Tag Archives: subtitled

Medusa

This movie had me thinking of Handmaid’s Tale – of the women of Gilead, in particular. Many of these women, including Serena Waterford, helped create this new world order where women are completely sublimated, supposedly in the name of god, but actually for the strengthening of the patriarchy. As a commander’s wife, Serena enjoys the highest position a woman can achieve in Gilead, which is to say, no position at all. She is to stay at home, completely voiceless, caring for or attempting to have babies. Forgetting her position means harsh punishment, even the removal of body parts, to remind her of her place. So she lashes out in the way that she can, by abusing the little power she has over the servants in her house. Cooks and cleaners, called Marthas, are fair game, but the Handmaids (young women placed in the homes of high-ranking officials to be raped repeatedly until they bear them children are called ‘Handmaids’) take the brunt of the wives’ wrath. Aunts are the women in charge of training the Handmaids to do their duty and to remain submissive at all times; Aunt Lydia seems to relish the opportunity to cruelly punish the women who have trouble complying. I always wonder: are the Serenas and Lydias evil? Are they worse than the men who force them into these positions? Have they internalized misogyny or turned traitor on their own gender, or are they merely surviving in a world that pits woman against woman for scraps at best? Are they victims, or monsters, or something in between?

Medusa takes place in “today’s” Brazil, where many mourn the loss of “good” Christian values and have taken it upon themselves to right what they perceive to be wrong. Mariana is just 21 years old, but the pressure on her and her friends is already astronomical. They have to keep up pure and saintly appearances at all times while being relegated to the bottom rung due to their sex. They act out, not against their oppressors, but against their own gender, against other young women they deem deviant. Donning truly creepy masks, they stalk the night streets in a large and frightening gang, hunting down a slut or a sinner, beating her mercilessly, and forcing her to confess her sins as they record on their phones. Beauty and youth are of course the most important currency, but also somehow treated with suspicion. You can’t win, and the punishments are severe. And when Mariana and her friends start to realize this, that there aren’t but victims on either side of their transactions, the urge to rebel is even stronger.

Writer-director Anita Rocha da Silveira saw radical Christian factions popping up in Brazil and needed to write about it, bending reality with mythology, and creating something that feels all too possible. Policing women’s bodies and minds with such strict control inevitably leads to some boiling point, but Silveira tempers the dark with some light, some levity. By leaning in to the horror, she exposes the hypocrisy and highlights the rage. Once it’s unleashed, the real fun begins.

The Falls

COVID quarantine has been tough on a lot of us. Isolation is difficult, but being stuck with people you dislike can be just as destructive.

Mother-daughter Pin-wen (Alyssa Chia) and Xiao Jing (Gingle Wang) are already not in a great place. Xiao Jing is a surly teenager, Pin-wen works hard to support their two-person household. They don’t get along, there’s resentment flowing both ways; Xiao Jing tends to lock herself in her room a lot, and maybe that’s for the best.

But then: COVID. Xiao Jing is exposed at school and forced the quarantine. Finally, a legit excuse to hide in her bedroom, no questions asked. But when Pin-wen loses her job and is also at home full-time, things start to deteriorate. Like too many others, Pin-wen’s mental health suffers during the pandemic’s forced isolation. Xiao Jing notices small signs that things aren’t going well, but what can she do?

Movies tell stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. In 2020, all 7+ billion of us on the planet started living in extraordinary circumstances. These were unprecedented times. Every single one of us built pathways through dark times, improvising along the way. Pin-wen’s illness means Xiao Jing has to grow up and find solutions to problems that never should have been hers to deal with. This pandemic has affected us in so many ways, many of which we won’t begin to understand for years down the line. Watching this mother-daughter duo navigate tough times reminds us of how much we ourselves have had to adapt. This is an act of compassion, both for these two women, stronger than they know, and for ourselves, who’ve been through the ringer too.

Writer-director Mong-Hong Chung lensed the film himself, did so much of this himself, poured himself into a project during a time that begged for stories to be told, so he did. Chung knows that he can afford to be subtle here, it helps us to relate, and perhaps for the first time, this is a film where we can all relate. Not everyone will want to be reminded of the hardships they faced during the pandemic, but for those who don’t mind, this is a quiet but moving little film.

The Falls is an official selection of TIFF 2021

Three Floors

One building in Rome, 3 apartments, 3 families each with their own stories. Yet their stories are about to collide, quite literally in the beginning, and then figuratively though no less forcefully after that.

The entitled son of two upright judges swerves the car he’s driving drunkenly in order to avoid hitting his pregnant neighbour Monica (Alba Rohrwacher), who is in labour and taken to the street to flag down her own cab since her husband is routinely away from home. Instead he hits and kills another pedestrian before ploughing into one of the units. Owner Lucio (Riccardo Scamarcio) is relieved to find his family unharmed but he and his wife jump into action to help, leaving their young daughter under the care of their elderly neighbour. Sometime during that hectic night, the elderly neighbour and the little girl go missing, and Lucio can’t help but imagine the very worst, the neighbour morphing in his head from doting grandfatherly type to pervert in the bush. And that’s just how the movie starts. Their entangled narratives keep on chugging along, unfurling in surprising ways.

Director Nanni Moretti excels at shady morals and knotted ethics. Each character has been implicated in a sort of test, an exchange that pushes over some blurry line that pushes them to live at the extremes of human experience. Three Floors doesn’t necessarily judge the character as play witness to their hypocrisy as they attempt to tread through very murky waters. Yet for each act of reckless irresponsibility, we also see compassion and generosity, or at least the possibility for it.

There’s a common vein that runs through these stories, uniting them by more than just geography. Unfortunately I found the film to be too uneven to be enjoyable. For every juicy bite of steak, there’s a whole lot of boiled potato and flavorless frozen peas that must be swallowed as part of the package. And it’s not just the tedious valleys that are objectionable, it’s the absence of a single character to root for. To err is human, but these folks are a little too human, if you catch my drift, and I’m a little too less than divine to forgive. Three Floors was an official selection of TIFF 2021 but it was one of the more forgettable films in its lineup.

Compartment Number 6

Laura is a Finnish grad student who bids a reluctant goodbye to her Russian lover and boards a train headed for Murmansk in the remote Arctic circle to see the petroglyphs, a fitting farewell to her time spent studying in Russia. For the duration of the long ride, she’s been assigned to share a tiny sleeping compartment with Vadim, a rough and roguish man on his way to work in the mines. He makes a bad impression immediately and though Laura pleads to be reassigned, there are no other spaces available, and it’s Vadim or nothing. She wisely chooses nothing for as long as she can, but returns to compartment no. 6 when she can no longer fight sleep.

Juho Kuosmanen’s film is shot authentically on a series of Russian trains. You feel the claustrophobia, the inability to escape, the blurry landscape rushing by impassively outside the compartment’s window. Eventually loneliness and isolation win out, and Laura (Seidi Haarla) feeds her hunger for human connection by letting Vadim (Yuriy Borisov) in, little by little. They are not well matched, separated by class, nationality, and even language, but Vadim continues to surprise Laura, who stands in for the audience as she revises her assumptions and first impressions. Still, we fear for Laura, who seems vulnerable in her naivete, in travelling by herself such a long distance, so far from home.

I’ve heard this film compared to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, but I wouldn’t put them in the same category myself. I struggled with Compartment No. 6 because the introduction does such a good job of painting Vadim as an undesirable that I was totally convinced, and not nearly as ready to forgive as Laura. This is a general problem for me lately, my reluctance to accept vindication for a man I’m not sure deserves it. I feel Kuosmanen pushing us to challenge our implicit presumptions, but I don’t believe Vadim has truly earned redemption. His character starts out too abhorrent for me to believe in his transformation in just one train journey, no matter how endless it felt.

Of course, the beauty in film is that you may feel otherwise yourself (many do). Their time together being limited, perhaps you’ll be moved by their connection, impressive considering the limitations of the ride. Their inherent expiry date will either fill you with a sense of warmth and urgency, or leave you feeling that it’s all a bunch of nothing. And you wouldn’t be wrong either way. We are merely silent observers in this, and we’ll either find compassion for these two and their choices, or we’ll be left out in the cold wind of the Arctic circle.

Compartment Number 6 is an official selection of TIFF 2021.

7 Prisoners

Mateus is one of 7 boys recruited by a familiar face in the country villages outside São Paulo. This man selects only the best, and competition is fierce; there are no jobs in the countryside, and 18 year old Mateus is keen to earn money for his family. His family celebrates his luck with a special dinner and goodbye gifts that they can scarce afford. Mateus is proud to go.

Until he and the others are thrown inside a cage, locked up, that is. 7 Prisoners isn’t the only movie at TIFF this year to tackle modern slavery, but the circumstances here are different. The junk yard boss Luca (Rodrigo Santoro) knows what he’s doing. He presents his prisoners with an invoice for every cost incurred, which will conveniently take them a lifetime of forced labour at slave wages to repay. Some of the boys talk of rebellion, of overthrowing Luca in order to escape, but others can think only of their relatives back home living in poverty. Mateus (Christian Malheiros) has an even more complicated choice to make when Luca chooses him to be his middle man, the one who will be directly in charge of the other prisoners. Mateus gets better food, a better bed, a life outside the bars. He also gets a gun to point at his friends, and the job of hunting them down should he escape. The other prisoners have now fixed their hatred on him for turning on them so quickly, for being part of the system that traffics in humans. He’s on the wrong side.

Malheiros shows us Mateus’ agony, but also his determination, and his #1 priority, the family back home. In the few phone calls he’s been allowed, his mother is astounded by the money Luca has sent back on his behalf. She can labour less, save her bad back. For Mateus, this is worth it, but he’s in an interminably awkward position of being both the bad guy and a victim but unappreciated by either side. He has to make extreme personal and ethical compromises to survive, not the prisoners see it this way.

Director Alexandre Moratto transcends simple good vs. bad and presents a more complicated and evolving sense of right and wrong, the steady compromising of values necessarily to survive systemic oppression and corruption. No matter which side of the bars they sleep on, all seven prisoners are being exploited; there is no winning in the game of human smuggling, only injustice, cruelty, and a hopelessness that seeps in quick.

7 Prisoners is an official selection of TIFF 2021.

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

Every year, every film festival, there’s a certain number of films that we preface with the reminder: film festivals are a time to take chances. I do truly believe that. Of course everyone wants to see the blockbuster (Dune), and the Oscar front-runner (The Power of the Dog), and whatever Olivia Colman’s up to (Mothering Sunday), but you can’t – or at least you shouldn’t – attend a film festival and not see something that’s a little different, a little experimental, a little out of your comfort zone.

For the title alone, I was willing to take a risk; for a movie described as an offbeat martial-arts romance, I couldn’t resist.

There are two things you’ll need to know about Ajo Kawir (Marthino Lio). The first is that he’s impotent. You may as well hear it from me. Everybody knows. The whole village knows! They’ve also got their theories as to how it happened, and what rituals and superstitions might cure it. So far, no luck. Secondly, Ajo is a brawler, a fighter for hire. One day while on a job, he encounters the bodyguard of his current target. Iteung (Ladya Cheryl) is more beautiful and more female than his usual opponents – and more formidable. Their no-frills but nevertheless robust fight ends, inevitably, in love.

Most love stories between a street fighter and a mafia bodyguard would go straight to happily ever after, but not this one. There’s the problem of Ajo’s impotence, naturally. Ajo is well-versed in alternative routes to satisfaction, but apparently that only goes so far, and pretty soon both Iteung’s lust and Ajo’s shame are going to suffer a terrible collision. If that’s not enough, Ajo unadvisedly drags his feet in assassinating a gangster, and you better believe that’s going to come back to bite him in the ass. Then there’s some other stuff about someone stalking Iteung, and a ghost keeps popping up – well, that’s where I lost the plot, to be honest. But even completely stymied by the story, I was committed to its ridiculousness, to its weirdly sweet romance, to its retro vibe and ode to exploitation. It’s a grab bag of genres that don’t make much sense together, nor do they try very hard to. Director Edwin is comfortable making his audience uncomfortable, but what he makes is so ballsy and weird and entertaining, you can’t help but give the guy a pass.

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas) is an official selection of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Dug Dug

Director Ritwik Pareek has a sense of humour about his new film, Dug Dug. “Absurd, bizarre or downright funny,” he calls it, but no matter how weird his film is, “India is far more strange.” Duly noted.

A drunk man weaves his way down the highway, oblivious to his many near-death experiences as his little motorcycle wobbles toward its destination. Finally turning onto a quiet dirt road, it seems as though the drunkard may live, but a voluptuous siren calls his name from a billboard, and the sight of her cleavage is his undoing. The next day his body is scraped off the road and his blue motorcycle with a pink seat is impounded by the police and eventually chained up in their yard. The next morning, the motorcycle is missing – or rather it’s been relocated back to the crash site. And no matter how many times it’s removed, or how well it’s locked up, it always finds its way back there, driverless. It’s a miracle, obviously, so naturally the seeds are sown for a new religion.

Not just religion, but religious fervour, and the commerce/capitalism that so often comes along with it. Pareek expresses this through bright and beautiful montages, a riot of colour and culture, with temples and charities and rituals and offerings and deities springing up out of nowhere like they were inevitable. Pareek’s satire is infectious, often funny, often fun. There’s also just something joyful about his irreverent and inventive style, an exuberance to his colour palette, a fever dream of faith catching like wildfire and spreading even faster. Yet for all this commentary on idolatry and commercialism, the film never feels cynical. Pareek manages to satirize ideology without shaming his characters. It’s a bold and exciting piece of Indian cinema with a wild score that’s almost spiritual itself.

The Box (La Caja)

The Box is subtly heartbreaking.

Hatzín (Hatzín Navarrete) rides the bus from his Mexico City home all alone, though he’s still just a young guy; there’s a sick grandma at home, and a dead father’s remains to collect, and unfortunately, Hatzín’s got the job. His father, long estranged, is one of many victims of a mining accident. His remains fit into a small metal box. But before Hatzín can leave town, he sees a man in the street he’s sure is his dad. Mario (Hernán Mendoza) insists that Hatzín is mistaken but Hatzín will not be dissuaded. He shadows Mario until Mario reluctantly relents, taking the young boy under his wing, feeding and sheltering him, and putting him to work.

Hatzín is a very dedicated little acolyte; he clearly hasn’t had a father figure around in a while, maybe ever. But the thing about Mario is that his affable exterior is a front for the shady business he conducts. Mario recruits labour for the region’s factories, and takes kickbacks for providing people too desperate to have carefully read the contracts they sign. Now Hatzín does it too, but an up-close look at an ugly business may upset the bond so easily made.

Although The Box says a lot about the seedy underbelly of Mexico’s manufacturing industry, it does so simply by showing its realities. It does the same for the strange and shaky bond between Hatzín and Mario; of what, exactly, does it consist? And whether Hatzín is blood to Mario or simply adopted kin, what hypocrisy exists in the man to apply one set of ethics to family, and another to the people he condemns to mean kind of servitude. Hatzín is young but Mario thinks nothing of giving him a hard-knock education in the very ugliest corners of his business. Considering Hatzín’s age and need and aloneness in the world, it’s hard to say whether he’s a victim or a perpetrator. But knowing what he’s been through, you root for him. Director Lorenzo Vigas keeps relationships vague but is unflinching when it comes to corruption.

The Box was filmed in a factory in the border town of Ciudad Juárez where many young women in the region have disappeared. As much as we feel for Hatzín, we can’t help our eyes and hearts being pulled toward the nameless many being marched into buildings only the lucky will escape.

La Caja is an official selection of TIFF 2021.

#Blue_Whale

#Blue_Whale uses a played-out construct to frame its frenetic story, but the tale it tells is still relevant, and horrifying in more ways than one.

The Premise: Teenager Dana is reeling and confused by her younger sister’s recent suicide. Unwilling to accept that her sister was truly suicidal, she searches through her computer for evidence to the contrary and instead stumbles across something much more sinister. Sister Yulya was involved in an online game that hooked teenagers with a series of challenging tasks meant to ultimately result in their suicides. Convinced that Yulya must have been compelled, Dana seeks the truth the only way she knows how: by joining the game and risking her own life – and that of everyone she knows.

The Verdict: #Blue_Whale fits undoubtedly within the horror genre, but it’s also alarming to note that the movie is inspired by real-life online suicide ‘games.’ Director Anna Zaytseva tells the story through screens (screenlife storytelling ) – cell phone live streams, social media posts, desk top messaging, desperate texts. While this format may have seemed novel and exciting at first, now it feels like an annoying contrivance, not to mention a not very honest one. If you’ve watched any live streams, then you know they’re 80% blurry, 40% shoes/sidewalk, 98% heavy breathing, yet thanks to the magic of movies, this girl is able to keep herself in frame despite literally running for her life. Anyway, Dana struggles through fifty tasks in fifty days, each more dangerous than the last, each designed to alienate her from friends, family, reality, and hope. While she tries to tease out the game’s admins, she’s also worrying about and falling for another player, a teen who is legitimately suicidal. The film is fast-paced, an immediacy which reflects the almost non-existent attention span of this online generation, and a sensory overload that breeds an overwhelming paranoia. Anchored by a brave and ballsy performance by Anna Potebnya, #Blue_Whale’s success is found in her vulnerability, indeed in the vulnerability of all these susceptible teenagers, so close to adulthood, yet still at risk of manipulation. The film is a horror first and foremost, but it’s also a life lesson worth heeding.

All The Moons

Drama, fantasy, horror: All The Moons, an official Fantasia Film Fest selection, may look bleak, but its story may surprise you.

The Premise: During Spain’s war in 1876, an orphanage is bombed, killing all nuns and girls inside save one. The girl (Haizea Carneros) is badly injured but saved by a woman (Itziar Ituño) whom she mistakes for an angel, but who actually grants her eternal life. Now this little girl has infinite life stretching out before her, but must learn to survive it on her own, while avoiding those who might mistake her as a demon.

The Verdict: All The Moons is a vampire movie without ever using the word, but there’s nothing like a long life for contemplating loneliness and mortality. Director Igor Legarreta seeks to redefine the vampire trope, making an intimate meditation on love and loss that includes some familiar facets but ultimately transcends the genre. Fans of bloodsucker flicks won’t want to miss it.

Fantasia will screen this film virtually on Saturday August 21st beginning at 9am EST.