The Toronto International Film Festival has a single competitive program, Platform, now in its third year. This year, jurors Chen Kaige, Małgorzata Szumowska, and Wim Wenders have awarded the Toronto Platform Prize (25,000 Canadian dollars) to Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country, which premiered in Venice, where it won the Special Jury Prize. You’ll find reviews of Sweet Country as well as of Xavier Legrand’s Custody, another Platform competitor and winner of the Silver Lion for Best Director in Venice, here.
We’ll return to the Platform films in a moment, but first we need to mention a few more awards announced today. Prizes awarded by the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) go to Sadaf Foroughi’s Ava from the Discovery program and the Special Presentation The Motive by Manuel Martín Cuenca.
Before Ava’s premiere, the Canadian government denied travel visas to two of its actresses, seventeen-year-old Mahour Jabbari and eighteen-year-old Shayesteh Sajadi. The Hollywood Reporter’s Tatiana Siegel: “Toronto fest organizers going to bat for the Iranian actresses failed to sway Canadian embassy officials.” Stephen Saito on the film: “With an Asgard Farhadi-esque command of a complex narrative, but boasting a gift all her own for arresting visual compositions, Foroughi effortlessly alludes to the damaging cultural conditioning of women in Iran to see themselves as less than equals in her snapshot of a young violinist who yearns to get out from under the thumb of her ultra-strict mother (Bahar Nouhian), with whom trust has completely eroded since being taken in for an exam to ensure her virginity’s intact.”
Mallory Andrews for Cinema Scope: “Foroughi’s shrewd filmmaking uses the frame to advantage: the tightening of Ava’s constraints is matched by the tightening of the mise en scène around her.” Interviews with Fouroughi: Laura Berger for Women and Hollywood and, for the TIFF Review, Andrei Tanasescu and Chandler Levack.
“A high-risk shot at a screen adaptation of a novel within a novel, The Motive is entertaining and buzzes with fun ideas, but as an involving drama, it never gets past the first chapter,” writes Jonathan Holland in the Hollywood Reporter. James Lattimer for Cinema Scope: “Watching The Motive is akin to hearing an artist expound at length on the tedious specifics of their process, a feeling made all the more wearying by the blinkered nature of said approach.” Nicholas Bell for Ioncinema: “What begins as a cynical and overtly snarky portrait of the selfish possibilities of the creative process eventually spoils as a monotonous rendition of a man who turns out to be more sociopathic than creative.”
The NETPAC award goes to Huang Hsin-Yao’s The Great Buddha+. The title’s “wink to technology branding is consistent with the central role played by satirical humor in all of Huang’s storytelling endeavors, a facetious tone that brought comic relief to the sometimes grim subjects of his documentary work,” writes Aurélie Godet for Cinema Scope. This narrative feature debut “tells the story of two men at the bottom of the social ladder. . . . Huang exposes corruption in its ugly, diverse forms.”
The Canadian Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film: Robin Aubert’s Les Affamés. “While it could be said that the last thing the world needs is another zombie movie, Québécois director Robin Aubert has managed to offer a solid and at times even original survey of this well-trod terrain,” writes Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope. Variety’s Joe Leydon: “What makes The Ravenous so unique, arresting and ultimately quite moving is the allusive and elliptical style of Hubert’s storytelling, and his ability to smoothly maneuver through tonal shifts from pensive and regretful to horrific and hyperventilating.” In the Hollywood Reporter, Jordan Mintzer spotlights the “surreal set-pieces, cleverly staged killings and a dark brand of humor.” More from C. J. Prince (Film Stage, C).
The City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film: Wayne Wapeemukwa’s Luk'Luk’I. “Set and shot during the last days of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, in Luk’Luk’I Wayne Wapeemukwa attempts to puncture the veneer of Canadian nationalism by turning away from the event’s image of national prosperity and togetherness in order to focus on marginalized communities,” writes Chelsea Phillips-Carr for Cinema Scope. “Working with a cast of mostly nonprofessional actors, Wapeemuka (whose previous TIFF-screened shorts featured the same collaborators) uses the falseness of mainstreamed Canadian pride as a backdrop for characters dealing with poverty, racism, illness, and misogyny—the legacies of the capitalist colonial history upon which the country was founded.” At Ioncinema, Matthew Roe gives the film three out of five stars.
And then there are the Grolsch People’s Choice Awards, starting with Documentary:
- Winner: Agnès Varda and JR’s Faces Places (reviews)
- First runner-up: Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas De Pencier’s Long Time Running
- Second runner-up: Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!
- Winner: Joseph Kahn’s Bodied
- First runner-up: James Franco’s The Disaster Artist
- Second runner-up: Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 (reviews)
And the big one:
- Winner: Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (reviews)
- First runner-up: Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya
- Second runner-up: Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name
Back to Platform. Barbara Albert’s Mademoiselle Paradis, Clio Barnard’s Dark River (which has been given a special mention by the jury), Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin, Michael Pearce’s Beast, and Mike White’s Brad’s Status all have their own pages up and running. So here’s what the critics have been saying about the other entries in the 2017 Platform competition.
“The Seen and Unseen is a truly singular film, but it does not relinquish its secrets easily,” writes Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope. “The story of two young twins, the girl Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih) and the boy Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena), who share an intense emotional bond that may extend beyond death, The Seen and Unseen is at times physically hard to decipher. . . . Although director Kamila Andini is clearly trying to push narrative cinema to its limits, she is not doing so for the sake of mere provocation. The Seen and Unseen is a film about the liminal zone between the spiritual world and embodiment.”
The Indonesian filmmaker’s latest “evokes instant comparisons to the works of Apichatpong Weerasethakul,” finds Sarah Ward in Screen. “Its meditative mood, an emphasis on patient but vivid visuals, and highlighting the sounds of wind and cicadas as much as dialogue leads to a quieter, more contemplative film than Andini’s well-received The Mirror Never Lies, which won awards in Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong, and at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.”
“By exploring Balinese belief of ‘The Seen and Unseen’ (Sekala Nishkala), it continually questions realism in our cultural life,” Andini tells Lyra H. at Women and Hollywood. “It’s poetically disturbing yet magical at the same time.”
“Two years after his much-heralded prostitute drama Much Loved was banned in his home country, Moroccan auteur Nabil Ayouch returns to Toronto with his most ambitious film to date, a kaleidoscopic portrait of five lives touched by a single tumultuous event on the streets of Casablanca,” writes Christopher Vourlias, introducing his interview with the director of Razzia for Variety. “World premiering in the festival’s Platform section, Razzia is a tale of the lost loves, forbidden desires, and fragile dreams of a country grappling with its modern identity. Spanning more than thirty years, it’s a stirring attempt to capture all the hopes and contradictions of Morocco today.”
“Razzia is an intense network narrative that nearly collapses under the weight of its own ambitions,” finds Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter. “During its best moments, the film is something like a Moroccan Magnolia, following five stories that gradually overlap and then lead to an explosive finale. But some of the plotlines clearly work better than others, even if as a whole they constitute a sharp critique of a country mired by corruption and intolerance, filled with characters who, like the Queen song on the soundtrack, want to break free.”
But for Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa, where he, too, interviews Ayouch, it’s “a bold structural choice that seems particularly fitting given the film’s highly charged theme: the unsettling and potentially explosive frustration experienced by those trying valiantly to forge their own paths in a conservative society. . . . A fascinating cinematic puzzle and a powerful ‘political’ statement, Razzia draws its threads together with great intensity, and Nabil Ayouch has a particular gift for revealing emotion through a simple close-up.”
“A Gallic whatchamacallit where style truly reigns over substance, debuting writer-director Joan Chemla's If You Saw His Heart (Et si tu voyais son coeur) stars Gael García Bernal as a petty gypsy thief hiding out in a Bukowski-esque fleabag hotel, where he crosses paths with a beautiful lost girl who may ultimately be the one that saves him,” writes Jordan Mintzer for the Hollywood Reporter. “That sounds like the plot for a pulpy film noir . . . But with a fragmented narrative that tries to compensate for its lack of content by cutting around way too much, and with stock characters who feel like rejects from an aborted James M. Cain manuscript . . . , there's not much to chew on beyond all the pretty pictures and the two attractive leads.”
What Will People Say is “a strong second feature directed by Iram Haq, whose 2013 debut, I Am Yours, was informed by her own experiences growing up in Norway as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants,” writes Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. “Her follow-up, by the director’s own admission, is even more hair-raisingly personal. It tells the story of sixteen-year-old Nisha (Maria Mozhdah), who, after being caught with a boy in her bedroom by her father (Adil Hussain), is effectively kidnapped by her own family and sent to live with relatives in Pakistan, a world that could scarcely be more different from the snowy Norwegian town she once called home.”
“The film makes a vivid and effective case against antiquated social norms and the violation of women’s rights, though often at the expense of nuance,” finds Alysia Urrutia, writing for Cinema Scope. “It rushes through the multiple tipping points of the plot, and, for a film so relentlessly in defense of sexual exploration, it impetuously sacrifices Nisha’s own attempts at same for the sake of honing in on its grander message. Glossing over the delicious particularities of flirtatious entanglements in order to get to What People Will Say about them, Haq leaves little room for the actual arts of seduction.”
“Performances are all around worthwhile, though the only real emotional complexity exists in newcomer Maria Mozhdah’s portrayal of a confused and increasingly distraught teenager and celebrated character actor Adil Hussain as her well-meaning if ultimately disgustingly narrow-minded father,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema.
“People represents a big step up from Haq’s more modestly scaled debut, but it’s a move she handles with assurance and aplomb,” finds Variety’s Alissa Simon. More from Allan Hunter (Screen) and Jared Mobarak (Film Stage, B). Interviews with Haq: Maud Forsgren (Cineuropa) and Kelsey Moore (Women and Hollywood).
“Two estranged sisters with beaucoup unresolved issues meet for a European holiday in Swedish writer-director Lisa Langseth’s inauspicious English-language feature Euphoria,” begins Variety’s Alissa Simon. “The first production out of star Alicia Vikander’s Vikarious Film stable, this oh-so-serious, hysteria-tinged drama . . . plays as if it might have come from Yorgos Lanthimos’s bin of discarded ideas.”
Vassilis Economou sets it up for us at Cineuropa: “After a long period apart, Emilie (Eva Green) reunites with her younger sister, Ines (Vikander), a photographer who lives in New York. They both embark on a trip to Europe that will involve an unexpected series of events. Emilie will ask her sister to join her at a secluded mansion ensconced deep in a forest. Upon their arrival, they will be welcomed by Marina (Charlotte Rampling), who runs the establishment and reveals that this is a place for those who want to enjoy a serene end to their lives. Terrified Ines learns from Emilie that she’s terminally ill and that she wants to spend the last remaining days of her life with her. This turn of events will lay bare the sisters’ relationship.”
“Eva Green is an actor who’s legitimately glorious to watch,” grants Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey. And: “We get a spirited Charles Dance performance, plenty of screen time for Charlotte Rampling’s seen-it-all-eyes, and a scene where she and Green slow-dance to David Bowie. But at a certain point, you find yourself just waiting for estranged sisters Green and Vikander to reconcile already, so Green can die and the movie can end. Euphoria is fine—there’s nothing insulting or offensive about it. But there’s nothing particularly special either, except in how it wastes one of the most electrifyingly charismatic performers around.”
While Christopher Schobert at the Film Stage finds this “standard drama . . . relatively weak,” and the Playlist’s Kevin Jagernauth gives it a C, Stephen Saito is all in: “Euphoria isn’t some dour countdown to Emily’s death, but instead nourishes a vibrant dialogue between the sisters that ranges from their separate reactions to their mother’s death five years earlier to their wildest sexual experiences, ultimately bringing to light what they value the most when staring the end in the face.”