Tag Archives: TIFF20


Chloe (Denise Gough) and Mickey (Sebastian Stan) are a couple of American ex-pats living in Greece when they meet at a house party on Friday night where Mickey’s DJing and Chloe’s about to lose her purse. Well Mickey’s living in Greece anyway, and Chloe’s on her way out, back to America, back to real life. So one last fling wouldn’t hurt, right? She can pack in the morning.

Except the fling does kind of hurt, mostly because they get arrested for it, and she doesn’t end up packing because they somehow parlay their one night stand into an impromptu, living together, relationship. So fun!

On another Friday night they go dancing, and on another they plot to get visitation with his son, and on another they ruin a friend’s wedding, and on another they host a doomed dinner party. There are a lot of Friday nights in any given relationship, well, anywhere from quite a few to too fucking many. Eventually every couple has a Monday or two. How will Chloe and Mickey weather theirs?

Unfortunately the answer is: who cares? Also: they deserve each other, but I also am deeply invested in them both being cripplingly lonely and unbearably depressed. And maybe a little: maybe they could be impaled on a parade float memorializing all their bad haircuts while their third grade math teachers dressed in creepy clown costumes tossed beads laced with their allergens onto their twitching corpses? Something in that vein.

I mean, they’re not evil or anything – you don’t even see them spoil cookies with raisins. They just both wildly selfish and way too old for that to still be cute, or forgivable. Greece is their Never Never Land. I forget whether that’s the Peter Pan one or the Michael Jackson one, but either way I mean it as an insult.

Sorry, Argyris Papadimitropoulos. I can tell you thought you were making a sexy party film but you created such loathsome characters I wished this was more of a quiet mortuary film. You know, people fall off yachts and are never seen again ALL THE TIME. Well, relatively. In this particular case, not often enough, obviously.

TIFF20: Beginning

This is the movie that derailed me this year, and not in a good way. Most of the time reviews come easily to me. I’ve always been opinionated and I don’t have trouble putting thoughts to paper screen. The hardest ones to write are usually my favourite ones, movies that have moved me and made me think and engaged me in a way that I can’t wait to share. And yet words fail – mostly because I feel so much pressure to accurately describe something I admire so much, but none of my words are adding up to quite enough. This movie is the other kind I struggle with – movies I feel I should like but don’t.

Beginning is about a Jehovah Witness community in a small provincial town that isn’t very welcoming. In fact, during an extended opening scene in a church, an extremist group firebombs the congregation, locking them in their church. Luckily they survive, but that’s quite a length worse than unwelcoming, isn’t it? Community leader David (Rati Oneli) leaves to meet with the higher-ups to decide how to resolve the rising tension, despite the fact that his shaken wife Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili) begs him not to go, and above all, not to leave her. Yana isn’t comfortable there, never has been; the people have been vocal (not to mention firebomby) about not liking them, but David insists on rebuilding, and leaves.

When Yana is alone and vulnerable, a detective (Kakha Kintsurashvili) pays her a visit, but the exchange is sinister, and fraught.

Yana is coming apart, but as David’s wife, she’s isolated. within her community. Her discontent seems to grow daily; she suffers micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions and has no one to turn to. She struggles to make sense of her own conflicting needs and desires. Her every move feels ominous, but there’s nothing to be done except watch.

Director Dea Kulumbegashvili employs extremely long takes, forcing us to really sit with thoughts, urges, even disturbing images. It’s meant to alienate us, to push us away, but does so a little too well. It’s hard to engage with the film, it’s hard to empathize with Yana despite a terrific performance by Sukhitashvili and an enormous portion of suffering heaped upon her character. Beginning is an exquisite composition of despair, Sukhitashvili a convincing woman unraveled, but as a film, it simply failed to move me.

The Kid Detective

He’s no relation to the Holmes clan, but when he was 13, Abe Applebaum solved the case of the missing fundraiser money. He was such a good little sleuth the townspeople celebrated his successes and rewarded him with his own office. He was the toast of the town, beloved by all, his parents impressed by his initiative, the newspaper chronicling his triumphs, but then he got a case he couldn’t solve. A young girl named Grace went missing and Abe couldn’t find her.

It was an unfair burden to put on a 13 year old kid. The townspeople never said as much, not directly, but young Abe knew what they expected, and he felt the weight of their disappointment when he wasn’t able to crack the only case that really mattered.

Now Abe (Adam Brody) is in his 30s, still working out of the same office the town bequeathed him as a kid detective. He’s occasionally contracted to find missing cats or track down secret admirers, but there isn’t much money in it, and his parents are both embarrassed for him and tired of supporting him. He drinks to numb the self-pity but the hangovers leave him even more despondent. At least until a wildly optimistic high school student hires him to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend.

I had very few expectations for this film so colour me surprised when I actually quite liked it (what IS the colour of surprise?). It was genuinely funny, it poked fun at the genre and at itself, it felt fresh and unexpected. Brody was well-cast and entirely believable as a man-boy who hasn’t left behind his childhood obsessions. The film struggles tonally, swinging between banter-y, smart-alecky comedy and the sobering facts of an actual murder investigation, which Abe is very much unqualified to conduct. But this guy’s had a cloud hanging over him for the past 20 years and if there’s a chance at a silver lining, he’s going whip out the old deerstalker and oversized magnifying glass and work this case like his life depends on it. And maybe it does.

Mr. Jones

Gareth Jones, Foreign Affairs Adviser to the British MP (and former prime minister, I take it), David Lloyd George, makes a room full of stuffy MPs laugh when he tells them they’re already at war. They roll their eyes at him, but he’s not wrong. Mr. Jones (James Norton) has a knack for allowing very little to escape his observation. Out of his government position, Jones returns to freelance journalism and he knows just where to go: the Soviet Union.

It’s the early 1930s and Mr. Jones is very suspicious of the Soviet Union’s boasting over the radio about its spending spree. What is funding all these new improvements? Gareth Jones wants to know. But upon arrival he finds journalists very thoroughly and very strictly quarantined to Moscow. Things are plentiful, the people seem well, but none of the other journalists seem bothered by the carefully curated perspective, and none are digging deeper. Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), the Pulitzer-prize winning  Moscow bureau chief of The New York Times, is pointedly unperturbed. Mr. Jones isn’t buying it, and with a little help from Duranty’s assistant, Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby), he’s able to sneak out of the city. Everywhere he went, he found famine, vast and severe. Man-made famine; in fact, man-made genocide.

Now called the Holodomor, a term which emphasizes the famine’s intentional aspects such as rejection of outside aid, confiscation of household food, and restriction of population movement. Several million Ukrainians died. At the time, Jones was threatened by Soviet authorities to smother his reports. The world, still sympathetic to Bolshevism, wasn’t ready to hear the truth. He broke the news in the western media, and they largely rejected it. The Kremlin denied it, as did their puppet Duranty. And yet Jones pursued that truth at great risk to himself.

Early on in the film, there was a shot of sunlight filtered through a sow’s ear, and I thought “God, this is going to be unbearably beautiful, isn’t it?” Credit to cinematographer Tomasz Naumiuk, of course, but in the end it wasn’t so much unbearable as welcome and necessary. It’s not just the unyielding parade of suffering and starvation, it’s the somewhat disjointed way the story is told. Director Agnieszka Holland preserves human horror better than most, perhaps better than any, but she’s less adept at telling Gareth Jones’s story in a cohesive manner. There may be room for improvement, or at least a tightening of the reins, but like Jones himself, Holland’s work reminds us of how important it is to witness, and to remember.

Simple Passion

Hélène (Laetitia Dosch) is a French woman, a mother, a professor. The movie’s IMDB synopsis describes her lover’s career as “Russian diplomat” but diplomat must be a French euphemism for thug. Alexandre (Sergei Polunin) is, at best, a Russian diplomat’s shady head of security, maybe. And it wasn’t the prison tattoos that gave it away, it was that damn wispy mustache.

We can assume they have nothing in common because they almost never speak. We know little about her, actually, and even less about him. She’s single, he’s married (to a wife back home in Russia, presumably). He’s not young, but a little younger than Hélène. And he’s got all the control in this relationship, because he calls her, when he’s horny and available, and she drops everything, even her son, to be with him for a few hours in bed. Granted, they’re passionate hours, and the camera spends as much as 90% of the movie roaming up and down the contours of their bodies as they fuck in nearly all the positions there are for fucking, and a few I’m pretty sure they threw in just see if I was paying attention. These two make the jerks in 50 Shades of Whatever look like prudes.

So I may not know much about Hélène, but I do know she loves that sweet D. She’s gotta have it. She gets nothing out of this relationship but frustration, heartache, and on the lucky days, a good dicking. But on the other days, she starts coming apart. She starts making more demands on his time, which only makes him pull away further, but she can’t help it, she’s obsessed. She’s addicted. She even tries to quit him, and finds she can’t. She has no resolve when he’s around. It’s rather undignified. Rather pathetic, really, to watch a smart and polished woman lose her shit over a guy with a wispy mustache.

Writer-director Danielle Arbid adapts Annie Ernaux’s novel for the screen, and there’s no doubt she is a fan of the material, and eager to put real flesh on those bones. However, her keen eye and high tolerance for erotica aren’t enough alone to explain Hélène’s intoxication for this man. The pounding of their bodies is enthusiastic but hardly tender. Without sustained conversation, or an emotional connection, this relationship feels cold and transactional. The only way this movie moved me was when I realized these colleagues had been humping each other raw for weeks if not months. It didn’t shock me, it didn’t turn me on, but most egregiously, it didn’t convince me.

TIFF20: Shadow In The Cloud

When Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz) boards a B-17 Flying Fortress with top secret documents, the rest of the crew is surprised, and suspicious. Captain Reeves (Callan Mulvey) doesn’t know of any female pilots (it’s WW2, though I’m not sure they’re calling it that yet), and the other guys – Beckell (Nick Robinson), Williams (Beulah Koale), Tommy (Benedict Wall), Finch (Joe Witkowski), Taggart (Byron Coll) – are more interested in cat-calling her and making lewd remarks. None of them had anticipated an extra passenger and they’re suspicious of her documents, but she threatens court-marshals all around and they’re pretty anxious to get their wheels up, so off they go.

The movie takes almost entirely place inside of that plane. Maude is relegated to a tiny gun turret on the bottom of the plane that’s barely still attached, separated from her precious top-secret cargo. Of all the crew, only Quaid (Taylor John Smith) ever comes to her defense, but even he goes pretty silent when she starts babbling about some sort of…creature on the wing. They’re getting more resentful and increasingly skeptical, but they have bigger things to worry about, like bad weather, enemy planes, and their own flying fortress falling apart. And that’s before they discover what’s inside Maude’s top secret briefcase.

Roseanne Liang’s film is the Russian nesting doll of cinema: a monster movie within a horror movie within an action movie within a war movie, a daring and absurd mashup that works more than it doesn’t, surprisingly. It boldly confronts sexism and the super natural all in one go. It is, frankly speaking, sometimes altogether ridiculous. Unapologetically so, I believe. The film goes for broke while Moretz acts her ass off in a jumpsuit that doesn’t even showcase it. Director Liang isn’t afraid to crash and burn the whole thing if that’s what it takes. And as this film’s audience, you should be prepared to suspend your disbelief far above the Flying Fortress’ cruising altitude of 25 000 feet. It’s crazy. It’s completely bonkers. It is thrilling and terrifying and often flat-out bananas. You have to be willing to have fun with it, and willing to go along with a movie that refuses to stay within the bounds of any genre’s strict definition. If you’re in the mood for a quirky horror set piece, allow this one to surprise and delight and terrify you.

TIFF20: Shiva Baby

Danielle is a good-ish Jewish daughter, so when her parents ask her to attend a funeral, she takes time out of her busy life as a college senior to do it. Is she on time? She is not. Does she know who died? Does it matter? She’s there, she’s putting in face time, fielding questions about job prospects and marriage prospects, putting up with frank evaluations of her body, her choices, her independence, her future, her past. It’s a lot, and she hasn’t even had a bagel yet. Has she been eating, by the way? The ones who aren’t grilling her are gossiping about her. Has she been a good daughter? A good student? A good girl?

It sounds painful, and it is, but I haven’t even told you the worst part. The worst part is that Danielle (Rachel Sennott) has an ex in the room, a sort of ex anyway, a secret ex. It’s family friend Maya (Molly Gordon), the girl next door that Danielle grew up with, went to prom with, went all the way with. And while their status is never mentioned directly by anyone in the room, not even by the young women themselves, there are enough furtive glances and averted gazes to indicate that their history isn’t as secret as they think. BUT, there’s an even bigger secret in the room. Danielle’s current beau is also there. With his wife and baby. Well, beau might be a bit of a strong word for Max (Danny Deferrari). I believe the website they use calls his position “sugar daddy,” though if he is surprised to find out that Danielle is a) not in law school and b) supported generously by her parents, she’s equally surprised that the cash he gives her after their encounters is apparently drawn from his wife’s account, and the bracelet he gave her this morning matches the one on his wife’s wrist.

Writer-director Emma Seligman has rigged this funeral like a powder keg ready to blow, and knowing the whole thing is always just one disclosure away from implosion gives the scene an electric crackle. This is the kind of comedy that’s only funny in the car on the way home, and that’s as long as you weren’t one of the main players. At the time, it’s painful and awkward, and yet no one can quite resist poking the bear. Seligman delivers a pretty big bear and a lot of eager pokers.

The ensemble cast, including Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, and Dianna Agron, is exceptionally good at driving this thing to its inevitable tipping point. And though Danielle’s lies outnumber her truths and her antics relegate the deceased to the forgotten, Sennott makes sure she is still drawn with a certain sympathy. Burdens and expectations are piled upon her like so much potato salad on her dumpy paper plate, and well-meaning though they may be (and I’m dubious about that), the barrage of questions are prying, invasive, and unwelcome. But they must be borne. All part of the price of being a good Jewish daughter, Seligman’s script implies, but it also implies that’s an achievement all but impossible.

Shiva Baby is a cringey comedy about running into your sugar daddy at a family funeral, but there’s a universality to it that rings true for many of us. When Selgman writes about family, she writes about obligation, comfort, ritual, values, pride, disappointment, and perhaps most of all, steadfastness. Which in fact is not so universal after all. Danielle may endure quite a bit at the hands of her family, but at the end of the day, blood is thicker than coffee stains. They’ve got her back, and that’s more than many of us can say.

TIFF20: Beans

The Oka Crisis. It’s an ugly piece of Canadian history that those of you outside our borders will not have heard of and those of us inside find shameful and painful to own. But own we must.

In brief: white people set sail to find a route to Asia and landed in and around Canada instead. White people are lousy sailors but they’re awfully good at taking what isn’t theirs. We even gave it a fancy word: colonization, a polite term for stealing land and dispossessing current inhabitants. By 1956, the Mohawk First Nation had just six remaining square kilometers from their original 165 around the Oka area and in 1959 the town (of white people) approved the development of a private nine-hole golf course on a portion of that land. The project bordered a sacred Mohawk burial ground in use for nearly a century but the Mohawk were not consulted and soon a parking lot bordered their cemetery. In 1990, it was announced that the golf course would be expanding by an additional nine holes and even more land would be bulldozed to make room for condos. In protest, the Mohawk people erected a barrier blocking access to the area. This land dispute lasted 78 days, with 2000 provincial police and 100 special operatives, as well as 4500 members of the Canadian Forces deployed to “keep the peace.” Tactical units used tear gas and concussion grenades on the barricade, prompting gunfire exchanged from both sides, killing one. At the time, there were only about 30 armed Mohawks behind the barricade. That number doubled after the raid, but obviously the sides were still incredibly uneven. The Mohawks had support from other First Nation communities across Canada but their white neighbours lined the streets to throw rocks at cars of evacuating women and children.

The Oka Crisis wasn’t so much resolved as ended with both sides feeling used and bruised. It was a dramatic stand-off for sure, but only a symptom of a much larger problem in Canada and in many countries where indigenous populations were pushed aside and marginalized in their own territories. The relationship between Canada and its Aboriginal people is still uneasy, with systemic racism practically baked right into the foundation of our country.

There have been many documentaries about this turbulent time in Canadian history, but Beans is the first narrative film, one that captures the time and the tension rather eloquently. The film is told from the perspective of an 11 year old girl behind the barrier called Beans (Kiawenti:io Tarbell) and largely divorced from politics. It is a humane and personal account of the crisis, which writer-director Tracey Deer experienced herself as a child.

Beans has no agenda. She’s just a kid who loves riding her bike and is excited to meet the new baby her mom Lily (Rainbow Dickerson) is carrying. Beans is a bright kid but she’s young, and susceptible to peer pressure. She doesn’t realize she’s living through a historical event, she’s just trying to make it through the summer without embarrassing herself in front of the older kids she’s been hanging out with. But as the tension becomes undeniable and the violence ever closer to her home, Beans is about to face things no kid her age ever should.

Because Deere (along with co-writer Meredith Vuchnich) is recounting events from the perspective of a child, the conflict itself is simplified and we experience it on a visceral rather than diplomatic level. We feel her fear, her shame, her confusion. There may be two sides to every dispute, but there’s no excuse for terrorizing a pregnant woman and her children. There are certainly challenges for Beans and her peers growing up on the reserve, but outside of Mohawk territory, the racism alone poses a real danger and threat.

Deere isn’t condemning anyone with her film, but she is exorcising some ghosts she’s clearly carried with her into adulthood. Her images are beautiful, her story is balanced, and she’s made an important contribution to our cultural legacy – for better or for worse.

TIFF20: Pieces of a Woman

Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are excited to welcome their first child. Well, excited/terrified in proportions that vary wildly from moment to moment, and depending on what kind of shade Martha’s judgy and manipulative mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) is throwing. Usually it’s quite a lot, but what can they say when she’s co-signing the loan on their new minivan?

Martha is opting for a home birth but of course when she goes into labour, some other thoughtless pregnant lady is monopolizing her midwife and she has to settle for her back-up, Eva (Molly Parker). It’s not exactly the birth plan Martha had naively hoped for, but none of it matters once those contractions get serious. Her labour is long and difficult, and we get a front row seat. It is raw and captivating, told in a good 30 minute chunk of some of the most intimate film making I’ve ever seen.

Director Kornél Mundruczó shows the birth of a beautiful baby girl in excruciating, glorious detail. Her death is much more swift. It is easy enough to show a baby’s arrival, and I suppose also her loss, but it is another thing entirely to show a mother learning to live without her.

Vanessa Kirby is astonishing in this – numb with grief, achingly lonely, and finally, explosive with anger. The film’s second half can’t quite compete with its dizzying first (very little can), but even if it occasionally slips, Kirby does not, she soldiers on, the portrait of a woman fractured by her loss, still wearing badges of motherhood without the defining, essential thing. Her life, her home, her relationship have all become haunted by the ghost of such brief life. Martha stumbles along the path toward some kind of acceptance, but Kirby’s Oscar track is sure-footed and just.

TIFF20: Another Round (Druk)

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) has been burned out and running on autopilot for some time. There’s little time or reason for joy. His job has become dull and burdensome for both himself and his students. I’m not excusing the behaviour that’s to follow, but I am giving you the context in which Martin and friends/colleagues Peter (Lars Ranthe), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) agree to conduct a social experiment.

Under the guise of “research,” they agree to test the theory that people operate better with a constant 0.05 blood alcohol level. Drinking at work: what could go wrong? Certainly four professionals should know better than to fall for such pseudoscience and likely they do, but caught up in some major midlife malaise, any excuse to numb the drowning desperation sounds like a good one. Drinking all the time to maintain that certain level needs not only commitment but opportunity which does involve some risk. But soon their classrooms are enlivened, their home lives invigorated. Martin and his friends are relaxed, they’re enjoying life again, people notice they’re less inhibited.

You and I can spot the problems coming a mile away, but feeling cocky, and perhaps with slightly impaired judgment, they all agree that since 0.05 is good, more must be better. This is the inevitable folly of man. Soon Martin and his gang are dosing themselves at ever-increasing levels. It’s fun, at first. They’re completely stress-free at work and they’re spending loads of their free time in each other’s company, where everyone is similarly inebriated and having a good time. Everyone else seems so uptight in comparison, but together they mix drinks and dance. They dance! Four white middle aged men just dance around their living rooms unselfconsciously. And since more is so much more fun, even more must be even better right? So now they’re alienating their families and risking their jobs but they don’t care or notice because they’re so intoxicated.

No matter how low they go, director Thomas Vinterberg, who wrote the script with Tobias Lindholm, manages to keep the film quite dignified even when its characters are not. We are witnesses to a social experiment, it’s just not quite the one that Martin and friends set out to prove. It feels dangerously easy for such a film to veer off course into raunchy comedy mode but Vinterberg maintains a steady hand and a thoughtful introspection

Mads Mikkelsen is at his very best in the film, teetering on one ledge or another, giving a thrilling performance that is being constantly and expertly recalibrated. But at its heart, Another Round is an ensemble, and Mikkelsen is very ably supported by Ranthe, Larsen, and Millang. The script gives them each something to chew on, ensuring that the audience gets an impressive menu which ultimately ends in a very satisfying meal.