Saturday, September 18, 2021

TIFF 2021 SILENT NIGHT: Reflections By Robert Aaron Mitchell

 

This is how topsy-turvy the world is. My final movie at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival is a Keira Knightley Christmas movie. One of the great things about attending a film festival, is to walk into a movie theater or, as is my case this year - stream a movie - you have no idea about. This movie with a premise of a midnight madness movie was a complete surprise. I loved it.

It is Christmas afternoon. Nell (Keira Knightley) and her son Art (Roman Griffin Davis) are in the kitchen preparing dinner. Michael Bublé plays. It is a beautiful afternoon in the English countryside. Perfect. Peaceful.  Art is cutting carrots and cuts his finger. Blood spurts all over the carrots.

 

Family and friends begin to arrive. Some eat the bloody carrot bits. They either do not notice or do not mind. The kids run around the house and get in each other’s hair. This leads to a lot, a hell of a lot of children profanity. It is stupid, fucking funny.  

 

"Tonight is all about love and forgiveness." Nell proclaims to everyone who has assembled for this Christmas celebration. Tonight will indeed be about a lot of things.

 

Another common thread that I have seen with the movies I have watched this year the Toronto International Film Festival is great dinner sequences. You Are Not My Mother, Saloum, Unclenching The Fists. Silent Night also contains a dinner scene, and it is amazing and the centerpiece of the entire movie.

 

Dinner is served. There are hints that something far greater is happening outside this family Christmas dinner. The potatoes are rationed. One potato per person. A prayer is begun. It is awkward and funny. Nell contributes to the prayer, “To love we have shared.” The word, “have” hangs in the air. One of the guests Bella (Lucy Punch) looks out the window. Her look of nervousness is at odds of the beautiful blue sky out the window. The conversation turns to the Queen’s speech. "Well she is clearly in some bunker setup", says Tony (Rufus Jones). Nell quips, "If you want to live in a hole and eat dog food..." "It's fine because she's old" Kitty (Davida McKenzie) quips.


The dinner conversation gets even better when Art brings up Greta Thunberg. Roman Griffin Davis and Davida McKenzie play exceptionally well off of one another. Sofie (Lily-Rose Depp) begins to expound upon the difficult night she had last night. The adults are trying to change the conversation but the kids want to hear more. "We had dinner, sang Celine Dion, dance to Brittney, laugh, cried..." Sophie gets out before the subject is changed. 


Someone mentions, that they should be honest with the kids. Art insists that his parents have told him the truth. Kitty interjects, "The Russians want us all dead and are sending poisonous gas to kill us all. They are obsessed with world domination." Art, "Do not be ridiculous Kitty it isn't the Russians. The planet has absorbed every ones filthy rubbish, it had enough and it cannot take it anymore so it's spitting it back out as a fuck you to the world." 


It is mentioned that the government of the United Kingdom cares for it's people and has provided aid and assistance to the residents of the country that will abate pain and suffering. There is a website Exit.Gov.Co.Uk that provides information on how to Die With Dignity. The government has provided other tools to alleviate the fate that awaits million and millions of people. Art points out that all of this government assistance is not available for everyone in the country and he is adamant that he will not follow along with the government instructions. 


Christmas must go on. Games are played. Spirits are imbibed. Presents are wrapped. In another revelation of rationing and a clue to the big story, the presents are wrapped in newsprint. Art holds a present with the headline: New York Governor Declares State Of Emergency. Burrough Of Queens death toll passes two million. As we garner subtle hints of life in this catastrophic world, watching people proceed with a high degree of normalcy we wonder what the fuck is actually happening out in the world. People surly are not playing charades, sipping on champagne.   


As the tsunami of toxic gas races towards the English countryside and the moment of mortality approaches the tension and anxiety infuse the movie with such great moments. The pathos of humanity is on full display. I, the audience, sitting relatively safe in the "real world", it is all a delight. Except for the back of your brain reminding you of the ongoing pandemic and the climate change that is getting worse everyday. The entertainment of it all runs parallel to the very real - not too far from now - "real world" scenarios that could very well come to fruition.

 

Writer and Director Camille Griffin said in her introduction, "I believe as the world becomes more fragile, society becomes more divided between those that do and those that don't give a damn about one another. With Silent Night I wanted to investigate the world of privilege to see what might happen when catastrophe knocks at their door. No amount of money, education, good manners can save anyone from the inevitable. She wrote the script pre-Covid without any knowledge of the pandemic. Covid didn't enter the world until after shooting on the movie began. What has become clear to everyone is it is incredibly hard to protect societies in the world. We need to step up and take care of one another. How far are we prepared to go to protect the ones we love and how far are we prepared to protect the rest of the world."  

 

I love a movie that changes tones like a whiplash. I loved the many tones contained in this movie. There are so many great performances in this movie, to single one out feels as though to take away from the work this ensemble cast created. That being said, Roman Griffin Davis is absolutely amazing in this film. Camille Griffin's feature film debut will go up with White Christmas and It's A Wonderful Life for ever how many Christmas nights I and the rest of humanity on the planet have left.

TIFF 2021 SALOUM: Reflections By Carol Borden


 By: Carol Borden 

 Jean Luc Herbulot Saloum (Senegal, 2021)

Saloum was one of my favorite movies at this year’s festival and if you know you like action movies with mercenaries in them, I’d suggest just seeing it without reading or watching anything more about it. I’m not including any serious plot details in this piece, but I also think that Saloum can’t really be spoiled.

During a coup in Guinea-Bissau, three mercenaries extract their target, a Mexican cartel member, Felix (Renaud Farrah), and escape with him, his drugs and his gold. They are Baguin’s Hyenas: Chaka (Yann Gael), the red-gloved brains of the operation; Rafa (Roger Sallah), the more hot-headed and straightforward “brawn”; and the white-dreadlocked Minuit (Mentor Ba), who knows the spirit world and uses gris-gris on their missions. Or, you know, head, heart and spirit. En route to Dakar, they discover their plane is leaking fuel and land in the Sine-Saloum delta in Senegal. Burying Felix’s gold and narcotics, Chaka tells Rafa the plan: They’ll go to a nearby holiday camp and hide out until they can get fuel and resin to repair the plane so they continue on to Dakar. At Camp Baobob, they present themselves as vacationing gold mine workers and meet the genial Omar (Bruno Henry), who runs the camp, and his guests Sephora (Marielle Salmier) an artist; Youce (Cannabasse), Sephora’s ex-partner and current artistic collaborator; Awa (Evelyne Ily Juhen), a deaf woman who knows a lot about the Hyenas; and Cap. Souleymane Fall (Ndiaga Mbow) of the Dakar police. Omar doesn’t require payment from his guests, but he does ask that they do chores to contribute to the camp’s upkeep. 


They have a lovely, delightfully cinematic dinner as everyone except Awa and the artists pretend they are there for some other reason than they are. They trade erudite observations. It has that charming feel of dinners in James Bond movies. Very little is as it seems and antagonists and protagonists spar, but politely and expansively. This is probably the only action movie I’ve seen where Léopold Senghor, poet, founder of the Négritude movement, and president of Senegal was referenced. Then again, Saloum is the only Senegalese action movie I have seen. After dinner, Minuit tells the men that there is an eye on them while Rafa believes something needs to be done because Souleymane is obviously preparing to capture them and Awa signed to them that she plans to reveal the Hyenas’ real identities if they won’t take her with them when they go.

The next day the guests all perform their assigned tasks, and then meet again that evening. And then, as they so often do, things go to hell over dinner. This is also where Saloum takes a turn. And I absolutely did not expect it.

  

Saloum is one of the best movies I saw at the festival this year. I can’t single out a performance, as much as I’d like to. I could write about any of the leads in depth. I could probably also write about Bruno Henry’s suave Omar or Ndiaga Mbow as his Souleymane goes from feeling cheerfully confident in his plan to capture Baguin’s Hyenas to his horrified realization that what he thought was going to happen is absolutely not what is happening. Saloum is a deft mix of genres--crime, action, horror, even maybe fantasy--and influences. It’s well-written and well-crafted. I appreciate how well Saloum integrates the particular history of the region, both in the story and in exposition. The breathtaking shots of the landscape use the whole screen and I love them for that. The pointed presence of the landscape in the film reminds me of Westerns and I wish more action movies used landscapes this way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be watching Herbulot’s Sakho & Mangane on Netflix now that TIFF is over (for me at least).





TIFF 2021 AFTER BLUE: Reflections by Carol Borden

 

By: Carol Borden 

Bertrand Mandico After Blue (Dirty Paradise) / After Blue (Paradis Sale) (France, 2021) Humanity has moved off Earth, after wrecking it, and colonized another planet called, After Blue. Only “ovary-bearers” survived, as the planet has strange effects on the growth of hair and cis-men died when their hair grew inwards. The surviving high femme women made rules to prevent what happened on Earth from happening again. Well, at least some of it. They allowed only horses for travel and guns--bearing the brands of Gucci and Paul Smith--for hunting. They lived in small groups based on national identity, mostly. The film opens with a teenager named Roxy (Paula Luna) talking to another woman. She tells the story of finding a woman buried up to her neck in sand and releasing her in exchange for three wishes. Unfortunately for Roxy’s friends, the woman is the notorious criminal Kate Bush (Agata Buzek) and she kills all three of them.

As punishment the women of Roxy’s village order her mother, Zora (Elina Löwensohn), the village hairdresser, to hunt down Kate Bush and bring back proof of her death. Roxy comes along to help and because “she has nothing better to do.” And so they meet other women wearing broad brimmed 1970s lady hats for stetsons and glittery eye-shadow along the way and face death and sexual menace.


After Blue looks fantastic, with stylized space sound stages and dressing natural areas to they look like stylized space sound stages. I like the design of the dead. I like the sound design and the score. I like the make-up and the glowing femdroid eyes. Basically, I like almost everything about this film except the world-building and the story. They rub me wrong. I’m not comfortable with the implicit gender essentialism. And while I always enjoy rock people on alien worlds and dig these particular rock people’s geode heads, I’m not comfortable with the Indigenous people of After Blue, the “Indiams” or how they are treated or how they are represented even while knowing that Mandico probably means nothing by it. But I’m not in France. I’m in the United States. And “Indiams” especially rub me wrong after watching the TIFF Land Acknowledgment and a celebration of the work of Indigenous film maker and artist Alanis Obomsawin. And yes, I have watched Westerns with terrible people in them. And I have watched movies, like Neptune Frost, where the people are largely allegorical. But Zora aside, the women of After Blue are one note and that note is unpleasant. And the premise of a planet ruled by women who are sorta fashion-obsessed and whose civilization is catty and/or bitchy is hardly new. Please see nearly any post-World War II space lady movie from Cat-Women Of The Moon (1953) to Queen Of Outer Space (1958). (Ship Of Monsters / La Nave De Los Monstruous (1960) is lovely, though).  Sometimes stream of consciousness just washes up the easiest and shallowest thoughtless representations. I can’t help wondering what Neptune Frost (Rwanda / USA, 2021) or Night Raiders (Canada, 2021) might have been like with these resources. And I really hope we decolonize better before we colonize other worlds. The human women of After Blue have not learned enough.

After Blue reminds me of 1970s French science fiction comics and looks like a very faithful adaptation of one that is happy to stay in the 1970s. But you might not have this reaction. You might find more effective and playful satire than I did. Maybe you’re just looking for style and cool ideas for aliens and alien landscapes to wash over you. Like I said, After Blue is well within the tradition of French science fiction--especially bande dessinée science fiction and if you like that, you might like After Blue (Dirty Paradise).


Friday, September 17, 2021

TIFF 2021 ZALAVA: Reflections by Robert Aaron Mitchell


 Arsalan Amiri, Zalava (Iran, 2021)

 Zalava is a small farming village. Nearby is a military outpost. The year is 1978, before the revolution in Iran. All is not well in Zalava.

 

The film opens with a woman hauling a large pack. She walks down cramped village paths. She comes across something. She stops dead in her tracks. She stares ahead with palpable fear. Her nose starts to bleed. Villagers arrive at the military outpost screaming there is a demon in the village. “She’s possessed!” Villagers surround her. Her fear grows. The villagers fear grows. She backs away from the mob and falls down a cliff to her death.

 

After this tragic death a complaint is filed towards the Sergeant of the outpost, Sergeant Massoud. (Navid Pourfaraj) He is blamed for the death of the woman because he ordered all the guns in the village to be confiscated. A young soldier Younes reads the military order that Sergeant will be effectively relieved of duty by the next morning.

 

As the villagers line up to receive their confiscated guns one of the people is Khalaj Zalavaei the father of the woman who fell to her death. Upon receiving his rifle he points the gun at Sergeant Massoud and pulls the trigger. The rifle, empty of bullets clicks. The Sergeant’s last night in command will be a long one. A black cat ominously wanders the military post.

 

The village is once again gripped in throes of fear. Another demon is attacking the village. Massoud and Younes take a jeep and drive up the windy, mountain roads to the village. A couple of dead, mutilated sheep lay on the side of the road. As they arrive villagers are in full panic mode trying to escape and save their livestock.

 

Way back in November 2016 here in America, people, mostly white people, began to wear safety pins as an act of solidarity with visible minorities who were rightfully concerned for their well being as a populist was elected riding a wave of nationalism and xenophobia to the White House. The underlying thought was that a person who was being threatened, say on a city bus, would spot the white person wearing a safety pin and approach knowing that they were with a “safe” person. Needlessly to say, placing the burden on the person who was already in a dangerous situation. In Zalava we also see safety pins being worn by the villagers. The thought is the demons are repelled by metal. Further, to this end we also see many scythes hanging from doorways.

 

A traveling exorcist by the name of Amardan (Pouria Rahimi Sam) - a true highlight of the movie – shows up to assist the village in the removal of the current demon. Amardan removes his shoes and heads up the stone steps to the house with the possessed person armed only with an empty glass pickle jar. If he is successful he will return with the demon successfully trapped inside the jar. If he does not succeed he has given firm instructions that he is to be stabbed below the waist to effectively bleed the demon out which will still keep the village safe.

 

Another character that should be mentioned is Doctor Maliheh. (Hoda Zeinolabedin) She works in the village collecting samples of the villager’s blood and urine to send to a government lab to ensure the villagers overall health but because of the level of anxiety in the village the samples contain far too much adrenaline and are not effective as true samples. Sergeant Mossoud is also quite smitten with her. Another matter to note is although Dr. Maliheh is very much rooted in science and medicine she does still believe that there is a possibility that demons do exist.

 


 

The film is ultimately the test of two wills. Khalija the influential villager who lost his daughter to the demon who wholeheartedly believes in the supernatural influences surrounding Zalava and the will of Massoud who believes that all the demon fears are nothing more than superstition.  Interestingly, Aramand may believe or may only be riding the wave of paranoia to cash in. As was mentioned earlier Dr. Maliheh is a person of science and still retains some belief that the demons could be real.

There are some wonderful standout scenes with Dr. Maliheh and Sergeant Massoud as well as Massoud and Amaradan debating if he is actually an exorcist or just a con artist. There is also some horror troupes of a black cat, creaky doors and shadows on the wall. One of the best scenes involves the black cat and the pickle jar. 

I consider this one of the best films I have seen this the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival because as a  demonic possession, exorcist film it is playing off the genre convention that the audience will dismiss the reality of the demon until the big third act fantastical reveal of the demon. We didn’t believe, but we knew it all along. Zalava wonderfully subverts expectations. The demons of fear and superstition were visible the entire time. We are watching a community give into fear and superstition. 

For me one of the great scenes of the movie is when the mob riding on delirious fear begin arguing amongst themselves on how they should proceed, contradicting the many long held steps to demon exorcism and removal. 

One other thing I want to mention, is the entry point into the story is definitely through horror conventions however the film is also very much a love story.

The film takes place in a per-revolutionary Iran but parallels a lot of what I am seeing in the world right now with an invisible virus. People are eschewing science and medical fact to chase disbelief and unproven medical cures. Of which the end result is many times, very scary, tragic and deadly results. 

 


 

TIFF 2021 ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT?: Reflections by Carol Borden


 By Carol Borden

Wen Shipei’s Are You Lonesome Tonight? / Re Dai Wang Shi (or, “Tropical Memories”) (China, 2021) is a remarkably assured first feature film that’s more like a traditional noir than many of the new wave of neo-noirs coming out of China right now--Diao Yinan’s The Wild Goose Lake (2019) or Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018), for example.

Late one night, HVAC repairman Wang Xueming (Eddie Peng) encounters a recalcitrant ox in the road. Unable to pass, he takes another road and hits a pedestrian. And then, as happens in noir, Wang makes a decision that leads to a chain reaction of events. He disposes of the pedestrian’s body. It’s 1997 Guangzhou and there are no surveillance cameras. Wang doesn’t have a cellphone. No one will know and it’s easy to move on late at night when there’s no way to call an ambulance without waking people up and confessing.

Later, Wang recognizes Mr. Liang, the man he hit, from a missing persons poster and then encounters Mrs. Liang (the legendary actor and director Sylvia Chang) as she is distributing the posters. He decides he will confess to her. Meanwhile, Wang learns more and more about Mr. Liang. And it leads him somewhere dangerous even as he can’t help getting more involved in Mr. Liang’s secrets and Mrs. Liang’s life. 


Eddie Peng embodies Wang’s guilt and fear well. He’s tense, silent and curled in on himself. There’s something in him he wants to say, but he just can’t bring himself to. It comes out in sweat, anxiety and cigarette smoke. There’s a great scene where Wang reveals his antihero ambivalence by berating a kid for smoking while stealing the kid’s cigarettes and lighter. Sylvia Chang is perfect as Mrs. Liang, a woman who is not a femme fatale but not exactly a model widow. She’s poised but she cannot cry. She doesn’t miss her husband, but she’s haunted by her past as a wife and mother. And the film occasionally shows us glimpses of her ghosts as she attempts to adjust to life on her own.

Are You Lonesome Tonight? has the lovely use of color I associate with Chinese neo-noir--influenced by the Taiwanese New Wave, Hong Kong films and, I assume, Jia Zhangke, who has his own neo-noir-ish film now, Ash Is Purest White (2018). Are You Lonesome Tonight? also plays with flashbacks, as when Mrs. Liang is haunted by memories of her husband and son or when the film alternates between Wang in 2005 and Wang in 1997. It has a very neat use of a flashlight for spotlighting actors engaged in specific actions during a confrontation on the street. And it has a dance studio sequence, which is another thing I’m starting to associate with mainland Chinese neo-noir.



But there’s also some explicit Freud, who always likes to show up in classic noir.. And composer Hank Lee dissonant strings simultaneously reminiscent of something like Kronos Quartet, classic noir and Bernard Herrmann. And there’s classic noir in the revelation of Mr. Liang’s other life, Wang’s efforts to make good for Mrs. Liang, and especially the arrival of sympathetic police lieutenant Chen (Wang Yanhui) midway through the film. Chen is there to get to the truth, solve Mr. Liang’s murder and catch the killer or killers. Chen is there to try to make sure that crime doesn’t pay. He’s not corrupt. He’s not cruel. He is a cinematic cop reminiscent of Hayes Code era straightforward police. And so it’s clear, in calling Are You Lonesome Tonight a more conventional noir, I am not saying it’s bad. Sometimes you want a more straightforward noir shot in shadows and neon color. Sometimes it’s nice when a police lieutenant solving a murder isn’t corrupt, the “femme fatale” makes out okay and someone sings a torch song.

Just in your own life never take the bag of money. Leave that alone.

TIFF 2021 YUNI: Reflections by Robert Aaron Mitchell

Yuni is the third feature film by director Kamila Andini and marks her return to the Toronto International Film Festival. Kamila has the distinction of the first filmmaker to be presented twice in tiff’s Platform competition programme.

The film follows the title character Yuni (Arawinda Kirana), a typical teenager. She goes to school. She fixates on a cute teacher. She hangs out with friends and scrolls Instagram. The world she navigates is rooted in religious customs and tradition. People try and blackmail kids that they are engaging in sexual activities. At school Yuni wears a hijab. On her own she dresses in contemporary, vibrant clothing. At home –nearing the age of seventeen – several suitors are courting Yuni’s grandmother to arrange a marriage with the teenager. Left to her own devices Yuni goes on adventures of self-discovery.

 


 

At school it is announced that far too many teenage girls are becoming pregnant and that mandatory virginity tests will be implemented. The Islamic Club is now in charge of school activities now. Everyone must conform to Islamic teachings. There will be no more music bands.

Yuni has an obsession for the color purple, so much so, that she constantly steals purple items from other students, a water bottle, a food container. It does not matter what the item is as along as it is purple. This lands her Mrs. Lilis’ guidance councilors office. Mrs Lilis recognizes that Yuni is someone trying to forge their own path and instead of punishing the teenager, the councilor encourages Yuni to work towards going to college. In order for this to happen Yuni will have to be accepted in a special admissions program. She has to graduate third or higher in her class, have achievements in the humanities, sports or other activities and she must not be married.

As the pressure mounts for Yuni to get the highest grade possible she meets a boy Yoga (Kevin Ardillova). He is smitten with her and begins to write poetry for her assignments in Mr. Damar’s class, the teacher Yuni has a crush on.


 

Some of the great scenarios in the movie is when Yuni is dealing with the predatory practice of arranged marriages. She confronts would be suitors herself. Interestingly, the suitors meet with Yuni’s grandmother as Yuni’s parents are currently out of town. Upon meeting Yuni’s mother we can see why. Her mother is extremely supportive of Yuni telling her, “Whatever makes you happy I will support it.” As paths and avenues close around her she continues undeterred to be her own person and follow her dreams. 


 

Arawinda Kirana brings a phenomenal performance as the title character. The entire film rests on her shoulders and she carries the weight exceptionally well. The emotions and the strength necessary for Yuni to seek her own life on her terms and survive the society around her is very relatable. The cinematography by Teoh Gay Hian reinforces the traditional Indonesian society as well as the vibrant colors that inhabit the world that Yuni is trying to create for herself.

Yuni is ultimately a beautiful poem of a young woman navigating the expectations of religion and a traditional society to forge her own path. 


 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

TIFF 2021 SALOUM: Jean Luc Herbulot Director Statement & Festival Poster

 


Get ready for SALOUM

Here is what writer and director Jean Luc Herbulot has to say about the movie, "I have always admired Sergio Leone’s Westerns, Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai films, Jean Pierre Melville’s Noirs, George Miller’s post-apocalyptic action, and the Kim Jee-woon’s and the Park Chan-wook’s of the filmic world - all strong ambassadors of a genre but also acontinent or a country. I believe you can survey an entire country’s identity and mood by its best genre films and filmmakers.I want SALOUM to feel real, hard, raw and darkly poetic in its own original way. 

A film that stands as purely African and that also speaks unconditionally about universal truths, and is also respectful of the Sine Saloum area’s ancestral stories. The time has come for Katiopa (Africa in our indigenous language) to bring its heroes and myths into the modern mix. Growing up in Congo and witnessing the lack of African heroes as a child, it was my imagination of a bigger world that brought me to filmmaking. The creation of SALOUM is part of a bigger universe - a universe I based on reality and military and political history that I later tainted with a layer of adventure and horror. 

SALOUM was created in collaboration with my creative partner, Pamela Diop. We went on a creative brainstorm weekend trip to the mystical and isolated region of Saloum, where Pamela has a deep and spiritual family history. It was here that the initial seeds of the story took shape. We wanted to capture the atmosphere of the region, the mysticism that lives in the air, and were also inspired to tell a story of strong characters on a tale of revenge. And then we decided to bring some heroes in... some colorful ones may I say. That’s how the Hyenas were born. That’s how Chaka was born. SALOUM is not a hero movie, but a movie about heroes. Heroes that we have not seen before. I love movies, I breathe movies, and SALOUM is my love letter to Africa and to cinema."

TIFF 2021 AFTER BLUE (Dirty Paradise): Reflections by Robert Aaron Mitchell

 

If cinema is a dream like state than Bertrand Mandico's latest film After Blue (Dirty Paradise) is pure uncut cinema. 

Bertrand created the Incoherence Manifesto in 2012 with fellow filmmaker Katrin Olafsdotir. Bertrand states, "To be incoherent means to have faith in cinema, it means to have a romantic approach, unformatted, free, disturbed and dreamlike, cinegenic, an epic narration." 

A voice says "You are no longer on your planet. You are in space."  Hues of red and blue wash over us. "The Earth was sick so we had to look elsewhere." Rules were set once After Blue was discovered. Rules to avoid the same errors of Earth. No machines, no wavelengths, no chemistry. Living in micro-communities, based on nationality. Laws were set to cut the bad weeds. When evil appears, it's roots are cut. There are no men on After Blue. Once the planet was colonized, they all died early on. The hair of the men grew inside because of the atmosphere. The population of After Blue continues when women are inseminated with good Earth sperm.

We meet a woman by the name of Roxy (Paula Luna). The village girls have named her Toxic. On a beach Roxy and three other women run around. They find a head submerged in the sandy beach.  They examine it and refer to it as an octo-whore. Soon the three women get tired of this find and strip naked and run out to the water to swim. The head begins to plead for Roxy to unearth it. "If you help me. I will grant you hidden desires. Three desires." The apple as a genie. Roxy frees the woman. Paradise might have been found but paradise still requires guns. As it is, the newly freed woman takes one of the guns stuck in the sand and shoots the three women who are still swimming. Setting off an epic narration of events. 

 


 

The woman Roxy has freed reveals that her name is Kate Bush. She is recognizable because she is tall, has a hairy arm, a tattoo and an eye between her legs. Kate has already granted Roxy her first wish by eliminating her friends.

The village arrives at Roxy's mother's Zona (Elina Löwensohn) salon to demand Roxy and her go out and find and kill Kate Bush. To further reinforce this demand the Gucci rifle they are handed to accomplish this has a blue glowing inscription YOU WILL KILL KATE BUSH.  

Slightly off topic but interesting, director Bertrand Mandico and Elina Löwensohn have began a project entitled "20+1 Projections" The project involves the pair making twenty-one short films in twenty-one years. The themes of aging and desire will run throughout these films. 

When the current Pandemic began to take hold in March and April of 2020 I was personally drawn to post-apocalyptic cinema. Not the drab color palette Mad Max kind of cinema though, the Italians making films in 1970s New York City kind of cinema. The Enzo G. Castellari kind of cinema. The explosion of color and ridiculous leather vest as armor cinema. 1990 Bronx Warriors, The New Barbarians. There is something comforting that during the end times people have great hair and rock regalia that is more fashion esthetic than pure defense. As the pandemic continues, it also comforts me the people crafting films right now, in the Almost End of Blue, are also exploring colorful post-apocalyptic landscapes.


 

After Blue is the direct descendant of Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo. After Blue is the child of David Pelham's 1970s sci-fi, paperback covers. It is also to say Bertrand Mandico's film is midnight madness.  The cinematography of Pascale Granel is exquisite as is the score by Pierre Desprats. 

Clearly with a film of this ambition and weirdness, you are either going to be on board with this trip or you will not be.

On a final note, surprisingly or perhaps not, the world of After Blue looks eerily similar to wandering a cattle ranch in South Texas after eating things that sprout up from the Earth.

TIFF 2021 ZALAVA: Reflections By Carol Borden

By Carol Borden 


 In Arsalan Amiri’s Zalava (Iran, 2021) there is certainly a demon among the people. They are scared and capable of anything. But is that demon their own fear or is there something else cursing them?

The film is set in 1978 in Zalava, Kurdistan, a village settled by Romani one hundred years ago. The village itself is beset by djinn that can only be controlled either by capturing the djinn in a jar or bottle or by wounding a possessed person below the waist. The people of Zalavi prefer to shoot someone in the leg as it has a higher chance of survival but they also will stab or cut a person below the waist so that they “blood spurts.” This prevents the demon from possessing others. As the film opens, a young woman has been declared possessed and the villagers have summoned Sgt. Massoud Amhadi (Navid Pourfaraj) to do something about it. Massoud confiscates the villager’s rifles to prevent them from hurting the girl. He tells them, “She’s better possessed than having you mutilate her.” But after Massoud, his sidekick / underling Younes (Baset Rezaei) and the rest of the local gendarmerie return to their station outside Zalava, the girl’s father draws his knife to do what he believes must be done. Unfortunately, as she backs away from him, she falls to her death.

 

The local people complain to the government, blaming Massoud for her death and his illegal confiscation of their rifles. Massoud receives orders to step down and return the rifles. The day before he is to retire, he dons a very 1978 suit, goes to sign papers and turn in his badge. But the villagers return to the station demanding that he do something about the demons attacking Zalava. Instead of telling the new commander it’s his problem now, Massoud dons his uniform and returns to Zalava to discover metal implements hung in front of doors and strung across alleys to scare the demons away. Everyone is terrified. Some appear to be convulsing. And the center of the activity is a house people are certain now contains a demon. They have called a ritual specialist, Amardan (Pouria Rahimi Sam) to exorcise the demon. Amardan tells the assembled villagers to bring their rifles and all the musicians. The musicians come, but no one will bring a rifle because they believe Massoud will seize them again. Amardan tells Massoud to shoot him in the leg if he comes out empty handed. Then he asks someone to stab him in the leg if Massoud is too afraid to shoot. Amardan comes out of the house carrying a clear jar that he claims contains a djinn. The musicians play. Everyone dances. Massoud is extremely skeptical. And now the real suspense begins. 

 Like a lot of folk horror, Zalava relies on the fear of what people are capable of based on their beliefs and what might be happening that’s rooted in things from long ago that urban and urbanized people might no longer understand. But Zalava also reminds me of Val Lewton’s psychological horror movies at RKO in the 1940s. Though there is a lot of successful suspense built around it in the film, it doesn’t really matter if there is a demon in that jar. The demon’s presence or absence is less important than the destructive power that people themselves are capable of. It’s hard to see how one djinn is really worse than a village of people willing to shoot, stab and even kill each other in their fear that something secret is wrong with someone among them. And the accused we see before they are shot, stabbed or driven off the edge of a building don’t seem much different than anyone else. Though while embodied djinn seem initially innocuous, we do hear that Amardan can send disembodied djinn to do things like pee in dams. While watching Zalava, I couldn’t help thinking about Emir Ezwan’s Roh / Soul (Malaysia, 2019), another film with another demon setting people against each other. But as that demons says, “All we do is whisper.” In Zalava, our fear and panic is far more destructive than any demon could be by itself. 

 


I assume there are social and political implications that aren’t immediately apparent to me in setting the film before the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979, but I do appreciate setting it in that time for other reasons. Massoud’s suit and the film’s color palette certainly reflects that era in film. There are some beautiful shots of Massoud’s tan jeep driving through arid, rocky mountains. I didn’t mention Dr. Maliheh (Hoda Zeinolabedin) in my synopsis, but she is integral to the film and she has fantastic chemistry with Navid Pourfaraj’s Massoud. Pourfaraj is another actor who conveys so much with his eyes alone. 

I also appreciate director Arsalan Amiri’s point in his introduction that this kind of panic can happen anywhere anytime. It’s not specific to this place. At the same time, I am not entirely comfortable in setting it among an ethnic minority, Kurdish Romani, even as I know that having some kind of other who is simultaneously outside society and involved in secret and perhaps dangerous supernatural activity is a common story the world over. I don’t know enough history about the area or of Iranian film to say more about whether the people of Zalava are even read as Kurdish or Romani. All that aside, Zalava is an excellent film. And we are wise to remember that, yes, these panics can happen anywhere and we should watch out for them not just in others, but in ourselves because they always feel righteous. 

And if you are concerned about the kitten or the rabbit, they don’t die.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

TIFF 2021 I'M YOUR MAN Ich bin dein Mensch: Reflections By Carol Borden

By Carol Borden

Maria Schrader I’m Your Man / Ich bin dein Mensch (Germany, 2021)

Sure, there are a lot of movies about people falling in love with androids, robots and AI, but a lot of them are about the risks and even dangers of men falling in love with robots. In Ex Machina (2014), Her (2013), and Godzilla vs Monster Zero (1965 / 1970), for example, men have learned what it is to feel a love beyond computation. And there is even The Companion (1993), in which a woman falls in love and experiences the perils of a smitten Bruce Greenwood android with full autonomy. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not room in my heart for one more.

Unlike Her, Ex Machina, The Companion and Godzilla vs Monster Zero, Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man / Ich bin dein Mensch (Germany, 2021) is mostly a romantic comedy. It just has some additional existential drama. Schrader is also an actor. You might know her from Aimeé & Jaguar (1999) or Nobody Loves Me / Keiner leibt mich (1994), but she has moved into directing and I am happy she has.

Dr. Alma Falsar (Marren Eggert) is working on breakthrough research she is about to publish on previously undiscovered poetry in cuneiform tablets at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. The museum’s administration has offered her additional funding if she’ll participate in an experiment. She’s to spend three weeks with an android designed to be her perfect partner* and then write an evaluation that will help determine whether or not robots should be allowed to marry and have other rights in society. Of course, this funding is a “thank you gift” and not a bribe.

Alma meets Tom (Dan Stevens) at a special club designed to show off the romantic possibilities of androids--and even holograms. Tom attempts to woo her with compliments and the rhumba, but it’s not really Alma’s thing and she seems more interested in him as a robot than a potential partner. She does, however, take Tom home and set him up with his own room. And so the experiment begins.

In another film, Tom might rampage or we might discover he is more “human” than human. Another film might let Tom be hit by a streetcar for maximum pathos or to resolve the central conflicts it has set up about what it means to be happy and what it means to have a perfectly compatible partner who only wants to make you happy and give you everything you want. Another film might echo the warnings of earlier science fiction that the robots will trick us by being perfect servants and then take over. (Shades of Benito Cereno). I’m Your Man / Ich bin dein Mensch does not. But it does provide the possibility of Alma navigating her principles and concerns while also, perhaps, allowing herself to love and be loved. And I appreciate that it navigates issues of consent well--not only Alma’s but Tom’s ability to consent.

The above might make it sound like the film is not funny, but I have to say that Dan Steven’s Tom was hilarious to me. His reactions, his romantic poses, his delivery and his too much intense eye contact and initial overuse of Alma’s name were all on point. Marren Eggert’s responses to Tom are similarly hilarious. Her bewilderment, her incredulity, her absolute bafflement and exasperation at times were delightful And I enjoyed how Tom and Alma would watch each other in different ways. The film has a lovely and quiet use of the gaze. And Marren Eggert is fantastic as Alma moves towards a vulnerability that she does not want to feel and that makes her feel more alone. But Alma’s integrity and her commitment to her work and living as she thinks she should are not compromised. They are just complicated by not just her growing feelings for Tom, but by her curiosity about him. I’m Your Man is another favorite at this year’s festival and I’d gladly watch it again.

(Incidentally the Bleecker Street trailer translates Alma saying “This is the penis of my dreams” as “This is the man of my dreams.” You know better, Bleecker Street).

*A Mechanized Organism Designed Only For Marriage. I want to be more sorry about this joke than I am.

TIFF 2021 YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER: Reflections by Carol Borden

By Carol Borden 

Kate Dolan’s You Are Not My Mother (Ireland, 2021) has it all: Irish folk horror! Fraught family dinners! Teen girl drama! Possible Lesbianism! Ostracism! Halloween/Samhain! These are things that I normally have a lot to say about, but I have to restrain myself and wait. So let’s get to some thoughts I can share now without revealing too much.

The film opens with a baby in a baby stroller on a street a night. An old woman with a limp takes the baby away and seems to put it in a ring of fire. We watch the woman’s face as it cries. And then teenager Char Delaney (Hazel Doupe) wakes up. She lives with her mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken), and grandmother (Ingrid Craige). Angela suffers from depression. This morning, Char asks her mother to drive her to school and Angela manages to get herself out of bed and into the car, but struggles mightily when Angela asks her to go to the shops and get some food for the house after dropping her off. After a near accident with a folk horror element leaves them sitting in the car in the village green, Angela tells Char, “I can’t do this anymore.” Frustrated with her mom’s inability to, well, mom, Char leaves the car and walks the short distance to school alone. And then Angela disappears.

Char and her Uncle Aaron (Paul Reid) are worried, though Aaron tries to reassure Char. But Char’s grandmother is certain that Angela will return. And Angela does late that night, but something’s not right. It’s just hard to say what. Is it her new meds? Is it manic-depression? Is it something else? She’s manic and dancing and not careful with her own body or others. Char’s grandmother is also acting suspicious. She watches Angela and interferes with Angela’s attempts to repair her relationship with Char. And Char is alone. Her family is ostracized by the community. Her schoolmates at her local Catholic school (*cough* “Brigid” *cough*) bully her. It seems they always have abused her. This time it’s ostensibly because they worry that she’ll rat them out as they plan a bonfire for Halloween / Samhain. Except for Suzanne (Jordanne Jones) who bullies Char, but also seems kind of into her.  And what’s up with this impending school field trip to a site with pre-Christian stone carvings?  

The film has a suitable moody, Gothic look at night. In the daytime, the cinematography and blocking emphasizes Char’s isolation, especially in the lighting of her school. And the soundtrack by Die Hexen (aka, “The Witches” in German) helps maintain the mood without being obtrusive. All the performances are excellent, but I want to single out Hazel Doupe and Carolyn Bracken. As Char, Doupe does a tremendous amount of work with just her eyes, which always impresses me, as she tries in the beginning to maintain a front that everything is fine and later maintain an appearance of calm to avoid setting off cruel classmates, her family and ultimately her mother. Bracken does a remarkable job as Angela swings from bone-crushing guilt, weariness and love to manic joy to confusion at Char’s fear and, in the end, to a monstrous love.

You Are Not My Mother is one of my favorite movies of the festival this year and I am excited to write more about it in more depth after it has been more widely released.

TIFF 2021 UNCLENCHING THE FISTS: Reflections by Robert Aaron Mitchell


 

Kira Kovalenko Unclenching The Fists (Russia, 2021)

The film opens with a close up of a young woman. She stands against a wall. A sweater is pulled up covering most of her face. Her eyes are piercing towards something out of frame. “Ada!” “Ada!” “Adadza!” 

A young man approaches. He is adamant for Ada to get in his van. She refuses. It is quite an uneasy feeling not knowing this man’s intentions. Another young man shows up and chases the first away and runs up the side of the busy highway acting as though he will fight the other boy who has long driven off.

Unclenching The Fists is the second film by Kira Kovalenko. The story is set small mining town of Mizur, which sits high, in the mountains of North Ossetia between steep cliffs. The way the mountains frame the tiny town it is difficult to see beyond this tiny community. The mountains have a harsh, stultifying beauty. 

 

 

This is Ada’s story who is played by Milana Aguzarova. Adadza lives at home with her father Zaur (Alik Karaev) and brother Dakko (Khetag Bibilov). At the dinner table that night Zaur smells perfume and is adamant that Ada has worn it for somebody. She is also adamant that she just wanted to wear it. There is an unease and tension that runs through this family. Later that night Dakko invades Ada’s room and crawls into bed with her. He grasps her and refuses to let go. We are never quite sure of the well being of Ada. 

The next day Ada is at her job in a tiny store. The young man from the beginning the film Tamik (Arsen Khetagurov) shows up. Once again is adamant that Ada joins him. Once again we do not know his intentions. Tamik steals her purse. Ada gets in the van. They drive around. Bored kids throw fireworks against the side of a building. They arrive in an abandoned area and Tamik proceeds to spin the van around in circles. Ada in the back of the van is jostled around. She laughs. Tamik takes her home.

 

 


Dinner is being prepared and another man is in the apartment. He has cauliflower ears, that of a boxer. This is Ada’s other brother Akim (Soslan Khugaev). With Akim’s return home for a visit the usual tension of the family is even higher. We learn that the father is dying and get our first indication of what has happened to Ada. A massive tragedy has happened and it has impacted the bonds of this family.

The entire film hinges on the performance of  Milana Aguzarova as Adadza. As director Kira Kovalenko said during her video introduction the film, the actors in the movie are non-actors. The depth that Milana brings to her role is incredible. You can see it in her eyes in the photographs that accompany this piece. 

The men in Ada’s life care for her very much, of this there are no doubt. That being said their embraces are long and awkward. They could not protect her once before. It is as if they let go they will lose her. The decisions the father makes concerning Ada, see her trying to pull away from. The father is getting sicker and returns an item back to Ada of which she can go forth with her life. He has relinquished his hold on her. 

If there is a running theme of world cinema this year, that runs through films I have seen, than perhaps it is this, how does one cope with the heavy weight of tragedy and continue to live life. Which is at the core, a fundamental human dilemma. Ultimately the film poses the question, which is more important, security or freedom? We constantly ask this question individually and as a society. Ada now has the freedom to make this choice for herself. On the back a motorcycle speeding out of town she makes it. We may not agree with her decision but that is not our choice to make. Ada was finally given the opportunity to make hers and she answers that question for herself. 

 


 

TIFF 2021 THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN: Reflections by Carol Borden

 

By Carol Borden 

Will Sharpe The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain (UK, 2021)
 

Among other things, Louis Wain was an artist whose work spanned the1880s through the 1920s. In his lifetime, Louis Wain was most renowned for his drawings of cats--especially his charming and often satirical drawings of cats doing human things. (You can see a brief clip of Wain drawing a cat in a 1921 British Pathé short on YouTube). Wain began working for illustrated papers in London, depicting mostly animals at country fairs and, well, wherever other animals might appear in the news. He was the eldest of six siblings and the only male child. When his father passed away, Wain became responsible for supporting his mother and sisters. He was not suited for this task. He was eccentric and, according to the film, experienced delusions and hallucinations that became progressively more intrusive as he got older. For his part, Benedict Cumberbatch seems to have chosen to play Wain as being on the autism spectrum. Regardless of its source, the way Wain experienced and interacted with the world led to a remarkable output of art that he could not, unfortunately, benefit from because it did not occur to him to copyright it.

The Electrical Life of Lous Wain begins just as Louis is doing reasonably well but realizes he might need to bring in a more steady income after his sister Caroline (Andrea Riseborough)  hires Miss Emily Richardson (Claire Foy) as a governess for his youngest sisters. Louis is unhappy at first because the necessity of taking a steady position as a staff illustrator at Sir William Ingram’s (Toby Jones) paper interferes with his ability to pursue his other interests, especially his electrical research. But Louis resigns himself to her presence. Ultimately, he falls in love and marries Emily. Emily and Louis take in a cat, Peter. And thus Louis begins drawing cats.

The film uses a variety of charming visual techniques to draw us into Wain’s life and world. It focuses on his art and his particular method of drawing and painting. I particularly like a scene where the camera looks through a design Cumberbatch paints on glass.

I also enjoyed the segments with subtitled cats and the presence of so many amazing cats in the film. The scenes that morphed into stills recalling hand-painted photographs were a nice touch, too. I loved the design--all the prints and colors in the costuming and especially on the walls of Wain’s rooms. Taika Waiti has a nice cameo where his American accent makes him sound like Alan Cumming, at least to me. I feel like these visual elements were the strongest part of the film. The title cards at the end of the film were delightful and it’s too bad that they were not the title cards at the beginning of the film. I assume they were intended to be, but there were notes.

I wish The Electrical Life of Louis Wain had about 15% more whimsy. Just leaned into Wain’s world a little more. This could be a side effect of just having watched Neptune Frost which went hard for what it was going for. Neptune Frost does not give a fuck about what cinema is supposed to be. It’s got its business to take care of. And so my critical faculties might be distorted. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is tremendously whimsical for a more mainstream film. And I recognize the dangers of whimsy in film. I don’t think you’d want to go full Wes Anderson or Tim Burton with a film about Louis Wain, or at least with this particular screenplay about Louis Wain. Although I can see a pretty good Wain film from either filmmaker. In fact this might make an interesting pairing with Burton’s Big Eyes (2014).

But this is a biopic very much interested in letting us know about the life of Louis Wain, actual human being who had a rough time, rather than Louis Wain, eccentric character. It’s a hard balance because I can see what Sharpe finds so inspiring about Wain and his desire for the audience to feel inspired at the same time that I feel so sad for Louis Wain, a man who could not fulfill the expectations of his time, who felt a profound calling to make the world a better place,  and who experienced mental illness in terrible conditions.





Tuesday, September 14, 2021

TIFF 2021 SALOUM Clip #1 “Malembe”

 Hey check out this first clip the filmmakers of Saloum have just released prior to the film premiering at Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival.

SALOUM Clip #1 - "Malembe" from LACME STUDIOS on Vimeo.

TIFF 2021 YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER: Reflections by Robert Aaron Mitchell


 

The film opens with a baby stroller abandoned at the end of a dead-end street. An out of focus woman limps towards the stroller and begins pushing it. The old woman is now with the baby in the middle of the woods. A spell book is seen. The woman begins a fire. A ring of fire surrounds the baby. The baby wails. The fire gets higher. Embers fly off into the night sky. So begins writer/director Kate Dolan’s You Are Not My Mother.

 

It is now years later. The film opens days before Samhain (Halloween). We meet Char (Hazel Doupe) a teenager who is an exceptional student who also deals with being an outcast. She is late for school and asks her Grandmother (Ingrid Craigie) for a drive. Gran cannot because of her bad foot. Char is instructed to ask her mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken). Gently opening the door to a darkened room, Char’s mom is barely awake. She agrees to drive Char to school. Char simple asks her mom to pick up some items from the store such as bread and milk. As the drive continues, things to not go well and Char has to grab the steering wheel to narrowly avoid an accident. Angela ominously says, “I can’t do this anymore.” Char makes it to school and upon retuning home finds the family car abandoned. The groceries she asked her mom to pick up are sitting in the passenger seat now several hours later. Angela has gone missing. Char takes a favorite photo of her and her mom to wander through the neighborhood to try and locate Angela.

 

Char’s family home and in particular her mother Angela is one that the rest of the neighborhood avoids and whispers about. Strange bad omens envelop this house. Kids are forbidden to hangout with Char. It also seems everyone knows or believes that they know what happens inside. Char carries the weight of being an outcast everywhere she goes. To further this she has a recognizable scar. Even when she leaves home to look for her mother holding the treasured photo of the two of them together danger waits in a back alley when a bunch of her classmates loiter around and spot Char. They encircle and confront her. Taking the treasured photo as hostage as they lay a stupid teenage demand upon Char in order to have the photograph returned.

 

A scene I was particularly drawn to was a family dinner. Char, Angela, Gran and Char’s Uncle Aaron sit around the table. Moments earlier Angela was doing well. In a grand mood, as she prepares dinner and dancing. Gran comes into the kitchen and knocks over the prepared food, thus sabotaging dinner. The Uncle not expecting a prepared meal has brought home take out. As the four family members sit around the table the weight of this family takes hold. The silences become heavier. What is said is challenged. The looks between Grandmother and mother ratchet up the tension. We the silent audience begins to make many assumptions. Throughout the story both Gran and mom both display instances of protecting Char and scaring her.

 

You Are Not Mother is very much steeped in Irish folklore. The film is anchored by the performances of Carolyn Bracken, Hazel Doupe and Ingrid Craigie. Kate Dolan guides this story with a steady directorial hand with empathy and understanding of Char’s predicament to be caught in the middle of her grandmother and mother as family history plays out or perhaps something more sinister that has happened many years before. Sometimes the horror of growing up is not knowing your place in the world and not trusting those that are entrusted to ensure your well being.

TIFF 2021 INEXORABLE: Reflections by Carol Borden


 By Carol Borden

Fabrice Du Welz’ Inexorable (Belgium / France, 2021) is part of a long tradition of films wherein an unbalanced woman insinuates herself into a man’s life and and destroys it. Except she is almost always invited and the gentleman almost always makes everything worse. In Inexorable, that man is Marcel Bellmer played by Benoît Poelvoorde (Man Bites Dog (1992)). Marcel is struggling with writer’s block after the astronomical success of his novel, Inexorable. His father-in-law recently passed away leaving an actual manor house with grounds to Marcel and Marcel’s wife Jeanne (Mélanie Doutey), who is also Marcel’s publisher. Presumably, Marcel is also not entirely confident of his ability to succeed on his own. At Jeanne’s insistence, Marcel works in his father-in-law’s home office and is not comfortable with the arrangement, but the psychology of that part of Marcel’s life is largely overshadowed by other, emergent problems. Except for a nice riff in which he is seduced by a passage from his own work. (Or is it?!) Because with this kind of films, the psychology in the psychological thriller is mostly there to justify the particular elements used in presenting the story of an invited interloping woman destroying a successful man’s life. In this case, Gloria (Alba Gaïa Bellugi) is that woman. Returning to the village where she grew up, coincidentally the very village the Bellmers own an estate in, Gloria finds the Bellmer’s dog Ulysse sitting at the end of their long driveway and brings him home to Jeanne, Paola (Anaël Snoek) their nanny/servant and the Bellmer’s distraught daughter Lucie, who have been calling for Ulysse. Jeanne invites Gloria in and then, sympathetic to Gloria’s situation, invited Gloria to stay.

This is when the classic game of cat (lady who just wants love in wrong, wrong ways and possibly vengeance) and mouse but also cat (upper middle class man desperate to cover up whatever it is he did) begins. It is a classic story and I appreciate how Du Welz (Alléluia (2014) and Message from the King (2016)) and his co-screenwriters Aurélien Molas and Joséphine Darcy-Hopkins handle this iteration. It reminds me not only of 1990s American thrillers, but also a bit of both The Housemaid, though it lacks The Housemaid’s humor, and of Parasite, though Inexorable is not as focused on class. What it is focused on is Gloria’s trap and Gloria’s utter commitment to her cause.


Inexorable also does a good job of making Jeanne and Marcel not immediately awful. Some movies with the crazy lady destroying a family will lean too hard on presenting the wife as nagging, cold or sexually unavailable in order to make the ensnared husband more sympathetic. Inexorable doesn’t. And Marcel, though a novelist struggling with writer’s block who might feel angry and emasculated in another story, is generally not terrible on his surface. You can see that story in Marcel if you want. There is evidence in the film between his father-in-law’s office and his trouble maintaining an erection at one point after Jean francophonily tells him that she loves that he smells of cigarettes. He struggles with his new book and drinks something that looks like J&B, but I do no believe it is. But Marcel tries to do the right thing at first. He sees Gloria as someone to talk to about his books. And he tells Gloria about his thoughts about writing about two Belgian fascists (“Rexists”), on of whom dies for love. But of course, these movies are about stripping away the surface and Gloria is willing to tear the surface away with her teeth if necessary. She’s willing to sacrifice a roast chicken. This woman is capable of anything. And Marcel, well, he could tell the truth but he ends up framing a dog, which wins Marcel no friends. 

 

If you are in the mood for a thriller where men are in perilous positions cinematic women are usually in--and don’t realize their peril until too late--Inexorable is a good one. It’s nicely shot and well-acted. Alba Gaïa Bellugi brings a remarkable desperate intensity to Gloria and handles her tonal shifts well. If the manor isn’t quite a character in the film, it certainly makes for a nice background to the events and a reasonable contrast the village and the hotel where Gloria starts her scheme. And Lucie has an excellent birthday performance. If only the Park’s child had a similar one perhaps tragedy could have been averted in Parasite. As for Ulysse the dog, I can’t say for sure that he survives, but I am going to assume everyone realizes he’s a good boy who has been framed.



TIFF 2021 TO KILL THE BEAST: Reflections by Carol Borden

 By Carol Borden

 

Director Agustina San Martín describes To Kill The Beast / Matar a la Bestia (Argentina / Brazil / Chile, 2021) as like an “exorcism” in her introduction to the film at TIFF. I have thoughts on what the film or its main character, Emilia (Tamara Rocca) might be exorcising, but those are thoughts probably best shared after a general release. 17-year-old Emilia has traveled from Buenos Aires to a town on the border of Argentina and Brazil in search of her brother, Mateo. She seems ambivalent about him, describing him as a violent man, at one point, but still she is angry at him for not calling her back and in the phone calls she leaves we see her desire to connect with him. We don’t know much about the cause of their estrangement or the reason for her desire to find Mateo. As in life, we are not presented with a backstory--just what we can piece together. Emilia stays at her Aunt Ines’ (Ana Brun) boarding house where there is no connectivity and even the phone cord has been cut. Aunt Ines’ boarding house is contemporary, but also very Gothic. It contains secrets and resentments. The film itself is contemporary, but also very Gothic. It opens on a misty blue moonlit landscape reminiscent of Gothic book covers. And there is at least one diaphanous robe and nightgown. 

 


No one will help Emilia find her brother. Mostly people don’t even answer her questions. They stare. The townsfolk are pre-occupied by a beast that might be the spirit of a bad man that has come out of the forest. It does “the worst” things to women. The townsfolk seem most concerned about the stretch of forest behind Ines’ house and Ines drives them off with all the aplomb of Betty Davis or Lillian Gish with a shotgun. Emilia herself continues to search for her brother, but she’s distracted, too. Though maybe distracted is the wrong word. She has more in her life than Mateo and she’s interested in several of the other teen girls in town, especially Julieth (Julieth Micotta) who also comes to stay in the boarding house--conveniently in the room next to Emilia’s. 

To Kill The Beast is an evocative film with beautifully shot cramped interiors and expansive exteriors. And in an era when so much film is plotted down to the minute, I appreciate its looseness and its trust in the audience to take a moment and let ambiguity sit with us.


(Just so you know: The dog does not die).