For 2022’s iteration of the Toronto International Film Festival, there was tragically a lack of digital access for many of the titles. However, this did not stop us from exploring many of the great options that they had on offer! Don’t miss our full exclusive coverage on this year’s TIFF!
A Long Break
(Written by Intern, Ramon Naula) A Long Break is a nice indie movie one can connect with on personal levels. Director Davit Pirtskhalava created a slow-paced but charming tale with the clear intention to make the viewer feel an array of strong, often familiar emotions. The main character of this story is Tsitsi. From the beginning, this character’s introduction makes us feel an ominous presence; his body language and tone give the viewer a suspicion that he means no good. He gathers everyone around with the apparent intention of attacking classmate Guga. Tsitsi starts his plan by scheduling a simple meet-up with past classmates at their old school in a rural part of Georgia. Guga, the main antagonist of A Long Break, appears to have a more stable lifestyle than anyone else in town. Although Tsitsi’s actions and intentions are not the most comprehensible, they cannot compare to Guga’s past. Guga’s childhood was tumultuous, thus giving Tsitsi the reason to take revenge on Guga for his bullying and humiliation. Slow pacing helps to uncover Tsitsi’s mental state, what actions he would take, and who in that room would help either Tsitsi or Guga. These characters form many intriguing moments, but the most anticlimactic plot I have ever seen holds it back. A weaker and less frightening side of Tsitsi is shown as he refuses to take action in his plan. The characters are easy to understand, and one cannot help build emotional connections with all of them, except Guga. A Long Break develops into a dramatic, suspenseful tale about classmates with grudges, bottled-up emotions and inner turmoil, and a bully whom they attempt to forgive. A Long Break was a stroll down memory lane for me, recalling my schooling. I constantly saw these types of people commit “moral” actions, and I wonder where they are now.
(Written by Allison Brown) Give me a girly young adult comedy with a feisty and quirky female lead, and I am content! Carolina Cavalli’s Amanda provides just that. Unlike many of the pretentious films coming out of Venice Film Festival that take themselves too seriously, Amanda is quite the opposite, turning every first-world problem this girl endures into satire. Benedetta Porcaroli as Amanda oozes charisma and keeps the audience invested in her struggles. Her character in this film very much reminds me of one of my favorite indie actresses, Jessica Barden. When Rebecca (Galatéa Bellugi) and Amanda share the screen their love-hate chemistry is charming. Aside from her grating personality, I am not quite sure why Amanda is so disliked and unlucky in love, as she has clearly been given the gift of beauty. Perhaps her antisocial demeanor would be slightly more believable with a less conventionally attractive lead. Nevertheless, I still thoroughly enjoyed every element of this offbeat film: the cinematography, the camera angles, and the performances are excellent. The only thing Amanda suffers from, which far too many festival films do, is an abrupt ending.
ARISTOTLE AND Dante Discover THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE
Full review at the link.
BONES OF CROWS
(Written by Intern, Amanda Davidowski) Psychological drama Bones of Crows does an excellent job of making its audience aware of the treatment of indigenous people in Canada’s residential school system and the subsequent aftermath. Get ready to cry your eyes out because I certainly wasn’t prepared! Director Marie Clements doesn’t pacify any of the abuse or experiences; it is all raw and real. Bones of Crows utilizes stunning cinematography and powerful performances from the cast to deliver one of the most heart-wrenching films I have ever seen. Cree-descending Aline Spears and her family (Summer Testawich, Grace Dove, & Carla-Rae) have lived a hard life. In her childhood, she experiences starvation, physical punishment, and sexual assault. As she gets older, she faces racism and emotional trauma from her childhood. The scenes that illustrate the abuse are not easy to watch, but they are necessary to understand Aline’s experience as much as possible. Crows recur throughout the film, appearing when there is a significant change occurring. These changes are hardships that Aline experiences that will alter the trajectory of her life permanently. Aline stays strong against insurmountable odds, facing her trauma head on by helping other residential school survivors and exposing her oppressors. Despite everything the Canadian government did to try to displace indigenous children from their cultures, Aline represents all survivors who still kept their culture and language with them. The end of Bones of Crows confirms this, showcasing real interviews with indigenous residential school survivors alongside facts about what happened and what is currently being done. It seems that Clement’s goal with this film was similar to Aline’s goal: make sure no one forgets the treatment of indigenous people. This drama hits deep in the heart, making it hard to forget.
CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY
Full review at the link.
(Written by Intern, Lauren Vega) Family values, struggles, and perseverance are hard, but real, lessons learned in Coyote. Directed by Katherine Jerkovic, Coyote follows the uncertain, sometimes depressing life of Camilo (Jorge Martinez Colorado). When Camilo’s daughter, Tania (Eva Avila), comes around, we learn that he lost his very successful livelihood trying to help her through addiction. Camilo is reluctant to continue contact, as his life was ruined and he appears to be floating on the surface of meaninglessness and purpose. However, upon learning that he has a 5-year-old grandson (Enzo Desmeules), Camilo eventually agrees to be a caretaker as Tania goes to rehab. Taking on this responsibility dominoes into lessons of perseverance, old wounds, and the love of a parent for a child. I appreciated how thoughtful Camilo was, and I related to the struggle of work-life he was going through. Throughout the film, I was trying to figure out if Camilo thought life was worth living. I wanted so badly for him to find happiness, as he continues to endure the obstacles thrown at him. Cinematography-wise, Coyote is clever in its filters and sets. There are many muted greens and blues, and occasionally some warm settings. The result is a cold, clinical feeling, which I thought fit perfectly. I often felt that Camilo was fading or disassociating in the shots that held for longer. Overall, I really enjoyed Coyote, and would definitely recommend watching on a quiet night in.
Domingo and the Mist
(Written by Allison Brown) I was intrigued by Domingo and the Mist since its premiere at Cannes, but I am sad to report it was a disappointment. Writer/director Ariel Escalante spends far too much of her efforts on style over substance. It is a visually stunning film, but there is not enough narrative to carry the story. Domingo and the Mist is painfully slow, and only tells through mundane dialogue without showing; Escalante skips flashback scenes where they are sorely needed. A memory of the actual death of Domingo’s wife would have provided more sufficient context to grasp his emotions. Why should the audience be sympathetic to a stubborn, cheating alcoholic who neglected his wife and daughter? Even portraying his sordid past while she was alive would have better held my attention. Instead, we are left with a hollow story and an unlikeable (and trigger happy) lead. Each time Domingo (Carlos Ureña) pulls out a gun at the developers who are only doing their jobs, I just became angrier. Insanity is not going to pause construction. His friend, Yendrick is equally awful. Not only is he an ex-drug addict who abandoned his children for over ten years, he just gave up and started a new family with two new children. I can’t imagine how damaged those kids might be! Perhaps there is some deeper meaning others may have been able to pull from the poetic voiceover each time the mist appeared, but I personally did not enjoy Domingo and the Mist one bit.
(Written by Allison Brown) When I read the synopsis for Driving Madeleine, I thought I would be watching a sickeningly sweet modern take on 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy. Boy was I wrong! The segments in modern day start off in a similar fashion to that iconic picture. A hardened taxi driver, Charles (Dany Boon), gets a call to pick up a fare that will start paying out as he drives to the location. Turns out it is a feisty elderly woman, Madeleine (Line Renaud), who calls him out on his poor behavior and disrespect from the moment they meet. The heart of the narrative is slow to start, and I was a bit worried it would be a very predictable, cheesy, and talky film in the limited single setting of Charles’ taxi. Once the flashbacks begin, get ready for a wild ride. I was stunned as young Madeleine (Alice Isaaz) dealt with spousal abuse, a surprise child, falling in love, and an array of other insane transgressions I wish I could delve into, but one will need to watch to see for themselves. Alice Isaaz is slowly, but surely, becoming a new favorite actress of mine. I adored her in last year’s The Lodger, as well. She gives the strongest performance of the ensemble as 1950s Madeleine. The structure is essentially two films in one: the contemporary timeline in their meandering ride to the nursing home with Charles; and the romance, chaos, and feminism throughout Madeleine’s lifetime. I will admit Charles’ story is nowhere near as interesting as Madeleine’s, but seeing him warm up to her over the course of the hour and a half runtime was precious. It is impossible to verbalize how strong my desire is to discuss Driving Madeleine with someone else, and as such, I cannot wait for its premiere. This powerful and touching film was such a wonderful surprise that left me completely sobbing by the end. I cannot recommend it enough.
The End of Sex
(Written by Allison Brown) With an actress like Schitt’s Creek’s Emily Hampshire cast as the lead, I was thrilled to check out The End of Sex. Sadly the film falls flat, and a lot of the jokes don’t land nearly as well as I had hoped. When we enter Josh (Jonas Chernick) and Emma’s (Emily Hampshire) world, the audience is thrown directly into their chaos from the first few seconds of the runtime. One young daughter has a face full of tacky makeup, and the other has a breakfast drenched in ketchup. I didn’t really plan to watch an anxiety-oriented film, but it was a stressful segment for sure. Once the kids are sent off to camp for seven days, and the essence of the narrative begins, I was left straight-faced more often than in laughter. The only scene that truly got me was when Emma encounters family members, friends, acquaintances, and nearly every random secondary character in a swingers club. The duo’s main goal to spice up their sex life never feels resolved by the film’s close, almost like they are just happy to return to the same complacency as before. The insinuated lesson the audience is left with is to appreciate what one has, and to stop looking elsewhere for excitement. The End of Sex left me as frustrated as the two titular characters.
(Written by Allison Brown) Falcon Lake took me by surprise with its sweet coming of age story, as well as a sudden dark turn towards the end. The lake itself is practically an additional main character due to its swirling urban legends, and presence in nearly every scene. The foreshadowing in the film is well-constructed, and leads to the perfect full circle moment with a tragic self-fulfilling prophecy. Director Charlotte Le Bon crafts a relatable tale of young love with teenage vices and nostalgic experiences. I loved watching the tender budding romance between Bastien (Joseph Engel) and Chloé (Sara Montpetit) unravel, though I will say, the content is a bit risqué. For those who might be disturbed, underage masturbation and simulated fellatio are just two of the various edgy elements. I will say, it is done tastefully, and more suggested than anything. Nevertheless, it is an interesting choice for a couple made up of a thirteen-year-old boy and sixteen-year-old girl. Bastien and Chloé are the perfect pair in the manner they balance out each other. Bastien brings out Chloé’s youthful side through a silly game of trying to make oneself bleed through their own bite, and Chloé’s helps Bastien mature while taking him under her wing with the older crowd and offering him alcohol. Their parents seem strangely absent through all of this, despite living in the same small summer house. Falcon Lake is bound to skirt under the radar with so many great films this year, but it is one of my favorite selections I have watched yet.
For those who prefer their horror/thrillers to drive them to the very brink of insanity, Fixation may just be the movie for you! Throughout the course of the film, the viewer is constantly questioning whether or not Dora (Maddie Hasson) is actually being gaslit during her time undergoing a bizarre psychiatric evaluation. Pass or fail, Dora’s very freedom may hinge on the results, as she is participating in advance of an upcoming hearing for her murder charge. Visually, Fixation delivers several chilling and properly creepy moments involving taxidermy and unnerving, oversized dolls. It is a shame, then, that it still manages to waste so much of its goodwill (and an outstanding lead performance) by squandering it amongst the mania. I was constantly on my toes about Dora’s situation, but I was also not at all surprised by where it goes.
(Written by Intern, Amanda Davidowski) Cédric Ido’s The Gravity is a daring new take on the sci-fi genre. An impossible phenomenon expected to shift gravity is set to occur: all eight planets will align with the sun. However this is all subtly happening in the background. The heart of the story centers around three childhood friends living in a poor northern suburb of Paris, who all grew up wanting to escape. The film opens on a tragic accident involving four children, which leads to one dead and another paralyzed. Years later, the three children are now grown up still living in the same neighborhood. Daniel (Max Gomis) is a track runner who helps his wheelchair bound brother Joshua (Steve Tientcheu) run drugs. On a delivery, they run into estranged childhood friend and skilled artist Christophe (Jean-Baptiste Anoumon), who recently served time in prison for dealing drugs. While Christophe has been gone, a new young crew has taken over the turf, calling themselves the Rōnin. They have this unique look to them, sporting blue clothes and a spritz of red in their hair. Ido beautifully visualizes the planetary event, with stunning shots of the planets aligning in space and the sky getting redder and redder. It seems like everything is taking place in the present, but the film gives off this vibe that makes it feel futuristic. All the rising tension between Daniel, Joshua, Christophe, and the Rōnin reaches its breaking point in the last twenty minutes of The Gravity. We finally see all the sci-fi aspects pay off in an unexpected way. This captivating film has an interpretive ending, leaving the audience with many unanswered questions. What actually happens once the planets align? Does everything just go back to the status quo? The Gravity is an interesting watch, and if you’re patient it’s worth your time.
Full review at the link.
I LIKE MOVIES
Full review at the link.
MY SAILOR, MY LOVE
(Written by Intern, Amanda Davidowski) Klaus Härö’s newest drama My Sailor, My Love deals with tough subject matter, especially for those who have had to take care of older family members from a young age. Writers Jimmy Karlsson and Kirsi Vikkman explore a difficult relationship between a father and daughter, as well as a love story between an elderly couple. All the emotional baggage and affliction the characters face is translated flawlessly to the screen in this harrowing film. Grace (Catherine Walker) is overwhelmed with her work/personal life and her strained relationship with obstinate father Howard (James Cosmo), a retired sea captain. As the conditions her father lives in worsen, she hires Annie (Bríd Brennan) to take care of the house and her father. Howard treats Annie coldly at first, but after an act of kindness, his attitude toward Annie changes, and a budding romance begins. Grace becomes envious as Howard takes a liking to Annie and her family, and she tries to drive the two apart. It is clear that Grace has had severe emotional trauma since her childhood from her father’s absences, taking care of her mother, and the way he has treated her. Yet still, she takes care of him despite her grievances. I was initially confused as to why she was “unpleasant” around Howard and Annie, but it all becomes clear as more is revealed about Grace’s past. Walker’s performance is open and honest; she expertly expresses the emotions of a character who feels they are constantly being punished caring for others. Cosmo and Brennan also deliver powerful performances. The chemistry they create between Howard and Annie is both charming and heart-rending. My Sailor, My Love does have its playful and light moments, but as the film progresses it reminds one of the harder hitting issues head-on. Take a deep breath before sitting down to watch this one—it’s a worthwhile story that will have the audience crying by the end.
(Written by Allison Brown) I never expected a made-for-TV quality movie to join the ranks of TIFF Contemporary World Cinema. Nightalk must be one of the strangest festival selections I have ever seen. It can only be described as an erotic novel brought to life, without any filter provided to make the language more believable as real words spoken out of a character’s mouth. Much of the script comes off as brazenly creepy; middle-aged men discuss young women’s sexual experiences, like erotic asphyxiation, in graphic detail in a predatory manner that is uncomfortable for this female viewer. I think it is made even worse when one realizes the writer and director are both out of touch men over the age of eighty; this fact deeply illuminates why this film does not feel like one that should exist in 2022. Instead of portraying a woman realistically discovering her sexuality in the likes of a female-made film like Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, it feels as if our lead, Brenda (Ashley Bryant), is exploited for the male gaze. The script is rudimentary and predictable, and the acting is not much better; nearly every scene is cheesy. Who thought it would be a good idea to include lines like, “When was the last time you had anything down there besides your fingers?” Out of context, much of the film could pass as soft-core porn from the phone sex alone, and even with this, the nudity is strangely scarce until the final moments of the film. Night cityscapes with flickers of lightning are overused as shoddy transitions. I kept looking for some deeper message behind the surface narrative to explain the incongruity of this choice for the lineup, but I have struggled to come up with anything substantial. With some editing, I could easily see Hallmark or Lifetime picking this up, but I am not sure the sophisticated festival audience would gain anything from watching Nightalk aside from a cringe-filled laugh.
North of Normal
(Written by Allison Brown) Before I critique anything about North of Normal, Melissa A. Smith and Caitlin Well deserve massive praise for their impeccable casting choices. Amanda Fix and Sarah Gadon, who play Cea Sunrise Person and her mother, Michelle, respectively, easily appear to be related. If Fix were as blonde as Gadon, she could be her younger twin. Both actresses give incredibly moving performances, and one can feel for each perspective. Michelle became a mother too young, and never had a chance to grow up. On the other hand, Cea Sunrise is forced to grow up too soon, and essentially becomes her mother’s protector, navigating through poverty, abandonment, assault, drugs, alcohol, and bullying. One must be ready for a chaotic film wherein a hippie mother calls her preschool aged daughter a sexpot. Throughout the runtime, Michelle teaches her daughter the only thing that matters in life is affection and attention from men. Of course, this is going to lead to not only self-esteem issues, but also negligence and unfortunate situations with the men her mother encounters. Director Carly Stone weaves a wonderfully poignant narrative based on the book by the real Cea Sunrise Person. North of Normal is a superb picture that I genuinely enjoyed, but it does have some minimal faults. The transitions between modern day 1986 and Cea Sunrise’s upbringing are at times jarring; the line needed to be more clearly drawn when the narrative shifts to a flashback. I also found the final scene a bit confusing, and had to replay it to gauge the minor detail alluding to Person’s ultimate direction in life.
Full review at the link.
Full review at the link.
(Written by Allison Brown) Plan 75 brings up a deep point of contention for much of the world: our lack of respect for the elderly. In this near future dystopia, a surplus of the older generation has begun to drain the economy, and put an unfair burden on the youth. Age discrimination in the workplace is a hot topic in the United States, but the manner in which it is brought up in this film is tragic. A voluntary procedure, Plan 75 banks on the cultural understanding that individuals in Japan are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the country. The bill allows all residents aged 75 or older to end their lives on their own terms. One is provided all sorts of luxuries in exchange for their life when selecting different Plan 75 offerings; a platinum package provides a spa, super deluxe menu, and an end-of-life photoshoot! A $1,000 preparatory grant is provided for all applicants to use as they wish. There is no health check and no approval from friends or family, so individuals with declining mental capacity could easily be manipulated. Writer/director Chie Hayakawa essentially sets up the system as a means of genocide. When the nature of life for these people has grown too difficult to continue, do they really have a choice? Is it genuinely optional? The elderly here are backed into a corner when they must navigate a world of hate crimes, working demanding blue-collar jobs past their prime, loneliness, and rental housing discrimination. The agents provided to assist them in their transition are only looking out for the success of the program to reduce the senior population, despite promising they are committed to their clients. Showing any emotion is looked down upon. There are definitely parallels that can be drawn with the American healthcare system, which is absolutely more profit-driven than care-driven. I did enjoy some of the film, but I do wish it edged dystopian. There were some corrupt ideas, like a “luxury” plan unknowingly committing client’s ashes to a landfill, but it is merely mentioned and not fully explored visually. Hayakawa chooses to focus on the experiences of the mundane people affected rather than trying to be edgy. Some may be more interested in that aspect of the story, but personally I was a bit underwhelmed.
PROJECT WOLF HUNTING
Full review at the link.
Full review at the link.
Full review at the link.
Full review at the link.
SNOW AND THE BEAR
(Written by Intern, Lauren Vega) Get ready for metaphorical situations and deep thinking in Snow and the Bear. Directed by Selcen Ergun, Snow and the Bear follows a woman who has transferred from her hometown to a snowy, desolate place. The isolated location is in the midst of a long winter, which subsequently makes things feel lonelier. The protagonist is determined to succeed in her new job as a nurse, however is treated as an outsider in the small town. Though she begins to make friends, a missing persons case hits the town, casting a suspicious shadow on those around her. Cinematography was spot-on, while the set building helped to create an eerie ambiance throughout the film. Additionally, the sound design made me feel alone and spooked—all the midnight howls and bumps immersed me in their world. Acting-wise, I think everyone’s blank faces threw me for a loop. I understand that the characters are in the middle of nowhere, but the only emotions appeared to be anger and depression. I felt there was a void in the acting, especially in our main hero. Overall, I felt there were some really great metaphors and lines which made me think of my own morals. However, I think this whole film could have been condensed into a half an hour short.
(Written by Allison Brown) Stonewalling has a singular story to tell, but it meanders far too often and fumbles at the finish. Lynn (Yao Hongggui) is studying to be a flight attendant, and her boyfriend (Liu Long) keeps pushing her towards the brightest of career opportunities. He lines up potential positions and funds her English lessons, but all goes sour once a bombshell is dropped. When Lynn takes a gig to donate her eggs, the organization discovers that she is in fact already pregnant. She moves back home with her parents and debates abortion, even going so far as to convince her boyfriend it has transpired, but ultimately Lynn decides to give her unborn child away in an illegal adoption. What better way to do so than to hand it off to someone who is suing her mother! In the background, we are shown a window into the downfall of Lynn’s mother with an MLM for a product called “Vitality Cream,” which requires female users to shave their heads. There is also a short stint where coronavirus is shallowly dropped in; I really do not think this was necessary nor did it add anything. Primarily, Stonewalling follows the interactions between Lynn, her mother (Huang Xiaoxiong), “boss” (played by Cui Chi, the organizer of the baby trade-off), and his cousin, a mysterious woman named Silvia. The sketchy nature of their dealings ultimately provides a confusing conclusion—as many festival films do, it ends far too abruptly. I genuinely can’t grasp how a film with a whopping two-and-a-half-hour runtime comprised of far too many slow, pensive scenes could so unevenly spread its narrative. I find this to be a common downfall of festival selections, but I was particularly disappointed here, as I enjoyed much of the film, and eagerly awaited the resolution.
The Swearing Jar
(Written by Allison Brown) I am torn on my feelings toward Lindsay MacKay’s The Swearing Jar; what she was going for in concept was enticing, but it is unfortunately executed poorly. There simply must have been a more succinct way to tell the story. Many eventless scenes fail to further the plot. I loved the idea of a musical element to complement the narrative. With this many songs—none being memorable—why even bother? The timeline is perhaps the most confusing element. It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between modern day, flashbacks, and the future. Some of this must be intentional, as the logline of the film alludes to Carey (Adelaide Clemens) falling in love with two people at the same time. I found myself passively invested and rooting for and against her choice to be with both Owen (Douglas Smith) or Simon (Patrick J. Adams) in different scenarios. When everything falls into place towards the denouement, just as the story starts to make sense, it abruptly concludes. I am not sure the direction MacKay chose is worth the payoff.
(Written by Allison Brown) Sweet As takes some time to get going, but once it hits the “sweet” spot, it soars. The story follows rough-around-the-edges Murra (Shantae Barnes-Cowan), who finds herself exploring a budding passion for photography. Murra has not had an easy life; she is forced to shoplift to put food on the table. Her mother, Grace (Ngaire Pigram), is too busy sleeping during the day and getting high while partying at night to take care of her daughter’s basic needs. Murra has resorted to moving her armoire to block sketchy stragglers from getting into her bedroom. When Murra finally has had enough, she reaches out to her policeman uncle, Ian (Mark Coles Smith), to get involved. Through a short series of events, Grace sprints out the door and into her car, abandoning Murra in the process. Ian decides it would be best for Murra to join a photography safari for at-risk youth to help her find an outlet for her angst. At first resistant, Murra eventually feels at home with the group, led by “youth worker and photography leader” Fernando Castillo (Carlos Sanson Jr.), or Nando for short, and his colleague, Mitch (Tasma Walton). Her peers, forced to check-in all electronic devices and commit to the adventure, consist of Kylie (Mikayla Levy), a sexually charged girl who seems to have an inappropriate relationship with an older man; Sean (Andrew Wallace), a troubled boy dealing with suicidal thoughts; and Elvis (Pedrea Jackson), who was savagely beat up and almost died. At first no one takes shooting on film seriously, but predictably, through photography, they all slowly form a bond. I loved the stylistic choice to focus on a moving photo in real time that then snaps into to the final product. This reminded me of my favorite part of America’s Next Top Model. The cinematography in the film is stunning, particularly in displaying the rock formations near a waterfall. It puts the audience into the group’s perspective yearning to capture the beauty in nature. Crushes are developed; the underage ragtag group acts out by means of alcohol and trespassing, and verbal and physical battles ensue. The ending comes together full circle a bit too perfectly. Despite the predictability, Sweet As is a quaint and tender film which I thoroughly enjoyed.
(Written by Allison Brown) Thunder, directed by Carmen Jaquier, is just another example of why organized religion is a mess. I did not expect it to be such a sex-forward film, especially one with masturbating and four-way sex juxtaposed to a conservative celibate upbringing in a convent. A female at the reigns was needed for a story like this to best portray how stuffy life is for our lead, Elisabeth (Lilith Grasmug). Jaquier highlights the grossly patriarchal society with a dinner where the women in the family are not allowed to sit until the man, their father, has arrived at the table. There is also a lovely scene where one of Elisabeth’s very young sisters, Adèle (Diana Gervalla), is essentially punished for “becoming a woman,” which I assume means beginning menstruation. How are young women supposed to be comfortable with their bodies when they are told they must pray to the Virgin at the sight of their period to “ward off misfortune?” A world where an adolescent woman is told they have been taken by the devil and are tied up by their own family because they enjoy sex is not one I personally would ever want to live in. As is commonplace with festival selections, the film concludes a bit too suddenly; I would have liked to see more time pass from the final event. Nevertheless, Thunder is a thought-provoking drama with a unique point of view.
Until Branches Bend
(Written by Allison Brown) With the potential to tell a deeply compelling story about the lack of ethics in business, even in rural communities, Until Branches Bend fails to hit the mark. The film follows Robin (Grace Glowicki), a peach factory worker in Montague who discovers the beginnings of an infestation of a mysterious bug in the crop. Robin alerts her superior, Dennis (Lochlyn Munro, Riverdale), who sweeps her findings under the rug and downplays the threat. Robin eventually becomes a pariah in her town, is consistently bullied, and abandoned by anyone close to her once the factory is shut down for investigation. In a separate b-plot, Robin deals with an unexplained and unwanted pregnancy; it feels out of context to the rest of the film and is barely fleshed out. Robin’s sister, Laney (Alexandra Roberts), has a role in the story, but she bears little significance to the narrative and is mostly missing in action through most of Robin’s struggles. Aside from Dennis and his wife, Isabelle (Quelemia Sparrow), most of the secondary characters have very little development or impact. They seem to solely exist to show how the town feels about Robin as a whistleblower. Director Sophie Jarvis endeavors to build dread in the score, but the eerie music is overused and eventually loses any significance; it becomes grating. If utilized more sparingly, the ambiance and intended tone in the more impactful scenes would have been strengthened. The overall stakes in the spear beetle conflict never feel quite high enough. A visual cue portraying the moth infestation that Robin briefly mentions early on would perhaps allow an outsider to become more invested in the panic. The entire time I was left puzzled as to why everyone cared so much about the presence of a bug. I would have possibly had more clarity if I grew up near a farming community. The repetition of artsy peach factory shots contributes to a bloated runtime, which doesn’t help either. I hoped that Until Branches Bend would tell a story comparable to 2000’s award-winning Erin Brockovich, but its execution was lackluster.
Valeria Is Getting Married
(Written by Allison Brown) Valeria is Getting Married….whether she likes it or not. Writer/Director Michal Vinik’s film is a more unconventional arranged marriage story than most. One can tell there is a woman at the reigns. Instead of portraying the bride-to-be as an object without power or an opinion, the line is drawn to make our lead a strong and free-thinking woman, despite others attempting to convince her otherwise. Ukranian Valeria (Dasha Tvoronovich) arrives in Israel at the beginning of the film to meet her sister, Christina (Lena Fraifeld), and Christina’s matchmaker husband, Michael (Yaakov Zada Daniel). Michael has set her up with Eitan (Avraham Shalom Levi), who paid 5,000 shekels to meet the wife of his dreams. At least from my own experience in the Jewish community, matchmakers are a big thing in Israel and among religious Jews. Nothing is quite wrong with Michael or Eitan, but nothing is quite right either. Neither man is exactly attractive or charming. The embedded sexism Michael displays, which is thankfully critiqued, is overtly offensive. Michal’s story is not set up as a traditional arranged nuptial to a stranger, where Valeria is left with no choice or context in the matter. Eitan and Valeria had time to chat over Skype and get to know one another. Nevertheless, the timeline is still too short for Valeria to be pressured to return home with Eitan, even with the promise he will not force her to do anything sexual. The film is set in one primarily one location, once Valeria locks herself and eventually her sister in the bathroom. The short runtime rides the edge of the big question: will she or won’t she open the door to begin her potential new life with Eitan. I am not sure I was a fan of the way the narrative concluded, but a realistic woman’s point of view, dread, and anxiety, make Valeria is Getting Married a strong cinematic work.
(Written by Allison Brown) Viking was completely different than I expected but in perhaps the most endearing way possible. I am usually not a fan of French comedy, but here it works effortlessly. Director Stéphane Lafleur ties science fiction perfectly with a nuanced study on human behavior in tight quarters and isolation. The film is best described as HBO’s The Rehearsal meets The Martian, with a hint of The Twilight Zone. The American Space Exploration Agency (ASEA) is sending its first manned mission to Mars for seven months with a team of five astronauts. As space programs run entirely on simulations to prepare for the real trip, Viking poses the concept of simulating the chemistry of the crew’s personalities as well. To do this, the Viking Society, a department of the Canadian Space Agency, has conducted a series of in-depth interviews to find a perfect match for each member on board. Luckily, gym teacher David (Steve Laplante) has made the cut, and gets to temporarily live mirroring the emotions and experiences of John Shepard. He must cut off all contact with his friends and family for an indeterminate duration to avoid any distractions. Joining him are four others who will go by Steven (Larissa Corriveau), Liz (Denis Houle), Janet (Fabiola N. Aladin), and Gary (Hamza Haq). Through daily transmitted memos, each faux astronaut is given the background of their performance, and conflicts for the day. The gender swapping mirrors are at first confusing, but after one is deep into the film, it is easy to connect a face to their character. It becomes a running joke once a pizza delivery man asks for a Mr. Liz, and a male crew member on board becomes pregnant in the actual mission. The manipulation by the organizers of the program, Christiane (Marie Brassard) and Jean-Marc (Martin-David Peters), is outrageous and best experienced blind. Jazz music’s highlight in the score is effective in creating a pensive mood, and significantly strengthens the film. The narrative is at its strongest when the imitators’ true identities begin to leak out. Be prepared for the twist towards the end that truly presents a Twilight Zone meditative lesson.
Full review at the link.
Full review at the link.
Full review at the link.
The Young Arsonists
(Written by Allison Brown) At first, I was really loving Sheila Pye’s The Young Arsonists. The cinematography is gorgeous, as are the colorful smoke transitions to represent a surge of emotion. What starts off as a sweet coming of age about a group of misfit teen girls from broken homes turns darker by the minute. Some boundaries are pushed too far. I am not sure we needed to see such vividly focused shots of a murdered dog. I was genuinely traumatized as a dog mom; that is my worst nightmare in life. There needs a to be a heavy warning of the content at the beginning of the film; be prepared for self-harm, graphic menstrual shots, neglected children, murder, suicide, and strange urination, among an array of other disturbing matter. Coming off the full-circle closing scenes, I did enjoy watching The Young Arsonists, and the performances were powerful and layered, but it was all a bit too risqué for me.
While we unfortunately had to miss the majority of the bigger-name titles, discovering wonderful festival gems has become something of an exciting opportunity. Without that, I would have missed two of my three personal favorites of TIFF. For the record, those were Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Winter Boy, and Pearl. Allison saw far more titles than I this time around, and her top choices were Driving Madeleine, Paris Memories, Roost, Wildflower, and I Like Movies. Once 2023 rolls around, our hope is to attend TIFF in person! We look forward to covering another exciting year!