Original-Cin TIFF picks: Monday, Sept. 11.

By Liam Lacey, Jim Slotek and Kim Hughes

A WORTHY COMPANION (Discovery)

Sunday, Sept. 10 (7:30 pm) ScotiaBank 2; Tuesday, Sept. 12 (3:30 pm), ScotiaBank 3

The debut feature from acclaimed Montreal fine-art photographers/sibs Carlos Sanchez and Jason Sanchez is about 12 kinds of unsettling. Emotionally unbalanced housecleaner Laura (Evan Rachel Wood) lures disenfranchised teen Eva (Julia Sarah Stone who, rather uncomfortably, scans much younger) away from her family and into her own home. There, Laura emotionally blackmails Eva into covertly staying, despite Eva’s growing alarm at the life she has impetuously chosen. Things go south from there. While it’s impossible to recommend this blisteringly dark film across the board, it does haunt, rendering it a psychological thriller that lives up to its billing. - KH

Liam Neeson as Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House

Liam Neeson as Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House

DOWNSIZING (Special Presentation)

Monday, Sept. 11 (6 pm), Elgin; Tuesday, Sept. 12 (11:30 am), Elgin; Wednesday, Sept. 13 (6 pm), Princess of Wales; Saturday, Sept. 16 (12 pm) Roy Thomson Hall

On paper, the latest from Alexander Payne (Nebraska, Sideways, The Descendants) has everything: marquee cast, clever premise, timely message. But while Downsizing has some very funny moments, it never gels. This so-called “sci-fi social satire” about people who elect to have themselves physically shrunken to lessen their environmental footprint (and stretch their money) follows Matt Damon’s beleaguered everyman, whose decision to ‘downsize’ kicks off a series of ever-broader personal problems. Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, and Jason Sudeikis (among others) add star power but the whole thing collapses under the weight of a dog-eared doomsday premise. - KH

MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE (Special Presentations)

Monday, Sept. 11 (9 pm) Ryerson; Wednesday, Sept. 13 (9 pm), ScotiaBank 1.

Millennials believing that nefarious goings-on in Washington DC are something new will marvel at this brilliantly calibrated and very timely re-telling of the Watergate scandal from the perspective of the whistle-blower who, as this film’s rather clunky title reveals, literally brought down President Richard Nixon’s White House in 1973 by leaking information to the press when the government refused to police itself. Liam Neeson is quietly volcanic (yes that can exist, oxymoronic as it sounds) in the title role, capturing all of Mark Felt’s contradictions. Writer/director Peter Landesman’s background as a journalist serves him well here; shooting on a digital camera with vintage anamorphic lenses gives his film a smudginess that evokes the claustrophobia inside the FBI. - KH

NOVITIATE (Special Presentations)

Tuesday, Sept. 12, (4 p.m.) Scotia 12. 

Melissa Leo as Mother Superior in Novitiate

Melissa Leo as Mother Superior in Novitiate

Can anyone imagine a modern Hollywood executive saying, “What we need now is a good nun movie!"? The serious religious subject matter is the most boldly original aspect of documentarian Maggie Betts’ dramatic feature debut, which follows a beautiful 17-year-old, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley, from TV's The Leftovers) in 1960s’ Tennessee, and her initiation into the Catholic Church in the wake of the radical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  Cathleen’s perspective is that of a naive, unbaptized outsider from a troubled family, who is lured by the Church’s promise of peace and the romance of being a “bride of Christ.” The script tends to emphasize extremes — sadistic rules, sexual sublimation, and a performance by Melissa Leo as the angry mother superior. But Novitiate is intelligently sympathetic to both the Christian message of love and the plight of the nuns, who lost status with the Vatican’s reforms. The light and shadow in the cinematography is deliberately Old Masterly, while ecclesiastical music, both traditional and contemporary, adds to the exalted mood. - LL

HAPPY END (Masters)

Monday, Sept 11 (9:15 a.m.) TBLB1.  

If Caché (Hidden) was Austrian director, Michael Haneke’s thriller, The White Ribbon his historical drama and Amour, his love story,  Happy End, might be his TV sitcom, a bleakly sardonic Who’s The Boss? This semi-sequel to the Academy Award-winning, Amour, follows the appalling and wealthy Laurent family,  led by matriarch, Anne (Isabelle Huppert), owners of a failing construction business in Calais, seeking a merger with her English financier-fiancé (Toby Jones). Anne lives with her father (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and depressed son, Pierre, her doctor brother and his wife and, the newest family member, a 12-year-old girl taken in from the doctor’s previous marriage. The old man is suicidal, the child is a video stalker/psychopath, and everyone is oblivious to the Moroccan live-in servants and African refugees in the streets. Framing, editing are impeccable. But as a whole, Happy Ending feels too on-the-nose, a dance macabre on the crumbling walls of Fortress Europe. - LL

THE RIDER (Special Presentations)

Monday, Sept. 11, 4:15 pm, Scotiabank 4.

The second feature from Chinese-born, Denver-based director, Chloé Zhao (Songs My Brother Taught Me) is set in the badlands of South Dakota, where a young rodeo rider, Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) suffers a terrible head injury, and through the film, tries to get his life back together.  Brady lives with his father, a hard-drinking widower (Tim Jandreau) and his sweet-natured, mentally-delayed sister (Lilly Jandreau).  Zhao handles this slow-burn material with integrity, consistent in tone and free melodrama. The traditional Western staples of powerful landscapes,  beautiful horses and human stoicism that seems to represent the meeting ground between Western and Eastern (think Heath Ledger’s character in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain).  Special mention must go to Joshua James Richards’ cinematography, which communicates the beauty that holds Brady and his community to their place.  - LL

MARY SHELLEY (Gala Presentations)

Sunday, Sept. 10 (1:30 PM), ScotiaBank 2

Saudi Arabia’s Haifaa Al-Mansour made history with her charming 2012 feminist drama, Wadjda. Here she plays with history in this watchable but not great English costume drama about how an 18-year-old Mary (Elle Fanning), the lover and later wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (the dewily pretty Douglas Booth), came up with literature’s most famous monster story one rainy night in Geneva. In this stiffly over-determined version of events,  the bookish daughter of famously free-thinking parents is attracted to, and later betrayed by the poet Shelley’s unconventional ways, and her novel is a feminist response to her alienation and betrayal. There are a lot of earnest declarations in the dialogue, leavened by Tom Sturridge’s ridiculous portrayal of Lord Byron as a furry-browed, hair-sniffing fop and plagiarist. - LL

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (Special Presentations)

Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 (11:15 AM), Visa Screening Room at Princess of Wales

In the latest bleakly comic provocation from from Greek absurdist, Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster), Colin Farrell stars as a self-satisfied and paunchy middle-aged cardiologist married to an beautiful opthamologist(Nicole Kidman), in a set-up that echoes Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. In this case, the doctor’s unravelling is caused by his relationship with a 16-year-old boy, who changes from mysterious friend to stalker, to implacable enemy. The dialogue throughout, mixing non-sequiteurs, extreme literalism, painful banalities, suggest the theatre of Luigi Pirandello, is often laugh-out-loud funny and Farrell, as the obstinately foolish doctor is very entertaining though the increa.singly grotesqueand withdrawn denoument plot begins to feel like a lecture about magical thinking and security. - LL

OMERTA (Special Presentations)

Monday, Sept. 11 (9 p.m.) TBLB 1. Wednesday, Sept. 13 (9:30 p.m.). Scotia 2. Saturday, Sept. 16. 2:45 p.m. Scotia 2

There've been a lot of making-of-a-jihadi movies of late, without a lot of real light being shed on the phenomenon. In Omertà, India's Hansal Mehta (Shahid) doesn't even really seem to try to make a human being out of Pakistan's Omar Sheikh, a notorious jihadi whose career moves - from kidnapping tourists in the '90s to the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 - seem simply a case of a sociopath getting bolder as he gets older. Rajkummar Rao as Omar does do a remarkable job conveying a man of easy charm, increasingly obsessed with his status as a veritable rock star of jihad and with his own clippings. But as a portrait of an individual, it's as deep as a network TV movie. More of a monster movie really. - JS

THE MOTIVE (Special Presentations)

Sat. Sept. 9 (6 p.m.) Scotia 1. Mon. Sept 11 (1:45 p.m.). Scotia 3. Fri. Sept. 15 (9:15 p.m.). Scotia 4

Estranged from his cheating wife, a popular novelist, Alvaro sets up in an apartment and - in an effort to create great literature himself - manipulates the lives of his fellow tenants to set up a crime drama. Manuel Martín Cuenca directs this lightly-dark comedy from from Javier Cercas' novel The Tenant and the Motive. The twist ending is a bit of a stretch, but Javier Gutiérrez  | gives Alvaro a disquietingly chill sociopathic performance with a frozen mild grin (reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter). - JS

THE CAPTAIN (Special Presentations)

Sat. Sept. 9 (3:15 p.m.) TBLB 1. Mon. Sept. 11 (4:15 p.m.) Scotia 10. Sat. Sept. 16 (3:30 p.m.). Scotia 14.

Milan Peschel, Max Hubacher in The Captain

Milan Peschel, Max Hubacher in The Captain

Taken from a true story, The Captain tells the tale of a German army deserter (Max Hubacher) at the end of WWII who, having escaped execution, happens upon a deserted Wehrmacht vehicle and a captain's uniform, which he dons. Once mistaken for a captain, he assembles a "platoon" of thugs and enters a camp where he willingly presides over mass-murders at the behest of on-site military (who are just waiting for someone to give them "official" orders to do so). A kind of "clothes make the man" meets Lord Of The Flies. It's compellingly directed in stark black-and-white by Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler’s WifeRED, Insurgent) returning to his native land to work in German. - JS

OF SHEEP AND MEN (Documentaries)

Monday, Sept. 11 (3:30 p.m.), Jackman Hall(AGO); Sat,  Sep 16, Scotiabank 7.

Swiss-Algerian filmmaker Karim Sayad’s observant documentary follows two Algerian men and their fighting rams in the days leading to the Islamic holy day, Eid al-Ahda, or the Feast of Sacrifice.  Hamid, a plump 16-year-old bus driver, who once dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, wants to win local fame by having his ram, El Bouq, become a champion.  Samir, a garrulous 42-year-old father and military vet, wants to provide for his son by buying and selling the rams for food and sport - though we see an Imam on television condemning the ram fights as unnecessary cruelty to animals. Along with an intimate sense of day-to-day life in the working-class suburbs, there’s an unobtrusive but unavoidable political message and parallels between the parallel lives of these marginalized men and their livestock. (Liam Lacey)