September 14, 2018
Capsule reviews and notes from day eight of the Toronto International Film Festival.
Maya (France, Mia Hansen-Løve, 4) Journalist freed from hostage ordeal in Syria heads to Goa to clear his head and develops a bond with the daughter of a family friend. Invisibly tight editing ensures that “languorous” is by not a code word for “boring” in this experiential drama about healing and love.
Films about war correspondents tend to founder on the question of viewpoint—is the main character really a protagonist, or a witness to the stories of others? Maya removes that obstacle by focusing on the lead’s recovery from his work rather than the work itself.
Burning (South Korea, Lee Chang-dong, 4) Aspiring writer obligated to return to his dad’s crummy farm loses his new girl to a mysterious rich dude (Steven Yeun.) Sublime and ambiguous suspense film that keeps the viewer questioning the nature of its central mystery. Yeun’s casual, collected menace makes him a bad guy for the ages. Based on a Haruki Murakami story.
As this settles over the next few days it just might get an upgrade.
Museum (Mexico, Alonso Ruizpalacios, 2) Hothead veterinary student (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his easily buffaloed sidekick heist the most famous treasures of Mayan art from Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum. Tackles its recreation of a real life idiot plot by distancing itself from its protagonist, a choice that might have made sense in theory but falls flat in practice.
Legend of the Demon Cat (China, Chen Kaige, 4) A supernatural feline is killing its way through the Tang Dynasty royal court—and only a cashiered scribe and an exorcist monk can solve the mystery behind it. An extravagant, theatrical farrago of color and movement celebrates the realm of illusion—which is to say, the medium of film itself.
Billed as the director’s cut, implying that most viewers will get stuck with the producers’ cut.
Chen was present to introduce the screening. He said that the sets, fantastic evocations of the court of Chang’an, took six years to build. That includes time for 20,000 planted trees to grow to the desired size.
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, streaming platforms and DVD 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.