By Jim Slotek, Liam Lacey, Kim Hughes and Karen Gordon
Home stretch, baby, home stretch!
While at War (Special Presentations)
Sat. Sept. 14, 9:15 pm, Scotiabank 9.
Versatile Peruvian-Spanish director Alejandro Amenobar (The Sea Inside, The Others) dives into Spain’s Civil war in While at War, focusing on frail and aged writer-philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (Karra Elejalde) who, in 1936 at the University of Salamanca, made a famous speech against Franco’s fascist ideology. Scenes of Unamuno’s domestic life with his friends and daughter are contrasted with scenes in Morocco where the crafty but unimpressive Franco and his violent henchman, Millán de Astray (a scene-chewing Eduard Fernandez), plot their violent take-over. Though there are a number of well-crafted street scenes, too much of the film consists of talk around long tables, with little sense of the viciousness of the nationalist campaign, and the horrors that Unamuno predicted. LL
Atlantics (Contemporary World Cinema)
Sat. Sept. 14, 1 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2.
The winner of the runner-up prize at Cannes, the Dakar-set debut film from Senegalese-French actress Mati Diop is a slender narrative — part ghost story, part romance — with a non-professional cast set against the backdrop of African emigrants attempting the perilous journey to Spain. When a young unpaid construction worker and his coworkers set off on in an open boat on the ocean, his young love Ada (Mama Sané) is left behind, destined to be married to a rich man she doesn’t love. Meanwhile, a mysterious series of fires are being started in the town — and one of the missing emigrants is thought to be the culprit. Beautifully shot with an ethereal score and oodles of atmosphere, Atlantics takes supernatural turns, which are best taken as metaphoric rather than literal in this poetic reverie of grief and loss. LL
Martin Eden (Platform)
Sat. Sept 14, 9:15 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4.
Winner of TIFF’s 2019 Platform Prize recognizing evocative films “told with extraordinary cinematic invention and grace,” Italian director Pietro Marcello’s sumptuous tale — a reworking, perhaps improbably, of a Jack London story — follows a poor but determined labourer who longs to transform himself into a successful writer. Of course, the film is about much more than that (namely, class divisions and their arbitrary nature) but Marcello’s film soars on an incandescent performance by Luca Marinelli as the impassioned title character whose desire for the daughter of a wealthy man triggers his hunger for knowledge but is ultimately imperiled by his political awakening. Filmed in a Naples of dappled sunlight, cobbled streets, hanging laundry and epic socialist fervour, Martin Eden is mesmerizing to watch and quietly thrilling to behold. KH
The Personal History of David Copperfield (Special Presentations)
Saturday, Sept. 14. Scotiabank 14. 12:45 p.m.
Fans of Armando Iannucci (Veep, The Death of Stalin) may be surprised to encounter this departure from his usual scabrous humour. He takes the mickey out of Dickens in a very gentle, almost homage-like way, positing the story as the narrated work of Copperfield, the orphan-turned-writer (Dev Patel, one of many roles in the comedy that have been seamlessly given to people-of-colour). Iannucci’s Copperfield boasts the most physical comedy of any of his work, and hilarious performances by his go-to actor (and sometime Doctor Who) Peter Capaldi as Micawber, and by Hugh Laurie as the befuddled Mr. Dick. A comedy that washes over you with its warmth. JS
Sound of Metal (Platform)
Sat. Sept. 14, 9 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1.
Darius Marder makes an impressive directorial debut with a slow-paced, intimate movie about a man going deaf. Riz Ahmed stars as a Ruben Stone, a drummer in a noise metal combo with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). They’re in the midst of a tour, living out of their bus, when Ruben’s hearing goes. He’s a recovering addict so Lou forces him to stop and checks him into a retreat for deaf people with addiction issues. He is gently eased into his new reality, but without Lou, without music, without the road, who is he? It may sound cliché, but co-writer/director Marder gives us a calm, thoughtful movie that is anything but. He’s cleverly designed the audio so that we get a sense of what Ruben is experiencing. And combined with a quiet interior performance by Ahmed, the engrossing film justifies every minute of its two hour running time. KG