Two possibilities may pertain. Either I have been successful in backloading my schedule, so all the treats are yet to come. Or it is a slightly down year, at least for the titles that arrive without distribution—the ones I tend to pick. However, it isn’t 1988, the Year All the Sure Bets Disappointed. It might not even be 2007, The Year No One Had a Third Act. However, Wednesday the 14th is all unknown quantities or known risks, so things are about to get more suspenseful before the final solid days kick in. Let’s find out as we look at the movies I looked at on Wednesday at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Indivisible (Italy, Edoardo de Angelis, 3.5) 18 year old conjoined twins whose parents parade them around as low-rent pop singers discover that they can be safely separated after all. Visually compelling neo-neorealism, with affecting star performances from leads Angela and Marianna Fortuna.
The big industry news this year is that a couple of key sales agents, most notably Fortissimo, have filed for bankruptcy. Sales agents form the layer between the filmmakers and distributors worldwide. They shepherd films into festivals like TIFF. With DVD sales giving way to streaming the chief chunk of their revenue has begun to evaporate. Streaming platforms like Netflix want to strike worldwide deals, which producers can do on their own without sales agents, who specialized in handling multiple territories. In the end this winds up, I think, with more access to films like those shown at TIFF, but in home theaters, not in art houses--which are also in trouble. In any cultural industry, hobby gaming included, the way products get sold to people affects what gets made. Streaming is a boon for film fans who don’t live near art houses. But what happens when no one does, because they don’t exist any more?
Or maybe Chinese investors will figure it out. Colossal, the Anne Hathaway kaiju flick reviewed earlier, got picked up for a lot of money by a putatively mysterious new Chinese company hoping to become a big player in North American film distribution.
Maliglutit (Searchers) (Canada, Zacharias Kunuk, 4) When outlaws kidnap his wife and daughter and kill his other male relatives, a hunter and his son muster their sled dogs for high Arctic pursuit. Transposes the very basic outlines of the John Ford classic to Inuit culture for a spare tale of crime, punishment and endurance against a backdrop of unforgiving beauty.
Since the much-remade and homaged original was a Western, simple logic informs us that Maliglutit is a Northern. Because of its narrative economy and superior photography, I like this even better than the director’s justly celebrated Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner.
And just as you should know better than to mess with a family protected by John Wayne, this film reminds us that you should not mess with a family protected by a loon spirit.
The War Show (Denmark/Syria, Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon, 4) Documentary follows young Syrian idealists from its Arab Spring protest movement to the devolution into various, successively worse stages of civil war. Keeps a human perspective on a conflict whose horror and intractability challenges one’s ability to engage.
The film shows how Syria follows a pattern also seen in Egypt: the region’s autocratic regimes view Islamists only as rivals, and democracy activists as the true enemy. Thus they abet the former and work to destroy the former.
Wulu (Senegal, Daouda Coulibaly, 3) Level-headed smuggler rises from courier to kingpin during the advent of large scale drug trafficking in 2000s West Africa. Senegalese counterpart to Narcos or Blow serves up some interesting region-specific detail before an ending so sudden and arbitrary that one suspects the filmmakers had to bail before completing principal photography.
Without Name (Ireland, Lorcan Finnegan, 2) Philandering surveyor succumbs to hallucinogenic madness in a remote wooded area. Stylish, but has so little story development that it would be overlong as the weak 20 minute middle segment of a horror anthology flick.
When the director referred to this in his introductory remarks, as a “slow burn” I thought, uh-oh. When used to refer to a TIFF horror film as a “slow burn” it generally translates to: “arty but lacks a third act.” Or in this case “lacks a second and a third act.”
Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, disc and/or streaming over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release, instead favoring choices that don’t have distribution and might not reappear.