Original-Cin TIFF Picks, Thursday, Sept. 14

By Liam Lacey, Kim Hughes and Jim Slotek

INSYRIATED (Contemporary World Cinema)

Thursday, Sept. 14 (8:45 p.m.). TBLB 2. Friday, Sept. 15 (12:00 p.m.). TBLB 2

The fine Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (Exodus: Gods and Kings) is the heart of this claustrophobic Syrian war drama. She plays Oum Yazan, a mother of three barricaded in a Damascus apartment as sniper fire and bombs sound outside and burglars prowl the empty units. Along with her two adolescent daughters and a son, Oum Yazan is protecting a young mother with a baby, a South Asian maid, a teen-aged neighbour boy and Oum’s father-in-law. Belgian director Philippe Van Leeuw’s drama begins as impressively tension-packed but too quickly progresses into a crude moral quandary about survival and guilt, in a scene where a young woman next door is assaulted while Oum Yazan and her charges cower in their kitchen. - LL

 Youth: A Maoist "Mean Girls"

Youth: A Maoist "Mean Girls"

YOUTH (Special Presentations)

Thursday, Sept. 14 (1 p.m.) Elgin Winter Garden. Friday, Sept. 15. (12:00 p.m.) Scotia 3      

Xiaogang Feng (I Am Not Madame Bovary) introduces us to a very teenage group of young people in ‘70s Maoist China whose life revolves around a military-arts troupe in the People's Liberation Army, dancing and singing in praise of revolutionary values. The beautifully-filmed movie only has its narrative footing in the first act, when it’s kind of a Maoist Mean Girls, with a bullied young talent named Xiaoping (Miao Miao), the bully diva Dingding (Yang Caiyu) and the class hunk Liu Feng (Xuan Huang). Unfortunately, they all really are soldiers, and actual war (with Vietnam) intrudes, sending the plot and characters in all directions. Interesting, but overly long and unfocused tale. - JS

 Hall and Salisbury in Porcupine Lake

Hall and Salisbury in Porcupine Lake

THERE IS A HOUSE HERE (TIFF Docs)

Tuesday, Sept. 12 (6 pm), TIFF Belll Lightbox 2; Thursday, Sept. 14 (5:15 pm), Jackman Hall; Saturday, Sept. 16 (9 am), Jackman Hall

A documentarian with a unique and personal approach, Alan Zweig has a tendency to prod his subjects on camera, usually provoking some kind of soul-baring outburst (as with his terrific doc on the downfall of Steve Fonyo). In this one, the object of his probing is Lucie, a former club band singer in Toronto, who returned to her problematic home in Nunavut. Zweig awkwardly investigates her surroundings, the drinking and lawlessness, as well as the traditional hunting outings, almost overcoming the suspicion of the locals en route. The object, though, is Lucie, a long-time close acquaintance, whose breakthrough comes in the last act of the film. - JS 

KINGS (Gala Presentation)

Wednesday, Sept. 13 (6:30 pm), Roy Thomson Hall; Thursday, Sept. 14 (2:30 pm) Elgin; Sunday, Sept. 17 (12:30 pm), ScotiaBank 1

Set in 1992 Los Angeles, Kings follows a single mother — who is black — as she attempts to gather her scattered brood with the help of a cranky neighbour — who is white — while the city erupts in violence following the acquittal of the cops accused of beating Rodney King. What’s presumably intended as a hands-across-the-water story scans as racially tone-deaf. It’s also stilted and predictable, a fact stars Halle Berry and Daniel Craig seem uneasily aware of as the action unfolds. Hopes were riding high that director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, whose lovely 2015 feature debut Mustang snagged an Oscar nod, could pull this off. It’s questionable whether anyone could… or should. - KH

PORCUPINE LAKE

Thursday, Sept. 14 (7:30 p.m. TBLB 3). Friday, Sept. 15 (8:45 p.m.) Scotia 9

Coming-of-age movies (Only, Modra) are Canadian director Ingrid Veninger’s wheelhouse. And this film - about a city girl (Charlotte Salisbury) who enters into an intense summer friendship with a hard-edged local girl (Lucinda Armstrong Hall) in Port Severn, Ontario – is a universal tale of overwhelming tween emotions set against the dangerous boredom (by young people’s standards) of growing up in a small town. Beautifully shot, sensitively told, it's Veninger’s best film. - JS