Original-Cin TIFF 2019 Picks: Monday, September 9

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

Another week, another fresh slate of films to digest. And we’re off…



Synonyms (Contemporary World Cinema)

Mon. Sept, 9, 9:45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; Tues, Sept. 10, 1 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4; Sat, Sept. 14, 5:45 pm, Scotiabank 11.

The winner of the top Golden Bear prize at Berlin earlier this year, Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s autobiographical black comedy follows the misadventures of Yoab (Tom Mercier) a bullish young former Israeli soldier who runs away to Paris in a rejection of his Israeli identity. After having all his clothes and other possessions stolen while he’s taking a bath, he finds himself adopted by a rich young couple, who take care of him and treat him as an exotic plaything. In contrast, Yoav, who gets a job at the Israeli consulate — but refuses to speak Hebrew — also spends time with Yaron, an hyper-aggressive Israeli intelligence agent, who trolls the Metro and tourist bars looking for antisemites to fight. The film’s free-wheeling structure can grow wearying, but Lapid’s take-no-prisoners dismantling of the Israeli macho mystique — or French hypocritical superiority — are, in the best way, outrageous. LL

A Hidden Life (Masters)

Mon. Sept. 9, 1 pm, Elgin Theatre; Wed. Sept. 11, 2:30 pm, Scotiabank 4; Fri. Sept. 13, 3 pm, Scotiabank 1. Sat. Sept. 14, 9 am, Scotiabank 2.

Terrence Malick’s exceptional poetic control of the elements of filmmaking — the blocking of characters, the exhilarating landscapes, the sound of water and wind (and Bach, Handel and Beethoven) — are so elevated, you wonder why other filmmakers don’t just pack up and go home… and how this missed the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

A Hidden Life feels, mostly, like a masterpiece. This atypically linear story, covering the years from 1939 to 1943, tells the real story of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) an Austrian village farmer, husband and father who, after serving in the beginning of the war in France, became a conscientious objector. The buildup and context (archival footage of Hitler) are extraordinary, but once Franz is arrested, things begin to repeat. Officers and judges scream at Franz, clergymen and lawyers make utilitarian arguments and implicity threaten his family. Franz, humiliated and suffering in a Berlin prison, writes exquisitely heartfelt letters home, where we bask in golden scenes of farm life in the Austrian idyll, contrasted against angry orders shouted in German. Hating Nazis has rarely felt more righteous, but even righteousness can be exhausting.  LL

La Belle Epoque.

La Belle Epoque.

La Belle Epoch (Special Presentations)

Monday, September 9, Scotiabank 3. 2:30 p.m.

French writer/director Nicholas Bedos’  latest is a romantic comedy with a fantasy element. Victor (Daniel Auteuil) is an out of work political cartoonist stubbornly resisting the internet age. His wife Marianne (Fanny Ardent) is the complete opposite and she is fed up and contemptuous of him. When she throws him out, an old family friend, Antoine (Guillaume Canet) offers help. He runs a company that uses sets costumes and actors to recreate any time in history for clients to experience. Victor chooses to relive the day he met Marianne, with — wait for it — Antoine’s girlfriend (Doria Tiller) playing Marianne. For sure there’s sweetness here, and the formidable cast delivers. But an element of predictability and a sometimes laboured plot, means the fun is less than it might be. KG

Nobadi (Contemporary World Cinema)

Mon. Sept. 9, 9 p.m., Scotiabank 8; Sun, Sept. 15, 9 pm, Scotiabank 9.

In present day Austria, an old man is too frail to bury his beloved old dog, so he hires a young Afghan refugee who follows him home from the hardware store. Anyone expecting a heartwarming lesson about cross-cultural humanity  should expect instead a twisted tale, set over the course of a day and one grisly night. The young Afghan man (Bordhanulddin Hassan Zadeh) has a bad limp and a tattoo on his arm of the nickname given to him by Nato troops, “Nobadi” (Nobody) when he worked at a camp in Afghanistan. The old man  (Hans Trixner) has some camp experience of his own. The script takes a series of sharp turns that keep the momentum rolling. But whatever Karl Markovics intends to say about any colliding cultural histories but his is impenetrable. LL

Son-Mother (Discovery)

Mon. Sept 9, 12: 15 pm, Jackman Hall; Sun, Sept. 15, 3 pm, Scotiabank 9.

This is the first-feature from Iranian documentary filmmaker, Mahnaz Mohammadi, written by veteran dissident filmmaker, Mohammad Rasoulof. And it’s an artful example of the Iranian mixture of documentary-style realism and artful allegory. The primary story follows a young widow and mother named Leila (Raha Khodayari), working in a factory, facing layoffs because of the U.S. sanctions. To provide for her and her 12-year-old son, Amir, and infant daughter, she succumbs to pressure to marry a local bus driver, Karem. But because the driver has a daughter, also 12, by custom the opposite-sex adolescents can’t cohabit. A neighbour offers the solution: Amir must pretend to be deaf and mute so he can be installed in a special needs boarding school.  It’s during the film’s second half, where Amir finds himself in the school, where he’s obliged to not speak and pretend to not hear, that this trenchant parable of life under a totalitarian theocracy gains its real poetic power. LL

 The Truth (Special Presentations)

Monday, September 9, Winter Garden Theatre. 6 p.m. Tuesday, September 10 ,TIFF Bell Lighbox 1. 2:30 p.m.; Saturday September 14th, Scotiabank 4. 9:45 a.m.

Hirokazu Kore-eda follows up his Palme d’Or winning Shoplifters with his first non-Japanese language movie.  Juliette Binoche stars as Lumir, the screenwriter daughter of the legendary French film star Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve). Lumir is in Paris with her husband (Ethan Hawke) and daughter to celebrate the publication of Fabienne’s memoir. The book is highly selective and perhaps even slightly fictionalized which creates resentments.At the same time Fabienne seems to be triggered by a small role she’s shooting, which ramps up her diva-tude and manipulative behaviour. As always Kore-eda’s work whispers and never screams its intentions. There’s the subtlest of arcs in this story. The effect is a small movie about family bonds and dynamics, anchored by the sheer pleasure of watching two formidable actresses do their magic without appearing to break a sweat. KG