TFCA Friday: Week of Jan. 20

January 20, 2023

Living | Photo by Jamie D. Ramsay. Courtesy of Number 9 films / Sony Pictures Classics.

Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA members.


Peter Howell kicks off this week’s round-up with a fond look back at the career and legacy of late film critic Clyde Gilmour, whose name graced one of the TFCA’s marquee awards until it was renamed this year.


If you think you’re the next Clyde Gilmour, apply today for the TFCA Emerging Critic Award!


And the TFCA joins members of the Toronto film community in mourning the passing of programmer Ravi Srinivasan, who championed film at festivals including TIFF, SWIFF, and Hot Docs. Read more about his life and impact in this piece by Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail.


In Release this Week


Ajooma (dir. He Shumming)


“Ajooma is a beautiful, sensitive and charming small little film that celebrates little seen Singaporean and South Korean cultures while exhorting the human qualities of kindness to other human beings,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Alcarras (dir. Carla Simón)


“Simón’s film flows smoothly which makes the film all the more pleasant,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “The family rituals – quarrels, interactions and daily routines all ensure that the film is more realistic as well as enjoyable. Simón’s film also proves that the best moments are the simplest ones that show the family enjoying themselves unobtrusively.”


All Eyes Off Me (dir. Hadas Ben Aroya)


“[T]ruth is, there are probably more interesting films that deal with empty sexual encounters,” yawns Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Death Knot (dir. Cornelio Sunny)


Death Knot is an aptly made horror film marking a strong and talented debut by director Sunny, though it is a bit slow in its delivery,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Atmosphere and anticipation play a more important role than cheap theatrics and silly scare tactics. Death Knot makes another solid entry to the list of Indonesian horror movies.”


The Devil’s Offering (dir. Oliver Park)


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah says the film “contains lots and lots of scary scenes – too many for its own good; scariness makes way into cheesiness with many segments looking more silly than scary.”


Ever Deadly (dir. Tanya Tagaq, Chelsea McMullan 🇨🇦)


“The Inuk performance artist’s concert is something to behold,” remarks Anne Brodie at What She Said. “I’ve seen videos and single performances but never a full concert and I’m not sure my heart could take that emotional spiritual and a cultural grand slam. But I’d like to try. Her music and personal, daily life on the shale shores of our northern Arctic coast are the primary focuses, but we learn of her activism from MMIWG to defending the seal hunt – a tradition and necessity for people living on the land.”


“Much of this National Film Board doc centres on a solo performance by Tagaq, captured by co-director Chelsea McMullan,” says Chris Knight at the National Post. “But we also head out on the land, where the singer interacts with family and friends or reads from her written works, backed by astonishing animation and images of the Far North. ‘I am lying on the ice for an unknown amount of time, because time went for a walk,’ she recites in one scene.”


June-E (dir. Yeon Sang-ho)


“JUNG_E has tons of special effects, splendid futuristic production sets as well as impressive choreographed action sequences, too bad it fails in a credible story line,” sighs Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Living (dir. Oliver Hermanus)


At The Globe and Mail, Barry Hertz speaks with star Bill Nighy after Steve McQueen, adaptation, and aging. “You get to my age and you look at the clock more often than you used to. You buy a pair of shoes and think, well, maybe these are the last ones,” Nighy tells Hertz. “But it’s not in a morbid way. I have no plans to leave the planet any time soon, and right now my team behind my screen are shaking their heads because they love me and don’t believe that I’m ever going to die. I’m not entirely convinced that I am going to die either, but you have to be like that. There is an infinitesimal degree of denial that is essential to get you through the day.”


“Hermanus’ style is extraordinary -a triumph of fresh ideas born of traditional elements and moments in the score that sound like a royal funeral dirge,” raves Anne Brodie at What She Said. “And only Bill Nighy, his manner, expression, and vocal work would make this kind of impression; he’s given over to Williams with deep compassion. Don’t miss it.”


“The great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa used the phrase ‘cinematic beauty’ to describe the deep emotions films arouse. It certainly applies to this impeccably understated English-language adaptation of Kurosawa’s life-affirming 1952 drama Ikiru, the story of a man’s 11th-hour redemption,” says Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “This remake by Oliver Hermanus, set in 1953 England and starring the inimitable Bill Nighy as a stuffy bureaucrat seeking meaning as he faces his final days on Earth, unfolds in the grand tradition of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. Nicknamed ‘Mr. Zombie’ for his paper-shuffling somnambulism, Nighy’s character opts for ‘yes’ over ‘no’ as darkness approaches. The beautiful outcome in both form and spirit makes Living an instant classic. Get out your handkerchiefs!”


“There is much overlap between the characters of Stevens the butler (Anthony Hopkins) in Remains [of the Day] and Nighy’s bureaucrat in Living, though ultimately the newer film finds a more upbeat note on which to end, while losing nothing of its beautiful, melodious melancholy,” observes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Even the timelines are similar. Remains takes place in 1958 (with flashbacks to the 1930s), while Living is set in 1953, making it contemporaneous with the Japanese original, which was of course set in what was then the present day.”


“The British-Japanese synergy is strengthened by the scripting of Kazuo Ishiguro, whose novel The Remains of the Day trod the same ground with its portrait of a duty-bound English butler,” writes Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “In a magnificently subtle performance, Nighy plays Williams, a stone-faced public works manager whose “Good mornings” are perfunctory, and whose management style is all about shuffling paper to avoid dealing with issues head on.”


Living is a deliberately small, quiet film,” notes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “It’s about the biggest issue in the world but it does so with no explosive scenes or dramatic speeches. The Nobel Prize winning novelist Kazuro Ishigura has done a marvelous job, adapting Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese classic Ikiru into a truly British film. That the inspiration for both films is Tolstoy’s Russian novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich shows that the story contained in Living is universal.”


“Nighy’s performance is a masterclass in restraint and subtlety as Williams learns to let down his guard,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “Moreover, the mannered nature of his poise and grace in the first acts makes Williams’ vulnerability doubly compelling. When emotions erupt every so slightly in Living, they almost take one aback. Nighy, so often a spark of raucous comedy, has never been so good while playing it straight.”


Make Me Famous (dir. Brian Vincent)


“If Make Me Famous had a mission statement, it might be, ‘We seek to find out why one artist becomes famous and another doesn’t,’” says Jim Slotek at Original Cin. “There is no answer on offer. But the parade of post-punk artists and artistic legends is entertaining for anybody who’s ever followed that era’s art scene. For Canadians, it boasts the last interviews of two late countrymen, street artist Richard Hambleton and photographer Marcus Leatherdale.”


“The film doesn’t quite nail down what defined Brezinski as an artist aesthetically, but one has to admire the Llewyn Davis approach that Vincent takes in exploring the story of someone who didn’t make it,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine.Make Me Famous features some novel archival footage from the era, which shows the New York scene in all its grungy and gritty glory. It’s admittedly fun to see images in which the background players are more familiar than the key subjects are. Generally, though, portraits of the most famous players rarely yield new information. This doc does.”


Missing (dir. Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick)


“This kind of thing has been done before, although not as well, and without utilizing the multitude of ways the world can invade our privacy. Missing still suffers from the logistics of having characters play out dramatic scenes while keeping in the frame of whatever device is recording them,” observes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “There comes a time in the movie when all secrets are revealed and there’s nothing left but a fight-to-the-finish third act. It turns out that not knowing is better than knowing. Gimmicky, yes. Bent towards a younger audience, most likely. Somewhat ageist? Perhaps. But on that last point, chances are, I’m the only one who notices.”


At Afro Toronto, Gilbert Seah calls it a “tech-savvy film should be seen the old fashioned way in theatres without distraction.”


Saint Omer (dir. Alice Diop)

***TFCA Awards Winner: Best International Feature***


Saint Omer is a remarkable film, which doesn’t mean that it makes for easy viewing. A court room drama about matricide, the film marks the drama film debut of award-winning documentarian Alice Diop,” writes Marc Glassman at Classical FM. “Rama tries to understand Coly, thinking that she can rewrite the case as a modern Medea, but her idea remains inexact. There are references to the forbidding images of Maria Callas in her astonishing performance as Medea in Pasolini’s film and Margaret Duras’ evocation of a French female collaborator, who falls in love with a German soldier in Hiroshima, Mon Amour, but nothing truly explains Coly’s matricide. Like those two films, we’re left to contemplate the incomprehensible.”


“Never has a film with so much dialogue been so exciting and compelling,” remarks Gilbert Seah at Toronto Franco. “The courtroom drama played out by director Diop looks so much like a true crime drama.”


Saint Omer is something original. It’s a stripped-down French legal drama, with a carefully controlled, expanding emotional impact, touching on matters of motherhood, gender, immigration and race,” notes Liam Lacey at Original Cin. “The film, directed by Alice Diop, who has made documentaries until now, is based on a real-life case. In November, 2013, a 36-year-old Senegalese-born woman, Fabienne Kabou, travelled by train from Paris to Berck-sur-Mer in northwest France.”


“And as with all movies, there is the layer that is you, the viewer. Were you surprised on first seeing Laurence’s lover to find that he is significantly older than her, and white? What did you make of Laurence’s university professor, who thought it odd that her student, an African, wanted to study the Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein and not ‘someone closer to her own culture’? Did you find yourself contemplating the tension between France, with its history of rationalism and colonialism, and Senegal, where stories of witchcraft and sorcery permeate the culture?” asks Chris Knight at the National Post. “Diop is clearly hoping to stir up some thoughts about uncomfortable assumptions and beliefs.”


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with Alice Diop about her background in documentary, the non-fiction roots of Saint Omer, and the radical aesthetics of visibility. “The thread that links all my films is to create a space of visibility for people at the edge of visibility,” observes Diop. “La permanence is a film about immigrants that forced us to look at things we do not want to look at. Saint Omer is a film that put in the center of the frame a woman who nobody saw. All my direction is about the political statement of the necessity to put this woman profoundly in the center of the gaze.”


The Son (dir. Florian Zeller)


“Jackman carries much emotional weight and turns in a thoughtful performance,” notes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. “There are times when Peter’s reactions to situations seem outside of his control and, as Jackman plays him, you can see that even while he’s reacting, his behaviour seems to surprise and sometimes alarm him. For all his achievements in life, when faced with his son’s pain, Peter is in many ways walled off, and doesn’t really know himself.”


“Florian Zeller’s The Son explores the emotional fallout of divorce on a teenage boy left reeling by it,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “Tough going, and provocative but we are reminded that children go through their parents’ divorces with fewer tools to cope. Zeller brings it home clearly.”


The Son is an unfortunate example of how easily one film can achieve greatness while another slides into mediocrity, even when so many of their component parts are the same,” writes Chris Knight at the National Post. “Consider The Father, a 2020 film directed and co-written by Florian Zeller…I thought it was one of the best films of that year…But whereas The Father felt like an intimate, personal portrayal of one family’s battle with dementia, The Son comes across as a glorified public service announcement meets disease-of-the-week movie, with depression in its crosshairs.”


“If drama is your cup of tea, The Son delivers 100% – excellent drama with twists and turns in the story,” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Turn Every Page (dir. Lizzie Gottlieb)


At the National Post, Chris Knight shares five things he learned about author Robert Caro and editor/publisher Robert Gottlieb from this documentary. Here’s one to munch on: the met over sandwiches. “When Caro was looking for an editor for The Power Broker, his agent set him up with four would-bes, three of whom took him out to lunch at the Four Seasons and said they could make him a star,” writes Knight. “Gottlieb ordered sandwiches at his office, where he told the writer the book needed some work. ‘So I picked him.’”


“The fifty-year working relationship between renowned political writer Robert A. Caro and his editor Robert Gottlieb is the professional relationship I want,” admits Anne Brodie at What She Said. “How marvellous to take seven years to write a book, part of a series of four thick volumes on U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, and have an “intelligent and sympathetic” editor you’ve trusted for most of your life. It doesn’t mean they are close friends but they are happily dependent on one another to give shape and meaning to the work.”


“Besides an informative documentary on publishing, the film also contains some very intimate and moving segments as in the depiction of the relationship each subject has with their spouses,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“What we get is quite fabulous: a wide-ranging gem of a documentary, an utter delight that ends up being, in some ways, a life and times look at both men,” writes Karen Gordon at Original Cin. Turn Every Page is about everything from their individual life stories, the meticulous work of a writer/biographer, the plodding, sometimes agonizing work of writing, the role of a book editor, the publishing industry in general, and the focus of Caro’s biographies that makes them so important. It’s a lot to squeeze into a film, but Gottlieb makes it work, weaving all of this together in a rich film that puts the  lives and careers of these accomplished men of letters into context.”


A Festival of Festival Coverage: The Sundance Kids


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell previews this year’s Sundance Film Festival and picks a number of highlight titles expected to deliver. Among them? Brandon Cronenberg’s latest feature, Infinity Pool: “Finding the dark truth of a place also animates Infinity Pool, a horror film by Toronto’s Brandon Cronenberg (Antiviral, Possessor) that’s set in an exclusive island resort in an unnamed Eastern European country,” writes Howell. “Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Mia Goth and Cleopatra Coleman, it’s a cautionary tale about wealth trumping morality that suggests it would make a great triple bill with such recent A-list attacks as Triangle of Sadness and The Menu.”


At POV Magazine, Pat Mullen speaks with The Longest Goodbye director Ido Mizrahy about space and social isolation in his Day One doc that kicked off the World Cinema competition: “At the beginning of the pandemic, I was really anxious about being isolated and not being able to spend physical face-to-face time with my social support network,” says Mizrahi. “What I found was that, as we were getting closer to these lockdowns ending, I suddenly wasn’t eager to leave my house. I felt that comfort of isolation. There’s something in the story too about the fear of coming back.” Mullen also picks 10 doc highlights on the Sundance radar.


TV Talk/Series Scribbles


At What She Said, Anne Brodie checks out The Accused and calls it “a nerve-jangling, tightly-plotted anthology of strange crimes and ordinary people.” Meanwhile, Maathew Macfadyen relishes a juicy role in Stonehouse: “Macfadyen adds a comic spin to this crazy story, creating a Stonehouse blissfully unaware and uncaring of anything or anyone outside himself, apt to say too much, and a bit of a fool,” writes Brodie.