From time to time, we all have to compromise our own values. It’s part of growing up. But do you remember the first time that you betrayed your own moral code?
According to Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, director of the brilliant and beautiful 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (which I have not seen), Graduation is about a lot of things. “It’s about family. It’s about aging. It’s about you. It’s about me”. But mostly, as the Cannes Best Director winner articulated at the North American premiere, it’s about that pivotal moment in one’s life where they make a conscious decision for the first time to do what they know in their heart to be wrong.
Romeo (Adrien Titieni) couldn’t be more proud of his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) when she gets accepted into a fancy British school but he still can’t relax. Despite her stellar grades, she still needs to pass her finals to get out their Romanian town. When a vicious random assault threatens to shake Eliza’s confidence just days before her exams, Romeo can’t help feeling tempted to use his position as a well-respected surgeon to bargain with her educators in exchange for some leniency.
Graduation takes its time. It takes time to establish the relationships, set up the scenario, and let the story play out. Mungiu doesn’t resort to melodrama or even a musical score to beg for our attention. Almost every scene plays out in just one meticulously framed take. It’s an approach that gives his actors plenty of room to shine and his story the time to come alive. If you don’t mind the slow pace, Graduation asks big questions and will get you talking. It’s a very rewarding experience.
My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea
Dash Shaw was in high school when James Cameron’s Titanic was in theaters and couldn’t help imaging what it would be like if his school sank like the famous ship with all of his classmates inside. When you think about it, to avoid drowning to death in a sinking building, the smartest would head for the top floor and try to get to the roof. Once Shaw, director of My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea and apparently quite an accomplished comic book writer, started imaging each floor being occupied by a different grade level, he knew he had a story worth telling.
To see a film called My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea without feeling like you’re seeing something completely unique would be a letdown. So I’m pleased to announce that, whether you love it or hate it, Shaw’s debut feature will not let you down. The unusual animation style takes a little getting used to at first and, even once you get comfortable, there is so much to look at that many of the movie’s jokes- and the jokes are almost constant- can be easy to miss. My Entire High School may eventually be best remember for its carnage (those who are spared from drowning are mostly impaled, electrocuted, or eaten by sharks) but it’s made all the more special by the hilarious and sometimes touching dynamic between three adolescent friends whose bond is in crisis just as their lives are in imminent danger. And it’s all brought to life by some of the best voice acting you’ll hear this year from Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph, Reggie Watts, and Susan Sarandon.
It’s Only the End of the World
I was one proud Asshole walking out of the Toronto premiere of Quebec director Xavier Dolan’s latest family drama. I was genuinely moved by a Xavier Dolan film. I admired Mommy, his last movie, I really did. It was just too self-indulgent for me to really relate to it in any real way.
So I was pleased to find myself loving this movie, more than almost anything else I saw at the Festival this year. I was finally starting to get it. I was quite disappointed to see that not everyone was as impressed as I was. It’s Only the End of the World currently has a score of 48 on Metacritic. If you’re not familiar with that site, let me put that in perspective. That’s only four points higher than Batman v. Superman’s score. Ouch.
I stand by my recommendation though. Based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, It’s Only the End of the World tells the story of a family who are easier to relate to than to understand. After a 12-year absence, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) is finally coming home but he is bringing sad news with him. He is very sick and doesn’t have much time left. He’s not quite sure how to bring it up but it wouldn’t matter anyway because his mother, brother, and sister can’t stop alternating between picking fights with him and each other and awkwardly trying to force reconciliation. They try to bond over trivial things and fight over tiny details but can’t seem to bring themselves to talk about anything important.
The claustrophobic family reunion atmosphere seems to rein Dolan in a bit. He still manages to make Lagarce’s play his own though. For such a talky film, it’s surprisingly cinematic with its unnerving score and great performances from Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotilliard, Lea Seydoux, and Vincent Cassell. Using his signature tight close-ups, Dolan works with the actors to find subtext amid all the shouting. No easy task. Hard to act like you’re holding back when you’re screaming at each other.
Careful with this one. The people around me at the TIFF encore screening of Nocturnal Animals were basket cases watching it.
It’s easy to imagine yourself in the same position as Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), a husband and father whose family finds themselves terrorized while driving a lonely Texas highway in the middle of the night. The tension is nearly unbearable as this story unfolds. Those around me could barely sit still watching it and Susan (Amy Adams) is getting even more stressed reading about it. See, the scary part of Nocturnal Animals is but a story within a story. It’s the plot of a manuscript that Susan’s ex-husband (also Gyllenhaal) has sent her of his latest novel. As unnerving as the novel is to watch, it’s even worse for Susan. She’s quite sure the novel is about her.
The three narratives (there are also a lot of flashbacks of Susan’s marriage) are balanced beautifully in the second film from director Tom Ford (A Single Man). Susan is a successful art dealer and everything around her is beautiful and fake. In the story within the story, Tony’s world is harsh and all too real. Nocturnal Animals is sure to be divisive. Ford lays out his themes very clearly and I’m sure I feel comfortable with all of his implications. But there’s so much to look at and so much to feel, think,about, and talk about that you kind of just have to see it.
Oh, and if you’re not sold yet, Michael Shannon plays a crazy cop in it.