Original-Cin TIFF Picks: Thursday, September 13

By Jim Slotek, Liam Lacey, Kim Hughes, and Karen Gordon

The end is near, but still so much to see. Besides, sleep is overrated.

Matthias Schoenaerts and Léa Seydoux electrify Kursk.

Matthias Schoenaerts and Léa Seydoux electrify Kursk.

Kursk (Special Presentations)

Thur. Sept 13, 9:30 pm, Winter Garden Theatre

Credit director Thomas Vinterberg for making this docudrama about the real-life sinking of Russian nuclear submarine Kursk agonizing and enthralling in equal measure. When a group of men find themselves stranded at the bottom of the Barents Sea after a cataclysmic explosion, they struggle to survive encroaching water, diminishing oxygen, and overwhelming terror. Meanwhile, their governmental masters dither, forestalling crucial international help in an effort to hide the woeful state of their navy from the world. Brutal (yet brilliant) and heart-breaking. Matthias Schoenaerts, Léa Seydoux, and Colin Firth star. KH

Ash is Purest White (Masters)

Thurs, Sept. 13, 5:30 pm, Scotiabank Theatre; Sat. Sept. 15, 12 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox. 

China’s generation-leading auteur, Jia Zhang-ke offers a more conventional film than his last couple (A Touch of Sin, Mountains May Depart) with this 21st century gangster love story, though with the same contemplation on the race of progress, pop-up dance, and performance scenes and mysterious portents as sublime landscapes and give way to industrial ugliness. Foremost among the film’s pleasures is the performance by the director’s muse and wife Zhao Tao as Quio. When we first meet her, she is a young woman and the spirited consort to small-time hood, Bin (Liao Fan).  After surviving a five-year jail sentence and romantic abandonment, Quio sticks to her gangster code of honour in the face of betrayal and change. Despite separations and reversals of fortune, Quio and Bin are invariably drawn back to each other.  “Am I that important?” he asks her. “If not you, what is?” she answers. LL

Burning (Special Presentations)

Thurs. Sept. 13, 3 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 3; Sun. Sept. 16, 3:15 pm, Scotiabank 3.

Korea’s Lee Chang-dong (Secret Sunshine, Poetry) creates epic stories that are also rich on closely observed, intimate detail. Burning, which is adapted from a Hurakami Murakami short story, “Barn Burning” (with some elements from a William Faulkner story of the same title) is a terrifically well-made psychological thriller. At its centre is a romantic triangle involving a free-spirited young woman, Haemi (Jeon Jong-seo), an awkward young writer (Yoo Ah-in) and Ben (Steven Yeun) a rich, possibly sociopathic, playboy. While exploring themes of malignant masculinity, class and mental health, Lee creates a masterful shell game. LL

Redemption (Contemporary World Cinema)

Thu. Sept. 13, 2:45 pm, Scotiabank 4; Sat. Sept. 15, 9:30 pm, Scotiabank 4.

On the face of it, the premise of this Israeli drama sounds like a terrible idea that might end up being a movie by Greg Kinnear or Will Smith: A devout religious man and single father has to reunite with his old rock band to play weddings to help pay for his six-year-old daughter’s cancer treatment. In practice, it’s not bad at all, a low-key exploration of life’s hard choices from co-directors Joseph Madmony and Boaz Yehonatan Yacov and a wonderfully soulful performance by lead actor, Moshe Folkenflik. He plays Menachem, a grocery clerk who has more or less retreated behind a wall of religion but, as his old bandmates are quick to remind him, his self-righteousness and piety aren’t the same thing as gratitude. LL

Widows (Gala)

Sept 13, Visa Screening Room, Princess of Wales Theatre; Sept 16, Elgin Theatre

Oscar winning director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) steps away from his usual heavy themed material to make a heist film.  Four women whose husbands died during an armed robbery are forced to team up and pull off a major professional level robbery, to repay the man whose money their husbands took in the first place.  McQueen is a skillful, intelligent filmmaker, and he’s pulled together a heavy duty cast including the great Viola Davis, Daniel Kaluuya , Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell and Jacki Weaver, who are all fun to watch. But in spite of all the talent, in the end, the story’s weaknesses make it less than it might have been. K.G

Red Joan (Special Presentations)

Thursday, Sept. 13, 6 p.m. Visa Screening Room, Princess of Wales Theatre; Friday, Sept. 14, 12:30 p.m., Scotiabank Theatre; Sat. Sept. 15, 9 a.m. Scotiabank Theatre.

A by-the-numbers “inspired-by” story of Melita Norwood, the grandmotherly retired British civil servant who was revealed in 1999 to have been a KGB operative for 40 years. Under Trevor Nunn’s direction, the tale of “Joan Stanley” (as she is renamed) takes a character who acted out of ideology and cheaply melodramatically turns her into a traitor for love. We meet the aged Joan (Judi Dench) as she’s hauled away. Bring on the flashbacks to a young Joan (Sophie Cookson), a naïve physics student who falls under the thrall of a fiery Stalinist student activist named Leo (Tom Hughes) and his domineering and charismatic sister (Tereza Srbova). A prodigy, Joan finds herself working on Britain’s version of the Manhattan Project, alongside a new love interest, a scientist with high clearance (Stephen Campbell Moore). The invented events are improbable and Joan is unknowable. J.S.

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