Goodbye, TIFF 2021!
On this episode of Why Watch That:
Featuring reviews of the following films at 2021’s Toronto International Film Festival:
Tim Roth stars in writer-director Michel Franco’s chilling drama about a wealthy Briton attempting to abandon his life while vacationing in Acapulco.
From the outside, it would appear that Neil Bennett (Tim Roth, also at the Festival with Bergman Island), a wealthy Briton vacationing with loved ones at a luxury resort in Acapulco, wants for nothing. Until, that is, a single phone call shatters Neil’s idyll: there’s been a death in the family, and he, his sister Allison (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and the kids must return to London immediately.
At the airport, just before their flight is to depart, Neil pretends to have forgotten his passport at the resort. He insists the others go ahead; he’ll catch the next flight. Instead, Neil checks into a budget hotel, drinks beer at the beach, meets a beautiful local named Berenice (Iazua Larios), and begins concocting reasons to delay his return home. What is Neil up to? How long can he linger abroad while his family grieves and contends with legal matters? And what if things go from bad to worse?
The story of writer-director Michel Franco’s Sundown seems simple, but its twists are riveting and its mysteries rich. As with Franco’s Un Certain Regard–winning After Lucia or his TIFF selections April’s Daughter and New Order, Sundown is an incisive study of class disparity and familial strife. Roth, who worked with Franco previously on Chronic, is brilliantly cast as the film’s enigmatic antihero. His performance is one of immense containment, hinting incrementally at the profound ennui driving Neil to attempt to abandon his enviable life. There is something almost palpably haunted about Neil, and, as he makes his way along this strange journey, his desperate longing will resonate more than you’d expect. -DIANA SANCHEZ
Tim Roth, Iazua Larios, Charlotte Gainsbourg
7 Prisoners (on Netflix this November)
Alexandre Moratto’s sophomore film follows a young man who compromises his own sense of friendship and community to survive in an extreme situation.
After the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival selection Socrates, director Alexandre Moratto and producer Fernando Meirelles return to TIFF with a compelling tale of modern-day indentured slavery in Brazil.
7 Prisoners follows a group of honest men from the countryside who think they are going to São Paulo for work but end up locked in a junkyard, where they are told they must work to pay off steep debts. The place functions like a prison; they are surveilled at gunpoint and their loved ones are threatened. One of the men, Mateus, tries to make a deal with the owner, Luca, saying he can increase productivity if Luca agrees to release them in six months. But it’s a slippery slope, and Mateus becomes the boss’s assistant in order to get ahead.
The heartbreaking story reflects on systemic oppression and corruption, and on how a person can compromise their own sense of friendship and community to survive in an extreme situation. It also depicts the smuggling and cruel exploitation of migrant workers. There are no winners here, as we discover that dire circumstances can make people alternately endearing and naive, or capable of physical and psychological violence. With a thriller touch and stellar performances by Rodrigo Santoro and Christian Malheiros, the film transcends the facile binary of good versus bad to create a sense of urgency about some of the world’s most blatant injustices. -DESCRIPTION COURTESY OF TIFF
CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Christian Malheiros, Rodrigo Santoro, Bruno Rocha, Vitor Julian, Lucas Oranmian, Cecília Homem de Mello, Dirce Thomaz
Thayná Mantesso, Alexandre Moratto
I’m Your Man (Bleecker Street will release on Friday, September 24)
Maria Schrader’s unlikely sci-fi rom-com explores human relationships through the inquisitive eyes of a cyborg. Starring Dan Stevens and Maren Eggert.
How would you react if the perfect partner were created for you — designed to respond to your every conscious or unconscious need? For scientist Alma Felser (Maren Eggert), the reaction is instant skepticism. She is reluctant when offered a job evaluating a new line of humanoid cyborgs to determine what rights they should be granted in society. She believes it takes more than millions of data points collected from the human population to make a human being. But when research funding for her cuneiform studies at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum is dangled, Alma agrees to a three-week trial with Tom (Dan Stevens), an English-accented, rumba-dancing robot who is relentlessly eager to serve one purpose: her happiness.
Writer-director Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man playfully interrogates the complexities of companionship and human interactions, as reflected back in the steely gaze of a replicant. Emotions and ego are explored through a full range of relationships: romantic, familial, professional, and, most importantly, the relationship with one’s self.
Schrader’s profound understanding of, and respect for, our internal contradictions is manifested in the relatable Alma. Conveyed with remarkable authenticity by Eggert in her Berlin Silver Bear–winning performance, the scientist’s reluctant feelings about cyborg Tom evolve ever so lightly into intimacy, in spite of his direct if perfectly charming advances (powered by the bionically good-looking Stevens of Downton Abbey fame — impressive in an entirely German-language role). It must be said: there aren’t many entrants in the sci-fi rom-com subgenre that wholly reflect the human condition. I’m Your Man stands apart as exemplary. -DIANA SANCHEZ
Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller, Hans Löw, Wolfgang Hübsch, Annika Meier
Jan Schomburg, Maria Schrader
The Good House
Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline play ex-flames who rekindle their romance, in this drama from directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky.
“I need a good year.” When Hildy (Sigourney Weaver) makes that pronouncement, she’s talking about her sales prospects as a realtor. But there’s also an unspoken acknowledgement that her best years just might be behind her. Bold, brash, and practiced in the ways of her affluent New England town, Hildy’s barely controlled chaos is a bit too familiar to her friends and family. So is its fuel: booze.
Veteran screenwriters Maya Forbes (who also directed Infinitely Polar Bear) and Wallace Wolodarsky adapt and direct Ann Leary’s novel as a piercing observation of a woman capable of great charm, but always ready to sabotage her own success when the mood descends. Seeing the risk escalate, her family stages an intervention. It goes about as well as expected.
Weaver is a pure pleasure to watch here, perfectly pitching Hildy’s captivating side as well as her more vicious moments. A woman who proudly notes that her family has lived in Wendover for almost 300 years, she carries herself with regal bearing, ready to adopt new arrival Rebecca (Morena Baccarin) as a prize. But Hildy’s mass of hurts and insecurities are never far from the surface. The only person who seems to see her fully is Frank (Kevin Kline, also appearing in TIFF selection The Starling), a grizzled old flame who earned his wealth with his own hands and may now be ready to take Hildy into his arms again. Wisely, Forbes and Wolodarsky allow us to bask in the bright glow of these two old pros at work. -DESCRIPTION COURTESY OF TIFF
United States of America, 2021
Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky
Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Morena Baccarin
Thomas Bezucha, Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky
Silent Night (in theaters and on AMC+ December 3, 2021)
Keira Knightley and Lily-Rose Depp star in Camille Griffin’s feature directorial debut, about a family’s eventful Christmas dinner in the country.
A cozy house in the English countryside. The tree has been lovingly decorated. A grand feast is being prepared. Over the sound system, Michael Bublé croons about holiday sweaters. Nell (Oscar nominee Keira Knightley), Simon (Matthew Goode), and their boy Art (Roman Griffin Davis, star of TIFF ’19 Grolsch People’s Choice Award winner Jojo Rabbit) are ready to welcome friends and family for what promises to be a perfect Christmas gathering. Perfect except for one thing: everyone is going to die.
A pitch-black comedy rooted in brilliantly conceived characters and wry observations about class and social order, writer-director Camille Griffin’s feature debut merges that most wonderful night of the year with the end of the world as we know it. A poisonous cloud is descending upon the United Kingdom. An extinction event is imminent. YouTube videos display images of people bleeding from the eyes and ears. And yet, even in this hour of ultimate dread, happy announcements are made, disagreements erupt, people dance, and ordinary foibles ensue.
Echoing elements of Last Night and Peter’s Friends, Silent Night fuses festive frivolity with existential angst for high entertainment. Gleaning lovingly textured, frequently hilarious performances from its stellar ensemble cast — which also includes Annabelle Wallis, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Lily-Rose Depp (also at the Festival in Wolf) — Silent Night gives us reasons to toast the human spirit… even when the end is nigh. -DESCRIPTION COURTESY OF TIFF
United Kingdom, 2021
Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, Sope Dirisu, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lucy Punch
One Second (will be distributed by Neon at some point)
Master director Zhang Yimou returns with his love letter to cinema in which a man escapes a labour camp for a glimpse of his beloved daughter.
China’s Zhang Yimou is a giant of international cinema. His many films, including Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers, and Shadow have cemented his place in history. With One Second, he offers a powerful reminder of why film matters. A touching drama set against striking desert landscapes and marked by Zhang’s characteristic flashes of humour, this is a fable about how cinema can inspire us.
Towards the end of the Cultural Revolution, when movies were one of the few cultural experiences available to China’s masses, the film’s nameless hero (Zhang Yi) is sent to a remote labour camp for taking part in a fight. He escapes, but instead of returning to crime, his one aim is to see a screening of a newsreel where his daughter has been captured briefly on screen, immortalized as a model student and worker.
In this journey towards a fleeting, cinematic reunion with his beloved daughter, his unexpected companions include a scruffy orphan girl named Liu (Liu Haocun) — pursuing her own secret search for celluloid — and Fan (Fan Wei), who goes by Mr. Movie and is widely known as the best projectionist around. In one standout sequence, a reel of film has been damaged in the mud and Fan recruits an entire village to clean the long, precious spool and restore it to its former glory.
One Second marks Zhang’s return to the classic, grand storytelling of his early films. He draws on the specific customs of moviegoing from China in the 1970s to craft an enduring, universal celebration of the transformative power of film. -DESCRIPTION COURTESY OF TIFF
Fan Wei, Liu Haocun, Zhang Yi
Zhang Yimou, Zou Jingzhi