Almost 20 years after having filmed a promotional campaign movie on Putin and his inner circle during Putin’s first run for president, Vitaly Mansky has returned to this material to look back at the early stages of Putin’s rise to power. The intimacy of the footage paradoxically reveals little of the…

Museo (Alonso Ruizpalacios, Mexico) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski A not-very-bright film about a very intelligent topic, Museo tries to hedge its bets one too many times. It’s ostensibly about cultural patrimony, in particular the irony that a nation’s most treasured artifacts (such as those housed in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, which features prominently in Museo) are…

Walking on Water (Andrey Paounov, Italy/US) — TIFF Docs

By Mark Peranson In June 2016 on Lake Iseo in Italy, the Bulgarian-born artist Christo at last realized The Floating Piers, an orange-coloured, three-kilometre walkway on top of the lake that allowed people the experience of metaphorically becoming Jesus. The rollicking documentary Walking on Water takes us through the process of the execution of The…

Climax (Gaspar Noé, France) — Midnight Madness

By Lawrence Garcia Published in Cinema Scope 75 (Summer 2018)   Ahead of Climax’s Quinzaine premiere, Gaspar Noé unveiled the movie’s hilariously boneheaded, almost exclusively text-based one-sheet: a rundown of his filmography, with each entry accompanied by a variation of presumed (not without reason) audience vitriol, capped off with an invitation (complete with a rendering…

Fausto (Andrea Bussmann, Mexico/Canada) — Wavelengths

By Josh Cabrita and Adam Cook Published in Cinema Scope 76 (Fall 2018)   “Most people want to be kings and queens, but not enough want to be Faust.” —Jean-Luc Godard, Le livre d’image When Goethe wrote his Faust, adapting the German legend about a scholar who makes a pact with the Devil to attain…

Erased,____ Ascent of the Invisible (Ghassan Halwani, Lebanon) — Wavelengths

By Shelly Kraicer How do you make what is missing disappear (again) and reappear? This question might sound abstract, but its concrete instantiation, after the bloody Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, obsesses artist, animator, and first-time feature filmmaker Ghassan Halwani. His experimental essay-documentary Erased is the product of his research into the traces that remain,…

Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, Lebanon) — Special Presentations

By Richard Porton Poverty porn at its most shameless, Nadine Labaki’s paean to Beirut’s street urchins charmed a number of viewers when it was screened in this year’s Cannes Competition; one can only conclude that otherwise reasonable critics are reduced to quivering sentimentalists when plied with images of adorable children and babies. Few films addressing…

Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland) — Special Presentations

By Jordan Cronk With its simultaneously austere and accessible veneer, Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida (2013) was that rare arthouse hit that seemed to please the critical cognoscenti as much as it did casual moviegoers. To date the film has grossed over $15 million worldwide and, after taking nearly every critics’ group award under the sun, was…

RAY & LIZ (Richard Billingham, UK) — Wavelengths

By Mark Peranson In Richard Billingham’s stellar debut feature RAY & LIZ, the Turner Prize-nominated photographer draws on his childhood to vividly recreate the actions and sensations of dysfunctional life on the margins of Birmingham in Thatcher-era Britain. Ray and Liz are Billingham’s parents, the subjects of the series of photographs Ray’s a Laugh, which…

Maria by Callas (Tom Volf, France) — TIFF Docs

By Madeleine Wall Compiled from archival footage of Maria Callas’ stage performances, interviews with the press, Super 8 home movies and the occasional letter, Maria by Callas attempts to create a portrait of a woman using as many angles as possible. Tom Volf’s film is more interested in Callas’ personal life than the professional career…

Les Salopes, or The Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin (Renée Beaulieu, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Angelo Muredda What can be said about Renée Beaulieu’s Les Salopes, or The Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin that isn’t already conveyed in the title? The Québécois filmmaker and University of Montréal film professor’s second feature—which concers a biologist whose research on the potentially scandalous connection between desire and dermatology—sits at an awkward juncture…

The Sweet Requiem (Ritu Sarin & Tenzing Sonam, India/USA) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr Tibetan refugee Dolkar (Tenzin Dolker) has an active yet average life in Delhi, but we quickly come to see that this woman’s focus on the quotidian is a way to forget past pain. Moving between Dolkar’s adult life in India and flashbacks of her childhood trek through the Himalayas in order to…

Girls of the Sun (Eva Husson, France) — Special Presentations

By Michael Sicinski It’s often the case that a film that’s roundly lambasted in the hothouse environs of Cannes will look a little better under less rarified light. I wish I could say this is the case for the deeply well-intentioned but severely ham-fisted women-vs.-Daesh drama Girls of the Sun. For one thing, it’s a…

Transit (Christian Petzold, Germany/France) — Masters

By James Lattimer Published in Cinema Scope 76 (Fall 2018)   Christian Petzold’s progressive drift away from realism gathers pace in Transit, another melodrama of impossibility and despair that unfolds in a hyper-constructed amalgam of past and present as unstable as it is seamless. Yet the deliberately unresolved tension between ’40s Marseille and today is…

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan, China/France) — Wavelengths

By Blake Williams Published in Cinema Scope 75 (Summer 2018)   “If the cinema isn’t made to express dreams or everything that in waking life has something in common with dreams, then it has no point.”—Antonin Artaud, “Sorcellerie et cinéma” (ca. 1928) Cinema, however realist it may ever strive to be, is synonymous with dreaming.…

Too Late to Die Young (Dominga Sotomayor, Chile/Brazil/Argentina/ Netherlands/Qatar) — Discovery

By Kelley Dong All play and no work is a dangerous game in Too Late to Die Young, the third feature by Chilean filmmaker Dominga Sotomayor, winner of the Golden Leopard for Best Director at this year’s Locarno festival. Recalls the dreamy, pastoral pastels of painter George Seurat, the film is set in 1990 and…

L. COHEN (James Benning, US) — Wavelengths

By James Lattimer Since leaving celluloid behind around a decade ago, James Benning has become ever more invested in the durational opportunities offered by digital formats, with his numerous recent landscape films in particular often stringing together a mere handful of sustained shots or even just unfolding across one. L. COHEN continues this tradition while gently…

Border (Ali Abbasi, Denmark/Sweden) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Ian Barr Based on a short story from Let the Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist, this naturalistically fantastique sophomore feature from writer-director Ali Abbasi similarly depicts the romantic union of two outcasts whose mythological origins are teasingly parcelled out. Vaguely lupine-looking at first glance, and blessed with a heightened sense of smell,…

Manto (Nandita Das, India) — Special Presentations

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr Following the career of author Saadat Hasan Manto (Thanda Gosht; Toba Tek Singh), Nandita Das’ sophomore feature plays like an artist-biopic checklist. Working in India and Pakistan during Independence and Partition, Manto (played, in a powerhouse performance, by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) grapples with social unrest, poverty, and anti-Muslim sentiment in his work, all…

Styx (Wolfgang Fischer, Germany/Austria) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski So many films about the global refugee crisis are focused on the uniquely Eurocentric task of humanizing those asylum seekers who are risking everything for a better life. To its credit, Styx presumes no such glad-handing is necessary; in fact, the refugees are almost incidental to the film. We only get to…

Rojo (Benjamin Naishtat, Argentina/Brazil/France/ Netherlands/Germany) — Platform

By Adam Nayman The De Palmia-ish split diopter shot in the opening sequence of Rojo is an allusion that also suggests its own distinctive usage. Positioning the camera just behind the balding pate of small-town lawyer Claudio (Dario Grandinetti), as he gazes angrily at a long-haired restaurant patron who’s taken his reservation, uncomfortably aligns us…

Girl (Lukas Dhont, Belgium) — Discovery

By Lawrence Garcia Lukas Dhont is a name you will see again. With his debut feature Girl, which won nearly every award it could at Cannes (the Un Certain Regard FIPRESCI Prize, the Camera d’Or, the Queer Palm, plus a Best Actor prize for 16-year-old star Victor Polster), the Belgian director achieved something akin to…

Shoplifters (Kore-eda Hirokazu, Japan) — Special Presentations

By Mallory Andrews There was a distinct feeling in the air at this year’s Cannes that the Competition jury was under far more scrutiny than usual. The Cate Blanchett-led, female-majority group illustrated a gesture by the festival towards gender equity and a commitment to making structural changes in one of the industry’s most prestigious institutions.…

La Flor (Mariano Llinás, Argentina) — Wavelengths

By Jordan Cronk Published in Cinema Scope 76 (Fall 2018)   “Some will say I reinvented the wheel. Yes, I’d say, I reinvented the wheel.”—La Flor, Episode 4 To begin, a question: What exactly is La Flor? It’s a pertinent query, albeit one with no easy answer, so let’s break it down. The first thing…

Donbass (Sergei Loznitsa, Germany/France/Netherlands/ Romania/Ukraine) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Richard Porton At first glance, Sergei Loznitsa’s new film—unlike his previous, intricately plotted voyages to Hell such as My Joy and A Gentle Creature—seems like a scattershot series of vignettes, but eventually, Donbass’ near-Buñuelian episodic structure (in interviews, Loznitza cites The Phantom of Liberty as an influence) acquires a cumulative power. Adopting a superficially…

Never Steady, Never Still (Kathleen Hepburn, Canada)—Discovery

By Lydia Ogwang Determining the sum total of Kathleen Hepburn’s formally accomplished feature debut is daunting arithmetic. Protagonist Judy, a longtime sufferer of Parkinson’s disease, lives with her husband and 18-year-old son in warm domesticity. The film’s opening moments deliver a soft, rose-coloured naturalism, but a prologue delivered in voiceover establishes loss and vulnerability as…

The Seen and Unseen (Kamila Andini, Indonesia/Netherlands/ Australia/ Qatar) — Platform

By Michael Sicinski The Seen and Unseen is a truly singular film, but it does not relinquish its secrets easily. The story of two young twins, the girl Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih) and the boy Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena), who share an intense emotional bond that may extend beyond death, The…

Kissing Candice (Aoife McArdle, Ireland) — Discovery

By Robert Koehler Any discussion about Kissing Candice begins with cinematographer Steve Annis, who, up until now, has been a specialist in music videos for Nick Cave, Florence and the Machine, U2, and Bryan Ferry. Operating in anamorphic widescreen with writer-director Aoife McArdle (herself a music-video veteran, who previously collaborated with the cinematographer for U2’s…

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler, US) — Midnight Madness

By Steve Macfarlane Was Vince Vaughn the Owen Wilson to Jon Favreau’s Wes Anderson? As woebegone drug runner Bradley Thomas, Vaughn delivers a rock-solid command lead in S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 that carries the raggedy mantle of Nolte, Kristofferson, Bronson, McQueen, etc. It’s a film that makes it easy to remember…

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, USA) — Special Presentations

By Leonardo Goi Martin McDonagh’s rollicking and viciously funny revenge tale stars a memorable Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, a mother who seeks retribution for her daughter, who was brutally raped and killed by men the local police forces seem uninterested in bringing to justice. Seven months after the crime and without a lead in…

Dark River (Clio Barnard, UK) — Platform

By Alysia Urrutia The places you’ve lived are like the people you’ve loved: you can leave them all you want but they’ll never be gone. The inextricability of space and emotion, the way we infuse familiar places with the ghosts of our memories, is at the core of Dark River, a grim tale that explores…

Disobedience (Sebastián Leilo, UK) — Special Presentations

By Manuela Lazic Now fully crossed over into English-language filmmaking (following in the footsteps of his Hollywood-focused countryman Pablo Larraín), Chilean director Sebastián Lelio continues his series of films about women and discrimination with Disobedience. This time out, he examines the difficult dialogue between sexuality and religion through the story of Ronit (an excellent Rachel…

I Love You, Daddy (Louis C.K., US) — Special Presentations

By Dan Sullivan Full disclosure: An issue of this publication (CS 70, to be precise [Ed. note: not cleared for use]) appears laid atop the desk of Glen Topher (Louis C.K.), the creatively blocked but nevertheless richer-than-God television writer/producer whose daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz, surely a career-best turn) moves into his opulent penthouse in…

Mom and Dad (Brian Taylor, US) — Midnight Madness

By Elena Lazic For his first solo directorial effort, Brian Taylor (of Neveldine/Taylor, the creative duo behind Crank and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) tackles the challenge of comedy-horror head on with a premise that could have gone so wrong: a mass hysteria causes parents to suddenly turn against their children, with the clear intention…

BOOM FOR REAL The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (Sara Driver, USA) — TIFF Docs

By Phil Coldiron GELDZAHLER: So they’re kinds [sic] of indexes to encyclopedias that don’t exist? BASQUIAT: I just like the names. Given that this exchange between curator and artist is typical of the latter’s saintly tendency towards terseness, Sara Driver’s decision to render her portrait of the five years before Basquiat exploded onto the art…

Angels Wear White (Vivian Qu, China/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Steve Macfarlane It’s no spoiler to say the whole damn system is found guilty as hell in Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White. While a sleepy coastal town refurbishes itself as getaway destination, a teenage migrant worker named Xioami (Wen Qi) fills in for her friend working the reception desk at a hotel. There, she’s…

Chappaquiddick (John Curran, USA) — Gala Presentations

By Manuela Lazic It seems that the movies will never stop portraying the tormented lives of the Kennedys. After last year’s divisive Jackie, which focused (oh so tortuously and in slow-motion) on the First Lady’s immediate reaction to JFK’s assassination, the cameras have now turned for the first time (at least in a high-profile studio…

Sweet Country (Warwick Thornton, Australia) — Platform

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country attempts to be unique in every way possible, and nearly succeeds. An Australian Western about colonialism, it consciously revises the racial politics of the genre, while emphasizing vibrant visuals, expressive sound design, and a radically loose narrative structure. After Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris), an Aboriginal farmer, kills a…

Living Proof (Matt Embry, Canada) — TIFF Docs

By Aurélie Godet Canadian filmmaker Matt Embry is living proof that one can do well despite being stuck with multiple sclerosis, provided that one circumvents the medical establishment’s augur of incurability by diversifying sources of information on the causes and treatment of the disease. This is the main takeaway of Living Proof, a documentary that…

Disappearance (Ali Asgari, Iran) — Discovery

By Steve Macfarlane In Ali Asgari’s slow-burning melodrama Disappearance, a young unmarried couple (Sadaf Asgari and Amir Reza Ranjbaran) spend one very long night moving from one Tehran hospital to another after their first time having sex results, for her, in a bleeding condition that won’t stop. There are several avenues to help, but each…

Shiekh Jackson (Amr Salama, Egypt) — Special Presentations

By Willow Maclay Michael Jackson’s death sent shockwaves through popular culture around the world. Amr Salama’s film measures its impact in Egypt through the story of a young Imam (Ahmad Alfishawy) whose reaction to the news unearths memories and emotions he had thought long buried. On the surface, the sheikh’s life seems to be going…

Cocaine Prison (Violeta Ayala, Australia/Bolivia/France/US) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski There’s a scene early on in Cocaine Prison where we see several of the little brothers of Deisy Torrez, one of the film’s main subjects, rolling around in dried coca leaves, playing in the foliage like so many New Englanders have at the height of autumn. This is beautiful and sad, since…

Alias Grace (Mary Harron, Canada/USA) — Primetime

By Angelo Muredda Margaret Atwood’s most genre-bending, postmodern novel gets a mostly straightforward Victorian adaptation in Mary Harron’s CBC-bound miniseries Alias Grace, at least on the basis of its first two episodes. Atwood has a lot of fun with the lurid rubbernecking appeal of the story of Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), the maid turned prisoner…

Victoria & Abdul (Stephen Frears, UK) — Special Presentations

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr Not content with a simple erasure of colonial violence under the veil of a feel-good prestige pic, Stephen Frears opts for full-on degradation in his latest film Victoria & Abdul. Judi Dench stars as a Queen Victoria who is bored with royalty, and the way her crown alienates her from the people…

Black Cop (Cory Bowles, Canada) — Discovery

By Josh Cabrita The inciting central incident in Cory Bowles’ debut feature is an all-too-recognizable altercation between two belligerent, white Toronto PD officers and a hoodie-wearing black man (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) leaving a convenience store mid-run. Starting with the officers’ quasi-congenial attempts to get the jogger’s attention while his earbuds blare, a tumult of racially…

Azmaish: A Journey Through the Subcontinent (Sabiha Sumar, Pakistan) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski While certainly informative and laudably humanist in intent, Azmaish poses a certain problem for this reviewer, simply from the standpoint of context. This new documentary/road movie from Sabiha Sumar (Dinner with the President) is a kind of primer on the conflicts between India and Pakistan, offering a crash course that starts with…

Breathe (Andy Serkis, UK) — Gala Presentations

By Angelo Muredda Andy Serkis takes a left turn from performance-capture guru to prestige-pic helmer with this ingratiating and anonymously directed biopic that leaves no cliché about love and illness untapped. If there’s anything curious about Breathe, it’s the behind-the-scenes business machinations that saw Serkis taking on as his directorial debut a story that turns…

Molly’s Game (Aaron Sorkin, US) — Gala Presentations

By Manuela Lazic It took Aaron Sorkin 15 years to finally go from the writer’s desk to the director’s chair, and in some respects, Molly’s Game feels like the work of an experienced filmmaker. The story of Molly Bloom’s rise and fall as the organizer of the world’s most exclusive and star-studded poker game comes…

Soldiers. Story from Ferentari (Ivana Mladenovic, Romania/Serbia/Belgium) — Discovery

By Alysia Urrutia While on the surface Soldiers from Ferentari would appear to be wildly rugged in every possible sense—stark cinematography, bleak setting, characters frayed by age and rough around the edges—Ivana Mladeovic’s film heroically manages to infuse its ruinous onscreen world with the romantic possibility of freedom, the kind that only having spent half…

The Motive (Manuel Martín Cuenca, Spain) — Special Presentation

By James Lattimer Watching The Motive is akin to hearing an artist expound at length on the tedious specifics of their process, a feeling made all the more wearying by the blinkered nature of said approach. The opening scene of Manuel Martín Cuenca’s film shows its protagonist, wannabe writer Alvaro (Javier Gutiérrez), practically crying with…

The Swan (Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir, Iceland) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski When someone makes their first film, it’s not uncommon for them to experience some difficulty controlling parameters such as style and tone. But Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s The Swan is something a bit more frustrating. For the first half of its running time, this Icelandic coming-of-age story is simply bizarre, taking visual and…

Tigre (Silvina Schnicer & Ulises Porra Guardiola, Argentina) — Discovery

By Lydia Ogwang The feature directorial debut by Silvina Schnicer and Ulises Porra Guardiola’s centres on matriarch Rina, a woman in her sixties who is returning to her rundown family home to stage a sort of family reunion. Among her guests are an estranged son whose help she has enlisted in maintaining the family land…

Cardinals (Grayson Moore & Aidan Shipley, Canada) — Discovery

By Lydia Ogwang Canadian newcomers Grayson Moore and Aidan Shipley strike gold with veteran Sheila McCarthy in the lead role of Cardinals. McCarthy is masterful as the damningly self-convicted Valerie, a mother of two recalibrating to free civilian life after serving time for apparent alcohol-induced vehicular manslaughter. While her daughters (played by Grace Glowicki and…

Human Traces (Nic Gorman, New Zealand) — Discovery

By Aurélie Godet Scientific findings keep revealing, with an accelerated urgency, the disruptive and irreversible impact that human activities have on the natural environment and on the species that coexist with them on Earth. Set at a remote sub-Antarctic research station, Nic Gorman’s Human Traces attempts to fuse an urgent message about environmental consciousness with…

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches (Simon Lavoie, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Josh Cabrita A tale of a reclusive, degenerate family in rural Quebec in the 1930s, Simon Lavoie’s follow-up to Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (winner of last year’s Best Canadian Feature prize at TIFF) wastes no time shoving our noses into some truly vile shit: an abusive patriarchy, incest,…

Princesita (Marialy Rivas, Chile/Argentina/Spain) — Discovery

By James Lattimer Some day, there’ll be a film about cult membership that doesn’t draw on the same hoary old clichés, but until then we have Marialy Rivas’ Princesita, whose glossy, vaguely queasy take on the standard narrative of male power figures and helplessly ensnared women is so overfamiliar that it feels stretched at a…

Manhunt (John Woo, Hong Kong/China) — Special Presentations

By Leonardo Goi Brace yourselves: after the American sojourn that brought the likes of Face/Off and Mission Impossible 2 and a detour into Chinese historical-blockbuster mode with Red Cliff, John Woo has returned to the Asian police thrillers which earned him global fame with the hilarious, all-out-bonkers and thoroughly enjoyable Manhunt. Zhang Hanyu stars as…

The Ritual (David Bruckner, UK) — Midnight Madness

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr Making his feature debut after directing segments for the horror anthology films V/H/S and Southbound, David Bruckner proves that he is clearly familiar with the mechanics of his genre, but The Ritual misses the mark: working in a longer format, he comes up with a confused and unsustainable tangle of typical horror…

Les Affamés (Robin Aubert, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema)

By Michael Sicinski While it could be said that the last thing the world needs is another zombie movie, Québécois director Robin Aubert has managed to offer a solid and at times even original survey of this well-trod terrain. Where so many other genre filmmakers make the mistake of trying to add their unique spin…

A Fish Out Of Water (Lai Kuo-An, Taiwan) — Discovery

By Azadeh Jafari Obsessive memories from the past haunt Yi-An, a sad, inattentive little boy who claims that he remembers his previous mother and his past life by the sea. In reality, Yi-An’s grandpa has fallen ill and needs constant care, which forces his mother to take him and go live with her sister—a situation…

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (Angela Robinson, US) — Special Presentations

By Manuela Lazic Angela Robinson’s biopic of the creators of Wonder Woman makes an intriguing companion piece to the DC blockbuster released earlier this year—which presented a more commercial and sanitised version of the heroine—and is an odd yet enjoyable film on its own. Framed by Professor William Marston’s (Luke Evans) defense of the morals…

You Disappear (Peter Schønau Fog, Denmark/Sweden) — Special Presentation

By Michael Sicinski A film just obvious and tiresome enough to be a minor hit, You Disappear is the sort of literary adaptation that gives prestige a bad name. Taken from a novel by Christian Jungerson, You Disappear is the sort of film that recites large passages of the book in voiceover, just in case…

The Crescent (Seth A. Smith, Canada) — Midnight Madness

By Josh Cabrita Seth A. Smith’s perplexing and propulsive The Crescent strips away nearly all exuberance from its mise en scène and presents Nova Scotia’s naturally picturesque vistas in bleak hues. Using the anxieties of a survivalist psyche to radically realign our perception of specific tropes, Smith capitalizes on fears of economic isolation within the…

Thelma (Joachim Trier, Norway/Sweden/France/Denmark) — Special Presentations

By Angelo Muredda Joachim Trier makes a sterling if somewhat noncommittal bid for post-horror with Thelma, a slow-burn supernatural thriller about a Norwegian teen (Eili Harboe) who goes away to college (and away from her morally rigid Christian parents) and finds her long dormant powers to make terrible and strange things happen reactivated by, what…

The Poet and the Boy (Kim Yang-hee, South Korea) — Discovery

By Mallory Andrews I felt vaguely embarrassed for immediately being reminded of Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson at the outset of Kim Yang-hee’s debut feature The Poet and the Boy. The similarities are apparent: in addition to Yang Ik-june’s Poet (the only name he is identified by in the film) working through his art and inspiration via…

A Worthy Companion (Carlos Sanchez & Jason Sanchez, Canada) — Discovery

By Angelo Muredda Evan Rachel Wood works hard to put on a tough face in Carlos and Jason Sanchez’s unconvincing debut feature, the kind of miserablist festival fare that has given English Canadian cinema a bad name for too long. Wood stars as Laura, a thirtysomething house cleaner with unsavoury sexual appetites (so a moralizing…

The Breadwinner (Nora Twomey, Canada/Ireland/Luxembourg) — Special Presentations

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr In its reductive exploration of misogyny in Afghanistan, The Breadwinner is reflective of how a children’s film, with its simplified, toned-down, and easily conveyed ideas, is not conducive to discussions of serious political problems. But equally faulty is the very obvious issue of who is discussing what, and for whom. A film…

The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, France/United Kingdom/Belgium) — Platform

By Steve Macfarlane Short of insider knowledge, there’s no way Veep creator Armando Iannucci could have anticipated the appetite for Russploitation accompanying the meteoric rise (and/or fall) of America’s 45th president. Nevertheless, The Death of Stalin arrives at the intersection of mid-career Beckett and later-career Mamet, cocked and loaded for maximum chortling at all things…

Makala (Emmanuel Gras, France) — TIFF Docs

By James Lattimer For all the recent criticism of Cannes’ reliance on the same big names, perhaps the bigger problem is the festival’s continuing failure to find new ones to replace them, as the chances of making a real discovery on the Croisette seem to dwindle further with each passing year. French director Emmanuel Gras’…

The Carter Effect (Sean Menard, Canada/USA) — TIFF Docs

By Adam Nayman Filming Drake (billed as a “rapper/actor,” in a nod to his Degrassi stint) in front of some dinosaur skeletons at the Royal Ontario Museum is the wittiest touch in Sean Menard’s barely feature-length, sure-to-be-bought-for-television account of Vince Carter’s tumultuous tenure with the Toronto Raptors, not that said tumultuousness is really given its…

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (Chris Smith, USA/Canada) — TIFF Docs

By Pamela Jahn When Jim Carrey auditioned to play Andy Kaufman in Miloš Forman’s 1999 biopic Man on the Moon, he was a man on a roll: Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber (all released in 1994) had made him a star and the best-paid comic actor of his generation, and he exceeded…

The Future Ahead (Constanza Novick, Argentina) — Discovery

By Diego Brodersen In Constanza Novick’s debut feature, Dolores Fonzi (also present at TIFF in The Summit) and Pilar Gamboa (The Fire, La flor) play best friends whose lives intertwine through the years. Novick is quite experienced in writing professionally (and quickly) for daily TV shows, but fortunately almost no clichés are found in her…

The Children Act (Richard Eyre, UK) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Ian McEwan specializes in preposterous plots, and The Children Act is as contrived as anything in his posh, voluminous, award-winning repertoire. (I don’t have an official number, but I’m guessing this is something like the 85th film made from one of his novels). Shortly after receiving a your-job-or-our-marriage ultimatum from her perennially…

Oblivion Verses (Alireza Khatami, France/Germany/Netherlands/Chile) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski An elderly morgue attendant at a huge urban cemetery (Juan Margallo) is working late one night when a political protest gets out of hand, resulting in the secret police bursting into the morgue to hide the bodies of the protesters they’ve killed. Later, when the authorities come back to clean up the…

The Guardians (Xavier Beauvois, France/Switzerland) — Special Presentations

By Aurélie Godet Xavier Beauvois is an interesting case of half-tamed wildness. He knows to surround himself with the most reliable professionals—here producer Sylvie Pialat, composer Michel Legrand, and, of course, Caroline Champetier, his cinematographer since 1995’s N’oublie pas que tu vas mourir. You feel that he’s enough of a rebel to resist external pressures…

Waru (Briar Grace-Smith, Ainsley Gardiner, Renae Maihi, Casey Kaa, Awanui Simich-Pene, Chelsea Cohen, Katie Wolfe & Paula Jones, New Zealand) — Discovery

By Willow Maclay Grief has a way of mangling the status quo and turning it strange. It absorbs everything in its path like an all encompassing fog waiting to seep into your blood. We live knowing we are only moments away from it happening to us, but we usually manage to put these feelings away…

Hannah (Andrea Pallaoro, Italy/Belgium/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski Hannah is a bit of a paradox: it is an exceedingly quiet movie, and at the same time a bracing one, with a volatile, superstar performance at its heart. Charlotte Rampling plays the title character, a woman whose life has been dramatically upended just as she and her husband (André Wilms) should…

Dark is the Night (Adolfo Alix Jr., Philippines) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski Dark is the Night is unmistakably a cri de coeur regarding the fascist leadership of Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte and his extrajudicial drug war. At the same time, Adolfo Alix, Jr. has chosen to convey this most urgent of messages in a highly unusual format, making his film a rather strange specimen…

A Sort of Family (Diego Lerman, Argentina/Brazil/France/Poland) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Diego Brodersen After 2002’s Suddenly, that magnificent cornerstone of the New Argentine Cinema, Diego Lerman has specialized in powerful but still delicate stories dealing with complex, urgent subject matter. Where his previous film Refugiado dealt with the issue of a family on the verge of disintegration after domestic violence forces the protagonist to run…

Killing Jesus (Laura Mora, Colombia/Argentina) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski A lot of debut films have structural problems, of course, but Killing Jesus, by Colombian first-timer Laura Mora, is rather unusual in this regard. The beginning and end are exceedingly clunky, while the middle feels uniquely organic and atmospheric. Granted, this assessment has as much to do with what I as a…

Mademoiselle Paradis (Barbara Albert, Austria/Germany) — Platform

By Michael Sicinski A film that would make a fine double bill with either Jessica Hausner’s Amour fou or David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, Barbara Albert’s Mademoiselle Paradis is a subtle and intelligent film about the historical crisis of female subjectivity and the various men who attempt to control that emerging identity. At the height…

The Third Murder (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan) — Masters

By Leonardo Goi Those who have come to love Hirokazu Kore-eda for his flair for quiet, homely pleasures may find The Third Murder a tad surprising. We are no longer in the comfy, Ozu-like milieu of Our Little Sister, and though small talk about Japan’s culinary wonders is exchanged, the feature opens with a much…

Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (Tracy Heather Strain, USA) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart is a TV documentary about the life and work of the late African-American playwright/activist Lorraine Hansberry. Produced for PBS’ American Masters series, Sighted Eyes is meticulously researched, well assembled, and has most of the appropriate expert commentary. It is instructive to remember just how much Hansberry accomplished in her…

Don’t Talk to Irene (Pat Mills, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler After the dark pleasures of his debut feature Guidance, writer-director Pat Mills wanders into the deep Toronto suburban bush with his considerably less funny follow-up Don’t Talk to Irene. High school seems to be Mills’ bailiwick: Guidance took school counselling to extreme, twisted places, mining good sources of satire; Don’t Talk to…

Custody (Xavier Legrand, France) — Platform

By Ethan Vestby There’s something promising in the nearly 15-minute passage that opens Xavier Legrand’s Custody, which charts a hearing between a divorced couple regarding custody of their 11-year-old son, the mouthpiece avatars of their respective lawyers going off while the idly waiting, pained-looking parents sit in silence. So boldly dry with its ping-ponging legal…

Battle of the Sexes (Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton, USA) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler It is surely awards season and TIFF launch time when a spate of movies appear featuring real-life figures from the recent American and British past (because they must be Anglo-Saxon, just because they must), cast with stars undergoing striking physical transformations, art-designed with meticulous attention to period details down to the wallpaper…

Ava (Sadaf Foroughi, Iran/Canada/Qatar) — Discovery

By Mallory Andrews “The bird that would soar above the level of plain tradition and prejudice must have strong wings,” the protagonist of Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel The Awakening is advised; “it is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.” Ava (Mahour Jabbari), the teenage title heroine of Sadaf…

Stronger (David Gordon Green, USA) — Gala Presentations

By Angelo Muredda Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman gets the biopic treatment in Stronger, David Gordon Green’s lazy if intermittently affecting first major stab at Oscar glory. Jake Gyllenhaal tamps down his blinking-related affectations of prestige movies past and brings some calm, regular-guy gravitas to Bauman, who, according to the gruff, faux-Boston brogue of…

The Lodgers (Brian O’Malley, Ireland) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman Things creak in The Lodgers, a painfully genteel Irish horror movie haunted by the spirits of superior ghost stories, from The Innocents to The Others. It’s not that director Brian O’Malley is unaware of (or not duly reverent to) the old-dark-house tradition that he’s working in, it’s just that he doesn’t add…

Bodied (Joseph Kahn, USA) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman Or: Do the Wrong Thing. The protagonist of Joseph “Look What You Made Me Do” Kahn’s Eminem-produced 8 Mile satire (scripted by Toronto-area rapper Kid Twist) is a slim, shady grad student writing a dissertation on the subaltern subversiveness of clandestine rap battles. After some encouragement from a legendary (black) rapper—who tells…

Foxtrot (Samuel Maoz, Israel/Germany/France/Switzerland) — Special Presentations

By Pamela Jahn Not every director comes to filmmaking early in life, but those arriving at it later usually kick in with a vengeance. Samuel Maoz was only a few years shy of 50 when he was awarded the Golden Lion in Venice in 2009 for his debut feature Lebanon, a dramatized version of the…

Meditation Park (Mina Shum, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Josh Cabrita Mina Shum’s first narrative feature since 2002 (following a decade-long stint directing Vancouver-based television) is contained within the few blocks surrounding the intersection of Renfrew and Hastings in East Vancouver, a community largely made up of longtime Asian immigrants. One of these residents is the silently resilient Maria (Pei-Pei Cheng), who has…

Nina (Juraj Lehotský, Slovakia/Czech Republic) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Lydia Ogwang The spark at the heart of Nina is kindled by faith in forms. Slovakian director Juraj Lehotský meets us here with a mostly modest coming-of-age film, trusting that the spectacle of adolescent growth still holds enough weight to make the case for its existence just this once more. Lehotský’s eponymous subject is…

Scaffolding (Matan Yair, Israel/Poland) — Discovery

By James Lattimer While understatement is usually preferable to shouting, it can also become too much of a good thing, as Scaffolding (not to be confused with Kazik Radwanski’s new short film, the far better Scaffold, which screens in Wavelengths prior to Denis Côté’s Ta peau ti lisse) neatly illustrates. While Matan Yair’s debut feature…

The Price of Success (Teddy Lussi-Modeste, France) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler Considering that a stand-up performer who goes by the singular moniker of Brahim can pack French concert houses and have his face plastered all over Paris, he must have some pretty damn fine comic stylings. Whatever they may be, they pop up at around the 26-minute mark of the erratic and ultimately…

Simulation (Abed Abest, Iran) — Discovery

By Phil Coldiron On a large, bare soundstage, actors dressed in street clothes and day-glo blue boots gather to play a curiously shaped morality tale set in Abadan, an Iranian town near the country’s border with Iraq. The props and settings—a police station, a pair of apartments—are plainly artificial, rendered in green-screen green; the narrative…

Samui Song (Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand/Germany/Norway) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Kong Rithdee Six years after his last fiction film Headshot (during which time he made Paradoxocrazy, a documentary chronicling Thailand’s political history), Thai auteur Pen-ek Ratanaruang returns to the festival circuit in fine form. At times noir-ish, at times cheeky, and at times a little too self-aware, Samui Song thriller surfs in and out…

The Great Buddha+ (Huang Hsin-Yao, Taiwan) — Discovery

By Aurélie Godet Augmented and improved from the short film of the same name that Huang Hsin-Yao directed in 2014, the “Plus” version of The Great Buddha is the Taiwanese filmmaker’s first narrative feature. This wink to technology branding is consistent with the central role played by satirical humour in all of Huang’s storytelling endeavours,…

Miracle (Egle Vertelyte, Lithuania/Bulgaria/Poland) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski The TIFF catalogue description trumpets Miracle as “the first film from Lithuania to play the Festival in over 15 years” (sucks to be Sharunas Bartas). While indeed no miracle, this debut film by Egle Vertelyte is certainly pleasant enough, occupying a familiar film-festival category—that’s to say that, if you haven’t marked “wry-yet-rueful…

Euthanizer (Teemu Nikki, Finland) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski Since the old Vanguard section was put to sleep, Contemporary World Cinema is now forced to make room for films like Euthanizer, a bit of four-legged ugliness from Finland. The story of a clearly deranged yet moralistic factotum who offers to euthanize animals for a fraction of what the local vet charges,…

What Will People Say (Iram Haq, Norway/Germany/Sweden) — Platform

By Alysia Urrutia Placing a new cultural spin on the well-worn story of a young girl whose sexual blossoming comes into conflict with family values, What Will People Say is both provocative and predictable, topical but trite. The host of repercussions visited upon Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) for having imprudently succumbed to ostensibly sinful urges is…

Radiance (Naomi Kawase, Japan/France) — Special Presentations

By Blake Williams This past weekend the international film community was rocked by the news that Juliette Binoche is set to star in Cannes darling Naomi Kawase’s next film, a Japan-set movie that will reportedly be called Vision. Aside from reporting the casting coup, this news is surprising because it suggests that Kawase, who is now…

The Nothing Factory (Pedro Pinho, Portugal) — Wavelengths

By Phil Coldiron In 1978, the earliest year for which OECD labour statistics on Portugal are available, more than 60% of the country’s workforce was unionized. By 1986, the year the country was accepted into the European Economic Community, that number had dropped to just over 40%. Today, following the arc typical of a Western…

First They Killed My Father (Angelina Jolie, Cambodia) — Special Presentations

By Jay Kuehner Can there be any doubt, within the simplified moral terms of cinema as conveniently conscionable entertainment, that Angelina Jolie’s Cambodian project constitutes an act of courage? Any doubts are flagged as cynicism, any detraction deemed insensitive. And yet, for a survival story of such magnitude as Loung Ung’s (from whose memoir Jolie…

Mother! (Darren Aronofsky, USA) — Special Presentations

By Leonardo Goi Possibly the most anticipated title on the 2017 fall festival circuit, Mother! certainly is the visually delirious tale promised by its marketing team (the exclamation point is earned!), but Darren Aronofsky’s awareness of his own directorial grandeur ultimately turns it into a self-referential, hallucinatory trip. A world-famous poet (Javier Bardem) has sought…

The Butterfly Tree (Priscilla Cameron, Australia) — Discovery

By Robert Koehler Is writer-director Priscilla Cameron kidding or not? The recent Melbourne Film Festival reception to her first feature The Butterfly Tree charitably suggests that this treacly tale may be meant in the spirit of camp. But camp must have a funny side, and there isn’t a moment in this quasi-magical realist coming-of-age story…

The Leisure Seeker (Paolo Virzì, Italy) — Gala Presentations

By Leonardo Goi Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland can hardly rescue Paolo Virzì’s first English-language feature The Leisure Seeker, an unnervingly average twilight-years road trip that’s kilometres away from the quality of the Italian director’s European works. Sutherland stars as John, a retired professor addicted to Hemingway and suffering from Alzheimer’s, with Mirren as his…

The Tesla World Light (Matthew Rankin, Canada) — Short Cuts

By Jason Anderson Published in Cinema Scope 71 (Summer 2017) International devotees of Canuck pop-cultural arcana may pride themselves on knowing every single line that Drake ever uttered on Degrassi: The Next Generation, but there’s another treasure that Canadians thus far have been able to keep for themselves. These are the Heritage Minutes, a series…

Fluid Frontiers (Ephraim Asili, USA/Canada) — Wavelengths

By Jesse Cumming Published in Cinema Scope 72 (Fall 2017) If it is not here It must be there For somewhere and nowhere Parallels In versions of each other …. where Or even before something came to be —Sun Ra, “Parallels” (1970) Described as “A Video Film on Space and the Music of the Omniverse,”…

Arrhythmia (Boris Khlebnikov, Russia/Finland/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler Arrhythmia was originally intended as a comedy about a stressed-out couple in the Russian health-care industry, but co-writers Boris Khlebnikov (who also directs) and Natalia Meshchaninova made the wrong decision by switching gears to the more literal tone of a modest melodrama. The comic possibilities are still visible under the surface, especially…

Kings (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, France/Belgium) — Gala Presentations

By Steve Macfarlane Using the 1992 riots that followed the acquittal of four LAPD officers caught on tape beating Rodney King as pretext for a meet-cute between Halle Berry and Daniel Craig, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s nightmarishly terrible Kings has a long career ahead of it as an object lesson in how not to exploit current…

Suburbicon (George Clooney, USA) — Galas

By Adam Nayman On paper (where it was doubtlessly first written, probably with a typewriter, 30 years ago) Joel and Ethan Coen’s script for Suburbicon evokes sinister, postwar domestic melodramas like Shadow of a Doubt and Bigger Than Life. On screen, as directed by George Clooney, it evokes—or, more accurately, pilfers, poorly and to no…

Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, US) — Special Presentations

By Jay Kuehner Greta Gerwig’s debut feature is like something akin to asking a classmate to sign your yearbook and getting a detailed novella in return, or a pink plaster cast scrawled with a poem. It’s also proof that Gerwig is clearly her own muse. The film opens with a cheeky quote from Joan Didion…

Mudbound (Dee Rees, US) — Galas

By C.J. Prin A period piece set in 1940s Mississippi, Dee Rees’ Mudbound takes the form of a low-key epic about race relations in America, counteracting its mid-sized budget with a sprawling narrative structure. Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) and his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) purchase a farm for their family, part of which is leased…

Oh Lucy! (Atsuko Hirayanagi, USA/Japan) — Discovery

By Elena Lazic While the exotic appeal of foreign titles to Western viewers is undeniable (especially at major film festivals), few movies ever reverse that dynamic. In Atsuko Hirayanagi’s Oh Lucy!, Josh Hartnett doesn’t play one of his usual roles (or at least the roles he used to get in big Hollywood movies), where his…

PROTOTYPE (Blake Williams, Canada) — Wavelengths

By Phil Coldiron Early in the autumn of 1900, four months before Edison closed the Black Maria and five years before the Lumière brothers left the cinematograph business altogether for what they supposed to be less trivial concerns, a storm landed at the booming port town of Galveston, Texas and killed perhaps as many as…

Of Sheep and Men (Karim Sayad, Switzerland/France/Qatar) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski First of all, let me compliment Mr. Sayad’s directorial prowess: I watched Of Sheep and Men with no foreknowledge, and I honestly thought it was a fictional feature. That’s because this documentary is so tightly structured in terms of its focus on two protagonists and their gradually shifting milieu, and even though…

Three Peaks (Jan Zabeil, Germany/Italy) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Three Peaks opens with a man and a child struggling to hold a conversation underwater in a fancy resort swimming pool; it’s a witty visual pun pointing to submerged motivations and difficult intergenerational communication. Jan Zabeil’s film is filled with such touches, and as they add up, you could be forgiven for…

Valley of Shadows (Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen, Norway) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman The other clog doesn’t drop for a good long time in Valley of Shadows, a half-enchanting, half-enervating Norwegian feature whose director tries to have his horror tropes and transcend them too. That it takes Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen a while to really indicate what kind of movie he’s making could be taken as…

The Florida Project (Sean Baker, USA) — Special Presentations

By James Lattimer As in many of Sean Baker’s films, The Florida Project’s final destination doesn’t quite captivate as much as the journey taken to get there. Baker’s sixth feature is first a merry wander, then a desperate gallop through the plastic fantastic environs of central Florida, where each motel is more garish than the…

Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, UK) — Special Event

By Adam Nayman He just can’t help himself. Unless my memory is failing me, Memento-style, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is the first World War II movie — and I suppose, provided we keep the designation relatively straightforward, the first war movie, period — that’s been deliberately crafted as a puzzle box. The relationship of form to…

Le fort des fous (Narimane Mari, France/Algeria/Switzerland/ Germany/Greece/Qatar) — Wavelengths

By Jordan Cronk Published in Cinema Scope 72 (Fall 2017) Narimane Mari’s 2013 film Bloody Beans concludes with a query: “What is worth more, to be or to obey?” These words, invoked in succession by a handful of the film’s adolescent protagonists, are taken from Antonin Artaud’s “Petit poème des poissons de la mer,” an…

Luk’Luk’I (Wayne Wapeemukwa, Canada) — Discovery

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr Set and shot during the last days of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, in Luk’Luk’I Wayne Wapeemukwa attempts to puncture the veneer of Canadian nationalism by turning away from the event’s image of national prosperity and togetherness in order to focus on marginalized communities. Working with a cast of mostly nonprofessional actors,…

The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, USA) — Special Presentations

By Jay Kuehner “Fairy tales are meant for difficult times” declares Guillermo del Toro, and even though The Shape of Water is steeped in a Cold War-era America of key lime pie (that reeks of racism and homophobia) and teal-finned Cadillacs (fit for assholes weaned on the power of patriarchal thinking), it’s clear just what…

First Reformed (Paul Schrader, USA) — Masters

By Pamela Jahn Just when one is about to lose faith in a director’s ability to recover from the slip-ups of recent years, along comes a film that makes one want to believe in his greatness all over again. Sidney Lumet turned that corner once with Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), and even…

Dragonfly Eyes (Xu Bing, China/USA) — Wavelengths

By Robert Koehler Anticipating the current political moment of a fake US president attacking perceived enemies as fake, much of which is triggered by a culture drowning in simulacra, conceptual artist Xu Bing’s first foray into cinema seems like an ideal Chinese response to the madness. The result of a massive, years-long project to compile,…

Our People Will Be Healed (Alanis Obomsawin, Canada) — Masters

By Josh Cabrita Now in her 85th year and making her 50th film, indispensable Indigenous documentarian Alanis Obomsawin appears to have fallen into an atypical mood of optimistic self-reflection. In her previous film, the nearly three-hour, Wisemanesque We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice, she chronicled, with deliberate drudgery and opacity, a years-long judicial suit…

A Ciambra (Jonas Carpignano, Italy/France/USA/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski In case you had any question as to what to expect from A Ciambra, the latest film from Jonas Carpignano (Mediterranea), the TIFF catalogue description clears things up. In a scant 236 words, we are given the following: “unadorned,” “highly naturalistic,” “verisimilitude,” “gritty reality,” “raw vitality,” “stark reality.” Add in the fact…

Lean On Pete (Andrew Haigh, USA/United Kingdom) — Special Presentations

By Jay Kuehner A girl and a gun or a boy and a horse? Andrew Haigh adapts Will Vlautin’s cautionary, melancholic neo-Western with a keen eye and ear for regional vernacular and class distinction. Haigh recognizes the potential in the story that Jane Smiley described as a “sheer cinema-vérité detailing of American life,” and hems…

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo, France) — Special Presentations

By Jordan Cronk A sprawling yet affectingly personal portrait of a group of Parisian activists and ACT UP members in the early ’90s, Robin Campillo’s follow-up to the ambitious social thriller Eastern Boys (2013) is defined by a nuanced understanding of group dynamics and the delicate nature of sociopolitical resistance––traits no doubt informed by the…

Under the Tree (Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, Iceland/Denmark/ Poland/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski This would-be black comedy from Iceland starts out in gently grumbling Mike Leigh mode and ends up somewhere in the neighbourhood of Miike Takashi’s Dead or Alive trilogy. That may sound kind of badass, but the trajectory is never really convincing. (Ron Burgundy might opine that things escalate a bit too quickly,…

The Disaster Artist (James Franco, USA) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman The pivotal moment in The Disaster Artist—James Franco’s absorbing, hall-of-mirrors adaptation of Greg Sestero’s combination memoir/tell-all about his participation in the making of The Room, which some have called the worst movie ever made—comes when oddball-narcissist-auteur-polymath Tommy Wiseau (played, naturally, by oddball-narcissist-auteur-polymath Franco) is humiliated at a Hollywood restaurant by a powerful…

Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc (Bruno Dumont, France) — Wavelengths

By Jordan Cronk Published in Cinema Scope 71 (Summer 2017) Pitched somewhere between Straub-Huillet and Headbangers Ball, Monty Python and Messiaen, Bruno Dumont’s new feature Jeannette, l’enfance de Jeanne d’Arc marks an unexpected and near-perfect synthesis of the French iconoclast’s many disparate interests and obsessions. Although by now it’s convenient to read Dumont’s robust corpus…

Ex Libris – The New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman, USA) — TIFF Docs

By Tom Charity Published in Cinema Scope 72 (Fall 2017) Let’s start with this: the transitions in Fred Wiseman’s new film (and there are many) have a simple and specific beauty. They double as establishing shots, each comprising a brief cluster of New York street views, usually including an intersection sign to pin us to…

Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, Italy/France) — Special Presentations

By Angelo Muredda From the moment the opening credits offer a screen-filling shout-out to the musical score by Sufjan Stevens and the handwritten titles by Chen Li, Call Me By Your Name announces itself as a Luca Guadagnino film: a love letter from one aesthete to countless others. That opening salvo might inspire a bit…

The Rider (Chloé Zhao, USA) — Special Presentations

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr Set in the world of modern-day cowboys, Chloé Zhao’s The Rider is an incisive critique of traditional American masculinity. The film follows rodeo rider Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau, who, like the other actors, is playing a version of his real self) as he struggles to recover from a head injury suffered during…

April’s Daughter (Michel Franco, Mexico) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler As long as Michel Franco keeps winning major festival awards, like this year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard jury prize for his atrocious April’s Daughter, it appears that he’ll be able to keep making movies. That, and getting help from the likes of Tim Roth, who has for some reason decided to become…

3/4 (Ilian Metev, Germany/Bulgaria) — Discovery

By Azadeh Jafari Ilian Metev’s fiction debut, following his award-winning 2012 documentary Sofia’s Last Ambulance is a touching portrait of family relationships that explores the lives of a physicist, Todor (Todor Veltchev), and his two children, Niki (Nikolay Mashalov), an energetic and imaginative teenage boy, and Mila (Mila Mihova), a talented young pianist preparing for…

Darkest Hour (Joe Wright, UK) — Gala Presentations

By Jay Kuehner A parliamentary drama of considerable pallor (not power), Darkest Hour drops us in on the “action” of the House of Commons floor as the “Phoney War” with Nazi Germany is about to become all too real, and where Winston Churchill’s appointment to wartime prime minister is met with a frenzy of handbill-waving…

The Garden (Sonja Maria Kröner, Germany) — Discovery

By James Lattimer The only element of The Garden worth marvelling at is the amount of money seemingly lavished on its production design, as upmarket thrift stores the length and breadth of Germany appear to have been raided in an attempt to capture the spirit of ’76. But while chintzy patterns, vintage cars, and space…

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Mouly Surya, Indonesia/France/ Malaysia/Thailand) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a post-postmodern grab bag of genre moves and hollow gestures. At times it seems to want to be taken seriously, and at others it is content to revel in pastiche, very much like Ana Lily Amirpour’s films. How exactly are we supposed to take this…

Caniba (Véréna Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor, France) — Wavelengths

By Dan Sullivan On paper, what could be more sordid than an interview-portrait with Issei Sagawa, the infamous cannibal who became a tabloid sensation in the early ’80s after he murdered and ate part of a Dutch woman in Paris? Caniba, the new film by Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, doesn’t exactly skimp on the…

High Fantasy (Jenna Bass, South Africa) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman The ’80s-style Hollywood body-swap comedy gets a purposeful and political makeover in High Fantasy, an inventive and entertaining South African feature that cleverly yokes heavy subject matter to an agile DIY aesthetic. Shot entirely on iPhones wielded by its adolescent cast members (who also wrote the script), the film takes the form…

Strangely Ordinary this Devotion (Dani Leventhal & Sheilah Wilson, USA) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski Published in Cinema Scope 72 (Fall 2017) Columbus, Ohio-based artists Dani Leventhal and Sheilah Wilson have embarked on an artistic relationship that is formally and emotionally adjacent to their domestic lives, a quotidian zone they share with their young daughter Rose. Both artists have established careers on their own. Neither Leventhal’s video…