By Jim Slotek, Liam Lacey, Kim Hughes, and Karen Gordon
So we are off! Each day, OC writers briefly highlight a handful of films screening that (mostly) are worth checking out. Yeah, we’re good like that.
Black Conflux (Discovery)
Fri. Sept. 6, 6:15 pm, Scotiabank 3; Sun. Sept. 8, 5:45 pm, Scotiabank 11; Sat. Sept. 14, 11:30 am Scotiabank 10.
Canadian director Nicole Dorsey’s first feature surprises in a few ways, not the least of which is its wisdom and compassion. Set in Newfoundland in 1987, the film tracks two principal characters — both marginal in their small community — who are set on a mutually destructive collision course, in a mix of two genres: the lonely weirdo study and the female coming-of-age story. Fifteen-year-old Jackie (Ella Ballentine) is the daughter of an alcoholic single mother, discovering her sexual identity under the influence of an adventurous friend. The other character is thirty-something Dennis (Ryan McDonald), the town weirdo, who works at a local brewery and is struggling with mental health issues. The time period is important, not only for the distancing fashion styles (tube tops and teased hair) but because a teen girl can spend the night away from home without being tracked by a cell phone, and a loner like Dennis can’t rely on the internet for his porn interests or incel forums to support his misogyny. Some details are awkwardly ambiguous (is Dennis just troubled or actually psychotic?) but the performances are consistently persuasive and the final scenes are a startling blend of suspense and grace. LL
Heimat is a Space In Time (Wavelengths)
Fri. Sept. 6, 1 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4; Sun. Sept. 15, 12:45 pm, AGO Jackman Hall.
What would a self-respecting film festival be without one three-and-a-half hour black-and-white meditation on the nightmare of history? Heimat (German for homeland) is a tour de force essay/collage film from East German-born Thomas Heise (Fatherland), who reads documents from a century’s worth of family archives — letters, diaries, recipes, homework assignments — through two world wars, the Holocaust, the GDR dictatorship and reunification. Shot in black and white, the film creates unexpected juxtapositions between the images, both archival and contemporary, and the introspective voice-over (including a recorded dialogue between the philosopher Wolfgang Heise, the filmmaker’s father, and dramatist Heiner Müller). Heise’s family — writers, artists, intellectuals — were vivid observers but Heimat achieves its incantatory effect through its editing rhythms, handled with a tender, almost ritual care. LL
Parasite (Special Presentations)
Fri. Sept. 6, 8:30 pm, Ryerson Theatre; Sat. Sept 7, 1:30 pm, Scotiabank 3.
Winner of this year’s Cannes Palme D’or, Bong Joon-Ho’s gloriously amoral tale of an unscrupulous poor family that connives its way in the mansion of a rich, gullible clan starts out very funny and ends up very dark. The cast of director’s regulars is headed by Song Kang-Ho as the patriarch of a family that considers it a good day when they can score free Wi-Fi. When the son (Choi Woo-sik) lies his way into a job teaching English to the spoiled teen daughter (Park So-dam), the door is open for a massive con. But others are also in on the con, creating an anarchic final act with a fairly loud social statement against the uglier attitudes of the one percent. JS
The Platform (Midnight Madness)
Fri. Sept. 6, 11:59 pm, Ryerson Theatre; Sun, Sept 8, 10 pm, Scotiabank 2; Sun, Sept 15, 7:15 pm, Scotiabank 2.
The Platform opens in the kitchen of a high-end San Sebastian restaurant which, we soon discover, sits atop a tower of single prison cells through which a tabletop platform descends from the kitchen, carrying a feast to the higher-up prisoners, and garbage to those below. (The premise is an expansion of Harold Pinter’s one-act classic, The Dumb Waiter). New prisoner Goreng, carrying a copy of Don Quixote to pass the time, wakes up beside old veteran Trimagasi, who explains the rules of the joint: eat fast and hope — periodically, the prisoners are gassed asleep and wake up on different floors. Within this blunt allegory of carnivore capitalism, director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia and screenwriters David Desola and Pedro Rivero aren’t preaching. Their aim is to engross you out, with a punishing mix of brutal comedy and narrative jolts. LL
Red Penguins (TIFF Docs)
Friday, Sept. 6, 3:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; Sat. Sept. 14, 6:30 pm, Scotiabank 4.
Documentarian Gabe Polsky first entered the waters of Russian hockey with Red Army, his personal portrait of the last days of the Soviet system and the debut of the first Russians in the NHL. His follow-up is absurdist by comparison, the story of the shambles after the fall of Communism, where competing criminals jostled for control of anything that looked profitable. Into that mess in the early ‘90s waded Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin, a collection of investors that included Michael J. Fox and Mario Lemieux (and later Disney), and a ballsy promoter named Steve Warshaw who bought the former Red Army hockey team and renamed it the Penguins. Of course, no one knew what it meant to do business in a failed state, and this story is almost tragicomic in the scope of the failure it portrays. One of those docs that would never be believable as fiction. (J.S.)