September 11, 2017

#TIFF17: Mesmerism and a Woke iPhone Body Swap

Mademoiselle Paradis  (Austria, Barbara Licht, 4) At the behest of their status-conscious aristocratic parents, a pianist undergoes treatment for blindness at the clinic of Anton Mesmer. A fresh approach to lighting the 18th century provides the key to this story of healing and control, which depicts Mesmer with unexpected sympathy.

Valley of Shadows (Norway, Jonas Matzow, 1) Boy whose older brother has just died seeks lost dog in a forest he believes to be inhabited by a werewolf. Beautifully shot, with fine score by Zbigniew Priesner, and as slo-o-o-o-w as one snail going to visit a second snail to discuss the possibility of ordering tickets to a Tarkovsky retrospective.

Mary Shelley (Ireland,  Haifaa Al Mansour, 1) Young Mary Godwin (Elle Fanning) falls for handsome poet and free love advocate Percy Shelley, causing the suffering that inspires her to invent the science fiction genre. Squanders a top-notch cast, not to mention the subject matter, on a script creaking with hackneyed biopic devices.

At one point I was thinking, “It’s doing everything wrong you can imagine them doing wrong, but at least they aren't cutting to an indifferently staged version of the resurrection scene from Frankenst… oh wait. Never mind.”

High Fantasy (South Africa, Jenna Bass, 4) Racial and gender tensions bubble up when three friends and a random guy go camping and wake up with their bodies swapped. Found footage social justice comedy drama suggest that seeing the world with another’s eyes might just make things worse. Shot on a iPhone and looks surprisingly great.

I can just hear the original Nordic lions of the Dogme 95 movement looking at this and muttering, “why I remember when we had to walk three miles across a snowy fjord to shoot on a prosumer DV cam and transfer it to a muddy gray super 16 print that looked like a herd of reindeer trampled it…”

Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle (Spain, Gustavo Salmerón,4) Documentary portrait of the director’s family, particularly his incorrigibly eccentric mother, a hoarder facing foreclosure on her castle full of junk. Lovingly funny look inside a family with a bittersweet streak of dark past memories squirreled away in a few of the boxes up in the doll room.

For those of us with hoarding in the family, the big laughs may accompany a terrible echo of past or future hell.

Oh, Lucy! (Japan, Atsuko Hirayanagi, 4) Depressed office worker (Shinobu Terajima) with a crush on her sketchy English tutor (Josh Hartnett) pursues him to L.A. when he runs off with her niece. Wise script and strong performances drive this cross-cultural comedy-drama.

Hartnett has acquired a lived-in quality and this role is by far the best thing I’ve seen him do.

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.