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« TIFF: Thomas Vinterberg returns with "The Commune" | Main | TIFF: Strange Weather and Handsome Devil »
Sunday
Sep182016

What the hell did I just watch? A festival quartet

Nathaniel R reporting from TIFF. The festival ends today (I expect La La Land to win the coveted People's Choice in this non-juried festival) so I'm about to hit the airport. I'll be scrambling to finish telling you about the cinematic adventures screened from all over the world in the next couple of days -- and yes update the Oscar charts with all this new information -- so we can wrap up. And then NYFF begins!

Here are three films that go completely off the rails and one film that stays perfectly on track though the protagonist goes off it. Each have as many cons as pros so they're mixed experiences, presented in preference order. So click on for Argentinian nudist comedies (NSFW), Anne Heche and Sandra Oh fist-fighting, Greek paraonia, and the latest from A Girl Walks Home At Night's director who has graduated to bigger budgets and famous actors.

A Decent Woman 
(Dir. Lukas Valenta Rinner, Argentina)
This very strange picture begins as a domestic deadpan comedy of a well worn foreign genre, the socioeconomic dramedy about lowly sad maids in houses of wealth. Things get stranger and stranger and less easily categorized as the picture progresses and the maid becomes fascinated by a nudist colony on the other side of the gated community's electric fence. Anecdote time: The nudist colony setting of the picture was well advertised in the festival program. Before the movie began I was talking to an interesting older woman at the screening who sat beside me. She told me all about her annual TIFF journeys and she seemed quite the sophisticated cinephile with a wide range of film genres and interests. But at the very first shot of a nude body she began sighing and huffing with public displeasure and squirming in her seat. What possessed her to choose that movie?! She couldn't get out of the theater fast enough when it ended!

Pros: Quite memorable. I still remember particular shots despite the flurry of pictures screened, particularly when our protagonist first disrobes and poses adorably like a shy Venus, covering her bits. And another non-linear moment when all the nudists are suddenly painted like animals and growling and snorting at the camera. (no, really)
Cons: It's unclear if the picture got away from the director or if he intended it to go so far off the rails transforming into a totally different kind of violent genre picture (satire?) by film's end. But the snail-paced first two thirds doesn't speak all that coherently to the cartoonish final act. C+

Blind Sun 
(Dir. Joyce A Nashawati, Greece/France)
This film, which has apparently been making the festival rounds for a year, was presented in the Vanguard section of TIFF which describes itself as "Provocative, sexy… possibly dangerous. This is what's next." In other words not quite avante garde but weirder than mainstream. In this feature debut from a woman who grew up as an immigrant in Greece, we spend the entire 87 minutes with an immigrant in Greece whose papers are stolen by a policeman when he drives to his latest house-sitting job. Isolated in a gated house of the "haves" in the scorching heat with xenophobic "have not" neighbors he goes a little mad.

Pros: Of these four films this is the one with the surest directorial hand, lead actor Ziad Bakri (The Time That Remains) is a great camera subject and the cinematography is compelling. It could have been an ace short.
Con: ...but its goals are modest and, despite glancing at sociopolitical themes, it doesn't add up too all that much either besides being a strong portrait of paranoia and uncomfortable heat. It's vagueness works on a visual level but leaves a lot to be desired as a narrative. Also an adorable cat dies and that just aint right. C+

Catfight 
(Dir. Onur Tikel, US)
Whoa. An indie comedy that doesn't feel like every other indie comedy. Nobody goes to a dysfunctional family gathering ever and its a screenplay fascinated by political stances rather than navel-lint. Two college friends Veronica and Ashley (Sandra Oh and Anne Heche) who were never close coincidentally meet again as adults. The setting is a party for rich Republicans, one of whom Veronica is married to, and Ashley is there to make a little extra money as a cater waiter with her girlfriend (since she's a struggling artist) but hates the job and everyone there. The two women are shocked to see each other and their world views immediately clash leading to very uncomfortable but terrifically performed conversation and a drunken brawl with dire consequences. Years later US warmongering has changed their respective socioeconomic statuses and history begins to repeat itself.

Sandra Oh and Anne Heche talking to The Hollywood Reporter

Pros: It's a rare treat to see a movie where four terrific actresses who aren't constantly cast in everything get big juicy movie parts: Anne Heche, Sandra Oh, Amy Hill (as Sandra's aunt), and Alicia Silverstone (as Heche's girlfriend). Thank you for employing them in roles that are sized to their gifts. It's also a joy to see a movie with so many political thoughts.
Cons: ... but this many of them? It's not unlike a brainstorming session in which none of the ideas were ever whittled down on a second pass. The picture is only 96 minutes long but really needs trimming and focusing. All three of its title-inspiring scenes, for example, extend way past their comic welcome and feel like pure sadism by the unsatisfying end. C

Ana Lily ArmipourThe Bad Batch 
(Dir. Ana Lily Armipour, US)
Screen Gems will release in 2017 TBA

Armipour's sensational debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was always going to be a tough act to follow. Bad timing also made this sophomore feature the first desert wasteland post-apocalyptic movie to feature pregnant brides of the patriachy and a one armed heroine to emerge in the wake of last summer's masterpiece Mad Max Fury Road. So, honestly speaking, it had no chance of being satisfying even it were better than it is. "The Bad Batch" refers to the unwanted who are kicked out of a future harsh United States (which we never see) and dumped into a man-eat-man wasteland to the South (Mexico?) where all the other undesirables have been banished. Some are criminals but illegal immigrants have also been jettisoned. Political satire alert! With Suki Waterhouse as the scrappy but dim Texan heroine, Jason Momoa as a Cuban cannibal, Jim Carrey and Giovanni Ribisi as crazy people, and Keanu Reeves as the seductive patriarch of a town called "Comfort"

Pros: Armipour's visual and sonic gifts are considerable (as we already knew) which elevate most of the scenes into something far more special than the acting and screenplay would otherwise dictate, even though they can't make a good movie out of this. 

Cons: Extremely distasteful from the first Horror movie reel to the last Romantic Drama implications. The scenes of cannibalism are gross enough but add to those retch-worthy scenes a disturbingly mixed political message and ever moving targets. At first the film reads like a diatribe against merciless capitalism and every man for himself ethos until it seems to condemn a more peaceful society as worse than that  purely due to its patriarchy (?) in favor of that same every man for himself cannibalistic culture? It's a very strange confused picture with uneven performances (Momoa struggles with a Cuban accent and "spot the celebrity" is never a good idea for casting in this type of picture even though Carrey does solid work). Even on a simpler action movie level the heroine is impossible to root for. Suki plays her as perpetually stoned and dumb though where is she getting the drugs from before and after the movie's one memorable drug scene? Her incoherent motives are also a huge problem. If the satire is about our lack of empathy and willful self-destruction as a nation than her behavior in the last act makes sense but her behavior in the first does not. And vice versa. Perhaps the only way The Bad Batch is even remotely coherent is if you believe that humanity is fucked no matter what options we choose for the future. In short, I did not like it though I'll still line up for Armipour's third feature. C-

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Reader Comments (2)

I'm a hopeless Sandra Oh fan, so I'm really excited to see Catfight. Funnily, this tempered review made me even more intrigued to see the film.

September 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersfenton24

I can't believe Catfight is a thing. An intriguing thing nonetheless. I also cannot believe Anne Heche isn't a thing but what can you do. I've stated before and I'll state again, I'd watch her read a phone book.

September 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAmandaBuffamonteezi

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