Original-Cin TIFF 2019 Picks: Sunday, September 8

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

It’s day 4 and we are still going strong… more or less. Do you have any idea how long it takes to watch a whole movie! Jeesh.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Gala)

Sun., Sept. 8, Princess of Wales Theatre. 3:15 p.m. Sat., Sept. 14. Elgin Theatre. 2:30 p.m.

Funny, touching, and redemptive, director Marielle Heller’s film, based on Esquire writer Tom Junod’s relationship with the late Mr. Rogers is already a crowd favourite. Tom Hanks’ often comic, soulful performance as Fred Rogers is the foundation of the story. But the narrative belongs to Matthew Rhys as the pseudonymous cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel, with an angry hole in his heart where his estranged father (Chris Cooper) should be. The most decent man in America and the dirt-seeking media missile engage in a give and take, punctuated by silences, glances, and breakthroughs. JS

Black Conflux.

Black Conflux.

Black Conflux (Discovery)

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

The Audition (Discovery)

Sun. Sept. 8, 3:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3; Tues, Sept. 10, 5:45 pm, Scotiabank 8; Fri. Sept. 13, 5:30 pm, Scotiabank 9. 

There has already been a memorable film about a middle-aged sexually frustrated woman music teacher, focusing on a young male student and recapitulating an apparently brutal childhood in her teaching duties: That film was Michael Haneke’s 2001 The Piano Teacher, based on Elfriede Jelinek’s novel, starring Isabel Huppert.

 The Audition, the second feature from German actor-director Ina Weisse, is a slightly less mad version of the same story. The ever-watchable Nina Hoss stars as the faultlessly stylish, alarmingly neurotic Anna, who, after a failed concert career, tutors students auditioning for college. Anna is also involved in a functional but loveless marriage with a luthier and is mother to a musically-gifted but rebellious adolescent son. For cryptic personal reasons, she begins to focus her attention -- to the point of mania -- on one sensitive teen-aged student Alexander, with predictable terrible results. Handsomely filmed, impressively acted throughout, The Audition is impressive, until you realize it's essentially second-hand Haneke. LL

Calm with Horses.

Calm with Horses.

Calm With Horses (Discovery)

Sun. Sept 8, 8:45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; Tues. Sept 10, 6:45 pm, Scotiabank 13; Sun. Sept. 15, 6:15 pm, Scotiabank 3.

Honour among thieves wouldn’t seem like a subject begging to be deeply explored and yet it’s the engine propelling Nick Rowland's very tense feature directorial debut, which also observes the claustrophobic pall of small-town life. Retired boxer Douglas “Arm” Armstrong has few options for work and a young son to help support, so serving as enforcer to the local drug-dealing family is an obvious fit even if the demands of the job sit uncomfortably on the conscience. When Arm is asked to murder, the stakes become impossibly high and betrayal may be the only way out. Set in rural Ireland and draped in an oppressive veneer that’s palpable, Calm with Horses — adapted from Colin Barrett's acclaimed story collection — soars on powerful performances from Cosmo Jarvis as the conflicted strongman with the soft heart and Barry Keoghan (Killing of a Sacred Deer) as Arm’s vicious yet weirdly loyal brother in arms. KH

The Lighthouse (Special Presentations)

Sun. Sept. 8, 7:45 pm, Scotiabank 12. 

Writer/director Robert Eggers follows up his unsettling and meticulously crafted debut The Witch, with this two-man black-and-white tour de force that goes from drama to comedy to horror and back again. Set in the 1890s, the film stars Robert Pattinson as Winslow, who signs on to work for a lighthouse keeper, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Wake is every sea captain stereotype you’ve ever seen, spouting salty-dog cliches and superstitions. He treats the tightly-wound Winslow like a slave, and makes a show of keeping secrets. Eventually, Winslow, pushed by Wake, battered by the elements and the local seagulls, starts to unravel. Pattinson and Dafoe dig into their roles with gusto as the movie takes one unexpected turn after another.  Is it about madness? Man versus Nature? Is it a fever dream? This one will keep you thinking long after you’ve left the theatre. KG

The Platform (Midnight Madness)

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



Spider (Contemporary World Cinema)

Sun, Sept 8, 9:15 pm, Scotiabank 9; Sun. Sept 15, 9:30 pm Scotiabank 4.

Fierce political rebellion amid a love triangle scans more powerfully on the page than on the screen in this slow-boil thriller (very slooow) about three anti-Communist dissidents in 70s-era Chile who end up following markedly different paths. Inés, Justo, and Gerardo are determined to alter the course of history — and they do, through a brazen act. But only Gerardo clings to his activist passions as the years go by. When his continued agitation returns him to the spotlight Inés and Justo have shunned in an attempt to cultivate more peaceful lives, secrets are bound to spill and something’s got to give. Sounds cool right? But the story never really collates in director Andrés Wood’s drama despite excellent performances from María Valverde and especially, from Mercedes Morán as, respectively, the young and older Inés. KH

Vitalina Varela (Wavelengths)

Sunday, September 8, Jackman Hall, 9:30 p.m.

Portuguese Director Pedro Costa’s long, slow moving, haunting art house film is the story of Vitalina, who arrives in Lisbon from Cape Verde to attend the funeral of the husband she hasn’t seen in decades. Moving into his barely furnished tenement apartment, she gleans how he and other immigrants have been surviving. The film, shot mainly at night, is gorgeous. Each frame is composed like a work of art. There is limited action and dialogue. Instead Costa maintains his focus on Vitalina, a non-professional actor, who in her silence, fills the screen with suppressed grief and rage. KG

A Bump Along the Way (Discovery)

Sun. Sept 8, 3:15 pm, Scotiabank 14; Tues. Sept. 10, 10:15 am, Jackman Hall; Fri. Sept. 13, 3:45 pm, Scotiabank 4.

A sort of coming-of-age story albeit one concerning both a single mother and her bullied daughter, A Bump Along the Way begins on free-wheeling Pamela’s 44th birthday, where a drunken encounter results in an unexpected (very unexpected) pregnancy. Already mortified by her feisty mother’s vibrant social life, straitlaced 16-year-old Allegra is scandalized anew. Yet as the baby grows, mother and daughter slowly swap roles, with Pamela becoming more grounded and Allegra exploring boys and booze. Reaching a middle ground helps both women bond to each other and find their true voices in this gentle, female-driven dramedy from Ireland that, though movie-of-the-week-ish in tone and scope, nevertheless delivers a ton of heart while landing some choice zingers. KH

How To Build A Girl (Special Presentations)

Sun. Sep 8, 7:15 pm, Scotiabank 2; Fri. Sept. 13, 6 pm, Scotiabank 2.

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by English celebrity journalist Caitlin Moran, How To Build A Girl could be called Almost Shameless — riffing on a similar teenage rock critic trajectory as Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous but set against the background of a chaotic family, her disability-collecting dad (Paddy Considine), depressed mom (Sarah Solemani), and five kids jammed into a council flat in the early nineties, where she consults with her pantheon of poster icons for advice. Manically paced, stuffed with bon mots and kooky costumes, the film’s major asset is suddenly everywhere Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird, Booksmart), as a bug-eyed, irrepressible teen, Joanna Morrigan, who, through moxy and precociously sharp writing, becomes a sexually liberated star amidst the sneery ambisexual boys’ club of pop music critics. The movie wobbles when it slows down for the “serious” parts, when Joanna briefly loses her soul by abusing her talent for colourful invective, before she rediscovers it again with the help of a sad older rocker, John Kite (Alfie Allen) who sees her latent genius. Though modesty isn’t among the ingredients here, the concoction fizzes merrily. LL